> National Parks > Westland National
By Jessica Lloyd
Tai Poutini – World Heritage
This magnificent park extends from the Southern Alps to the wilderness of
the West Coast of the South Island and covers 127,541 hectares. It was
created in 1960, and protects high mountains and glaciers. It was extended
in 1982 to encompass the lowlands and coastal areas of South Okarito and
South Waikukupa. With over 60 glaciers, the two most famous are the only
glaciers in the world to flow down to a rainforest. As a World Heritage
site, the area has huge mountains, glaciers, forests, tussock grasslands,
lakes, rivers, wetlands and coasts; and they are all very beautiful. Halfway
down the South Island, off State Highway 6 (between
park is right on the edge of the small settlements of
Fox and Franz Josef.
The nearest town is Hokitika, which has an airport.
Westland National Park is split by the Alpine Fault, and has incredible
contrasts in the landscape. On the east side of the fault, the mountains
rise sharply and steeply. The glaciers move up to four metres a day, which
in glacier movements, is virtually unheard of. The creaking and groaning of
the ice as it shifts gives the whole experience a surreal feel, as the
enormity and history of the environment becomes more real. The snowfields
(which are always there) link the glaciers, including the Fox and Franz
Josef glaciers. These go down and meet the lowlands, which to the west are
covered in rimu. The lakes are nearer the coastline, as are the wetlands and
gaping river mouths.
The lowland waters of Westland National Park have a deep brown hue, which
originates from dark coloured organic material leaking from the soil. The
colour is quite distinct and not your average brown.
Birds, including many wading birds and water birds, thrive around the coast.
The crested globe (a threatened species) are found on Lake Mapourika, and
the white heron is found around Okarito Lagoon. The brown kiwi is only found
deep in the lowland forests, but you are more likely to hear them than see
them. There are also alpine moths, black alpine cicadas and mountain ringlet
butterflies. There is a seal colony at Gillespie’s Beach.
Things to do in Westland National Park
Tramping, mountaineering and skiing are the most popular activities in this
beautiful park. Taking a scenic flight over the park is a stunning way to
spend a few hours and is highly recommended. Flights leave from Franz Josef,
Fox Glacier and Whataroa. Kayaking and hunting are also popular sports to
add into a visit to Westland National Park.
Hiking and Short Walks
Hiking and short walks are a very interesting and fun way to see this park.
Short walks take you to the two famous glaciers in an hour/two hours return.
There are some excellent views of the sea and mountains, particularly the
Okarito trig, Alex Knob and Mt Fox. Lake Matheson is renowned for the
crystal clear reflection of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook, and is
a photographers dream. A complete circuit of the lake takes an hour and a
half. Welcome Flat Hut has hot springs, but you’ll need to be fit and keen,
because its seven hours away by foot. The visitor centre should be your
first port of call to get a good idea of what’s around, the condition
everything is in, and to get any maps and hut passes you may need. It is
open every day except Christmas Day.
Skiing and mountaineering
If you are an experienced mountaineer, this place is paradise. For the less
so, don’t push your luck; these mountains can chew you up and spit you out.
The weather is changeable and unpredictable. The five available huts for
ski-touring and mountaineering have good facilities and are well set up and
maintained, with the Almer, Chancellor and Pioneer huts being the normal
bases for climbing parties. This park is the great mountaineering area of
New Zealand, along with Mt Cook National Park (of which Westland National
Park shares a boundary). There are some notorious ice climbs such as Balfour
Face of Mt Tasman, and the South Face of Douglas. Notoriety aside, there are
a good range of climbs with different skill levels required. Some glaciers
are difficult to access, and despite interesting mountaineering options, are
rarely visited (such as Strauchon Glacier).
Okarito, Waiho, Tatare, Fox, Cook and Karangarua Rivers all provide kayaking
runs worthy of a decent try. The Okarito River is the only river which
doesn’t flow through gorges out of the Southern Alps. Most of the runs are
short and steep, in spectacular gorges (classes III to V). Weather is very
changeable here, and as a result, flash floods are common so always check
weather before departing and pay close attention to any changes in the
environment and weather.
Red deer and chamois are the available game, and hunting is encouraged. You
can get a permit from Fox and Franz Josef Visitor Centres.
Spring and early summer bring heavy rains to the park, but because of
prevailing westerly winds, the park can have very heavy rain at any time.
The mountains are changeable and can get very cold, though lowlands are more
temperate. Bring proper clothing, food, and cooking supplies, as well as
some insect repellent. Check at the DOC headquarters for weather and track
conditions, and don’t forget to leave details of your trip.
Maori lived and roamed in this area for centuries before the invasion and
subsequent culture shock of Europeans. The mountains and lakes are of great
importance to Maori, and revered as the ancestors of Ngai Tahu; the tangata
whenua or “people of the land”. The Maori name for the West Coast of the
South Island is Te Tai o Poutini. The area is of great cultural
significance, not only for their spirituality, but for the natural resources
of food, clothing and shelter it provided. Jacob’s River, Bruce Bay, Paringa,
Arawhata, Neil’s Beach, Jackson Bay and Martins Bay all had large Maori
Gold was the draw card for this area with European settlers, and bought the
usual truck loads of desperate gold diggers. As per usual, very few dreams
were ever realised and they eventually passed through, leaving behind small
towns with few inhabitants. Some of these gold mining towns can still be
seen. Before the gold rush, sealers sometimes came to hunt the New Zealand
fur seal, and a few of them settled but it was sporadic.
Accommodation, Food and Drink
Franz Josef and Fox Glacier towns provide cafes, shops, ticket offices, and
accommodation. Okarito Township has limited services. Most road-ends have
toilets and picnic tables, and boat ramps at the main lakes. Inside the park
there are two huts specifically for ski-tours and mountaineers, and another
five specifically for hikers.
Hotel Hokitika is situated in the centre
of the West Coast, 1.5 hours drive from the Glaciers and an hour from
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Surrounded by some of the country's most beautiful
rainforest, with views of the Southern Alps and Mt Cook, Hokitika is the
gateway to the South Westland World Heritage National Park. The hotel has
23 quality rooms and an award winning Tasman View Restaurant boasting
stunning sunsets and delicious local cuisine. Also available is a charming
street-side cafe offering light meals and snacks. You can also enjoy great
outdoor activities, with local golf courses and numerous rivers to kayak and
fish in, being just minutes away.
111 Revel Street Hokitika
Franz Josef - Nestled on 20 hectares of
native bush and farmland it offers beautiful views of mountains and is just
minutes drive to Franz Josef township.
Glacier Hotel is
nestled at the base of the majestic Southern Alps in the Westland World
Heritage Park. The hotel is the ideal base from which to explore the many
local attractions. Take in the guided walks on the ice flows of the Fox and
Franz Josef Glaciers, scenic flights, lakes, seal colonies, salmon farming,
the Wild West coast beaches and surrounding rain forests.
Main Road, SH6 Fox Glacier.