New Zealand is a country full of extremes, especially when it comes to natural phenomena. It can be snowing one week and then sunny and hot the next. You can see palm trees at the base of a glacier or observe stacked rocks that are flat as pancakes. These are some of the interesting natural wonders that make visiting New Zealand so unique.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two of the main draws of the south island. These glaciers are unique for a couple of reasons. First, they stretch from high in the mountains down close to sea level near tropical vegetation. You can stand in the parking lot and see palm trees with a glacier in the background. The second unique aspect is how quickly the glaciers are retreating (Franz Josef is predicted to retreat 5 km by the year 2100). I don’t typically think of natural features changing rapidly, but the glaciers are retreating so quickly that there can be significant change in just a few years. People I know that visited the glaciers in 2010 had a very different experience than my own. Visitors used to be able to hike to the glacier and walk directly on it, but that is no longer allowed since the glaciers have become unstable. Now, the only way to reach the glaciers is by helicopter or plane. I elected to skip the helicopter tour since the cost was out of my price range (325 NZD and up), but I do think it would be an incredible experience.
The Pancake Rocks are located in Punakaiki directly off of Highway 6. It is a short walk down to the rocks, and you can easily spend over an hour admiring these interesting limestone formations and taking in the sweeping ocean views. Scientists are still uncertain about what exactly caused the rocks to form the way they did, but you can learn about several theories at the visitor center or along the walking trail. This area is also known for its blowholes, where ocean water is forced vertically through holes in the rocks.