The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island offers a different type of stunning scenery, and we were super excited to be finally making our way towards other natural wonders of this special part of the world – glaciers, mountains, the coastline, and more lakes and waterfalls. Faced with the need to be in Fox Glacier by lunchtime for our glacier hike, we woke up in our hostel in Lake Hawea in the wee hours of the morning, which meant that we were treated to beautiful lake views at dawn/sunrise. I have to admit that staying in a practically empty hostel is a little creepy – we were two of only three people who were booked in for last night (the other being a girl from the USA, who was slowly making her way across to India). At least we got along quite well with her, had our pick of all the rooms, the staff were very attentive, and the facilities were fairly clean.
From our hostel, the drive to the West Coast region began by travelling alongside Lake Hawea (on the right hand side) and Lake Wanaka (on the left hand side), and eventually between both lakes via a narrow stretch of land called “The Neck”.
The drive then winds through parts of the Mount Aspiring National Park alongside rivers, through valleys and gorges, and around some of its mountains. The scenery – filled with waterfalls, large boulders, steep mountain hills, and rainforest – gets pretty dramatic and intimidating in some parts. It’s hard not to be distracted whilst driving, so be a passenger instead! The road eventually leads to the narrow Gates of Haast bridge near Haast Pass, which crosses the (often raging) Haast River. Haast Pass, at an elevation of 1,850 ft, is the lowest of the three main mountain passes across the Southern Alps (the other two being Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass), and leads to the West Coast. It can be somewhat considered as the gateway to the West Coast. This area is apparently an excellent place for day and multi-day hiking, but unfortunately time was not our friend on this occasion.
Eventually, the road leaves Mount Aspiring National Park and takes you along the rugged coastline, which is littered with driftwood and white stones that have been vandalised by tourists. At Knight’s Point, the road heads back inland and briefly comes back out to the coast for Bruce Bay, before finally making its way through the coastal flats towards the Fox Glacier township.