Escape to New Zealand’s West Coast

Disappointing New Zealand

Work sucks here, it really does. I did not expect New Zealand to be so outdated and stuck in the old days as it is. Behaviours that Europe simply got rid of or is in the process of doing so are nurtured here. On the top of that, living in Queenstown really opened my eyes on how awful people can be. From one side you have those dreamers that want to live in the beautiful place, from the other hand you can see the greed, selfishness and money and power-driven ones that make the world living hell. Queenstown is all about money. If you’re not rich, not aspiring to be one, not married to ones or not suck up to those richer and more powerful than you, than you’re immediately a cast out, and will not have a funny life. I still believe that being yourself is the only way forward, even if it means to be a black sheep, however, you can look in the mirror, and despite bruises and sadness still feel human.

An escape

To deal with all the crap, we try to make some short trips to take the mind of the work and the bullshit around. Recently we went for an extended weekend trip to a village on the West Coast called Fox Glacier. It’s a small 250 people village in Waheka Valley, known from the access to some tourist attractions such as Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson and remnants of Gilspies, that during a gold rush in 1860s, was the third largest town in West Coast.

To get there we drove through Wanaka, Lake Hawea, and scenic Haast Pass. We visited West Coast several times before, and often stopped for a break at Knights Point Lookout offering some stunning views. Once in the Fox Glacier, Hania told me that we should go and explore Lake Matheson, especially that it is only 5km from our motel. Lake Matheson is known from its reflections of the Southern Alps, that includes Mount Haast, La Perouse, Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. There is a short walking track, around 2.5km, that circles the lake. The walk runs through a native bush filled with a local flora and fauna, that you can’t see around Queenstown. Matylda picked a dried fern branch of the ground as a souvenir. This branch was taller than she was. We also managed to chat with my mum via skype, so she could enjoy truly amazing views. After the walk we went for a lunch in the village and finished the day with a bottle of wine.

Lake Matheson. The weather was slightly windy so the mirror effect is not the greatest!

The Hikes

Following day, we went on the Fox Glacier trail. We thought that this will be our only trip, but it was not the case. It supposed to be one of the easiest accessible glaciers in the world, with the terminal face around 300m above sea level. We obviously wanted to go and see that. The trail is easily accessible, and quite wide. Kids moaned a little, till we reached a side track that leads through the rain forest and shows how far glacier reached through history. To be honest the place is quite unique. Usually, glaciers don’t touch a rain forest, and this one almost does. It’s bizarre when you walk through the humid native bush, knowing that you’re so close to a 13km long block of ice. The trach eventually reaches the safety barriers that shouldn’t be crossed, as the place is quite dangerous with some fatalities in the past. The view from the barrier is not too impressive, as there is still some distance to the glacier. Quick research showed that is retreating significantly since 2009. As we were with children, we didn’t want to ignore the safety signs and enter the danger zone. There was still lots of day left however, so we decided to go back to the car and visit Franz Josef glacier that is only 20 km away.

We set off for a Franz Josef town, passing road signs that kiwis live in the area. The track towards the glacier turns left just before the town, on the bank of the Waiho River. Short drive and we reached the car park. Signs suggested that the trail is even shorter, than the Fox Glacier one. As soon as we reached the safety barriers, we felt disappointed again, as the barriers were about 3km from the glacier face. Again quick research gave two reasons why, both mother nature related. Franz Josef glacier is experiencing rapid retreat period that started in 2008. There used to be a track leading to the glacier face. You could simply touch it in not-so-distant pass. That changed when Waiho River changed its course due to receding process. The river crosses the track that used to lead towards the Franz Josef face making it now inaccessible. Feeling disappointment we decided to go far another short 1hr walk one way walk towards Lake Wombat, a lake created by retreating glacier around 9 thousand years ago. After the walk we went back to the motel. That wasn’t the end of walking for the day.

Cloudy Franz Josef Glacier

A work colleague suggested we should go and see a glow-worm, or Arachnocampa Luminosa to be precise in the forest just outside Fox Glacier village. After the sunset we entered the forest in the quest to find something that we didn’t know what to look for. Shortly after complete darkness covered the forest lots of small yellow, orange, and greenish spots appeared. Some on the barks of the trees, most in the little holes in the trees or larger bush. It was quite difficult to make photos of them as mobile phones are simply not made for this kind of photography. Still, it was quite unique and worthy experience, however we had to cut it short as Matylda got really scared. The forest was very dense, and despite a good head torch the view was limited to a path. After the walk we went back to the motel, as we had more interesting walks planed for a following day.


You can see a few blueish points in this picture, Those are the glow-worms. Please bear in mind I am not a professional photographer and I have 14 years old camera.

Leave a Reply