Arthur’s Pass to Okarito
The next day of our adventure sees us drive from Arthur’s Pass, to the tiny settlement of Okarito (population 30). Along the way we took a variety of scenic detours: a walk in the Otira Valley, an excursion to the shores of Lake Brunner, and a view of the amazing Hokitika Gorge, all rounded off with a lovely sunset on the west coast. The driving was primarily on beautiful, quiet roads, although there were a few holdups at the single lane bridges which New Zealand is famous for, including one which is shared with the railway line!
The Otira valley walk is about 45 minutes each way along a fairly easy path from a laybay just up the hill from Arthur’s Pass village, taking you to excellent views of the surrounding mountains, always with the noise of the river running in the background. The DoC information suggests it’s easy to get to the bridge; we didn’t quite make it that far, turning back when it became necessary to get wet / scramble across the foliage. Still, the bridge was in sight, so pretty close. We spent about 90 minutes on the walk in total, and didn’t meet another soul. A lovely morning stroll. One of the things that was interesting to us northern Europeans, was the differences in all the plants along the path – which looked so alien to us, on this our first day in NZ.
Reaching this stunning like (near Moana), means driving along a back-road
(fully sealed) from the Route 73 to Route 6 (the coast road), reached by turning off to the right, not long after the summit of the Pass. The stunning Arnold river (crossed on foot by the wobbly bridge in the photograph) provides the outflow from the lake, which contains freshwater mussels (amongst other things). We stopped here in the hot sunshine for a gentle (and short stroll) before heading onward through the large town of Greymouth towards Hokitika for lunch.
This is one of those sights that photography just cannot do justice – the blue colour is truly stunning. This colour is the product of how the water gets to the river, being glacial water. All the tiny bits of rock ground off by the glacier (known as glacial flour), are suspended in the water, and the minerals in these tiny bits of rock give the vivid blue colour.
The road to the gorge from Hokitika is an intriguing drive – dead straight for miles, with right angle bends interspersed as it goes around the odd field that the owner decided they didn’t want the road to go through. The last few hundred metres are unsealed, but easy driving. The walk down to the gorge, which includes a lovely bridge over the river, is very easy going. Warning: do not attempt without good strength sand-fly repellent; these little beasties will bite you to within an inch of your life! (for Brits – they are like Scottish midges, but worse!). We were fortunate to meet some locals coming the other way who clearly guessed that we were unprepared, and shared their repellent!
After Hokitika Gorge, it was back to Hokitika village to fill up on some supplies
(pasta and sauce) for our night in the “Hutel” in Okarito (pop. 30), and then the drive down the fantastic west coast for 90 minutes or so (with a turnoff about 16km before the end of the drive) to our destination.
Okarito is right by the sea, and is home to the Okarito lagoon, an area full of nature. As you can see from the photo, you can look back to the mountains of the Southern Alps also. On arrival in the village, we were given a warm welcome, and shown to our “hutel”, which is a self-contained unit, which seemed to contain more knives than any other implements – they covered about half of the wallspace in the kitchen area – only sleep there in the company of someone you really trust! We were laughed at when we asked where the key was “no-one locks their doors here, if you’re worried, leave things in your car”. We ate our pasta and sauce (I like garlic in my sauce, but clearly not as much as NZ’ers do, since it was outrageously garlicy), and went for a sunset stroll.
Sadly, we were so close to mid-summer, that the sun set just behind the headland, but we had a beautiful evening. It turns out the NZ is full (well, perhaps not full, but you see them quite a bit), of couples of our sort of age, also trying to enjoy a romantic walk at sunset – you certainly don’t even get a spot as out-of-the-way as Okarito to yourself. It seems as though many tourists are at the “happily-married-for-a-bit-in-a-stable-job-no-kids-yet” bracket, which sort of makes sense, since it’s expensive to get to, but even more so if you have a family!
Lastly (for now), the ducks in NZ are really big:
We saw this paradise shelduck, with his mate and a duckling the next morning before departure. About the size of a particularly succulent goose!
Next time, a glacier in the rainforest, and a beautiful bay.