Soar high above the sparkling permanent snowfields, which feed giant ‘rivers of ice’ on New Zealand’s West Coast.
A scenic flight is one way to appreciate the majesty of the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, and the true scale of their mighty glaciers.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park takes in all these features, from the main divide to the pounding surf beaches and dramatic headlands of the central West Coast. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are a wonderful spectacle from the air, or from the shaky ground beneath their tumbling terminal faces. Forever locked in a climate-controlled series of advances and retreats, they continue to move glacial debris down to the sea. These age-old sediments are swept north to form the remarkable Farewell Spit, a 30 km finger of shifting sands at northern tip of the South Island.
The park is centred on the modern tourist villages of Fox and Franz Josef, with both offering excellent information services and a host of guided tours. Local walks are very worthwhile as they offer superb alpine views, which are often reflected in mirror lakes, and beautiful forests, rivers, and beaches. The Fox circular walk around Lake Matheson is a must. This lake offers New Zealand’s most famous panoramic reflection of Mts Cook and Tasman. The River Walk and Gillespies Beach are also popular. The Franz Josef short walks provide scenic gems, such as Peter’s Pool and Sentinel Rock. Longer tramps reach superb lookout points above both glaciers and take in other locations further south including the Copland Valley.
Along the coast are scenic lakes and wetlands where you can see coastal wading birds like the crested grebe and white heron (kotuku), which is concentrated in a superbly scenic breeding colony at the remote Okarito Lagoon.
Stay awhile and absorb the unsurpassed beauty of this unique place where majestic snow-capped peaks and glaciers stand above the very edge of the land.