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August 18th 2016
Published: August 18th 2016
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The Westland area of the South Island takes you from the temperate areas of Westport complete with palm trees and one of the top ten coastal drives in the world, past lakes and rivers into glacier territory further down south.
First stop on our way down towards the glaciers was at the Punakaiki Rocks and Blowholes. These are halfway between Greymouth and Westport, and are rock formations weathered and beaten by the pounding surf over the last 100,000 years. An extensive walkway easily accessible for wheelchairs goes around and back, to do the full loop requires a bit of mobility to descend a steep stone staircase. The Punakaiki rocks are layered formations, with surge pools of foaming white water and blowholes at high tide sending sea mist up metres in the air. An information centre, toilets, cafes and shops with plenty of parking are all in the immediate area. Be prepared for one way bridges on the west coast, some rail and road combined, we would have travelled over a dozen today. Signs telling you the distance to the next town are non existent, until you get to the next town or major turn off. But frankly you are lucky to travel 40km without getting to the next point. And just because it's 50km to the next place does not mean you will get there in half an hour, the windy steep roads in many areas mean double your expected time.
Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers which are south of Hokitika are both easily seen from the small townships nearby, both are in retreat, and can be walked in with guides or by helicopter. You can get within 450 metres of The Fox via a 4 km drive into a parking area and then a kilometre walk onto the valley where once the glacier carved its path. The last part of the track is very steep. Take an hour to walk there and back. If you have any health or walking difficulties the last steep section may not be for you. We had the top viewing area to ourselves this late afternoon enjoying the afternoon sun on the nearby snow capped mountains. The Franz Joseph can be seen easily from the car park of a 4 km drive, with a 2 km walk to reach near the most accessible part of the glacier itself. So if time and mobility are an issue choose The Fox to go and see. Both little towns are full of cafes, bars, pubs, service stations, general stores and plenty of accommodation choices. We went to The White Pub at Fox tonight, which is just off the main road on the way to the Mt Cook viewing area. It has the best raging wood and coal fire which saw us stripped off to one layer, mostly locals in the bar area. Nice to not be amongst the touristy wine bar scene.

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