The narrow strip of coastline squeezed between the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea plays host to some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscape, which is quite some claim.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park, to the north of Aoraki Mount Cook, is known as ‘glacier country’ as it is here that the enormous Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers carve valleys on their way down from 3000m snowy peaks through rainforest before melting into waterfalls and rivers that flow out to sea.
Glacial pace here is remarkably dynamic. The ancient tongues advance up to four metres a day (on the other side of the mountains, the Tasman Glacier moves only 650 millimetres daily) and hikes to their edge are often accompanied by a soundtrack of cracking and grinding ice. You can also trek higher on the glacier itself with crampons or land high up on the ice on heli-hikes.
On the coast itself, a revered place for the local Ngai Tahu Maori people, find a string of coastal lagoons, rivers, surreal rock formations and placid lakes mirroring the mountains above. The wetlands and forests are home to New Zealand’s rarest native birds, making the area a must for birders, while anglers are also well catered for. Follow the coastal road southwest to frontier-like Haast, a World Heritage Area where seals and penguins outnumber the people living in remote fishing villages. Heading northeast will bring you through a number of national parks on the way into Nelson.