Hi and welcome to Part 2 of our New Zealand Travel Journal.
Day 8 Continued
The West Coast NZ is New Zealand's longest region, and stretches for around 600 kilometres down the South Island. Featuring a World Heritage area and 5 of New Zealand's 14 National Parks, the region includes amazing glaciers, stunning coastal
drives, ancient rainforests, and a relaxed, easy going feel.
The drive from Marahau to Punakaiki takes around 4 hours, and takes us back through Motueka, then on to State Highway 6 South to Murchison and the Buller Gorge, then on to the coastal town of Westport, before heading South again to Punakaiki.
As we head out of Motueka, we pass through rolling farmland and orchards. The roads are icy, particularly in shaded areas, so care is needed. Lots of streams and rivers on the way so always something interesting to see. After about an hour and a half we cross the Hope Saddle, a high point at 467 metres. Light snow dots the countryside and it's hard to keep our eyes on the road as we continually gaze out the window. During winter, snow falls here close the road from time to time, but today, no problems.
We continue on to Murchison, a
small town on the Buller River. A short break at one of the local cafes,
then back on the road.
As we head out of Murchison, the road hugs the Buller River, and we follow it all the way to Westport. In the Lower Buller Gorge the rain increases as we pass through Hawk's Crag, a spot where the road reverts to a single lane and has been cut into the rockface. It's a much photographed spot as the rockface hangs directly over the road, which is perched high above the Buller river.
As we continue into Westport, the weather clears, and we decide to take a
detour out to Cape Foulwind and the seal colony. From the car park it's
an easy 10 minute stroll around the headland to the viewing platforms.
The Cape is very aptly named! When the wind is blowing in the wrong
direction, those smelly seals certainly have a unique odour! But don't
let that put you off visiting. It's well worth a look. There were lots
of seals basking on the rocks and the viewing areas give you some great
spots for photos.
Unique to the area is Carter's Beach, which is said to be the only safe swimming beach on the West Coast.
When you see the West Coast beaches you will understand why. Pretty much every beach is littered with driftwood, and the swell and waves are often huge.
After visiting the seals, it was time to drive to our overnight destination, Punakaiki (around 30 minutes drive). Punakaiki is located in the Paparoa National Park and is probably best known for the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Punakaiki is one of our favourite overnight stops. Although quite small, Punakaiki has a couple of motels, a pub, some gift shops, and the Paparoa National Park i-Site Visitor Centre. And it also has wonderful place to stay. The Punakaiki Resort is an absolute beach front hotel, with a great restaurant and bar, and rooms that look directly over the ocean.
The spectacular drive from Westport to Punakaiki hugs the coastline and as you near Punakaiki you start to see the native Nikau Palm. This unusual plant looks a lot like most palms except that the branches point up instead of down! As we drive into Punakaiki we decide to stop off at the Punakaiki Tavern for a drink. The staff are always friendly and are always good for some local information. The beer and wine went down well, and with our thirst quenched we headed up the road to Pancake Rocks for some photos.
The Pancake Rocks are limestone deposits which date back tens of
millions of years. The lime filled particles from dead marine life
remained on the ocean floor and was then covered by softer layers of
clay and mud. Eathquakes then raised the ocean floor forming the unusual
structures that we now know as the Pancake Rocks.
The best time to see the blowholes operating is during rough conditions, when the ocean blasts into the caverns below the Pancake Rocks, forcing plumes of water skyward. An amazing sight.
Access to the rocks and blowholes is via a well sealed pathway that
leads from the roadway in Punakaiki village. There are lots of viewing
platforms from which to take photos of the rocks, blowholes, and
coastline. There are some narrow steps leading to one of the viewing
areas, but the main pathway is wheelchair friendly.
After some photos it's off to check in at the Punakaiki Resort. Our ocean front room is modern and comfortable, and has absolutely stunning views of the coast.
After unpacking it's time to sit on the deck and have a few
pre-dinner drinks. We head up to the restaurant just before sunset, and
take our window front seats just in time to see the sun setting over the
ocean. A beautiful sight.
For tea, Kim has salmon and Tim and I have chicken. All very fresh and filling. Then it's back to our room for an early night. We leave the window open to hear the waves crashing on the beach and drift off to sleep.
Today takes us down the coast to the twin glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox. We decide to have breakfast in Greymouth (around 30 minutes drive),
the largest town on the West Coast. We lash out and have a hearty
breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages and tomatoes!
With our bellies full it's back on the road to Franz Josef. The drive
takes around 2 hours. Along the way we stop at Hokitika, about 40
kilometres south of Greymouth. Hokitika is known as the
New Zealand Jade
capital, and has various retail outlets where you can buy jade products
and watch the technicians work on jewellery and art pieces.
As we drive through Hokitika we notice a new hotel, the Beachfront Hotel , and make a note to stop there next time we come through Hokitika. Absolute beachfront location, great views (West Coast sunsets are amazing) and a restaurant overlooking the ocean.
Back on the road and on to Franz Josef village (around one and a half hours drive). The twin glaciers (Fox and Franz Josef) are around 25 kilometres apart by road. Both villages have a good range of accommodation, pubs and restaurants, although Franz Josef village seems a little bigger. We stay again at Punga Grove Motel & Suites , a nice comfortable motel located just behind the village centre. It's an easy two minute walk to the pubs and cafes.
Although there are over 140 glaciers in New Zealand's Southern Alps,
only Franz Josef and Fox descend as low as the coastal rainforests. At
an altitude of only 250 metres above sea level, this is the only place
other than Argentina where this occurs.
There are lots of ways to see the glaciers up close. You can walk to the face of them, or take an organised tour . Hiking tours are popular but our favourite experience was a few years back when we took a helicopter flight which landed on Franz Josef.
It remains one of our fondest memories of New Zealand. The colours of
the ice, the waterfalls, huge cliffs and the enormous snow field at the
top of Franz Josef all stand out in our memories of this wonderful
place. A word of warning though. The weather can change rapidly on the
West Coast and conditions can sometimes make it impossible for the
helicopters to fly. Bookings are essential but you may need to be
flexible with times if the weather intervenes.
Today we decide to walk to the terminal face of Franz Josef. From the carpark, it takes about 40 minutes to walk to the terminal face. The track is level and the walk is pretty easy, but make sure that you have a good pair of walking shoes. As you near the face of the glacier you begin to realise the sheer size of it. The face, which seemed so small at the start of the track is now huge. The area is blocked off as large chunks of ice regularly break off, so don't be tempted to go inside the barricades.
After our walk we head back into the village to one of the pubs where we meet Rosie, the long serving bar manager, who does everything from serving drinks, to chopping wood and building the fire! She is a real character. While we are there we get talking to some other people, who we learn come from the same town as us! We also see them again in Queenstown. Small world.
Then it's back to Punga Grove to freshen up before heading over to the Monsoon Inn for tea. Fish for Tim and I and Kim had her favourite, New Zealand Green Lip mussels.
After tea, Kim and I head back to our room but Tim stays on and meets a few of the locals for a few beers and a game of pool.
One of the best things about New Zealand is the friendly
nature of the locals. No matter where we stopped, there was always
someone ready to have a chat. And there was never a need to drink alone,
as we found out many times on our trip.
Today we are up early and have a cooked breakfast in our room (which has a full kitchen). Then it's off further down the West Coast to Haast, before heading inland to the lovely lakeside town of Wanaka . The drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka takes around three and a half hours.
Heading south from Franz Josef we travel inland for 50 or 60 kilometres through the small villages of Karangarua and Jacobs River, until we round a bend in the road and are greeted by the stunning sight of Bruce Bay. This is a good spot to stretch the legs and to see a typical West Coast beach up close.
Wild surf, misty, and lots of driftwood (fashioned
by previous visitors into all sorts of weird sculptures).
From Bruce Bay we head back inland and don't touch the coast again for another 30 or 40 kilometres, when we reach Lake Moeraki and Knight's Point lookout. The lookout is perched high on the cliff top and has a large covered viewing area, information boards, and public toilets. The view out over the coastline is amazing, and even though it was cloudy and raining we still managed to get some good photos.
Point it's a 30 kilometre drive to
Haast is our final contact with the coast before we head inland again towards Wanaka.
Haast is a small village with a few cafes, some motels and a petrol station. The village sits near the mouth of the Haast river, and it's a good spot to top up the petrol tank and grab an early lunch. The area has numerous scenic walks and the Haast Visitor Centre. There is also a campsite at Lake Paringa.
The drive inland from Haast is beautiful. State Highway 6 hugs the Haast river for about 30 kilometres.
The view into the river valley is amazing and snow covers the higher peaks. Where the Haast and Makarora rivers meet,
the road heads south before rising over the Haast Pass. This is one of three passes over the Southern Alps, and the road climbs to around 560 metres above sea level.
From there we descend for another 30 or so
kilometres before reaching the northern end of Lake Wanaka. This stretch
of road is quite amazing. After having Lake Wanaka on our right hand
side for several kilometres, we crest a hill (known as The Neck) and
Lake Wanaka disappears, only to be replaced by the equaly impressive
Lake Hawea, on our left. Obviously we grab a few snaps of each lake!
After another 20 or 30 kilometres we reach Wanaka, our destination for the evening. As we drive into town we pass the local golf course and one of Wanaka's great attractions, Puzzling World, which we promise to visit tomorrow.
As we head down the hill into Wanaka township, the lake unfolds in front of us, with the snow capped peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park in the background. Beautiful.
Like Queenstown, Wanaka has a stunning
lakeside setting, and is home to several ski fields, which attract
visitors from all over the world. We love both towns, but if you want a
little less hustle and bustle, Wanaka is probably not quite as hectic as
We check into our motel, then head into town for some dinner. The shopping precinct in Wanaka is concentrated over just a few blocks, and has a great range of restaurants, pubs and cafes.
The main shopping strip is separated from the lake by only a street and car park, so it's easy to find somewhere to eat with great views.
We choose to eat at Speight's Ale House and manage to get a table looking through the large picture windows at the lake. After a long day, we are hungry and thirsty! Kim has her favourite Green Lip Mussels (again), I have a huge chicken burger and Tim chooses chicken parmigiana. All meals are a good size, and tasty.
After a couple of
drinks Kim and I head back to our room, but Tim decides to stay out and
sample the Wanaka nightlife. The next morning he reports that it's
Today we head to Queenstown . But before heading off we visit Puzzling World.
This is our second visit and it's just as much fun as we remember from last time.
Full of optical illusions, hands on puzzles, a large maze, and a cafe, it's an entertaining place for kids and adults alike.
Hall of Following Faces has to be seen to be believed. A huge wall
contains hundreds of model faces which seem to follow you as you move.
The Ames Room, Tilted House and Roman Toilets will all have you
scratching your head in disbelief. Highly recommended.
After a couple of hours we head off towards Queenstown.
As usual we choose to take the road over the Crown Range, rather than the other route through Cromwell.
The Crown Range road is New Zealand's highest main
road, and has some of the best scenery in New Zealand. In winter it can
close due to snow and ice, but in good conditions it's a much more
scenic (and shorter) route than the road through Cromwell, and the trip
to Queenstown takes around 1 hour from Wanaka.
The other good thing about going this way is the Cardrona Pub.
Around 25 kilometres from Wanaka we arrive at the small village of Cardrona. This is the entry point for the Cardrona ski fields, and also home to the historic Cardrona Hotel. Dating back to the 1800's, the pub is now
a popular stopover, and offers accommodation, great food and beverages.
We stop off for lunch and although it's a cool day, we sit outside in
the spacious grounds and enjoy a hearty lunch.
After lunch it's off to Queenstown. Before long we start to climb the
Crown Range, and enter the snow zone. We take it easy on the road and
get lots of pictures of this winter wonderland. As we near the summit,
it gets very misty, and we stop for some more pictures. We realise that
the normal view down the valley to Queenstown is hidden by the mist and
it looks really weird to see the snow covered hills gradually
disappearing into the clouds below.
It's around 30 minutes from here to Queenstown, and soon Lake Wakatipu
comes into view, as we reach the outskirts of Queenstown. As long time
visitors to Queenstown, we can highly recommend it. The scenery is the
equal of anywhere in the world, and the variety of things to do is
unbelievable, no matter whether you are looking for action, relaxation,
or a little of both. To get a better feel for what you can do in
Queenstown, have a look at our
We check into our apartment at Peppers Beacon. We have stayed here several times and like it because it is lakefront, is a short, level, 5 minute walk to town, and has great views (make sure that you specify a lake view room though otherwise you may end up looking over the courtyard).
Parking in central Queenstown is very restricted. Parking spots can be
difficult to find, particularly at peak times, and most public parking
attracts a fee, so if you can find accommodation close to the town
centre, all the better. Queenstown is also very hilly, so be sure to
check on your hotels location if you are concerned about walking up and
Our 2 bedroom apartment is spacious and has a full kitchen. Tim is really pleased to see that he has his own bedroom and bathroom! After unpacking we walk into town for a quick look around the shops before finding somewhere to eat. Queenstown has a large variety of gift shops, boutiques, and over 100 pubs, bars, and restaurants, with something to suit most budgets. If you are staying for more than a few days and want to stock the pantry, there are two large supermarkets but both are away from the centre of town. Fresh Choice is located on the Gorge Rd, a few minutes drive away, and New World is located at the Remarkables Park shopping centre, near the airport at Frankton (about 15 minutes drive from the centre of town).
Tonight we decide to eat at Winnies, a pizza restaurant located in the Queenstown Mall. Great wood fired pizzas, and a few Speights for Tim and I and a couple of Sauv Blancs for Kim, and we are ready for bed. It's been another great day.
Breakfast in our apartment this morning, looking over Lake Wakatipu at the overnight dusting of snow on the peaks. Awesome!
Queenstown is set in a natural amphitheatre on the shores of Lake
Wakatipu. Surrounded by towering peaks, the highest over 2,000 metres,
this is one beautiful place. Lake Wakatipu stretches about 80
kilometres, making it New Zealand's longest lake. Queenstown is located
about half way along its length. At either end are the villages of
Glenorchy and Kingston. The drive to both hugs the lake, and they have
to be two of the most spectacular roads on earth.
Today we decide to drive down to Kingston at the southern end of the lake. Kingston is located on State Highway 6, the main southern route out of Queenstown, and is home to the Kingston Flyer, a historic steam train which operates on a 14 kilometre stretch of the old Kingston Branch line. Mounting debts caused the closure of the attraction in 2009 (Update!! The Kingston Flyer re-opened in late 2011).
Our drive to Kingston is punctuated by several photo stops, and it's
worth taking the time to sit and appreciate the sheer size of the lake
and mountains. You don't realise how high these peaks are until you look
along the waterline at huge trees, which seem like small specks against
the mountains. After a few photos we drive into the village and out to
the wharf. We look into the lake hoping to see some trout in the crystal
clear water. No luck today. Tim has a waterproof digital camera and
ties it to a long piece of wood, sets the timer, and lowers it into the
water for some photos, which show lots of underwater plants, but none of
the elusive trout.
Eager to see some fish, we say goodbye to Kingston, and head back into Queenstown (around 30 minutes drive) and to the underwater observatory, located on the lakefront in the centre of town. The observatory takes you 4 or 5 metres below the lake surface where you can observe (and feed) huge trout, eels, and the cute black diving teal, a species of waterfowl. After putting $2 into a slot you press a button, and pellets of food are released into the water, creating a feeding frenzy. Good stuff.
We have a look around the shops for an hour or so. It's now late afternoon so we decide to have an early dinner. We head to one of our regular spots, the Pub on Wharf.
The lakefront has dozens of bars and restaurants. We like the Pub on
Wharf because they have a good range of food, regular specials, a
through the wall gas heater, and over table heaters, meaning you can sit
outside even when it's cool. And today it is! The temperature has
dropped to around 2 degrees celsius by the time we are ready to eat, but
we have a table near the heaters, so we stay outside, and enjoy a few
drinks and a great pub meal. After dinner we head back to the Beacon to
relax for the evening. Around 10 p.m. Tim does what young people do, and
heads out on the town. The next morning, we learn that he now knows the
Queenstown pub scene intimately, and will be a frequent visitor over
the next couple of nights.
Today is fine and cool. As we rise we light the gas fire in our apartment and have a late breakfast. With its beautiful views, it's hard to leave the apartment, but today we have something special in mind. Around 11 a.m. we head off to the Skyline Gondola and Luge. This is one of the "must do" things in
Queenstown. The Skyline Gondola operates from a base a few minutes walk from the centre of town. Every time we visit Queenstown we make a point of taking the gondola up to the top of Bob's Peak. The gondola is said to be the steepest rise in the Southern Hemisphere, and when you hop on you will see why. The gondola takes you 450 metres up to the viewing deck, gift shop, snack bar and restaurant. The views are the best in Queenstown, and I'm sure that almost every Queenstown visitor will have at least one "iconic" shot of Queenstown taken from up here (just like the picture at the top of this page). The complex also houses the luge, and I have to admit that Tim and I are addicted to it.
We enter the gondola and start the ascent. Before long we are
hundreds of metres above Queenstown, and the views are unbelievable. We
hop out at the top and head out to the observation deck. Words cannot
describe the views! Kim decides to have a coffee and Tim and I head to
the chairlift which takes us further up the mountain to the luge track.
It's quite a few degrees cooler up here, and our noses and faces numb as
we climb in the chairlift. At the top we collect our helmets and hop on
our luge carts for the first of several runs down the "advanced" track.
This is great fun. The carts hug the ground and you contol your speed
with the handlebars. The track winds its way 800 metres across the
mountainside. When we reach the bottom we jump back on the chairlift and
do it again. And again!
The Skyline Gondola complex is also the base for the AJ Hackett Ledge Bungy and Swing. We didn't try it but have jumped from the old Kawarau Bridge on an earlier trip. What a buzz.
After a snack we head back down to town mid afternoon, grab some groceries from Fresh Choice and head home for the evening. Another great day in Queenstown.
Join Us For Part 3 Of Our New Zealand Travel Journal As We Continue Our Trip Around New Zealand's South Island. Click on the following link to continue....