After crossing to the South Island by ferry – a wonderful journey across the Cook Strait and through Queen Charlotte Sound – we drove along the South Island’s north coast all the way to the beginning of the Farewell Spit at the northern end of Golden Bay.
The spit can only be visited on a tour but close by there are some nice beaches. One of them is Wharariki Beach, reached by a short walk from a parking lot where a hungry (or just cheeky) peacock fights against the wind – obviously a struggle with those long feathers.
The beach is huge, especially at low tide, wild, and strewn with huge rocks. There’s a grotto in one of the big rocks on the beach and we went inside to explore. The smell inside was disgusting but, although I had smelled that before, I didn’t realize what it was until the loud barking of a fur seal startled us. The animal was resting on the stones in the grotto. They’re hard to see but actually easily identifiable because of their bad body odor. Feeling bad for disturbing it, we quickly left the grotto only to stumble upon another fur seal outside. Although we had read that there were fur seals on that beach, we didn’t expect to see them that easily. Just keep your eyes (and nose) open, they’re everywhere!
The beach is fantastic to walk along; you could probably walk for hours, climb on and over boulders and rock and explore caves and grottoes. Wharariki Beach was a wonderful first impression of the South Island’s wild west coast and its stunning beaches.
From Wharariki Beach, there’s no road down the west coast so you have to go back to Motueka and then take the road through the mountains. The drive is gorgeous and leads through dense and untouched forest and over huge rivers that cut through the mountains.
It rains a lot on the west coast. More than anywhere else in New Zealand. From what we’ve heard, there are more rainy than sunny days but we couldn’t confirm that because while traveling along the west coast, we had the most beautiful weather you could wish for. It was sunny and warm and Westport seemed to be a really pleasant town. Somewhere, however, I read that it has also been referred to as the “Siberia of New Zealand”. I assume we were just very lucky.
A few kilometers south of town there’s a walking trail to a seal colony and along the coast to the lighthouse at Cape Foulwind (nice name. There must be seals there, too). The coast is absolutely stunning. We walked the trail in the hours before sunset and the light and the mood were absolutely amazing. On one side of the trail, there are green fields with grazing sheep, on the other side cliffs, small beaches below, and rocks offshore where the waves crash.
I’m sure this place is beautiful no matter what the weather; on stormy days it’s just another kind of beautiful than when the sun shines. But then again, I haven’t been here on a rainy day…
Driving south from Westport, the landscape constantly changes. Sometimes, the mountains rise straight from the sea, then a few kilometers further they seem quite far away and you drive through green meadows, grazing cows and sheep between you and the ocean.
An almost compulsory stop is at the Punakaiki pancake rocks. The rocks, rising from the sea, look like huge stacks of (obviously huge) pancakes, hence the name. During high tide, water bursts through several blowholes. Although very touristy, it’s definitely worth the stop. I mean, where else can you see something like that? Again, the west coast is amazing and should be on every traveler’s New Zealand-itinerary!
Established during the gold rush in the 1860s, Hokitika has some lovely old buildings and incredibly wide streets. The nearby Arahura River is a source of pounamu (greenstone/jade) and there are several galleries and workshops in town that sell pounamu jewelry.
Half an hour drive from town is Hokitika Gorge, where the dazzling turquoise-blue waters of the river carve their way through almost white stone. The walk to the river is short but the swing bridge is cool and the river is a great place to relax for a while.