A WILD WEST en­counter

The two coasts of the South Is­land are as dif­fer­ent as chalk and cheese. On the eastern side, the usu­ally - but not al­ways - be­nign Pa­cific Ocean gen­tly laps against the coast­line, bring­ing with it warm wa­ters and light winds. But just two hun­dred kilo­met

Go Travel New Zealand - - West Coast - by Chris Birt

The West Coast of the South­ern Alps; a thin strip of green and blue sand­wiched be­tween moun­tain peaks and a rag­ing ocean that mostly brings big swells crash­ing onto its beaches from a dis­tant land un­til re­cently known as the Lucky Coun­try. Hav­ing done the trip from the ferry at Pic­ton, down the eastern seaboard to Christchurch and then through the Mackenzie Coun­try to Queen­stown many times, I’m now seek­ing new ad­ven­tures. This time I’ve opted for the cheese, not the chalk! There are any num­ber of routes to the West Coast. From Nel­son and Tas­man Bay at the top of the South ac­cess is pro­vided via State High­way 6 on the banks of the stun­ningly wild and won­der­ful Buller Gorge. For the movie buff, an­other al­ter­na­tive wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion is the scenic drive from Christchurch to the small West Coast set­tle­ment of Kumara. It re­ally is like be­ing on a movie set, with the golden grass­lands of the Can­ter­bury Plains giv­ing way to a many hues of green as the moun­tain pass named af­ter a fella called Arthur looms into view. On this out­ing how­ever I’ve opted to take yet an­other route, un­fa­mil­iar to me per­son­ally but one which is eas­ily nav­i­gated and used by thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the wild West Coast each year. This is known as the In­land Road, which parts com­pany with State High­way 1 just a few kilo­me­tres south of the marine wildlife cen­tre of Kaik­oura. Part of my rea­son for head­ing in­land is the al­lure of the ther­mal hot pools and range of spa ther­a­pies on which Han­mer Springs bases its claim to glory. Yes, the con­stant bar­rage of tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing has worked

on my sub­con­scious, just as it’s de­signed to do. A stop-over there is a must - and ab­so­lute bliss for travel-weary bod­ies. Tear­ing a body away from such heav­enly ex­pe­ri­ences was never go­ing to be easy, but I am a man on a mission, with the crash­ing waves of the mighty Tas­man Sea, just a hun­dred and forty kilo­me­tres away, squarely on the radar. The two hour drive to the his­toric gold and coal min­ing town­ship of Reefton is con­ducted with no great haste. That’s as it should be, as I’ve been well briefed that the pace of life on The Coast is a lot less hec­tic than the one I’m emerg­ing from. While any jour­ney to the West Coast is of­ten one of the best de­ci­sions a trav­eller will ever make, travers­ing this re­gion at the speed of a For­mula One mo­tor racer would con­sti­tute a grave er­ror of judg­ment. Like fine vin­tage cheese, a good thing takes time to per­co­late. From Reefton it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the black sands of what is un­doubt­edly one of the most spec­tac­u­lar coast drives any­where on Planet Earth. Dot­ted along that high­way - of­fi­cially it’s known as Num­ber 6 - is a suc­ces­sion of towns and town­ships, each one pro­vid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and ad­ven­tures amid tales of an ear­lier time when man sought to tame a land which, more of­ten than not, beat back its in­vaders. Coal min­ing, gold min­ing, agri­cul­tural en­ter­prise and ship­ping up and down one of the most chal­leng­ing coast­lines in the world, cre­ated a myr­iad of tales, most true, but not all. At ev­ery turn down this coast, his­tory was cre­ated, over cen­turies. And I find that not only are the Coast­ers will­ing to share it with vis­i­tors, they live it as well. From the wide river that car­ries the name of Ge­orge Grey - un­doubt­edly the best known of New Zealand’s colo­nial gov­er­nors - through to Hok­i­tika, High­way 6 hugs the coast. My re­search has shown that iconic vis­i­tor at­trac­tions ex­ist along this road and my stop-over at the Shan­ty­town Her­itage Park proves ev­ery bit as in­ter­est­ing as the web­sites de­pict. South of Hok­i­tika the main high­way darts and dives in­land be­fore com­ing back to the sea that sep­a­rates the South Pa­cific’s two big­gest na­tions. It’s a great mix of driv­ing through pris­tine rain­for­est, with its mul­ti­tude of species, on the one hand and be­ing able to stop for one mag­nif­i­cent coastal vista af­ter an­other on the other. I can’t think of any other re­gion of the coun­try I’ve vis­ited where such di­ver­sity ex­ists within such a small dis­tance. As au­tumn gives way to win­ter, sub­tle changes are oc­cur­ring on The Coast, with the snow­line grad­u­ally de­scend­ing on the slopes of the moun­tains that form a bar­rier be­tween this Wild West and the more docile eastern side of the is­land. Any time of the year is a good time to be vis­it­ing th­ese parts, but this trip will go down as one of the best yet. The throng of trav­ellers al­ways seen in the peak sum­mer months is thin­ning, the gen­tle man­tle of white is be­gin­ning to set­tle on the ground in the morn­ings and stun­ningly warm days are be­ing en­joyed.

Reach­ing the twin glaciers - Fox and Franz Josef - is the pin­na­cle of this coastal ex­cur­sion and it’s not far be­yond Har­i­hari that one en­ters this mag­i­cal frozen world, one formed of mil­lions of years of icy twists and turns. Glacier Coun­try, as it is known, is a mag­net for trav­ellers from around the world and I am happy to be able to spend a few days here, not only get­ting up close and per­sonal with the gi­ant walls of ice at first Franz Josef and then Fox, but hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to join in some of the other ex­cur­sions on of­fer from both alpine vil­lages. Sky­div­ing at Fox, kayak­ing on the still wa­ters of nearby lakes, short walks - and even longer ones - there seems no end to the ad­ven­tures avail­able in an area that is jaw-drop­ping beau­ti­ful. My leisurely jaunt around Lake Mathe­son, just to the west of Fox Glacier vil­lage, has been writ­ten into my mem­ory bank - and is likely to re­main there for­ever. The re­flec­tions of the rich rain­for­est and snow-topped peaks of Mount Tas­man and Ao­raki/Mount Cook in the dis­tance are pure magic - guar­an­teed to take your breath away. It’s no won­der they’ve been ap­pear­ing on all man­ner of pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial for half a cen­tury or more. The de­li­cious af­ter­noon tea at the Lake Mathe­son Café is a great way to fin­ish this part of my jour­ney. And it’s no won­der the art gallery in that lo­ca­tion is called Re­flec­tioNZ. It’s im­pos­si­ble to cap­ture all the com­ing and go­ings of a travel-holic within the con­fines of an ar­ti­cle such as this, but there are a cou­ple of hot tips I’d like to give those who are plan­ning on fol­low­ing in my foot­steps. Firstly, there’s ev­ery rea­son to make a num­ber of ex­cur­sions into the West Coast of the South­ern Alps. There is just so much to do and so much to see and ex­pe­ri­ence that driv­ing over High­way 6 at break­neck speed would be do­ing one­self a great dis­ser­vice. My other rev­e­la­tion that is one of my own mis­con­cep­tions has been well and truly dis­pelled on this jour­ney. I now know that it does not rain cats and dogs for all of the au­tumn and win­ter on the West Coast. In fact, this re­gion is al­most sub-trop­i­cal and I’m im­pressed when I read the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Wa­ter and At­mo­spher­ics’ re­port that the West Coast gets more hours of sun­shine an­nu­ally than Auck­land! Armed with those find­ings a trip to The Coast should be on the must-do list for those who value warmth of re­cep­tion by the hardy souls that have cho­sen to make this re­gion home and for those who have a thirst for his­tory, her­itage and a pris­tine phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment as Mother Na­ture in­tended it. But as I’ve learned from many trav­els to many parts of Aotearoa New Zealand, a few days on the West Coast of the South­ern Alps is never enough.

Jack­sons Bay near Haast

Fox Glacier

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