Day 48: Motueka to St. Arnaud
We brought our van to the garage first thing Monday morning to get it checked out as we were having trouble with the brakes coming down Takaka Hill. Thankfully it turned out not to be a big issue and we were back on the road by the afternoon. We picked up our plans where we had left them off and continued down the road to St Arnaud, home to the beautiful Lake Rotoiti.
After an hour and a half drive we arrived in St. Arnaud in the Nelson lakes. The road leads you right down to the lake edge and with clear blue skies the mountains surrounding the lake reflected off the surface to give us one of the most breath-taking views. We spent hours sitting by the lake, taking many pictures and going for a quick swim with the eels. We can honestly say that it was the coldest water we have ever been in, but quite refreshing.
After we settled into our campsite and had dinner, we walked down to the water edge for sunset. It was really gorgeous, however, the sandflies were relentless and kind of ruined the peaceful atmosphere.
Freedom campsite around the Nelson Lakes are few and far between so we ended up staying at a paid DOC campsite; West Bay. It was just a 5 minute walk to the west side of the water edge which was perfect for watching sunset. Kerr Bay campsite was our preferred choice as it had the best views over the lake, but was it closed for renovation.
Day 49: St Arnaud to Westport
The alarms were set for 05:30am this morning to catch sunrise over Lake Rotoiti from Kerr Bay. We reversed the van towards the lake, opened up the boot, and had breakfast overlooking Lake Rotoiti, Mount Robert and the St. Arnaud mountain range on a beautiful, clear morning, We had the place to ourselves, except for the mass of sandflies which were very irritating and persistent. If you decide to visit here, make sure to bring bug spray or you’ll be destroyed in bites.
After breakfast at Kerr Bay, we set off on one of a number of possible hikes at St. Arnaud. The most promoted track is the Lake Rotoiti Circuit, which is a 31 km loop taking between 7-10 hours to complete. There are at least 10 different routes, and after researching we decided on the Mount Robert circuit as it offered elevated and panoramic views of Lake Rotoiti as opposed to 31 km of lakeside scenery.
Mount Robert Circuit start point is a 10 minute drive from Kerr Bay and combines two smaller tracks; Paddys Track and Pinchgut Track. It is a 9 km loop and will take 3 hours to complete. We started on Pinchgut Track which was a steep 1 hour incline, and descended via Paddy’s track. We started at 9 am and so had the track to ourselves. The track is mainly along the face-edge of Mount Robert with amazing views over Lake Rotoiti, and the extensive mountain ranges in the distance which get more stunning as you ascend.
The whole track offers amazing views throughout and is a must if you visit the Nelson Lakes.
After a shower and lunch, we left the Nelson lakes and headed for Wesport, two hours away on the west coast. The town is what we have come to expect in New Zealand; one main commercial street with surrounding residential areas, and deathly quiet. We set up camp for the night a couple of kilometers out the road at Kawatiri Beach reserve. We were parked right beside the beach and took a walk along it for the evening, watching the locals surf.
We stayed at Kawatiri Beach Reserve, a freedom campsite with space for 25 campers. It is well off the main road and therefore quiet overnight. It had toilet facilities and was a great location right in front of the beach.
Day 50: Westport to Greymouth
We woke up early as we had a jam packed day of activities planned. First stop was the Cape Foulwind Walkway, about 16 km southwest of Westport. This 6 km return walk takes you along the west coast and provides panoramic views of mountains and the coastline. At the end of the walkway there is a fur seal colony where we stood and watched little fur seals play in the waves and relax on the rocks.
After lunch we headed down the west coast towards Greymouth. On the way we visited the Punakaiki Pancake rocks, the west coast’s most visited natural attraction. 30 million year in the making, the rocks have undergone a weathering process that has formed them into what look like thick stacks of pancakes.
After this we continued to our final stop of the day, Greymouth. We went for a walk along the beach and enjoyed dinner overlooking the west coast.
We stayed at Cobden Beach front campsite. This freedom campsite is right on the beach and if you are there early enough you can get a spot that overlooks the sea. The toilets are nice and clean, and there is a cold outdoor shower- what more could you want!
Day 51 & 52: Greymouth
Up until this point we have been incredibly lucky with the weather. This morning was when our luck began to change. We were woken up with terrible wind and rain knocking against our van. We decided to wait it out for a couple of days and spend our time in Greymouth library catching up on some blog work.
We spent both nights in Cobden Beach front campsite.
Day 53: Greymouth to Hokitika
The day started well weather wise with the clouds clearing and blue skies returning so we decided to continue down the west coast towards Hokitika. On our way, we stopped off at Brunner mine, one of New Zealand’s earliest industrial sites for coal mining. In March 1896 there was an explosion here that killed all 65 miners working at the time. Today there is a loop walk where you can read all about the 1896 disaster and the work that happened in the mine. It had a self-guided tour and after spending 30 minutes here we hit the road again.
We stopped at Lake Brunner, one of the largest lakes in the South island, and popular for water skiing. There are no walking tracks around the lake so we chilled for an hour before continuing towards Hokitika.
Hokitika is a cool little beachside town which has a number of tourist attractions including the National Kiwi center, glow worm caves, and Hokitika gorge. To get to Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers from the North, you will have to drive through Hokitika and it is a nice stop off after driving from Greymouth. There is a huge iSite centre here where flights and tours can be booked for Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. The town is also more lively than most in New Zealand with a great selection of cafes and bars to choose from.
As many tourists pass through here to head down the west coast, it is a popular overnight pit-stop. Because of this there are no freedom campsites within 20km of the town. We bit the bullet and paid for a campsite for the night at Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. It was in close proximity to town and the beach and also had a petting farm comprised of pigs, alpacas, goats to name a few.
After parking up the van, we headed to the beach and got a picture in front of the ‘famous’ Hokitika sign. We strolled along the black sand beach for the evening before catching sunset from our campsite with a beer. We had a great end to the day, watching the late late toy show.
We stayed at Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. We paid $40 for the night and had access to power, hot showers, kitchen, and of course a petting farm. Although we prefer to take the cheaper option and stay at freedom campsites, it was nice to have access to hot showers and clean toilets.
Day 54: Hokitika Gorge
Hokitika gorge is 33km from the town and boasts vivid turquoise water which we were excited to see as the pictures looked class. It was still raining by the time we got there, but we braved the rain to get the views. The views we ending up getting were grey, murky water full of branches and weeds from the sheer amount of rain and wind. There are two viewing platforms which are no more than 10 minutes walk from the car park. When we reached the platform, it was at this point the torrential rain hit and as we later discovered, would not stop for the next seven days. We got absolutely saturated and legged it back to the van.
Because of the weather, we drove back to Hokitika instead of navigating the expected winding and steep roads to Franz Joseph. We decided to stay in the Shinning Star campsite again, to dry off our clothes and have access to wifi and showers. The rain continued to pelt down so we were confined to our van for the rest of the day and hoped to head off for Franz Joseph the next day.
We spend a second night at Shinning Star Campsite.
Thanks for reading,
Róisín & Bernard