The Wild, Wild West Coast

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
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Trip End Feb 26, 2011


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Where I stayed
Ottos / Macdonalds westland national park

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, October 24, 2010

We woke up and set off before any of the other people on the site. We knew today was basically mostly going to be about driving but the Lady had us firmly on course to make sure we saw the blow holes at full tide, that meant setting off early. After a boring misty drive we finally arrived in the city of Westport, a 'city' with about 4800 people, this a commercial hub for the West coast, (are you joking me) with two petrol stations a supermarket and not much else we knew we had arrived on the Westside. There really was not much doing apart from all the river banks crammed with people who seemed to be netting on the streams. We had no idea what this was about but guessed that people liked to fish on a bank holiday weekend. As we left with a restocked fridge and some fuel (we thought we had run out at one point on the way) we followed the route 6 suggested to be one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world and similar to the Big Sur (something we did whilst back in California a few years ago).

The coastline was lovely and we finally arrived at the pancake rocks, in Punakaiki, about 30 minutes before full tide. The pancake rocks were what we saw first so called because they are like thin layers of pancakes piled one on top of another (not like we have pancakes in our house, grab the pan make one then disappear and neck your concoction before your partner even knows what was on it, before repeating the process). They were actually much better than I thought, I imagined it was just something to break up the drive. The next highlight on the brief walk were the Hectors dolphins (the spinner dolphins from back in the Whitsundays) who we could see from the rocks. They don’t jump as much as a regular dolphin but roll in the water hence the nickname spinners. As full tide approached the blow holes started to blow. It wasn’t a really rough day and I can only imagine how spectacular they are then but still it’s pretty weird to see water sprayed so far up into the air from a hole in a rock. We are a few days behind at the moment so I’m not spending to long describing... sorry, it was good though and a brief summation will do.

We drove the fantastic coast road to Greymouth, but passing every river and stream stacked with people netting, Erica quickly researched to find we are here for the whitebaiting season. An industry which pretty much transforms everyone on the west coast in to a fisherman. Whilst only fetching 35 a kilo on the river inland and on the North Island this can be over 100 a kilo. It is well out of our budget but was really odd to see so many people at it and houses acting as wholesalers buying and selling in towns of maybe 50 people. It kind of felt wrong to see it but we are reassured by the fact it is the only species in NZ which without a license you can catch as much of as you can so it is obviously very, very abundant.

When we hit the west coasts major city of Greymouth it amazed us just how small it was maybe about 13,000 people, but the town was closed for a motorbike grand prix session so it was odd to see these tiny streets set out in sandbags at the corners with high speed bikes whizzing around. There were loads of bikers everywhere out to watch which answered our earlier question "how come all the bikes on the road".

Our next stop was the tiny township of Okarito which is famous for its fish plentiful lagoon which is a fantastic wet land for tons of birds. We had a walk around but realised that it would be so much better in a kayak so decided to take a rain check and maybe come back a day or two later depending on what we got up to in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier county – we really couldn’t handle two days kayaking on the bounce and anyway our arms were still a bit sore to even consider it (James we don’t know how you do it).

After a few more kilometres we arrived at Franz Joseph Township, a town essentially just built for tourism as this is one of the locations on the west coast where one of the most accessible glaciers is. We went to the I-site and got told no free camping just use the DOC 15k down the road. Franz Josef is known as being one of if not the wettest place in New Zealand at almost sea level it gets 6m of rain per year at the top of the glacier it gets 45m of snowfall per year. We decided to take Stuart and Emma’s advise and book a full day glacier trek, they only did the half day and really regretted it, the weather report was a bit ropey but what the hell apparently the ice is meant to appear bluer in the rain.

We toddled off to the doc to find it at the side of a lake with amazing views and only one other van there. A Scottish guy who despite the Lady’s protesting said I embarrassed him in front of his wife with just how much I did, cooking and running around after her (that says only one thing to me, lazy bloody cow, pull your finger out woman and look after me). We had a dinner of chorizo (from the bargain bin obviously) with own brand tomato sauce heaps of red wine in it and pasta. We then watched another film from Chris and Sarah’s selection box ‘Fired Up’ which was a cheesy number and I fell asleep before the end.  Erica spent the evening crushing sand flies to the roof of the van with her thumb.
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