When I was asked if I would like to spend my Christmas holiday travelling the West Coast of the South Island in a 5th Wheeler I said “sure” … and then immediately went and googled 5th Wheeler to find out was I was in for.
Excited to have another guest article from our good friend Barbara Mitchell. Barbara spent the Christmas break “glamping on wheels” in what is essentially her extended back yard. A back yard we are quite jealous of. You can read Barbara’s other article here Argentina: Until next time
It is what I call “glamping” but on wheels … and very big wheels … all eight and a half metres in length and 4.2 metres high … and we weren’t even travelling in the biggest.
Being solar powered with gas heating, separate shower and toilet, we could stop whenever we liked, for as long as we liked, just as long as space was big enough to take a mobile apartment.
I was about to experience and explore some wonderful back yards Aotearoa-style.
The West Coast is full of nature’s treasures; it is something I never tire of and you don’t have to go far before you begin to see some beautiful sights.
I was brought up in the Springfield area and I have driven to the coast via Arthur’s Pass many times, but my attention is always drawn to Castle Hill, the Kura Tawhiti (treasure from afar) Conservation Area.
It’s like something out of a movie – filming for the Chronicles of Narnia was done in this area.
Where once the sea lay, these limestone rock formations are the water eroded remnants of limestone formed 30-40 million years ago. It is worth stopping to take a walk (or climb) amongst these magnificent outcrops and experience their awesomeness.
Once over the Otira Viaduct which is man-made awesomeness in itself, especially towing a mobile apartment, another ‘STOP’ must be Jacksons Tavern. It was once a staging post for horse-drawn coaches and those seeking their fortune in gold.
If a whitebait sandwich is on the menu then all I will say is ‘Welcome to the Coast’.
#1 Back Yard
We choose our first back yard to be just south of Hokitika on the banks of the Hokitika River, which is also where the base for the first licensed scheduled airline service was established in New Zealand.
It’s founder Captain Bert Mercer set up his Air Travel (NZ) Ltd airline n 1934 and made the first regular mail service in NZ from Hokitika to Haast in a De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth. There is a yarn which says Bert delivered papers by throwing them out into people’s yards … and he was evidently very accurate.
Lake Mahinapua 10kms south of Hokitika is worth a visit just to experience the tranquility. It has a lovely little campsite.
Hokitika is a cool little beachside town – bars, cafes, art, culture, heritage, and great coffee. At the height of the gold rushes in the 1860’s, it boasted 102 hotels. And yes, there is still “gold in them thar hills!”
If you are into the great outdoors there are heaps of wonderful bush walks and cycle trails, with a clip-on cycle and walkway now on the single lane road-rail Taramakau Bridge – catching your wheel in the railway tracks and confronting head-on traffic is no longer a danger.
Each year in January is the Driftwood and Sand Sculpture where imaginations run wild.
#2 Back Yard
Not far up the road, 10 minutes north of Greymouth, is our next back yard – the beachside settlement of Rapahoe.
I have spent a few Christmas times here and I love it. There are no shops, just the Rapahoe pub with a view to die for, a campsite right by the beach and motels that also have a glorious view.
The Point Elizabeth Walkway is a stunning, well surfaced, coastal walkway which conveniently starts by the pub! You can surf-cast on the beach, swim, collect mussels from the rocky outcrops at the end of the beach and, if you keep your eyes peeled downwards, you may find the occasional piece of pounamu amongst the pretty stones.
And that sparkling glint in the sand that may catch your eye? Ah yes … that would be gold washed down from the cliffs.
The Great Coast Road is one of the Top Ten Coastal Drives in the world according to The Lonely Planet, and from Rapahoe, it takes you up past Punakaiki which has the famous pancake rocks and blowholes, to Westport, and on to our next back yard.
#3 Back Yard
Gentle Annie is half an hour north of Westport on the doorstep of the Kahurangi National Park – how did I not know about this gorgeous spot?
It is bounded by the Tasman Sea and the beautiful Mokihinui River and is an ideal place to get off the beaten track and experience New Zealand’s untamed wildness.
You are only 15 minutes from the world class Old Ghost Road mountain biking and walking Track and many other wonderful walks.
Although tempted to stay in Gentle Annie’s for New Years Eve, there was just too much to see and do on the coast, so we packed up and hit the road to Karamea.
But first, we traversed the 26-kilometre windy road across the Radiant Range.
#4 Back Yard
Karamea is a 90-minute drive north of Westport and on a no-exit highway. It is perfectly snuggled into the warm northwest corner of the South Island with beautiful surroundings and a lovely isolated coastal feel.
The population may only be around 650, but you can still get a good coffee and the Karamea Village Hotel is a beautifully restored landmark … a good spot for a sundowner.
The Oparara Basin with the Oparara Arches and The Fenian tracks are all within the Kahurangi National Park; they are well maintained and full of history.
Plain old Kiwi grit and doggedness and millions of dollars of work by a small group of volunteers have been poured into the 31km track network.
The Oparara Basin is a 35 million-year-old complex of limestone caves, arches and channels.
A variety of day walks, short walks and guided tours make it an ideal place for walkers of all ages and capabilities to explore, and is home to some of New Zealand’s unique fauna and flora.
And of course, there is the famous Heaphy Track.
I was fortunate to have a little taste of the Heaphy Track’s coastal section as far as Scotts Beach – just beautiful. However don’t linger for long without wearing insect repellant – the sandflies seem constantly hungry … on second thoughts make that starving!
This was my first time in Karamea and it is definitely the West Coast’s ‘best kept secret’.
There is plenty of history and heritage to soak up on the West Coast and as my whirlwind holiday draws to a close, I think of how soon can I return to explore more? There are so many things yet to do.
If you have never been to this part of New Zealand then start making plans to visit. Just don’t forget to pack plenty of insect repellent and sunscreen.
YES … the sun shone every day in every one of my back yard’s.