wilderness of a spectacular nature and large national parks grab
your fancy then you may want to consider a visit to the rugged and
beautiful West Coast of New Zealand's South Island.
sits on the Tasman Sea and while one side is bordered by the common
water with Australia, the other is hemmed in by the glorious Southern
West Coast stretches for some 600 kilometres from north to south
and is only some 70 kilometres wide at its broadest.
It may be small but within this area are five of New Zealand's famed
national parks, more than a third of the country's total. They are
the Kahurangi, Paparoa, Arthur's Pass, Westland and Mt Aspiring
in New Zealand's highest mountain, Mt Cook, a rich history of gold
mining, adventure tours and spots for thrillseeking and you can
see why tourists make the effort to see its rugged beauty.
are few major population centres on the coast, the town of Greymouth
is the largest and its central position in the region makes it an
excellent base for touring around.
the north there is Westport, population 5000, and to the south is
Hokitika with some 4000 residents.
also has a full set of modern services - as befits a place of 15,000
inhabitants - and if you need a bank or medical attention then that's
the place to head.
Westport is the Tauranga Bay seal colony where up to 100 New Zealand
fur seals can be found. If you want to see seal young, or pups,
then the best time is mid-November through to mid-January, when
they are born, although they stay around for most of the year because
they are suckled by their mothers for 10 months.
If you travel north from Westport you can take a turnoff to the
old mining town of Denniston, once the largest coal-producing place
in New Zealand, or continue through to Karamea and New Zealand's
second biggest national park of Kahurangi.
Denniston you can marvel at the Denniston Incline - a stunning piece
of engineering work whereby empty coal haulers were dragged back
to the top of the at times 1 to 1 gradient by the weight of full
cars heading downwards.
Kahurangi's half-million hectares, which is more easily accessible
from the more northern Marlborough Region, nature lovers rave about
the abundance of wildlife and plants. There are more than 100 species
of birds and half of New Zealand's plant varieties within its borders.
Karamea you can partake of kayaking, mountain biking and hiking.
The Heaphy Track, rated as one of the country's finest, is within
easy reach and you can either wander its diverse 82 kilometre length
or take a day hike up to the Heaphy Hut.
Westport and Greymouth is Paparoa National Park and one of its major
attractions the Pancake Rocks - formations of limestone rocks that
resemble stacks of thin pancakes. They are formed by stylobedding
where softer sections of rock are weathered away to leave the interesting
shapes. Added to the visual treat are the blowholes that at high
tide fire water spouts metres into the air.
south from Greymouth trout fishers can detour to Lake Brunner and
its famed waterways, which have been lauded (by locals of course)
as the best spots to cast a fly in the country.
on the coast some 40km south from Greymouth is Hokitika which has
renown as New Zealand's main centre for producing greenstone, or
little further south and tourists can stop at the historic town
of Ross where New Zealand's largest gold nugget was discovered.
Mining continues today and there is a miner's cottage museum.
South of Ross you are entering glacier country and the first big
one you come across is the Franz
Josef glacier, which has been known to move at a gentle five
metres a day.
giant ice wall terms - that's sprinting!
a sunny day the glacier offers spectacular ice vistas and the contrast
of blue skies on snowy mountain peaks. There are a myriad of tracks
to hike along, guided tours, helicopter hiking - whereby you are
deposited on the glacier from the air - and blue-ice caves.
25 km away from Franz Josef is Fox
Glacier, another breathtaking opportunity for photographers,
and the picturesque Lake Matheson. Just about everyone who visits
the area suggests taking time to wander around the lake (one hour
of effort) for some of the most sensational views of Mt Cook and
Mt Tasman. The best light for pictures is early morning or evening.
overlooked by New Zealanders, the West Coast is an amazing destination
for travellers with a taste for rugged mountains, beautiful bush
walks and crashing seas.