Lakes and Glaciers of the Southern Alps

Fox Glacier

On our first trip to Hokitika back in 2015, there was something about this place that got under Jonno’s skin. I am not sure if it was the moonscape beaches, the sunsets, being hemmed in by the wild Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps or even the wacky name but it was one of the places he was really looking forward to returning to. The only accommodation our budget was the 252 Beachside Motel. Perfectly adequate. A little out of town but a stone’s throw from the beach so all good for those sunset walks.


A stroll through the museum and the shops and you are left with no doubt that synonomous with Hokitika is whitebait (conservationists nightmare) and pounamu (greenstone). Neither of these tempted us but we are curious to see the pounamu shops and galleries competing with each other. I have also been told by a fairly reliable source that you should never buy greenstone for yourself. Tradition goes that the stones apparently have their own spirits and choose their wearer so buying one for yourself is seem as bad luck and would anger the spirit or guardian of the stone. This didn’t seem to bother must of the shoppers we saw!

Hokitika Gorge

Following the scribbled notes in my trusty diary, one of the things we wanted to do this time was drive the 35km to Hokitika Gorge and return via Lake Kaniere. The drive inland towards the mountains was picturesque, fairly quiet and straight-forward with only the last 2km or so on unsealed tracks. We were not prepared, however,for the mayhem that was the car park at the Gorge. There were around 20 parking spots at the entrance to the short forest walk to the gorge. All were full which was fine but there was some very weird maneuvering going on to try and squeeze in little gaps or turn around, especially as some of these were the campervans of the larger variety. We spotted the chaos fairly early and managed to steer well clear. The short walk to the entrance must have taken us all of 5 minutes. Obviously 5 minutes too long for some people on a tight schedule.

It  was about a ten minute walk through the forest and over a swing bridge to the gorge. The colour of the water was hard to believe. A turquoise like no other caused by rock flour is is ground down glacial rock which is so fine that it is suspended in the melt ice giving a milky translucent colour.  There were a few people making a leap of faith into the waters below but it was risky. The water level compared to winter was fairly low, there were hidden boulders below the water line and it is ice melt water so shockingly cold. After some people watching and sitting in the sunshine, we headed off to our lunch location – Lake Kaniere.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

Fox Glacier


On our way we spotted a large memorial, we had assumed it was a war memorial that you see in most settlements. On closer inspection it was to the seven victims of a mass murder carried out at the settlement in the 1940s. A man hunt and the local man was eventually fatally wounded. Disputes with neighbours and mental health issues seem to be the route cause of the murders.

Lake Kaniere

Jonno’s navigation skills brought us to the south eastern shore of the lake. We needed to head along the eastern edge to be heading back towards Hokitika. Little did my expert navigator realise that this was a unsealed track – only around 25km. These roads are a bit tough on our little family runaround but Dexy rose to the challenge and at around the 20km mark there was a sign in the hedge saying Rose Bay and a even smaller track. Dexy led the way and we went through what felt like the undergrowth to a lovely little pebble beach with glorious views. Lunch was served!

Hokitika Lake

A short walk at Canoe Cove to work off the snacks made for the perfect end to our excursion. Time and time again, I think the transformation from scribbled notes to actual views and memories is one of the best things about our travels.

Rose Bay

Gold Rush Central

A lot of travellers whizz straight from Hokitika to the glaciers of Franz-Josef and Fox but it you have that precious commodity time. Stop off at some of the scenic reserves and other places. We had read that most of the west coast was built on the fortunes of gold, coal and timber and the stories of these early settlers are hair-raising. As we travelled away from Hokitika we soaked some of this history at Rimu and Ross. Near to Hokitika at Rimu 500 miners were working on the goldfields and it was a steady gold producer.

Rimu at Hokitika Gorge

A large community including two hotels, two bakeries and various other shops were established to tempt the prospectors to spend their finds but it was at Ross, further south of Hokitika, in 1909 that the largest find was made. Two miners discovered a 3.1kg nugget which was later named the Honourable Roddy Nugget. It was bought for £400 by a Ross storekeeper and in 1911 it was bought by the government and given as a Coronation gift to King George V. That is where the trail goes cold. Evidently the nugget was melted down make a royal tea service. On the centenary of the find in 2009 after extensive research by Buckingham Palace, no record of the tea service could be found so keep your eyes open at the boot fair and charity shops!

Roddy Nugget

Fox Glacier

We had stayed over and explored Franz-Josef Glacier on our previous trip and walked as near to the glacier face as we could so this time we decided to stay at Fox Glacier. Relatively smaller than it’s neighbour Franz-Josef but we liked the place more. There were not such a variety of restaurants and trips but that didn’t bother us. Once again accommodation was at a premium in both price and availability, even back in June when we made all our bookings. We managed to get a small unit on a Top 10 Resort which did the job and we had mountain views behind us and views of all the camper vans in front. We did feel a bit guilty but also a little smug on our chairs on the covered porch when it poured with rain.

Fox Glacier Top 10 Park

There was a lot of low cloud for a our few days in the area. We could tell from early morning from the absence of helicopters taking sightseers up onto the glacier. Despite the low cloud, we did complete the two scribbled objectives in the diary. One was the walk to as near to the glacier as is practically safe. The walk took about an hour there and back and was fairly steep near the end with large signs saying “Do not stop for the next 200 metres”. This was due to the ever changing landscape and rock falls. On one of the information boards there was even an article from a few years ago about two tourists who left the marked trail, probably for a photo, and ended up crushed to death from a ice fall. From our viewpoint and the nearest we could get without leaving the marked track, we could see the guides taking their groups near to the ice arches left by the melting glacier. I felt that it was quite sobering to see on our drive back to the main road the markers of where the face of the glacier was in 1750 and even in the photos we had seen from 1950s we would have been under the ice from where we were viewing the glacier today.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Lake Matheson

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one day, after a swift lunch, we headed off to Lake Matheson which is know as “mirror lake”. In the early morning or when the sun is low in the evening, the reflection of the mountains in the still waters is supposed to take your breath away. We walked the hour and a half circuit of the lake and because the conditions were not favourable the only breath taking thing to report was the Hummingbird Cake in the rather fabulous Matheson Cafe. I may need to steal a photo to show you the lake in all it’s glory on a fine day. No photo of the cake I am afraid, we were sharing and I am not sure I even got half!!

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

Where will we spend New Year’s Eve?

It is scribbled in the diary of course but the really really important things like a reunion a few days later is printed neatly in ink. You will just have to wait to the next post for the answers to these burning questions.

Lake Jetty

Next – Seeing in the New Year at Wanaka

28/12 – 30/12/2017


  1. I was at Franz Josef and Fox glaciers in Nov. It had been 3 years since I’d last been there and the glaciers had noticeably retreated in that time. When I compare photos from the two visits there is an obvious chunk of glacier now missing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lake Matheson and Lake Kaniere look very similar to those fabulous lakes you blogged about from Canada. Fabulous looking places. I’m always amazed at how much you cram in on your little jaunts.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a fabulous landscape! Your photos make me want to jump on a plane. 🙂 🙂 I always keep a travel diary but sometimes when the memories are vivid I forget to consult it. Different when you’re traveling, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

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