Wednesday: Today we left Bazil’s hostel at 9am and drove 10 minutes down the coast from Westport to Tauronga Bay for a coastal walk. We were told we might see seals. About 20-30 minutes in, we saw three seals chilling on some rocks and then found the seal colony with a viewing platform above. It was fantastic! There were seals of all sizes including really tiny pups lolling around! There are supposedly blue penguins around here too, but from what I recall, they’re nocturnal? So we didn’t spot any of those. The seals were enough though.
The walk itself reminded me of my costal walk around Fife, and the weather matched pretty accurately too. Aptly the area is named ‘Cape Foulwind’ (and that isn’t a coincidence).
The rugged West Coast has heaps to offer, including one of the most highly rated drives in the world, the great coast road! Our driver is super knowledgable and tells us apparently, the west coast is sometimes referred to as the ‘ghost coast’ because back in the day, it was populated during the gold rush, but it’s not like that anymore. Now there are said to be more people buried here than alive. A small town called Charleston was born out of this period.
Along the great ocean road there is a unique microclimate due to the warm ocean current from Australia. Because of this, there are many palm trees around here! It’s sort of like Scotland but with palm trees. I noticed just how vast the ocean is as we drove past. It also occurred to me that there was nothing on the horizon blocking my view at any point. No ships, no water activity sports. Just the ocean. We stopped at various points to take scenic pictures, including an area famed for the rata tree, aptly named in Maori as ‘the red hanging hair’. These seasonal plants only flower around Christmas time.
From here, we drove a short way to Truman trail. This is a rainforest with 7 different stages! There were some really fantastic trees in there.
As it’s just a short walk through the rainforest, we drove to the pancake rocks at Punakaiki. There’s a longer or shorter walk depending on how much time you have, it’s really worth doing, particularly as I imagine these rock formations won’t be here forever. Some of them were up against really strong tides and erosion.
Next we stopped at Greymouth, one of the largest towns on the west coast. It’s best described as a small seaside town, but it’s significant in itself because it is the end point for the alpine train crossing.
From there, it’s pretty easy to join ‘glacier highway’ (can you guess why it might be called that), heading into ‘jade country’. Jade, as it is known internationally is referred to as green stone here. It’s really important to Maori culture and to be given a gift made from this would be thought very highly of. It’s found mostly in rivers and mountains of the west coast and is so hard that if it was any harder, it would be a gem!
After this pit stop, we headed to the Mahinapua Lodge in Westland. It’s a great place, the hosts are so lovely! And they have a dog (can you believe he’s only 9 months old?!). It’s pretty remote here, and the place kind of feels like how I’d imagine a hunting lodge in the highlands of Scotland to feel. Really friendly, warm, inviting and decorated eccentrically (deer photo).
The lodge itself is really close to this beautiful lake:
And this beautiful beach:
The beach is a nesting area for blue penguins so we’ve been told to be really careful about leaving any rubbish there, and certainly not to have any fires. You could really retreat from the outside world here if you wanted to. It’s really back to nature, but comfortable too.
I scuttled out of my cabin to head to the bathroom, the sun had long set allowing a definite chill to hang in the air. I looked up to the sky and was dazzled by stars! Hundreds of them glittering away at a great height. Of course I tried to take a photo of this cloudless sky (thus explaining the chill) and of course, it didn’t work. This magical star gazing moment (I find stars particularly magical as the sky is never this clear at home) was second only to one clear night in Belfast when I swore I had never seen the night sky so alive.