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Sea, lakes, waterfalls and bloodsucking mossies

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 3, part 2

We continued south-west on the Haast Highway, popping out at the coast briefly before the road wound back inland.

Motorhomes, West Coast

A common sight around these parts

Bruce Bay

Named after a paddle steamer called Bruce which brought in gold miners and explorers way back when, it’s hard to picture this remote area being home to 2000 people during the gold rush. With about six permanent residents now, the only rush these days is from inquisitive people exiting their vehicles at this popular photo spot. As well as being a rugged windblown (well it definitely was that day) beach, it has lots of driftwood and amazing pure white stones. There’s also an interesting ritual of writing messages on rocks.

Bruce Bay, West Coast


Bruce Bay

Lake Paringa

This stop was memorable. Not for the natural treasures which this scenic reserve contains, but for the mosquitos, dozens of the little buggers. A few people had been staying in the Dept of Conservation campground judging by the tents, and we wondered how they had coped. Needless to stay we didn’t linger for too long. However, it was a beautiful and peaceful place. Like most major lakes in the South Island, Paringa was formed by glaciers a very, very, very, very long time ago.

Lake Paringa

Lake Paringa

Knight’s Point

Where the highway pops out at the coast again there’s another stopping opportunity. As well as some great views of dramatic coastline and native bush (which we did appreciate through the wind and rain), a plaque at Knight’s Point commemorates the 1965 milestone when the final section of the Haast Highway was completed nearby, which for the first time established a road link between Otago and Westland.

Knight's Point, West Coast

View from Knight's Point

Ship Creek

The small river Tauperikaka acquired a new name when part of a ship was found washed up on the beach, believed to be from a shipwreck off the coast of Australia. Loved this stop – there are so many fantastic natural features to race round with a camera after. Must do the walkways next time, there’s one to a lake and another through the ancient kahikatea swamp forest.

Ship Creek, Westland

Ship Creek, Westland

Ship Creek beach, Westland

Kahikatea swamp forest, Ship Creek

Thunder Creek Falls

We steered back inland again, pausing for a bite in Haast Junction and a mosey through the visitor centre-slash-museum, before continuting toward Haast Pass. This is the lowest of the passes that cross the Southern Alps and forms part of the boundary between Otago and Westland. There’s a truck load of potential stopping points and walks through here but we limited our activities to things that could be done without too much faffing. A five minute return walk fitted the bill nicely.

The height of these falls doesn’t break any records but does indicate the level of the glacier when the Haast River was formed a hundred or so centuries ago. And just the short walk-in alone was worth it.

Thunder Creek Falls walkway

Haast River at Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls, Haast Pass

Gates of Haast

We drove over the single lane iron bridge at the Gates of Haast. While fairly impressive in itself, I spied a glimpse of white water below, so we veered into the carpark up the road and I scuttled back. Here the Haast River narrows and drops and water thrusts over the massive boulders in the riverbed. A tramping track departs from here and goes below the bridge which would have been cool to investigate – but Mike was back with the car and we still had much to do.

A couple of k’s up the road I unfortunately wasn’t onto it enough to be ready for the wee old explosives hut at the side of the road which harks back to when the road was being built.

Gates of Haast bridge

White foxglove

Fantail Falls

Pining for the hut visit and photo that wasn’t, I was somewhat placated by another waterfall stop. This involved another short walk through masses of lush greenery and across a dry part of the riverbed. Just visible at the foot of the falls are the concrete foundation remains of a water wheel used during the construction of the Haast Highway.

Fantail Falls fern frond

Fantail Falls, Haast Pass


Lake Wanaka

We crossed the highest point of Haast Pass and again I was caught on the hop for we sailed on by without stopping for a look and a compulsory photo or two.

‘Twas not long before we were at the northern tip of Lake Wanaka – not an end I think I’d seen before. I’m more acquainted with the southern end where the Wanaka township sits. This is NZ’s fourth largest lake, sitting in a narrow but long glacier-carved channel, and is flanked by mountainous peaks. You can imagine how gorgeous this area can look in winter.

We stopped a couple of times and the strong wind was a blessing as it prevented any lurking mossies from being able to settle on our succulent flesh.

Northern end of Lake Wanaka

Northern end of Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka northern end

Southern shore of Lake Wanaka

Southern shore of Lake Wanaka

Lake Hawea

Nearby and running parallel with Lake Wanaka is Hawea. Back when glaciers ruled, the lakes were connected by ice over a pass now called The Neck which the main road traverses. Today they are part of the massive hydro-electricity network in the lower South Island and the level of Lake Hawea was artificially raised in the 1950s to allow more water to be stored. Like its neighbour, the southern end of the lake is where the township is.

Lake Hawea from The Neck

Lake Hawea from the Neck

Western arm of Lake Hawea from the Neck

Western arm of Lake Hawea


We were almost done. After a well-deserved beverage in Wanaka we drove into the historical Cardrona Valley for our overnight stop.

Down the West Coast to Glacier Country

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 2

The day began in very holiday-like fashion with a dip in the hotel’s pool (Mike) and spa (me) next to where another guest was being bossed around by a trainer in the gym. “Madness”, I thought as I concentrated on staying as still as possible.

We didn’t lounge about for too long though as there were a few k’s to cover today. Armed with takeaway coffees we hit the road, happy we’d soon be reacquainted with the South Island’s West Coast.

To get there we drove through the Tasman region south of Nelson. Every now and then I would emit a gasp or squeal and over the course of the trip Mike would come to recognise this as meaning Hayley has seen an abandoned and decaying building. I always feel a strong urge to investigate and snap these and we could have stopped a dozen times – but we actually only stopped once.

Abandoned house, Tasman

Oh how I love thee

We drove through country which has experienced big earthquakes, stopping to top up tummies in the small town of Murchison. Here and nearby there were two 7+ quakes in 1929 which permanently changed parts of the landscape forever.

Murchison main street

Meet small town NZ (in 2006 the population of Murchison was less than 500). By all accounts a great base for river and tramping activities, we just scoffed a quick bite and scuttled on through

Cue the Buller Gorge which follows the Buller River for a good chunk of its 170km length, where it eventually spits out into the Tasman Sea.

West Coast roads, South Island, NZ

The Buller River

The Buller River


Foxgloves were a common splash of colour across the countryside

Foxgloves were a common splash of colour across the countryside

One lane bridges are a common sight around parts of NZ and we experienced many on our trip. This was another one lane feature: a 19th century solution for making a road go around a vertical cliff. Just blast a slice out of it – easy peazy.

Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge

Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge

We eventually emerged onto the coast road. I’m glad it wasn’t a bluebird day as that wouldn’t have fitted my perception of this part of the world.

West Coast, NZ

Hi, West Coast

Before the overnight stop the main planned break was at Punakaiki (poo-na-ky-kee), famous for its Pancake Rocks. I visited here 15 or so years ago and since then the facilities have been transformed to include cafes and souvenir shops. I don’t feel it’s been overdone, provided they leave it as it is now, and the walkway loop through bush and flax to the rocks is beautiful.

The limestone rocks have two main features: pancake-like layering and blowholes. The rocks themselves are very dramatic and wonderful to look at. Unfortunately we were there at low tide so there was no, er, blowing.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

The Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

I did develop a bit of a craving for pancakes after visiting

Some rocks are slowly succumbing to the powerful forces of nature

Some rocks are slowly succumbing to the powerful forces of nature

I don't think I've ever seen so much flax in one place

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much flax in one place

Not far away we stopped again to avoid raging at the chronically dawdling motorist in front (if you’re going to take your time that’s fine, but for god’s sake let others past). But I would have pulled in here anyway. Beside State Highway 6, alongside the coast and looking inland to roughly where the event took place, is the memorial for 19 miners who died in 1967 when gas exploded in the Strongman Mine.

Strongman Mine Memorial

Strongman Mine Memorial

We arrived in Glacier Country and the town of Franz Josef. Time was not in abundance so we hadn’t planned to visit the famous local glacier. But we did decide to drive as far as we could in the hope of at least seeing it.

Driving into Franz Josef

Hi, Franz Josef

A British explorer in the 1850s had named the glacier Victoria after the British Monarchy at the time, but he didn’t register the name (nor any others he came up with – doh!). So the following decade, Austrian explorer Julius Von Haast was able to claim it, and so it was named after the Emperor of Austria.

The glacier is a few k’s pleasant walk from town, or you can drive/bus further up the valley and from there walk for 40-ish minutes.

Franz Josef Glacier carpark

Or if you’re like us, just see what you can from the carpark

Closer up view thanks to zoom lense

And you can see a bit more with a zoom lense

The glacier is currently 19km from the sea and they reckon it would have extended to the coast about 15,000 years ago. (Damn, just missed it.) Now it’s retreating – there are some great comparative photos in this article (make sure to use the ‘slider’).

Less than half an hour’s drive away is the town of Fox Glacier where we were booked for the night. We checked in and given it was already early evening, zoomed off down the road to Lake Matheson, renowned for gorgeous mountain reflections. And not of just any old peak, but NZ’s highest, Aoraki / Mount Cook, and its neighbour, Mount Tasman. I was quite excited as I’ve seen Mt Cook only a couple of times before, AND the low cloud that was lurking had decided to clear, AND it seemed to be a fairly still evening.

We found the carpark (with large fancy souvenir shop and restaurant) and path. Another beautiful walk through bush took us to the first lake/mountain viewing point… and rats. The air was not as still as we’d thought. Reflections just weren’t to be and so there wasn’t much point continuing further around the lake. The expedition wasn’t a total loss though.

No glassy reflections but a view over to Mounts Tasman and Cook all the same

No glassy reflections but a view over to Mounts Tasman and Cook all the same

Here also

Here also

Mt Sefton, I think

Mt Sefton, maybe

By then the need for dinner was becoming urgent. Back in town, as we worked through our meals, we eyed the lastest forecast. There was some wet stuff on the way – we just hoped it wouldn’t bugger up plans to see the Fox Glacier in the morning.


I have located my photos/negatives from a 1995 trip to the South Island and this is the photo I took of Franz Josef Glacier from the carpark. It’s hard to relate the general situation as it is now to how it was almost 18 years ago.

Franz Josef Glacier in 1995

Franz Josef Glacier in 1995

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