West Coast

Copeland Track rainforest

A couple days ago I left Wanaka and drove over Haast Pass toward the infamous West Coast. I say infamous because this region is notorious for its huge amounts of rainfall (up to 7 meters annually in some spots!). As I drove to the west the forest got bigger and bigger, and by the time I reached the top of the pass I was surrounded by full-on rainforest – lush, green, and mossy with misty clouds hanging about the vertical mountains. And raining of course. I was truly in awe as I drove the windy road, trying to take in the view while simultaneously keeping my car on the road.

I ended up driving to Fox Glacier, a small town next to… you guessed it… the Fox Glacier. The Fox Glacier, along with the Franz Joseph Glacier (a few kilometers north), are two really long glaciers that pour out into the rainforest from the heavily glaciated alpine basins above. These glaciers are special because, due to the steepness of the mountain valleys and the heavy precipitation, the glaciers advance well below treeline, at a very fast rate – they supposedly advance a meter a day! I don’t have a photo to show you yet, but I will soon.

Yesterday, heeding a recommendation from a Kiwi hiker, I hiked part of the Copeland Track to the Welcome Flat Hut, where there are some natural hot spring pools. Read on.

The track was a 5.5 hour walk through rainforest along a big turquoise river. The rainforest is so amazing… it seems magical in a way, so lush and vibrant, with huge ferns and mossy trees. Before I came here I wasn’t really excited about walking in the forests, but now that I’m here I am blown away. Photos cannot do justice to the way it feels to walk here.

Speaking of which, I am finding it very difficult to photograph the forest. The visual chaos makes it challenging to find a composition that doesn’t look completely arbitrary. I’ve had this feeling before hiking through aspen forests back in Colorado, but even that is much easier to photograph because of the way the aspens line up together. Here, it’s an utter chaos of lines, and almost everything is green. I did get a few decent shots I think, but for the most part I’d say that the rainforest here is just one of those places that cannot be captured in a photograph.

Anyhow, once I got to the hut I quickly went for a soak in the hot pools. They are shallow pools with sandy bottoms, and you can lay down in them and rest your head on the side. I went for a second dip late after dusk when everyone else at the hut had gone to sleep, and as I lay there soaking with the mist rising around me and the rain clouds descending from the rugged peaks above, I had that feeling of “damn this is awesome.”

Interestingly, the Welcome Flat Hut and the Copeland Valley are situated almost directly to the west of Mount Cook Village, just over the mountain range. It seems a world away – barren on the east side, lush and green just over the ridge.

So now I’m back in Fox Glacier. There are still quite a few things I want to do around here (get some views of the west side glacier fields), but the weather forecast is looking pretty grim, so I may head up the coast for a few days and maybe check out some beaches, then come back here when the weather clears.

5 thoughts on “West Coast

  1. Oh, boo, hoo. I feel sooo sorry for you having to deal with all that “visual chaos.” 😉
    Check out any of the river outlets where they hit the beaches up around Hokitiku (sp?). You can find raw jade – pretty cool.

  2. I’m so envious! Reading these recent posts has brought a flood of memories back from my visit to NZ last year. Your hike through the forest sounds wonderful. I only wish it were like that when my wife and I were there for our honeymoon. We were in Fox for 2 days, and we had torrential downpours the whole time. On our walk up to the glacier, it rained so hard that there were landslides, and the path we walked up vanished into the valley! 😮

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