Upper South Island and the West Coast Experience
Westland National Park
Gigantic blocks of ice tumbling off the glacier face; ice fields higher up the glacier, their blue ice sparkling in the sunlight; rugged peaks (the highest in the country) soaring to the skyline; dense, virgin rainforest clawed by rock-strewn river beds.
Westland National Park is a place of extremes, including the extreme precipitation at the top of the Alps. Up to 300 inches of snow per annum falls here, feeding Westland's glacier field. Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are the two most visited.
The park is backed by the main divide of the Southern Alps to the east. High up there are thousands of acres of alpine ski slopes and rugged rocky peaks. Below the bush line, the slopes are clad in thick temperate rainforest, and in places the park runs right to the rugged coastline, home to seals, penguins, and lonely beaches.
BEST TIME TO GO
This part of the country is subject to a very high rainfall, measured in meters rather than inches. This, and its associated cloud, will play havoc with your plans if they involve climbing, flying, or ice-walking. Oddly, winter weather is often clearer than summer, although much colder, and there are fewer people around.
Westland National Park joins the Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring national parks to form a sweeping World Heritage Area of more than 5 million acres.
Best Ways to Explore
Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge is set at the outlet end of Lake Moeraki, 90 km (56 mi) south of Fox Glacier. This long-standing eco-lodge comes with a good pedigree, as the owners also own the Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge on the eastern side of the main divide at Arthur's Pass. Built into the remains of the old road-building camp used by workers pushing the road through to Haast in the 1960s, it offers guests a true eco-stay. Lodge power is generated by their own hydro-station built on the outlet from the lake. It's a 20-minute walk to Monro Beach (there's no road) where fur seals and little Fiordland crested penguins are the only residents. There are many other walks, kayaking, bird-watching, and photography opportunities here; book a few nights, so you're not shortchanged for time.
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