Westland National Park
Journey back in time to the Ice Age! Established in 1960, Westland Tai Poutini National Park extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps to the rough and isolated beaches of the wild West Coast. It is a region of brilliant primeval vistas – from snow capped mountains to glaciers, lakes, rivers, beaches and grasslands. There are more than 60 glaciers in the Westland National Park. Two of them, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are the only glaciers in the world to glow down to temperate rainforests. The glaciers come down from snowfields high in the Southern Alps, but Maori legend explains their existence more poetically. It is said that an attractive girl named Hinehukatere loved the mountains in this park and encouraged her lover, Tawe, to climb them with her. He slipped and fell to his death and Hinehukatere's tears formed the glaciers. The area is known as "Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere" - the tears of the avalanche girl. For a lot of travelers, Fox and Franz Josef are the key reason to visit this area. They move up to four metres every day, which in the glacier world is unusually fast. Right between the glaciers and the sea, the park is a haven for bird watchers. The rainforests and areas of wetland here provide shelter for rare species such as the Southern Crested Grebe (kamana), Okarito Brown Kiwi and the legendary White Heron (kotuku). For enthusiastic climbers and ski-tourers, DoC (the Department of Conservation) offers a range of alpine huts high in the park. Hikers wanting to walk to the hot pools at Welcome Flat are able to book overnight accommodation in a 'Serviced Alpine' DOC hikers' hut. The towns of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef provide a wide range of accommodation - from backpacker lodges, B&Bs, to luxury hotels. You'll also find a good range of restaurants, cafes and tour companies specialising in guided glacier walks and other types of adventure. Both towns have gas stations. If you want to experience the glaciers there are several ways to do so. You can join a guided glacier walk – they provide jackets, shoes and ice picks or you can walk to the terminus of either glacier or hike through the bush to a viewing point – please note you cannot walk on the glacier without a guided tour. Other than these options, you can take to the skies and see the glaciers from a small plane or helicopter. The one-day trek to the Welcome Flat hot pools requires a reasonable level of fitness and outdoor experience. You'll need to stay overnight in the DOC hut (a hut ticket is required) before returning, the day after. Mountaineering experience is vital for the historic Copland Track, which crosses the great divide.