One of the most remote and sparsely populated areas of New Zealand, the tramping tracks of Tai Poutini National Park wend their way through an untamed wilderness.
Stretching from Awarua Point in the south, this strip of native bushland and windswept coastline stretches through Glacier Country, Hokitika and Buller – the home of the Heaphy Track, to Kahurangi Point in the north.
Until the West Coast Gold Rush in 1864 the region was occupied by the Maori who coveted the land for its abundance of precious greenstone, or pounamu as it is known.
Te Tai Poutini, the Maori name for the region means ‘The Tides of Poutini’, named after the mythical sea guardian of the pounamu.
NEW ZEALAND’S TAI POUNTINI NATIONAL PARK
Home to the Kotuku white heron, a most peculiar looking bird endemic to the region, and of course both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers , the West Coast is an iconic addition to the itinerary of many who visit the south.
We’ve already covered the many tramps and trails surrounding the South’s adventure capital Queenstown, however the tracks that wend their way along the West Coast are reserved for a different breed of hiker.
One with the urge for a rather more rural retreat.
Split into three main regions the West Coast has much to offer travellers keen to escape from the well-trodden tourist trail. Check out our favourite of the numerous tramping tracks of Te Tai Poutini.
MOUNT BREWSTER TRACK
LENGTH // 3-4 Hours.
START // Fantail Falls Car Park located on the Hasst Pass.
DETAILS // Crossing the Hasst River at Fantail Falls this route climbs steadily through beech forest up to the bushline. At this point the winter snows have removed any sign of major growth and the ground is covered in snow grass. Follow the track to the most prominent ridge which leads up towards Mt Armstrong.
The 12 bunk Brewster Hut is a great base from which to explore. From here you can continue up the ridge to the summit of Mt Armstrong, a 2 hour climb that results in superb views.
NOTE // A rock bluff half way to Mt Armstrong summit can be by-passed via a track to the left.
HAAST TO PARINGA CATTLE TRACK
LENGTH // 3 days.
START // Car park 40km north of Haast Junction on State Highway 6 marks the northerly start / Cattle gate just south of the Waita River Bridge marks the south end.
DETAILS // Follow the Paringa Cattle Track and cross the Moeraki River swing bridge to reach the Blowfly/ Blue River Hut. From here a 6 hour climb will take you to the Maori Saddle Hut, expect uneven footing and high winds. The third section is the longest, around 9 hours, but it is mostly downhill to the Coppermine Creek Hut.
NOTE // Take care as you cross Slippery Face near Robinson Creek where the track crosses the alpine fault line and be mindful of following the track markers, some of which may have been overgrown.
ALEX KNOB TRACK
LENGTH // 8 hours return.
START // Signposted start 2km from Franz Joseph Town on the Glacier Access Road..
DETAILS // Climbing steadily from lowland forest through sub-alpine terrain to medows and herb fields this route offerd superb views of glaciers, mountains and seascapes.
Taking in the main divide and numerous species of flora and fauna endemic to the alpine environment the track zig zigs steeply in places so a good level of fitness and confidence is required.
Afternoon cloud can restrict your view so check the weather before you set out, and snow can restrict the climb for those inexperienced in talking winter climbing conditions.
NOTE // This track is for EXPERIENCED HIKERS only regardless of the season. Check with the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre and i-SITE before starting out.
CALLERY GORGE WALK
LENGTH // 1.5 hours return.
START // In the Franz Josef Waiau township at the end of Cowan Street.
DETAILS // Starting on the Tatare Tunnels Track this gentle climb takes you to a high terrace overlooking Franz Joseph. The track narrows through a section of lush rainforest and follows the route of an old gold mining water race littered with rusting machinery from the gold rush.
Bringing you out onto the Callery Gorge Bridge this offers the chance for a little relaxation while you take in the beauty of the gorge and river below.
NOTE // This is the perfect afternoon stroll.
HOKITIKA GORGE WALK
LENGTH // 30 minutes return
START // Drive east from Hokitika to the intersection at Kokatahi then turn right and then follow the road signs.
DETAILS // Set off on the walking track from the car park and explore the podocarp/hardwood forest before taking in Hokitika Gorge from the viewing platform.
Continue further along the curved boardwalks to reach the swing bridge for a stunning view of the blue/green waters rushing by beneath, and then further through the bush to the solid rock wall of the gorge slightly upstream from the bridge.
NOTE // Young children should be supervised near the swing bridge.
THE HEAPHY TRACK
LENGTH // 4-6 days
START // Closest major towns are Nelson, Takaka, Westport and Karamea.
DETAILS // The longest of New Zealand’s 9 great walks the Heaphy Track passes though diverse terrain and spectacular landscapes. Easily navigable all its rivers and streams are bridged and it is suitable for trampers of moderate fitness and very little experience.
Home to the famous Kiwi bird and lesser known carnivorous land snail this 78km walk through Kahurangi National Park is the perfect adventure for those on the hunt for a quintessential Kiwi experience.
NOTE // There are no rubbish facilities on the track so please keep your rubbish with you until you leave the national park. During the winter months the track is accessible to mountain bikers who should expect to ride the route in 2-3 days.
PLAN & PREPARE
While summer brings sunny days to the West Coast those tramping during the winter months should note that alpine skills are essential.
Have you spent time tramping the trails of New Zealand’s West Coast? Share your comments with us below.