My Favourite Walk: Charleston a hid­den gem on our wild West Coast

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Bill Freeth

Charleston is one of those small South Is­land West Coast com­mu­ni­ties that most will drive through, their mind­set on West­port or south to Pu­nakaiki. Or, as we had done on a cou­ple of trips, pulled into the well- sited car park for a morn­ing tea or lunch break. This year, we de­cided to make it a two or three days “des­ti­na­tion.” And we weren’t dis­ap­pointed ! The first sight of a rel­a­tively new three story Ad­ven­ture Tourism build­ing decked out in Rust Red and Mus­tard colours dom­i­nated the sight lines as a jar­ring con­trast to the soft pal­let of na­ture, but who are we to make judge­ment?

We were go­ing to be stay­ing at the older style Charleston Hol­i­day Park and Mo­tor camp 100m along the main road. Very spa­cious, well equipped, owned and op­er­ated by an ex­tremely friendly and help­ful cou­ple.

They pro­vided ex­cel­lent ad­vice and a com­pre­hen­sive map to en­sure we would get plenty of ex­er­cise tramp­ing around the recog­nised good spots. With­out their brief­ing, we would prob­a­bly have missed so much!

Our first sur­prise was to see signs around in­di­cat­ing that Charleston had cel­e­brated its 150th Birth­day last year, and whereas a com­mu­nity hall, mo­tel, the Tourism Cen­tre and Cafe plus a

small num­ber of houses make up the com­mu­nity to­day, it had once been a thriv­ing town of around 4000 to 7,000 in­hab­i­tants in its gold-min­ing days and ser­viced by pos­si­bly 40 to 90 ho­tels.

Dif­fer­ent sources/dif­fer­ing fig­ures. A Google search for Charleston re­wards with many pho­tos of early days in Wikipedia and the his­tory pages.

There are a cou­ple of nearby his­tor­i­cal ceme­tries which are rea­son­ably handy.

Dat­ing back to the late 1860’s, of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is the na­tion­al­ity and faith of some of those early set­tlers as well as the fact that drown­ing was of­ten the cause of their demise. A spe­cial place that rests in its own peace­ful iso­la­tion.

One can carry on this walk down to the Nile River Bridge be­fore com­plet­ing a cir­cuit and re­turn on the road back to the mo­tel, tourism cen­tre and hol­i­day park.

Not far away are the two small bays with their evoca­tive names of “Con­stant” and “Joyce”. Rocky head­lands with their en­com­pass­ing arms pro­vide a cer­tain amount of pro­tec­tion against the strength of the march­ing

Tas­man waves.

The two beaches are sandy, and the tum­ble rolled stones pro­vide in­ter­est for those of a rock-hound­ing bent – us in­cluded.

We are gob-smacked to learn that trad­ing schooners used to visit “Con­stant” in those early days, of­ten com­ing from as far away as One­hunga, on the Manakau, Ap­par­ently, they used to drop an­chor off shore, then be man­u­ally oared into the con­fines of this lit­tle har­bour.

Of course weather and waves were a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion and to as­sist, the mid­dle head­land, al­most in it­self an is­land, was un­der the con­trol of a “Har­bour­mas­ter” who would raise a coloured flag on a flagstaff to in­di­cate the en­trance swell and wave con­di­tions.

The flagstaff track ac­cess is a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to lo­cate but is well worth the ef­fort. There is an in­for­ma­tive plaque near the base of the flagstaff which out­lines an al­most un­be­liev­able mar­itime his­tory and the num­ber of those old sail­ing boats that could be in the har­bour at one time.

If you are feel­ing ro­man­tic or maybe re­flec­tive, it is a won­der­ful spot from which to watch the sun drop down into the sea as evening de­scends, the ad­vanc­ing swells pro­vid­ing an ever chang­ing fore­ground as they dash their en­ergy on the rocks in a white caul­dron.

The road off SH7, be­tween the hall and the Hol­i­day Park has the in­ter­est­ing name of “Darkie Ter­race Road”. A no-exit road, maybe 7km long, where you will come to a closed gate. Do not be de­terred, as this is pri­mar­ily to keep the sheep in a pad­dock. There is am­ple park­ing 200m fur­ther on. This is not a well known area apart from the ad­ven­ture tourism com­pany which takes tourists on some of their ad­ven­tures such as a Rain For­est Train Trip, a visit to the glow-worm cave or un­der­ground raft­ing in wet­suit and in­flated tubes.

We opted for the walk/tramp along the banks of the Nile River, through large stands of na­tive bush to cross the sus­pen­sion bridge and end at the en­trance to the glow worm cave.

Some brochures de­scribe the area as part of the Pa­paroa Na­tional Park. The bush is cer­tainly at­trac­tive and it shares the same type of lime­stone struc­tures as are found near the bet­ter known Pu­nakaike.

But with­out the crowds. Apart from sheep, and the small train on its trip, we never saw an­other per­son.

There is one more must see. Head­ing north on SH6, about 500m past the mo­tel and tourist ven­ture, you will drive down a slight hill to cross the Nile River Bridge. Im­me­di­ately, take a left into Beach Road. A gravel road which will

take you around the edge of a very scenic area. There are a few houses fronting a com­pact an­chor­age where ships used to fre­quent, be­fore de­part­ing through the river mouth out into the ocean. Some of the Charleston his­tory pages carry pho­tos of such ves­sels. You have now reached an­other beach/bay named Nile Mile Beach.

At the south­ern end, where the river meets the sea, the oc­ca­sional fish­er­man casts a line, but for us, the real point of in­ter­est was the large multi hued rocks un­like any­thing else we have seen around our coast­line. Not only the muted pat­terned colours but also with the pre­sum­ably quartz crys­tals glit­ter­ing like di­a­monds in the sun­shine.

The beach it­self has ex­ten­sive ar­eas of coloured stones, pure white crys­tal, yel­lows, multi greys, pinks, speck­led, half”n’half, amaz­ing.

At the north­ern end of the beach there is an ac­cess way from the rocks, where you will scram­ble up to get an all round view. The high­light is at the sea­ward end where a short tim­ber bridge hangs des­per­ately onto the rocks to en­able ac­cess over a nar­row wave-swept gut to “Hamp­tons Rock”, a lo­cal fish­ing spot.

Whilst the nar­row bridge is only about 3m long, we chicken out on cross­ing due to the huge waves that were vent­ing their fury as they swept un­der the bridge.

Beach Road car­ries on for a few kilo­me­tres be­fore com­ing out back on SH6, turn left for West­port. The best part is that most trav­ellers stay on the high­way, so Beach Road, and Nile Mile Beach are left rel­a­tively free of the hordes of tourists that clog so much of our won­der­ful West Coast.

There are three or four other at­trac­tions that we would have liked to have ex­plored...maybe an­other day. But of one thing we are quite cer­tain. We have never trav­elled to any­where in New Zealand where we have been as pleas­antly sur­prised at the va­ri­ety and qual­ity of at­trac­tions that Charleston of­fers.

The walks are mostly short, about 60 min­utes, with the Nile River up to Glow­worm Cave about a com­fort­able three hour re­turn. Go see for your­self!. And tell us what we missed!

Op­po­site page above left: Stri­ated rocks in pas­tel hues. Above right: Board­walk out to Hamp­tons Rock. Above: Joyce Bay Mid­dle right: Walk­ing be­side the lo­cals. Be­low right: Charleston his­toric ceme­tery.

Above right: En­trance to Joyce Bay. Be­low left: Mas­sive lim­stone over­hangs. Be­low mid­dle: The track fol­lows the Nile River. Be­low far right: Nile mile Beach


Op­po­site page be­low left: Soar­ing lim­stone cliffs with an aged tree in front. Be­low right: A lime­stone cliff in the shape of a ship’s bow. Above: The Rain For­est Ex­press. Be­low left Na­ture’s art. Be­low right: Al­most out to Hamp­tons Rock.

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