Best of the West: Glacier Discovery | Apollo Campervans NZ
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Best of the West: Glacier Discovery

Enter the wilderness on this 7 day itinerary as you explore the great coast road, the incredible glacier highway and beyond.

7
Days
1,340
Kms
40+
Stops
2
Epic Glaciers

You will get to experience two themed highways on the rugged west coast of the South Island. These two routes go together like road trips and fun and form just a small part of the mamoth state hghway 6, one of New Zealands longest roads at well over 1,000kms.You will meander your way around the beautiful west coast of the South Island on this journey of discovery millions of years and an ice age or two in the making! You will also get to take in some of the South Islands most famous inland locations like the beautiful alpine spa town of Hanmer Springs, the stunning Lake Tekapo and the gorgeous town of Wanaka.

Between Haast and its world heritage area and Hokitika with its fabulous old town feel, you can enjoy the spectacle of not one but two easily viewed glaciers from the comfort of native rain forests! You can soak in the wild in the forests and at the Okarito bird sanctuary before soaking in the hot pools at Franz Joseph! To top it off, you have one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes to explore at Lake Matheson and even some penguins and dolphins and maybe a Kiwi or two to look out for!

As amazing as the first leg was, you’re just getting started. As you pass through Greymouth you will enter the Great Coast Road. It will soon be apparent why this is rated as one of the top ten coastal routes in the word by Lonely Planet. You will be awed by huge rock formations and lime stone cliffs, native rainforests of Paparoa National Park full of bird song, exploding fountains of water and the long expanses of stoney beaches that the west is known for. With the main divide on one side and the Tasman sea on the other, you will be spoilt for choice.

Search out one of the world's rarest penguins, spot New Zealand fur seals, see the blowholes and “pancakes” at Punakaiki, go black water rafting and caving underground at Charleston and enjoy the epic limestone cliffs and coastal scenery from the numerous lookouts that help give this road its world renown reputation.

Finish up this loop journey with both the relaxing tranquility and thrill seeker attractions at the alpine spa town of Hanmer springs before heading home via the Waipara wine region.

These two themed highways form part of State Highway 6, New Zealand’s longest continuous highway. And the best part? This is also the gateway to the Lakes district to the South and Able Tasman National park and the beaches and vineyards of Nelson and Marlborough to the North!

Itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch – Tekapo – Wanaka (5hrs 30mins, 424km)

Day 2: Wanaka – Haast – Paringa (3hrs, 212km)

Day 3: Paringa -  Franz Joseph (1hr 20mins, 86km)

Day 4: Franz Jospeh – Hokitika  – Punakaiki (3hrs, 217km)

Day 5: Punakaiki – Westport – Hanmer Springs (4hrs, 287km)

Day 6: Explore Hanmer Springs

Day 7: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (1hr 45mins, 129km)

Full Itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch – Tekapo – Wanaka (5hrs 30mins, 424km)

After picking up from Christchurch Apollo, make your way south the stunning Lake Tekapo. Here, you can relax in the hot springs and enjoy one of the most photogenic places in New Zealand. In summer, wild lupins will dazzle you while in winter, the snow-covered alps provide a perfect backdrop to your first day on the road. The church of the good shepherd and a glacier fed lake are just some of the magical scenes that await you before a short drive later takes you to Lake Pukaki, providing fantastic views of Mt Cook.

Your final stop of the day is at the beautiful Lake Wanaka where you can photograph THAT tree. Wanaka is a perfect place to overnight before heading across the Haast Pass and entering the wild west coast tomorrow!

Highlights

  • Lake Tekapo and Church of the Good Shephard
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Lake Wanaka
  • That Wanaka Tree

Where to stay: There are lots of campsite options on the side of Lake Wanaka, but Glendu Bay Motor Camp is one out of town and the hustle and bustle, providing awesome lake views and being close to the trail head of the famous Roys Peak.

Apollo hint: Make sure you stop off for a pie at the Failie Bakehouse, one of the best bakeries in New Zealand

The iconic tree at Lake Wanaka

Day 2: Wanaka – Haast - Paringa (3hrs, 212 km)

If you're up for an adventure, start the day early with a hard walk to one of the best views in New Zealand on the Roys Peak Track, or take the easier Mt Iron Track if you want something more family friendly. Today you will drive through the lovely Haast Pass as you enter the wild West Coast. Your first stop will be at the Blue Pools Track, a lovely short walk through a beech and podocarp forest located in Mount Aspiring National Park that takes you to some amazingly clear and tranquil high-country water holes on the Makarora river. Just up the road, a must do stop is the “Gates of Haast”, a sheer faced rock gorge and the most challenging sector of the Haast Paas. Call in at Thunder Falls and hear how this 28-meter waterfall got its name. 

Continue on to explore the wild and untamed Te Wahipounamu Wilderness Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Area. With its plethora of amazing beaches, dune systems, wetlands, lakes and coastal marvels all set to the backdrop of the mighty Southern Alps, it’s no wonder it holds its UNESCO status. Haast also happens to be the whitebait capital of New Zealand so be sure to try this west coast delicacy while in town.

Visit Jackson Bay, one of the only two known nurseries in South Westland for Hectors dolphin females (cows) and their calf's. Explore the area around Haast and after heading North, stop off at ship creek to see the start of this amazing coastline and try your luck it the seabirds viewing tower there before searching out the elusive yellow eyed penguins at Monro Beach on your way to Paringa.

Highlights

  • Roys Peak Track or Mt Iron Track
  • Blue Pools
  • Gates of Haast
  • Thunder falls
  • Haast and its wilderness area
  • Jackson Bay
  • Ship creek
  • Knights Point Lookout
  • Monro Beach

Where to stay: Paringa Salmon Farm Café offers a freedom camping area with spots for 15 vehicles providing amazing views of meandering Paringa River and the luscious bush of the West Coast. DoC also has a great campsite on the shores of Lake Paringa offering access to short walks and watersports.

Apollo hint: Hectors and Dolphins and other wildlife are usually the most active within the first 2 hours after dawn and the last 2 hours before dusk.

Roys Peak, home to New Zealand's best view

Day 3: Paringa - Franz Joseph (1hr 30mins, 86km)

As you travel along the glacier highway, you will be struck by the sheer scale of what mother nature has built and be struck by the fact that you can look at sheets of ice while standing in a rainforest wearing shorts and flipflops! There are many awesome helicopter tours to explore the glaciers, or you can do the short chalet track viewpoint for great views of Fox glacier or you can do the longer valley walk. Stop off at lake Matheson, New Zealand's most reflective lake where you can get a mirror image of Mt Cook.

As with Fox Glacier, there are many walks to do to explore at Franz Jospeh, with the Roberts Point walk a local favourite. There is no better way to see the entire landscape than to do a scenic flight with a landing on the glacier, or for the true adventurers, you an do the heli-hike option. Today you can take a visit to the West Coast Wild Life Center and Okarito lagoon, a 3,200-hectare wetland and bird sanctuary that hosts a range of birds including some unique to only New Zealand. You can explore this awesome place via a kayak tour or on the beautiful trig walk. End the night with a relax in the hot pools at Franz Joseph where you will overnight.

In the evening, here is your chance to do a kiwi tour at Okarito for a chance to see New Zealands most iconic bird in the wild before taking a relaxing soak in the amazing glacier hot pools.

Highlights

  • Fox Glacier
  • Chalet track viewpoint
  • Fox Glacier Valley Walk
  • Lake Matheson Walk
  • Okarito Kiwi Tours
  • West Coast Wildlife center
  • Franz Joseph Glacier
  • Roberts Point Walk
  • Terrace Walk
  • Okarito Lagoon
  • Franz Joseph Hot Pools

Where to stay: Franz Joseph Top 10 is the ideal place to stay while exploring the glacier highway, being so close to the many attractions around the Fox/Franz area and being walking distance from the hot pools!

Apollo hint: Here is a hidden gem! After dark, take the Terrace Walk through the bush and keep your eyes out for New Zealand’s living stars – the glow worms! These are best found under or around fallen trees.

The amazing Fox Glacier

Day 4: Franz Jospeh - Hokitika – Punakaiki (3hrs, 217km)

Arriving into the cultural capital of the West Coast, first up you have the lovely tree top walk through the canopy of the west coast rainforest, voted as New Zealand's most popular canopy walk.

Hokitika will greet you with places where you can make your own or purchase some pounamu (greenstone) jewelry, a great memento considering Te Wai Pounamu is the Maori name for the South Island which essentially means land of greenstone. Check out the unique architecture of this small but vibrant town which also happens to be home to the Wild Foods Festival, so if you happen to be here in March, keep an eye out for the dates! If your're looking to stretch the legs, the short walk at the hokitika gorge offers stunning views ot the river and podocarp forest.

Today you start the famed Great Coast Road which begins when you pass through Greymouth, home to New Zealand’s Monteith's brewery – stock up on some supplies on your way through. Next, take a quick stop and at the heritage building that is the Runanga Miners Hall, a beautiful piece of architecture from the wild mining period of the west coast. Take in the epic coastline at Motukiekie and Rapahoe beach's before exploring Punakaiki and its Pancake rocks and blow holes millions of years in the making. Be sure to do some of the walks in the area and check out Punakaiki cavern, an often-missed hidden gem.

Highlights

  • Tree Walk
  • Hokitika 
  • Hokitikia gorge walk
  • Greymouth
  • Monteiths brewery
  • Runanga Miners Hall
  • Motukiekie Beach
  • Rapahoe Beach and Port Elizabeth Lookout
  • Punakaiki Cavern
  • Punakaiki’s “Pancake Rocks”

Where to stay: Punakaiki has quite a few campsites to pick from, with both paid and freedom camping options but Punakaiki Beach Camp is ideally situated to explore the sites while being located not far from the beach and with views of the epic cliffs.

Apollo hint: Get down to the blow hole at hightide when the water pressure will be at its highest making larger water spouts more common.

The stunning waters of the Hokitika gorge

Day 5: Punakaiki – Westport – Hanmer Springs (4hrs, 287km)

Start the day with a walk on the Pororari river track before making a stopover in Charleston, the blackwater rafting capital of New Zealand! This is the home of an epic 4-hour rafting expedition through an underground cave system. You can also do standard caving and forest tours or visit the Denniston historic mining site and Charming Creek so there really is something for everyone in this cool little town.

Head onto Cape Foulwind, home to an awesome and well layed out boardwalk that you can explore along the picturesque coast before making a visit to the Buller capital, Westport, a proud historic mining town – check out the museum to find out more about this quirky place.

Finish up your time on the west coast with a walk or swim in the picturesque Buller gorge before you pick either to head back to Christchurch via a night in the amazing Alpine Spa town of Hanmer Springs and the Alpine Pacific Touring Route (Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Waipara wine region) or head north and add on a few more days to explore the Treasured Pathway (Nelson/Marlborough).

Highlights

  • Punakaiki’s “Pancake Rocks”
  • Pororari river track
  • Charleston
  • Westport
  • Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay Seal Colony
  • Buller Gorge
  • Hanmer Springs Alpine Spa Town

Where to stay: There is a fantastic freedom camping area at the Hanmer Springs River Reserve right next to the Waiau river opposite the transfer station while the Hanmer Springs Top 10 is ideally placed to explore the town or for winter stays where a powered site is a must.

Apollo hint: If you visit Cape Foulwind, be sure to check out the awesome seal colony at nearby Tauranga Bay.

The unique rock formations at Punakaiki

Day 6: Explore Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is an alpine spa town and the gateway to the Lewis Pass and the Alpine Pacific Touring Route, so if you are looking to extend your holiday, you can start that from here. If you're finishing up your holiday, this is an idyllic spot to spend your last full day on the road. Take an early dip in the pools before a day of thrills.

Hanmer Attractions provides your one stop shop for adventure in Hanmer Springs. From jetboating to river rafting, to quad bike tours and bungy jumping, they have it all waiting for you try. The best part is, they all run from one location making it easy to do multiple tours in a day.

If you’re looking for some time to reflect in the peace and quiet, there are numerous short walks available in the area. We highly recommend the short conical hill walk. It’s just hard enough to make you feel like you've earned all the relaxation you will have while in Hanmer!

Highlights

  • The many adventures offered by Hanmer Attractions, including rafting, jetboating, clay target shooting, horse trekking and quad bike tours. They are Hanmer’s one stop shop for adventure
  • Conical hill walk
  • Hanmer Short Walks
  • Alpine Hot Pools

Where to stay: There is a fantastic freedom camping area at the Hanmer Springs River Reserve right next to the Waiau river opposite the transfer station while the Hanmer Springs Top 10 is ideally placed to explore the town or for winter stays where a powered site is a must.

Apollo hint: Join pools plus for free on the Alpine Spa website to get some really good discounts on entry and other products on offer.

Rafting the Waiau River with Hanmer Attractions

Day 7: Hanmer Springs – Christchurch (1hr, 45mins, 129km)

Enjoy a final dip in the pools before doing the lovely “art in the forest” walk where you can see some fabulous carved art work on a short forest trail just out of town.

It’s time to head home as you follow the Waiau river through the foothills where you need to keep an eye out for Frog rock! Next you will arrive into the small town of Waikari and home to the historic Weka pass railway walk. This 40-minute walk takes you to the limestone overhangs, under which you can find some awesome examples of Maori art. Make your way back to SH1 for a trip through the Waipara wine district and cellar doors to Christchurch.

Highlights

  • Final soak in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve
  • Art in the forest walk
  • Weka Pass walkway Maori wall art
  • Frog rock

Apollo hint: Your route home takes you through the delightful Waipara wine region filled with awesome cellar door experiences. Pegasus Estate is a favourite.           

The relaxing pools at Hanmer Springs

            

Ready to explore?

 

 

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