New Zealand- Chapter 15- Meandering up the West Coast

Lake Mapourika early in the morning

For the first two weeks of my trip, I’d been moving at a pretty brisk pace. Waking up on the morning of my fifteenth day, I had a different plan- today was going to be a relaxing day. In planning my itinerary for the trip, I’d left some open days in case I had to wait for the weather to clear in Franz Josef Glacier, so I could get my scenic flight in. As I noted in the previous day’s post, I was lucky and had a little clearing and got the flight in on my first day in Franz Josef. The previous evening I had poured over my guidebooks for ideas on how to fill the extra days. If I’d had to wait for the flight, I was planning a long drive with no stops. Now I was going to be able stop and check out some of the West Coast’s lesser known sights on my way north. 

 My first stop was the tiny hamlet of Okarito. Located about 25 kilometers north of Franz Josef, Okarito was the West Coast’s third largest port during the 1860s Gold Rush. Today, it is a tiny little village.

The town has a monument to Abel Tasman’s 1642 sighting of New Zealand near the town current position. His journal speaks of a “land uplifted”, which historians have supposed meant the Southern Alps. He eventually landed further north and had a conflict with local Maori.

Today, Okarito is a sleepy little place. Most of the tourists who visit do so to bird watch in the natural lagoon that surrounds the town. I took the time to take a short hike the boardwalk over the lagoon.

While I didn’t see an abundance of bird life, I did see the area’s most famous resident, the White Heron. One landed on the boardwalk right in front of me before taking off and disappearing in the lagoon’s tall grasses. 

My next stop, 100 kilometers up the road, was in Ross, another town that saw it’s heyday during the gold rush. There are a number of preserved buildings including the Empire Hotel, Ross’ most famous landmark. 


Down the road from the Empire Hotel is the Ross Goldfields Information & Heritage Centre, located in the old Bank of New South Wales building. It was here that I acquired a map to walk around the historic district located on the adjacent hillside. 

Old Ross Goal (Jail)
de Bakker Cottage interior

There were a number of restored buildings in the historic district, including the town’s jail and an example of what a home would have looked like during the peak of the Gold Rush. 

After an hour or so of exploring historic Ross, I headed back to Highway Six and continued north. A few kilometers outside Ross, I pulled off to the side of the road so I could get out and take some pictures of some Pukeko I saw running through a field. Pukeko are referred to as ‘swamp hens’, and, although they came to the islands as inhabitants of wetlands, they have adapted to other environments.

I stopped ever so briefly in the town of Hokitika, a little less than an hour north of Ross. This is another of the many west coast towns founded during the Gold Rush. I didn’t linger long in Hokitika, although all I read talked about it being a nice place to spend a day or two.

One of my reasons for stopping in Hokitika were the World War II era pill boxes I had read about the day before. I’d seen examples of New Zealand’s coastal defenses on the Otago Peninsula earlier on my trip. I hadn’t known, before visiting New Zealand, that the Kiwis considered themselves ripe for invasion during WWII and the subsequent Cold War decades. Being located so far from anywhere, I had assumed their homeland was relatively safe during these conflicts. Their own history certainly does not portray it that way.

It was early afternoon when I made it to Greymouth. With a population if a little over 10,000, it is the west coast’s largest city, accounting for over a third of it’s population. Greymouth’s history has largely been shaped by mining, first gold, and more recently coal. It is also one of the few places on the South Island that was inhabited by Maori when the first settlers arrived. It was raining hard in Greymouth when I arrived. I briefly considered stopping here for the evening, since the weather was not supposed to improve over the next few hours. Instead, I did some grocery shopping, before deciding to continue northward.


The road from Okarito to Greymouth had been scenic and winding, but the road north of Greymouth doubled in both of those areas. 

My last intended stop of the day was at the Pancake Rocks of Paparoa National Park, an hour’s drive north of Greymouth.

The Pancake Rocks area consist of a 20 minute hike around these unique cliffs. They are made of thinly layered limestone, which give them their name.

There are also a number of blowholes along the walkway, where the tide of the Tasman Sea rolls in and crashes against openings in the rock to create loud booming sounds and spouts of water ejected high in the air.

I’d made reservations for the evening’s lodging at the YHA Punakaiki Te Nikau Retreat, a few kilometers north of the Pancake Rocks. My reaction upon pulling up the the place was to think “Err, this might not be the place for me”, but I ended up being totally wrong. I was staying in a small hut, set a few meters from the complex’s main building in the forest. The hut was comfortable, and one of the most unique places I stayed in during my trip.

One of my main goals for this day had been to get into my evening lodging early than I had been, which, in this case, ended up being about an hour before darkness. After getting checked in and settled in my small bungalow, I decided I had enough time left to walk the 15 minute trail off the property and down to the Tasman Coast, a little over a mile away. I arrived on the coast just as the last of the day’s light faded from the sky. I had enough time to snap off a few pictures before heading back into the dense forest to try and navigate my way back to the hostel via flashlight.

This was a good, unexpected day. Under the original plan, had I need to wait in Franz Josef for my scenic flight, I would have been forced to skip much of the sights I had seen on this and the following day.

NEXT: Chapter Sixteen- Through the Buller Gorge to the North

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Day Fifteen Photo Gallery-   Flickr      Facebook



Other Links:
Okarito (newzealand.com)
Okarito Visitor Information
Tasman’s ‘Discovery’ of New Zealand

The first meeting between Tasman & the Maori
Ross Goldfields Tourist Information
Pukeko– DOC 
Hokitika Tourist Information 
Greymouth
Pancake Rocks & Blowholes– DOC 
YHA Punakaiki Te Nikau Retreat

The New Zealand 2012 Series:
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.2)
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.3)
Photo Essay- The Two Faces of Doubtful Sound
Chapter Nine- The Milford Sound Road
Chapter Ten- Milford Sound and The Hollyford Road
Photo Essay- Milford Sound Cruise
Chapter Eleven- Onward to Queenstown
Chapter Twelve- In, Above & Around Queenstown
Photo Essay- Sunrise over Queenstown
Chapter Thirteen- A Soggy Drive to the West Coast
Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.1)
Photo Essay- Glacier Scenic Flight
Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.2)

9 Responses to “New Zealand- Chapter 15- Meandering up the West Coast”

  1. Hogga says:

    Good luck finding the kiwis! That being said, I can see how a dog would be bad if they did find one… those things are defenseless!

    • Erik says:

      Dogs are the #1 killer of Kiwis. Can’t blame the Kiwis for not being able to fly- they lived 10,000 years on a predator free island before settlers introduced them 🙁

  2. Mary @ The World Is A Book says:

    WOW! These are some amazing scenery and gorgeous photographs. I've only been to Auckland and its outlying areas so these were such a treat to see. I just recently heard of Pancake Rocks and would love to see them and this part of NZ.

    • Erik says:

      It’s an amazing country. Of all the places I went Auckland was my least favorite– and still I very much like Auckland. The South Island is really where it’s at.

  3. Margyle says:

    I just wrote something about Greymouth!
    I love how rugged it all looks… and then the boardwalks that just seem to come out of nowhere…

  4. This place looks so quaint and beautiful! xx

  5. Natasha von Geldern says:

    I adore Okarito so very glad you stopped there – fantastic walks! Ross looks interesting, I've never really stopped there. Great trip 🙂

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