South Island Stories and Tips

Driving the West Coast -WOW!!!

Beach at Chip Creek Cove Photo, West Coast, New Zealand

There was a certain amount of disappointment in driving through the mountains due to less than ideal weather – cloud, mist, drizzle and occasionally full on rain – but on heading over the Haast Pass, I saw light at the end of the tunnel – sunshine. The drive down was amazing with snow topped peaks, the raging river swishing past at the top, slowing down to a meandering river at the bottom and many waterfalls – I only stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls, which is just off the road, but there are others close to the road to stop at as well, and all well signposted. It was a lovely drive, but its was about to be outdone by the drive up the West Coast.
I briefly stopped in Haast, just to break the drive and get a coffee –but decided I wanted to head on – and good decision rather than hang around the rather uninspiring Haast, there was so much to see ahead. First stop was Ship Creek Cove which is just off the road with a large car park – but it was rather empty – and the beach was deserted, a reminder of the remote nature of this part of New Zealand – waves crashed on the beach, which was strewn with driftwood. The cove has an interesting history – its name came because fragments of a ship were found here. In fact over time several fragments of the same ship were found – a fine sailing ship – its identity was eventually discovered – a ship wrecked off the Australian coast in 1855, and the fragments made the trip to this beach. Quirky facts aside this was a lovely spot to get out of the car and walk along a deserted, quiet beach, simply enjoying the peace and quiet.
But onwards – there are plenty of amazing views and places to stop – such as Knight’s Point which was named after a dog of the construction crew who built the road. But having enjoyed sunshine, my luck ran out again – as clouds and rain rolled in as I headed towards Fox Glacier, and there was little to see in all the cloud – so I thought why not chance it onto Franz Josef glacier - which worked out better – now the sun didn’t come out but it at least had stopped raining, so even if the views weren’t great, I could get out of the car and see the glacier a little. Now the road up is gravel and a little rough but it is worth it in the end. Now my next question was whether to stop there and see if the next day was any better, or to head further up the coast. I decided as I had been up close to glaciers in the past and due to the limited time frame of the trip, to head onward and see what happened next.
The weather fluxed between grey, sunshine and rain as I drove on further – which gave an even more dramatic backdrop to the drive. The twists and turns of this road will take the drivers attention, and at times road signs will indicate recommended speeds of 25kph, which are well deserved. The scenery ranges from snow capped mountains, beaches, waves crashing on rocks, lakes, forests, farmland to small villages.
That night I ended up in Hokitika, and stayed in a chalet overlooking the beach – I wandered down to the beach and found one of the many pieces of driftwood to sit on and enjoy the sunset, with fire colours reflecting on the sand and sea – it was beautiful! I also picked up a few green tinged stones to added to my collection. I was tired after all the driving and had a quick dinner, and headed for an early night. The next morning was up early, and a walk around the town centre, looking at the shops – including pounamu (jade) carvings. And then back on the road and heading towards Greymouth having filled up the tank. I took a detour to Shantytown, an attempt to recreate the gold rush era of the region – its kind of interesting but better if you had kids – its was kind of cool to pan for gold even if it was a little artificial, with a guarantee to find gold, which you get in a souvenir container. And back on the road through Greymouth to Punakaiki and then Westport. This section of the road is truly amazing for scenery with white capped breakers and sometimes rugged rocks or then again sweeping beaches with bush-clad mountains as a backdrop. Then come the Pancake Rocks –a short trail of 20 minutes takes you out from the road and village to see the rocks, which do kind of look like stacks of pancakes – they are kind of strange! There are a few places to eat here, and I took the opportunity for a break with coffee and a muffin. Then back on the road to be amazed with all the scenery on the way to Westport, before heading inland again through Buller Gorge.
While this road is twisty, the drive is so worth it, my only disappointment was that I didn’t have more time to properly drive it – only one night stop at Hokitika is too little – but that was the way the cookie crumbled with time constraints – and there is so much to see and enjoy along the West Coast – it seems to have an unspoilt quality due to its sparse population. And its lovely to drive on empty roads – good thing they are with the single lane bridges – but loved the peace and tranquillity, the scenery, the beauty – oh to go back!

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