The Wild Wild West

May 1, 2014
Last weekend was Anzac Day, which is like New Zealand’s version of Veteran’s Day. (Yes, NZ has actually been involved in wars- both of the world wars in fact. They were more a part of it than you’d think.)
Anyways, with a long weekend presented to us, we decided to explore an area of south island that we’ve never been to- the northern west coast. The road up there is a dead end road, making it less attractive to tourists (yes!). Tour buses pretty much don’t even go there (double yes!).

Here’s a map of the top half of the south island and our route:
It takes 3.5-4 hours to get from Christchurch to the west coast when the weather is cooperative. Our drive took a little longer.
The main road through Arthur’s Pass: sometimes you have to divert the waterfall over the highway!

On the way, we stopped in a little town called Blackball for some mountain biking. I’d been really keen to do this trail since Scott had been hyping it up since he went several months ago. Unfortunately, I crashed super hard in the first 10 minutes. My confidence was a bit shaken and my elbow busted. We continued the ride, but I spent more time looking at the ferns than really ripping up the trail.

Why’d ya have to buck me off?
We stayed the night in a hostel “resort” called the Te Nikau Retreat in Punakaiki. I didn’t get any pictures of the place but it was pretty neat. It has the most beautiful rainforest setting ever, and there are lots of 2 person accommodation options including a few private huts off in the ferns (which were all sold out by the time we booked). If you want to spend a night in the Te Nikau, just know you will hear animal noises all night (call it ambiance) and maybe avoid Room 1 (ours) and Room 2 in the main house. They make homemade muffins and bread at 5am every morning, which is lovely unless you have to hear the whole process happening.
Anyways, in the morning we cruised down through their rainforest trail to the beach. I love how everything grows on everything in the rainforest!

The west coast beaches are no gentle, shallow beaches like ours in Christchurch. You’ll find beautiful, jagged coastline akin to Northern California. Except here, the rainforest practically falls into the ocean.

Cool wind patterns in the rock hanging over the beach
And a small waterfall over the limestone 


Rainforest (distance) meets beach grass.

Later that day we did the Poporari River Track. This is a beautiful, easy meander next to the Poporari River. There are massive limestone bluffs jutting out either side of the river, making for some dramatic scenery. As stunning as it was, it was probably still my least favorite thing we did! (Thats how amazing the west coast is!!)

That night we jetted up to Karamea to the Oparara Basin to see the arches. More on that in my next post (because it deserves it’s own!).  We stayed at the Wangapeka Backpackers and Farmstay in Little Wanganui. (Say that 10 times fast). They were gracious and accommodating hosts, and although I did not get awoken by a sheep peering in my bedroom window as I hoped, I would still recommend a stay with them. They’ll also accept WOOFers, for those of you traveling the country doing that.

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but there was a massive storm (surprise, surprise) on the west coast. Its the same storm I whined about last time I posted, but in Christchurch all it did was cause a little flooding. Again. On the west coast, it was apparently a “One in 500 year storm” and the wind damage is extensive. Just about every hike we came across was closed. Trees down for miles in just about every direction. Land slides galore. Probably not the best time to visit the west coast, but that’s when we went.

Bill and Leita at the Wangapeka Backpackers and Farmstay have hundreds of trees down on their property and will probably accept any help (WOOFers) they can get in getting it cleared.

For us, it meant destruction of what was probably the #1 thing Scott was looking forward to…

We did this hike that was meant to lead us to a 100m long tunnel cave. Headlamps required. Sense of adventure required. There’s a stream running through it, and there were meant to be glowworms. GLOWWORMS. So cool.

Beginning of the hike. A lot of debris, but we could cope…

About 40 minutes in we got to this atrocity. We tried to see through it. We tried to climb around it. It really looks like nothing in this picture. But there was basically no passing. At least not on a day when we were hoping to have a few different adventures and you know, get out alive…

What a disappointment. No cave. No glowworms.
Consoling himself with a cookie.

Later in the day we drove “to the end of the road” north of Karamea to Kohaihai Beach. This is where the famous Heaphy Track starts, and where all vehicles must stop.

I liked this rock.

The Heaphy Track is one of NZ’s 9 “Great Walks“. It is an 82 kilometer track that most people walk in 5-6 days or bike in 3-4 days. The Heaphy Track is the only way to get out and truly see the north west coast after the road ends. There’s no other access unless you’ve got a helicopter at your disposal!

Scott and I unfortunately didn’t have another 5 days on our hands, so we chose to just walk the first 7 km of the track, down to the coincidentally named “Scott’s Beach”.

Beautiful rainforest meets beach, very literally.
Heaphy Track
Scott exploring Scott’s Beach. Cool rock, too.
Although the Heaphy (ok, the 7km we did) was definitely scenic, I can’t say it was any more awe inspiring than many of the smaller hiking tracks in and around Karamea. I’ll write a little bit more about those, especially the Oparara Basin, next time. It’s worth a look if you have the time, but perhaps skippable if you just want the best of the best.
Ocean view from amongst the ferns.

Our last night we stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Westport. It was a last minute booking, but great for our needs. Quiet, clean, and fairly budget friendly ($90 for a queen/ensuite- pretty good for NZ!). We checked out the West Coast Brewery which is a must for anyone who enjoys real craft beer. And the tastings (“up to 5”, wink wink) are free.

We had a 28-minute pedal in pouring rain failure of a ride on our last day before the drive home. We found some really cool looking tracks that just couldn’t be done in the conditions, which just affirmed that we will have to come back.

We arrived back to Christchurch just in time for another mega windy flood fest, and then awoke yesterday to snow on the peaks. I think it is officially winter.

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