Get orientated – Westland/Tai Poutini National Park is the ideal space to let your inner explorer off the leash. The park stretches from the top of the Southern Alps in the east to the Tasman Sea in the west, and its dramatic glaciers, dense rainforest, coastal lagoons and vast lakes make it a haven for walkers and climbers. One of its highlights – the Roberts Point Track – is set to reopen by March 2015; it has been closed since sustaining severe flood-damage in 2013. Starting at Douglas Bridge, the route meanders through Waiho Valley, across ice-carved rock, glacial outcrops and a vertigo-inducing suspension bridge, rewarding visitors with panoramic vistas of peaks and ice caps, including Franz Josef Glacier.
Getting there – Emirates flies London Gatwick-Christchurch from £826 return; flight time 30 hours with stopovers. The easiest way to reach the national park is by car. Located off State Highway Six, Westland/ Tai Poutini is a 5.5-hour drive from Christchurch. Alternatively catch an internal flight from Christchurch to Hokitika and then drive (90mins). The Roberts Point Track is accessible via the Douglas Walk from Franz Josef Glacier car park.
The visit – The park’s biggest draws are its 60 staggering glaciers, in particular Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – the largest. For glacier views without having to step on the ice, the Roberts Point Track is your best bet. You can buy trail maps and find the latest weather forecasts at the DOC Westland/Tai Poutini National Park visitor centre. Beware of changing conditions; the weather can worsen suddenly so organise your trip wisely and make someone aware of your plans. Checkwww.doc. govt.nz for opening updates. There’s more to the park than glaciers, though. Also explore its lowland rainforests and coastal wetlands and lakes, such as the calm, reflective waters of Lake Matheson. These areas are perfect for wading birds: see threatened great-crested grebe at Lake Mapourika, elusive white heron at Okarito Lagoon and endangered rowi – the country’s rarest kiwi – in the forests.