In late summer we drove down the West Coast experiencing drastic changes in scenery that jolted the senses. Just when you are accustomed to rainforests the next bend reveals a coast that's as wild as it is wonderfully remote.
We'd followed the raging Buller river en route to the coast and at times it would disappear only to sneak up on us again. Note that it's supposed to be a nearly 4 hour drive from Nelson-Westport but add on at least another half hour mainly due to heavy camper van traffic which is almost impossible to pass.
A must stop is Punakaiki.. the coastal rock formations being a truly unique natural attraction (www.punakaiki.co.nz/). DOC has done a wonderful job creating a short coastal walking trail allowing for perfectly framed vistas of the pancake rocks and their erratic blowholes.
We overnighted just a few 100 metres south in a gorgeous eco villa at the Punakaiki Rocks Resort(www.punakaiki-resort.co.nz/ ) enjoying uninterrupted views of the hammering surf beyond. The shore is the perfect place for beachcombing and I was surprised that smooth stones came in so many beautifully subtle shades.
The next morning we drove South to the much anticipated glacier land and stopped en route at the historic gold town of Ross where you can still pan for gold. It's all set up for the tourist but in a delightful manner. A visit to the tiny gaol is a must and a cold beer at the quirky pub goes down very well indeed.
Franz Josef did not disappoint. The tiny alpine village is dwarfed by towering peaks while restaurants,cafes and hotels line the streets but don't take over. You can book scenic tours and flights on site but instead we drove a short ways to the well healed track that leads to the glacier - that's shrunk dramatically in size. The half hour each way hike across the stony landscape is well worth it and remember to take wet weather gear as conditions quickly change. We forgot ours and were absolutely soaked.. even my eyelashes were dripping!
Our West Coast trip has been an adventure... it maybe remote but this means a rugged unspoilt nature - a definite draw for road trippers.
Next: Inland to Otago.
To plan your travel contact Anne Van Dyke at www.annevandyke.com
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