Home Travel Blog

On The Way To The Glaciers

Our small group travelled from Christchurch on the east coast  of the South Island to Greymouth on the west coast onboard the TranzAlpine train. At the end of the train journey we  were met by Craig, our driver, who had followed in the coach. It had taken just under 5 hours.  It is so relaxing to travel by train and I really enjoyed it.  Marvellous scenery of course starting out at the Canterbury Plains with its farmlands and then through the snow topped Southern Alps and Arthurs Pass and out on to the west coast. Before Greymouth was created into an 1860’s gold rush town it was the site of a Maori pa. It is now the main centre on the West Coast with cafes and bars and small specialist stores as well as national chain stores.

You can drive 45kms north to Punakaiki from there to view the famous pancake rocks with their spewing blowholes or visit the Paparoa National Park nearby.  There is some good walking to do there too from a 10 minute beach walk to an overnight trip.  But we  turned south from Greymouth and drove on down to Hokitika (38km) where we watched men carving pounamu – New Zealand greenstone, (jade) creating pieces of art.   Pounamu is mined in this area.  Hokitika was also founded on gold mining in the 1860’s but now has only a small population of 3000.

Replenished with flat whites and long blacks we continued on down the West Coast through the ancient podocarp forests which boast a lineage that stretches back to the time when New Zealand was part of the super continent of Gondwana. They belong to a coniferous family known as Podocarpaceae of which there are 17 species.  In its natural state, a podocarp forest can be luxuriant with a dense undergrowth of shrubs, ferns and tree-ferns.   Threatening clouds were amassing and by the time we reached Franz Josef the rain came down.

The scene was set. We checked into one of the executive studios at Punga Lodge. The cosy ambience of our room was inviting. Sliders opened out to a private deck with native bush growing right up to its edge. You felt like you were the only ones in a huge forest.

But we couldn’t wait to see the glacier so we all climbed back into the coach and Craig took us to a viewing area only minutes away. It was nearing the end of the day. I just loved it. It was all that I imagined. The mist was swirling around, the bush was dripping, and there it was – magnicificent. I just stood there transfixed. This huge river looked like it had been frozen in an instant. It remains in my mind. I can still see it now.