Wild and untamed New Zealand’s Westland encompasses some of the most rugged vistas I’ve seen since arriving here in December 2012.
The palette of colours, diversity of terrain and the sheer scale of the countryside reminds me just how fortunate I am to have spent the last 18 months travelling through this volcanic land. Largely uninhabited yet bursting with unquestionable beauty the region is often overlooked by those visiting the tourist favourites of Queenstown and Fiordland.
There are many remnants of the rich cultural heritage that has seen the region inhabited by both Maori and European settlers at the forefront of colonization. However for me, the real appeal lies in the unfettered natural beauty visible at every turn.
While I could yarn on about its landscapes for far too long, I feel it’s best to show you some of my favourite snapshots from our month long road trip north through the Gates of Haast, and along Westland’s rugged coast.
The wild coast of Westland
Nestled between the ancient rainforests of Te Wahipounamu, the frigid glaciers which blanket the Southern Alps, and the Tasman Sea; Haast offers an insight into real Middle Earth.
Valued by the Ngati-Mamoe tribe for its deposits of Pounamu – Greenstone – and then the Europeans for its gold rich ground, Haast has seen settlers come and go over the past 1000 years.
Today the region is deemed to encompass such a wealth of natural beauty that UNESCO have designated it a ‘World Heritage‘ area.
Miles of tramping tracks wend their way from the show capped peaks of the Southern Alps down to the lakes and wetlands that line the coast. From the alpine highs of Haast Pass to the remote shingle beaches of Jackson Bay, Haast is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
A small rural township Fox Glacier often plays host to more visitors that it has permanent residents. While just 300 or so people call this remote piece of paradise home, it is a favourite among road trippers and backpackers travelling the rugged coastline of the south island’s west coast.
Most notable of its natural features is Te Moeka o Tuawe or Fox Glacier as it is commonly known. A 13km blanket of glacial ice which is advancing towards the coast from the frigid heights of the Southern Alpine Range.
For those with adventure in their blood a heli hike with the team at Fox Glacier Guides is the best way to witness the sheer scale of the ice first hand. The surface of the glacier is an ever changing architectural playground sculpted by the perpetual motion of the ice sheet moving down towards the rainforest clad coast.
Just one of many areas of natural beauty within Westland’s Tai Poutini National Park, your stay in Fox Glacier should combine tramping, ice hiking and glow worm spotting as well as a trip to neighbouring Lake Matheson.
Reflection Point on Lake Matheson
Set in the heart of glacier country Lake Matheson is known for its ability to produce the most beautiful picture perfect reflections of any body of water on earth.
Following the 90 minute trail which encircles the lake provides the opportunity to stop at Reflection Point – a purpose built board walk which takes you out onto the water and to the optimum location for extraordinary reflection. When Mother Nature plays ball and the lake is still, the surrounding alpine peaks are painted as though in watercolour on the surface of the lake.
After you’ve soaked in the view at Reflection Point and completed the trail a delicious treat is almost a necessity, and in my opinion the perfect end to the day. Despite its rural location the Matheson Café serves up some of the most delicious plates I’ve eaten during my stay here in New Zealand.
Inspired by the alpine vistas that surround the property owner and award winning chef Chris Alexander hits the spot with his combination of fresh local produce and crisp Kiwi flavours.
On the edge of Paparoa National Park is the community of Punakaiki. While I doubt many of you will resonate with the name, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with its most famous resident, Panacake Rocks.
Photographed by thousands each year these natural rock formations attract crowds from across the globe and are a great place to stop enroute north or south along the coast.
A 10 minute walk from the highway will take you out to the coast where millennia of pounding waves have sculpted the most unusual of natural artworks. When a south-westerly swell whips the ocean into a frenzy at high tide, Mother Nature puts on a powerful display of force firing water high into the air above those lucky enough to be stood watching on the walkway below.
Aside it towers of what appear to be rock pancakes stand against the force of the waves, creating a alien seascape of irregular forms.
PAPAROA NATIONAL PARK
In the northern corner of Westland sits Paparoa National Park. While its boarders encompass the heavily eroded formations of the Pancake Rocks, in its depths it harbours further examples of Mother Nature’s indomitable power.
Our afternoon caving with the team at Underworld Adventures gave us the chance to step into a foreign world where light has no influence and the darkness dictates the delicate balance of life.
Walking Over the Buller Gorge, New Zealand
As you make your way towards the Tasman the road twists and turns following the fast flowing Buller River. Winding its way through a deep gorge the Buller is one of New Zealand’s longest rivers flowing over 170km before it reaches the Tasman Sea.
A rural Highway 6 which connects the Abel Tasman with Westland, this route is in my opinion one of the south island’s most epic drives. Navigating aside steep cliffs and surrounded by lush rainforest the Buller is a life source for much of the region.
If you fancy getting up close to the raging water and are willing to part with $5, you can suspend yourself above the river as you walk across the Buller Swingbridge. Alternatively for a rather larger fee take a ride on the Buller River Jet.