The road from Wanaka to Fox Glacier winds through the mountains of Haast Pass. The road has multiple places where you can pull off and hike to waterfalls and other areas where you don’t even have to pull off to see the waterfalls. Part of the road was washed out by a landslide a few months ago, so the pass was restricted to daylight hours. We stopped to hike to one waterfall but otherwise kept moving so that we would make it across before the road closed. As we got to the other side of the pass, the clouds rolled in. We drove on a road through the New Zealand rainforest in the mist to get to a campsite near the beach. Again, we assumed no one would take the 20 minute dirt road journey to get back to this campsite; however, we were mistaken once more. We pulled into the last available parking spot and went to bed early so we could get up in the morning for our hike on the Fox Glacier.
Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard when we woke up, so we went to our tour office to make sure the hike was still on. She told us we would be decked out in rain gear and still be able to do the hike. We were fitted for hiking boots, crampons, rain jackets, rain pants, and dry bag backpacks and loaded up in a shuttle to go to the glacier. They didn’t have jackets small enough for me, so I was swimming in my rain coat all day. It did keep me warm though! The guide told us we were getting to experience a typical West Coast weather day and we were in a very unique area because we were traveling through a rainforest to get to a glacier. We hiked up to the edge of the glacier where we saw signs warning people to stay out unless they were part of a tour. The glaciers are really unpredictable and can crack or cave in at any time if you don’t know what you are doing, so several unfortunate people have been killed by trying to explore on their own. The newspaper articles were even attached to the sign to help deter people. Our guide taught us how to put the crampons on and lead us up a path cluttered with groups of people. Another guide was chipping away at the ice on the glacier, making steps for us to ascend. Our guide assured us that since we were doing a full day hike, we would be away from the crowds shortly because most people just do a half day tour and walk around on the ice steps. He was right and within a few minutes we were up on the ice far away from the people below.
Our group had 10 people in it and our guide was a native New Zealander. It was his first day back after 2 months off, so he was getting to know the glacier again. He said it had changed a lot since he was last on it and he began leading us across, stopping every so often to use his axe to chip away an ice step for us to walk on. The tour was really fantastic. We walked through arches and down into caves made of ice. The hike ended at the top inside a beautiful, blue crevice. We carefully made our way back down the glacier while talking to a Dutch couple who were traveling for 6 months. We shared stories about the New Zealand North and South islands because we were headed North in a few days and they just finished up North and were continuing their way down South. We safely made it back to the tour office and received our certificate of achievement! One of many certificates we would take pictures of and then throw away 🙂
On the way from Fox Glacier to Abel Tasman National Park, we stopped in Greymouth and Westport. Both are nice little towns worth a quick stop on your way up or down the coast. We also stopped at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks on the way, which are these massive rocks coming out of the ocean that look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. A bridge/platform has been built all around the rocks to provide nice views of the formations. Also nearby, of course, was another seal colony. So, naturally we stopped in to snap a few photos and enjoy the scenery. The leisurely drive allowed us to get psyched up for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track we would hike in a few days!