Glaciers, blue pools, and more, driving down NZ’s South Island

New Zealand is simply spectacular, even just driving between the top spots you get to see so many breathtaking landscapes. After hiking in Abel Tasman, and sleeping in Nelson one last night, we picked up a rental car and hit the road down the South Island’s west coast for a couple of days. These are the places we stopped at along the way:

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Punakaiki: Unique limestone formations casually known as “pancake rocks”, they create a bizarre view against the splashy sea, particularly in a gloomy day, and make for a nice visit to stretch your legs after 3.5 hours in the car.

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Hokitika: Quaint town with a beach famous for its driftwood, a mandatory photo opportunity and a great place to stop for lunch, about 1 hour after Punakaiki and 2 hours before Fox. On the way out, the Hokitika river offers a first look at the celeste blue waters that I will always associate with NZ.

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Fox Glacier: Supposedly, one of the most memorable adventures one can experience in NZ, the glacier can be explored as part of a heli hike tour. Even though it is quite expensive, we were planning on splurging to celebrate Elena’s birthday, but unfortunately the tours get canceled when the weather is bad, which happens rather often. To scratch the itch, we did the short 1 hour roundtrip hike to the receding face of the glacier. Fox and nearby Franz Joseph, which also offers heli glacier hikes, are the most touristy towns in the area, good places to stay overnight, and stock up on groceries and gas.

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Haast Pass: Lush mountains, celeste river waters, and the need to step every few minutes to take pictures. Plan the drive for longer than the 2 hours on Google Maps.

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Blue Pools: One of the hikes with the highest reward-to-effort ratio ever, less than 1 hour roundtrip to check out these amazingly clear, turquoise pools on the Makarora River. Bring bugspray, there were tons of mosquitoes. From here, it’s only 1.5 hours to Wanaka, or a bit over 3 hours to Tekapo, the most typical overnight stops in the area.

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