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Welcome to Glacier Country

Stick Around!

 

Each year, people from around the globe travel to Aotearoa, New Zealand, arriving wide-eyed and ready for action. Tucked away deep in the South Pacific, with a low population, a rich culture and an enormous amount of green space, it’s no wonder visitors from densely-populated continents are regularly welcomed to our shores.

Collecting their backpacks full of gear from the baggage carousel, already clad in hiking boots and weatherproof trousers, the newly arrived seem invincible to jet lag as they fantasise about what lies ahead. Exploring New Zealand is a common dream many share. Whether travelling in a campervan, surfing along our pristine coastline, tramping for multiple days in the mountains, or one of the countless other experiences NZ has to offer, this natural playground is at the top of a great many travel lists written by people worldwide bursting with wanderlust.

I get it. It makes perfect sense! New Zealand is like an amusement park designed by Mother Nature herself, so who wouldn’t want to head down here and get amongst it? What I don’t get, however, is how many adventurous souls travel this far simply to rush from place to place, as if in fear of not completing a to-do list. Appearing to have entered some secret relay race, the number of tourists that miss out on experiences of a lifetime in one spot for the sake of “needing” to get to the next is mind-boggling.

I’m referring to South Westland, of course – aka Glacier Country. Most visitors to the area only allow one or two days to arrive, explore, and shoot off again. Why come all the way to one of the most unique parts of the country without leaving more time to enjoy it?

 

South Westland is Alive!

With remote beaches, Jurassic rainforest, mountains covered in glaciers that stretch towards sea level, a National Park with UNESCO World Heritage status, a plethora of marine and wildlife, and a friendly population of hardy characters, this hidden gem on the South Island’s West Coast deserves far more than a simple flash in the pan visit.

Okarito Lagoon, West Coast, NZ

Uninterrupted views from the Southern Alps down to Okarito Lagoon with a Kotuku / White Heron in the foreground. Credit Bare Kiwi

When it Rains, it Pours! That’s Only Half the Story, Though

The most pristine and untouched spots on the planet are just that way precisely because of their unpredictable weather, and this place is no different. Without the 5 to 7 metres of rainfall we get each year, Glacier Country wouldn’t be as unique as it is. Instead, it would be just another place to sunbathe and take racoon-eyed selfies for the folks at home while sipping frozen cocktails at happy hour. That would not be very West Coast!

Sure, sometimes it rains pretty heavily for a day or two, sometimes more. However, when the rain stops and the clouds part, the true magic is revealed, and that’s definitely something worth witnessing.

At first, upon stepping outside after some good old West Coast weather has come and gone, there is a stillness, a silence, a feeling of peace. Next, the dawn chorus welcomes the sun while rivers and waterfalls gush with the remnants of the previous day’s downpour. Perhaps there might even be the sound of approaching gumboots slopping against the drying pavement, followed by a “How’s it goin’?” or a “Good day for it!” from a friendly local passing by. And finally, the party starts – helicopters firing up, ready to lift people into the clear blue sky, show them how Glacier Country got its name, and blow their minds.

What’s my point? Stay for a while! That’s my point. If you come here, slow down, have a little patience and enjoy. After all, you only just arrived. Save the racing about for when you get back home. If you’re willing to weather the storm, the juice will be with the squeeze.

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Views from Roberts Point Track

Cloud lifting to reveal the beauty of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley from Roberts Point Track. Credit: Geoff Marks

Glacier Country is Stacked with Things to Do

Glacier tours are a popular and obvious choice, but there’s also much more. From kayaking, SUPing or fishing on a kettle lake surrounded by ancient rainforest and Kiwi habitat, to venturing onto the Okarito Lagoon, New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland, there are plenty of activities that can be enjoyed rain or shine. Also, when the weather does allow, why not head to historic Okarito – population 28 – for a guided nighttime adventure into the Kiwi Sanctuary to see a Rowi in the only place on Earth you can do so in the wild? Love walking? Aside from the myriad of tramping options, including visiting stunning Lake Matheson, you can also take a guided hike and learn about the local environment from a much better source than that travel book you ordered online – a local! Would you like to see the mountains and glaciers up close without much walking? Jump in a helicopter for a scenic flight, or hop into a plane and try out a skydive. Keen on some relaxation? Test your hand at jade carving and take your very own pounamu back to your accommodation before thrilling your taste buds at one of the nearby restaurants. Glacier Country has everything you need and more! So, what’s the hurry?

You’ve decided to come to one of the most remote countries in the world to get away from it all and connect with nature on a deeper level. You came in hopes of veering off the beaten path and experiencing the “real deal”. You came for something different. Well, Glacier Country is precisely what you’ve been looking for.

So, stick around! You’ll love it.

 

Blog written by Mike Bilo

Mike Bilodeau is a content writer for eco and sustainable tourism operators. He’s an advocate for Slow Travel and is currently making his way slowly around Europe with his dog.