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  • Writer's pictureClaire

25/03/24 Lake Hāwea to Hokitiki

A fabulous sunrise this morning more than compensated for our slightly disturbed nights sleep thanks to the falling acorns, we were on the road before 0800. With Lake Hāwea on our right we followed it all the way along until we came to “the neck” where it ends and we picked up Lake Wanaka on our left side. The skies were pale blue but with large moody grey clouds adorning them. If anything they enhanced what we were seeing rather than detracted from the beauty of what lay before us. Flanking the lake the mountains with their snow topped peaks were accentuated in the dull morning light. The bleakness of the mountains stood out in sharp contrast to the lush vegetation growing lakeside, and it almost looked like they were two separate images that had been merged to create an otherworldly look. 

The two hour(ish) drive from lake Hāwea, took us through Mount Aspiring National Park which had some seriously spectacular countryside, we were told it costs an absolute fortune to keep the road open as it’s frequently the site of landslides and rockfalls. None today though, which is something of a relief to us both!  

We passed through Makarora, our intention had been to visit the luminous blue pools where the Makarora and Blue rivers merge.  The water is so clear that the brown trout that inhabit it appear to be suspended. Unfortunately the weather turned and the glimpses of blue skies we had been seeing had disappeared and we had dirty black rain clouds spewing out wet stuff that is also known as bloody rain. Because of the heavy rainfall over night and the continuing torrents we were driving in the rivers we passed were no longer running perfectly clear, they were more a cow pee yellow and not that attractive. We concluded that if we were to get to the blue pools and they weren’t a luminous blue and instead a cow pee yellow, not only would we be disappointed we’d be soaked to the skin as well. Sod that for a game of hopscotch! Onwards drive, and don’t spare the horses!! We later discovered that we were indeed correct about the pool’s colour not being blue after heavy rain. They weren’t described as cow pee yellow, but it was along those lines… 

At Haast Village we stopped for some breakfast. Haast is “different” its a remote location and had only been connected to the west coast highway since the 1960’s. Which I know is a good while, but it’s still like  Beverly hillbillies country.  Breakfast was ok, the owners and staff, “different” and we left as soon as we’d finished our food… 

Getting back on the road we soon hit the West Coast and our first sighting of the Tasman Sea in a while.  The route took us inland shortly after that short glimpse and we crossed over the Moeraki River, the one that feeds into the blue pools. At that precise time, we had a break through in the weather, and the sky and clouds were mirrored perfectly in the river as we drove over the bridge. The massive ferns are starting to turn colour, and are now any shade from green through to rust red, and are really eye catching. When we hit Bruce Bay the weather started to close in and despite blue skies over to the west we were driving into dark cloud again. The ocean was churning up sand, and looking a muddy, browny grey, which wasn’t that nice to look at, there was a huge boulder wall to hold back the ocean, which prevented us getting a really good view of it. The beach was covered in wood debris as well, so not somewhere you’d want to spend any amount of time really unless you collected driftwood! 

With colossal mountains, forests, glaciers and surf-pounded beaches, the 1280 metre square Westland Tai Poutini National Park really clobbers visitors with its mind-bending proportions. Reaching from the coast to the razor peaks of the Southern Alps, the park’s main attractions are twin glaciers Fox and Franz Josef, and the towns are 23km apart.. Out of more than 60 glaciers in the park, only Fox and Franz Josef are easy to view. (If you’re mobile or filthy rich and can pay for a helicopter flight) The glaciers are as fragile as they are amazing,  and are the most majestic handiwork of the West Coast’s precipitation. Snowfall in the glaciers fuses into clear ice that goes to a depth of  20m. It then creeps down the steep valleys. During the last ice age Westland’s twin glaciers reached the sea. In the ensuing thaw they may have crawled back even further than their current positions, but around the 14th century a mini ice age reared its ugly head and they advanced to around the place they are now. 

We finally came to the Fox Glacier, and I’d read that although the drive up to the glacier was now closed off, the Glacier was still visible from the road. At the sign post we pulled off and found ourselves in a car park. The information board stated it was a 4km walk to the viewing point. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it pissed down and the whole bloody Glacier was covered in dense cloud! (Insert numerous eye rolls and profanities here) So even if I’d been able to make the walk, we wouldn’t have seen a thing and we’d have got soaked to the skin to add insult to injury. Rude!! I was disappointed, I wanted to look for the polar bear off the adverts, but he shall remain elusive for now and protected from my clicking camera. With The Fox Glacier being inaccessible to us, we knew its twin, The Franz Joseph would be the same so we carried on through the Park with its bright yellow “Kiwi’s Crossing”signs and rainforests into Ross. Ross is another little town offering gold panning but from 1865 to 1914 it was the most productive alluvial goldfield in New Zealand. In 1909 the discovery of a huge nugget of gold weighing nearly 3kg was discovered that was subsequently named “honourable Roddy’. We contemplated stopping for a brew but, still sulking from the Glacier incidents or lack thereof, we pushed on. I might add that the sun had come out by the time we reached there and within 2 minutes we were boiling hot pressing the window buttons frantically, trying to get some cool air in Ismene!  

In Ruatapu, a little hamlet seemingly in the middle of nowhere, two things amused me greatly. The first was trees that have spent all their lives being buffeted by the harsh winds, to the extent that they now lean to the East.  The second, and my absolute favourite was a field of wrapped bales, that a very creative individual had turned into pink and blue Easter bunnies and multicolour spotted Easter eggs. Outstanding effort and they are my winning Easter Roadside exhibition for 2024. Take a bow people, take a bow… 

We finally arrived at Hokitiki our final stop for the day. Hokitika was first settled in 1860, after the discovery of gold on the West Coast. It was a major  river port, but many ships came to grief on the notorious ‘Hokitika Bar’ – a sandbar that shifts with every tide. There are some lovely old buildings on the town and places selling  pounamu jewellery and art. There is even a place where you can carve your own Pounamu jewellery, which I would have loved to have done but it was booked up waaaay in advance. The Arahura River, which is just north of Hokitika, is a traditional source of Pounamu (greenstone). Gold jewellery makers, wood turners and potters provide other wonderfully unique souvenirs. We wandered around the town, photographed its handmade driftwood sign and then found somewhere for a brew. This travelling is thirsty work!!! They also had free WIFI. Which I wanted to use so we lingered over the brew! 

I’d booked a campsite for the night just outside the town and, It has to be said, when I booked it there wasn’t one good review for it on the CamperMate app. Given the limited options we had, I decided to risk and it was great!!  When we checked in to the holiday park, we realised it mainly self contained units and there was only space for 10 camper vans. As we’d arrived early, there was plenty of spaces available and one right next to the amenities.  All parked up, keys in Si’s pocket we had a cheeky look around. The disabled facilities consisted of a private room with shower toilet and sink,  a stool and non slip mat to stand on. Out bloody standing!! AND it was practically right next to Ismene.

Also on the site were laundry facilities, a substantial kitchen with a large dining table and chairs and 3 comfy sofas to park our butts on.  After a boiling hot shower, some banana on toast and an oxo we were ready for bed. One of the reasons I decided to take a punt on the campsite was because there was a glow worm dell not 600 metres from the site. Once again the weather rained on our parade and it poured down with the wind whipping up a storm, therefore another of my best laid plans didn’t come to fruition. Frankly today has been a bummer all around due to the weather.  It’s made me achy and a little on the tetchy side!! 

With some clothes swilled out and hung on the line under the roof,  Mildred cwtched in beside it we went to bed. There was a chap and his wife in a large camper next to us we’d got talking to earlier in the kitchen, and he invited us in to share a whiskey with him and his wife. They were making their way down to Queenstown to scatter their sons ashes, after he was killed last year in an avalanche whilst skiiing in Japan last year. He told us that two more skiers had died the same way just last week, which must have opened up all the old wounds again for the family.  We declined the whisky, as we kind of felt we were intruding on something very private and we weren’t sure if his wife would be happy with two complete strangers in their camper drinking their whisky. We suspected not, because shortly after the invite was extended, the curtains were drawn and I think most, if not all the lights went out. Bless them. Despite none of the plans working out today it’s still been a great journey and my sulk is over! 

Much Love

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