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 10 Days in the South Island Day 4

Admiring the view at Punakaiki

10 Days in the South Island Day 4 - Nelson to Punakaiki and the West Coast!

Today we say goodbye to the Nelson and the Abel Tasman, and head along State Highway 6, to the beautiful, wild, West Coast.

This stunning region is one of the most scenic in the country, and one where you can experience everything from dramatic coastline and native forests, to unique glaciers, snow capped peaks, and beautiful lakes.

Punakaiki looking north from Pancake Rocks
Handy Tips

1) You can view our route map at the bottom of the page. You can zoom in and out for more detail.

2) Want to take the same route as us? Feel free to hire a car and use this itinerary as a guide, or fill out the form at the bottom of the page to talk to one of our local experts. We can put together a fully packaged self drive tour for you.

3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.

4) There is much less traffic in New Zealand than in many other countries, and the roads are well sealed, so driving is easy, as long as you drive to the conditions. In winter, "grit trucks" patrol the highways and when there is snow or ice about, they drop fine grit onto the roads to improve grip.

It's a sad morning in some ways as we say goodbye to Audrey and leave Richmond.

But the day promises so much, as we head off along State Highway 6.

The view from the Hope Saddle between Nelson and Murchison

Our drive today will take around 3 to 4 hours, allowing for some stops on the way, and will take us through the lovely Buller Gorge before emerging on the coast near Westport. At Westport we plan to stock up on some groceries before the short trip south to our "special" accommodation for the night at Punakaiki.

Once again the weather gods have been kind, and the day is clear and bright. We'll break our trip with a stop for morning tea at Murchison, around 120 kilometers from Richmond/Nelson.

We take care on the roads which, in parts, are frosty and white. Thankfully the grit trucks have been through, breaking up the ice. They do a wonderful job throughout New Zealand, and without them, many roads would prove unpassable at this time of year.

Wow! Hawkes Crag in the Buller Gorge

As we make our way south west from Richmond we pass through the small villages of Hope, Brightwater and Wakefield, all built around the farming industry.

After a while the pastures and rolling hills give way to steeper terrain and we enter a high point known as the Hope Saddle. We pull into the roadside lookout to admire the snow capped peaks. This section of road can be closed by heavy snow at times, but today it's all good. At 634 metres (2080 feet) above sea level it's a great vantage point.

From the Hope Saddle we descend into the valley where the road tightens up and we are surrounded by beautiful native forest. It's a picturesque drive and after a while we come to the intersection with State Highway 63 (SH63 leads to the Nelson Lakes National Park and eventually back towards the east coast and the town of Blenheim).

The Buller River

We continue on SH6 and soon the Buller River comes into view. At around 170 kilometers in length (110 miles) the Buller is one of New Zealand's longest rivers, and has it's origins in Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

The Buller will guide us the rest of the way to the West Coast.

After a half hour or so we arrive at Murchison. This small town is the service point for the surrounding farming area and is steeped in history. Once a gold mining area, it's now popular for it's surrounding whitewater rivers (with grades 2 to 4 rapids), walks, and fly fishing (these crystal clear rivers are home to large brown trout).

We stop at one of the cafe's and grab a coffee. As we find throughout our trip, the Kiwi's do great coffee.

The rugged West Coast at Punakaiki

It's soon back into the car for the final 100 kilometers to Westport.

With the Buller as our constant companion, the West Coast eventually comes into view, and we reach the turnoff to Westport. This town of some 4,000 people is supported by farming, coal mining, logging, and tourism.

We pull into the local "New World" supermarket and stock up on the essentials for the next few days. There are several supermarkets chains in New Zealand including New World, Fresh Choice, and Countdown.

One thing that we like about them all is that you can buy your alcohol off the shelf, in the supermarket. The chain supermarkets usually offer a large range of wines and beers, and we take a liking to the Speight's ale. The girls decide to try several different wines in each town!

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki

From Westport it's around 56 kilometres to our destination for the night, Punakaiki. Just south of Westport we pass the turnoff to the aptly named Cape Foulwind. Home to a (smelly) seal colony, it's well worth a visit. It's a bit on the nose, but it's a beautiful spot, with lots of seals scattered over the rocks.

As we get closer to Punakaiki, SH6 hugs the steep coastline and winds it's way down to the village. The views are dramatic.

We've been really looking forward to Punakaiki. Over the years we have stayed in this small village many times. It's a good stop over between Nelson and Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers, and although there is not much here in the way of shops or restaurants, it's just a beautiful, peaceful spot. Our accommodation for the night promises to be something special and we can't wait to show our friends.

Wave Watchers Punakaiki

Sitting on the edge of Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki is probably best known for the Pancake Rocks and blowhole. The limestone rocks have been laid down to resemble stacks of pancakes, and over time have been worn down by the action of the ocean.

When conditions are right, the blowhole sprays water high into the air. But even when it's not blowing, the short, fully sealed walk to the blowholes is well worth the effort. There are several vantage points to take in the stunning coastal views, and if you are there on a clear evening, the sunsets over the ocean are something to treasure.

Soon we arrive at Punakaiki and pass the local tavern and decide to come back for lunch after we unpack. We drive down the street next to the tavern which leads onto the beach front. Our friends ask us where we are going, and soon all is revealed as we pull up outside Wave Watchers, our home for the night.

Relaxing at Wave Watchers PunakaikiRelaxing at Wave Watchers Punakaiki

We booked Wave Watchers on the net several months back, and pictures just cannot do it justice. This older style 2 bedroom cottage sits a stone's throw from the waves and the views are uninterrupted. Ocean in front, and towering cliffs behind.

Inside the two bedrooms look over the ocean. Each has it's own bathroom (there is also a third bathroom off the kitchen). There's a full kitchen and a comfy lounge with a beaut gas fire. There is also a washing machine, dryer and dishwasher.

But perhaps the best feature are the outside decks. As you can see from the pictures, this is a special spot. If only we had a few days!!

As we arrive, the caretaker is at the cottage doing a final clean. Although we are an hour earlier than the scheduled 2 pm check in, he welcomes us and walks us through the cottage pointing out the various features.

Refreshments at Punakaiki Tavern

We unpack, then head around the corner to the tavern for lunch.

We've been here a couple of times over the years and it's a good spot for some hearty pub food and cold beer. At this time of day, apart from the tavern, the only other place to really eat here is at the cafe opposite the Pancake Rocks.

Apart from one local and the waiter come cook, we have the tavern to ourselves. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the charismatic "Sheila", a lovely black dog who quickly attaches herself to us and demonstrates a liking for playing fetch with a piece of wood.

We order a selection of dishes which we share (sometimes with "Sheila"), have a couple of drinks, then stroll back around the corner to Wave Watchers.

Stunning views from Wave Watchers bedroom

Blessed with clear sunny skies, we make the most of the afternoon and sit outside with some drinks and a cheese platter, taking in the views, and catching up with emails on the free wifi.

The cottage also has a gas BBQ, stereo system, a selection of CD's and videos, and a small library.

One of the great things about being on the West Coast of course, is that the sun sets over the ocean, and we are treated to a West Coast special, as the sun slowly sinks over the horizon. Wow!

Of course there's always something to spoil the party, and on the West Coast, it's the midges. These small flying insects take great delight in nipping at you late in the afternoon. Fortunately, repellant is supplied by the owners and as long as you apply it liberally, the nasty little pests are kept at bay.

Sunset at Punakaiki

After dark we head inside, put some music on, and relax before dinner. The girls have prepared a magnificent roast dinner for us, and we feel like kings.

After dinner it's time for a shower then off to our cosy beds, which are warmed by electric blankets.

Wave Watchers is a memorable spot. It's well stocked, right down to sauces and condiments. The location cannot be beaten, and it's very comfortable. It's a little tired in places, but is really clean and well presented.

We would certainly stay here again.

Another stunning sunset at Punakaiki

The cottage cost around NZ$300 for the night, which may seem expensive. However, when split between two couples, it's pretty reasonable, particularly considering the location. You can learn more about it and book your stay on their website here. Please tell them them that you found out about them here.

Our other favorite spot at Punakaiki is the beach front Punakaiki Resort. We have stayed there several times, and the elevated rooms look directly over the ocean. They also have a nice restaurant and it's a wonderful spot to sit at night taking in the views, and if conditions allow, the sunset.

You can check it out and book here.

Tomorrow it's off to Franz Josef glacier.

Go to Day 5

Self Drive Tours - Build Your Own

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