The North Island makes up 42% of the NZ land area and is primarily volcanic in origin. The larger South Island has a mountainous spine that separates much of the island, effectively isolating the sparcelly populated west coast from the rest of the island. The mountain range contains 18 peaks higher than 9800 feet and one over 12,000.
Hiking to the Franz Joseph Glacier
The South Island is sparcelly populated, compared to the north, with just 22% of the population.
From Queenstown, located east of the mountains, we headed over steep and winding passes to reach the wetter, rugged beautiful west coast. Our first night was spent in the little town of Fox Glacier, near the glacier of the same name. The following day, after a hike to the face of nearby Franz Glacier, we settled into Greymouth (cleverly named because it was at the mouth of the Grey River!)
Sections of the west coast offer wide, sandy, little used beaches.
We enjoyed two days on the coast highway 6. While it's a well surfaced highway it is not a high speed track. Sections climb over or pass behind high headlands and the many river bridges are single lane. Bridge 13, also single lamed, is shared with the railroad tracks. Vehicles take turns crossing. The train crosses whenever it pleases.
Pancake Rocks is a must visit stop along the way. The name derives from the pattern created by the thin layers of sandstone that have eroded over the centuries.
The west coast is a bit off the beaten track but well worth the journey if you want to experience all of the many faces of NZ.