Okarito to Collyer House (Haast) via Fox Glacier
(click map / zoom out for full view)
Segment six of our trip saw us wake up in our Hutel in Okarito in lovely sunshine (apparently quite a rarity on the “Wet Coast”. The rainfall totals in this part of NZ really put the UK to shame!). Our drive would take us just over 100 miles along this sparsely populated coastal area, past rainforests, glaciers, and wonderful coves, to Haast, and beyond to Collyer House. First stop was the rather lovely Continental bakery at the far end of the township of Franz Josef (This is where one of the two famous West Coast glaciers can be found).
Being as we are, we decided that the majority of tourists would stop at the first of the two glaciers, and we should therefore head onwards to Fox Glacier, where it might be a bit quieter. These two glaciers are very unusual, both in that they reach down to only 300m above sea level (within the rainforest), and also that they are advancing, when most world glaciers are in retreat. The car park is reached up a short spur off the main highway (6), which ends with gravel. There is then a twenty-minute hike across the moraine and gravel areas between the car park and the end of the glacier. There is a high-risk of rockfalls in this area, so obey the signs, and do not venture onto the ice without a guide. You can get pretty close (about 200m) without, which is free, and is a very enjoyable trip.
Once back at the car, it was onward along the Coast Road. Our guidebook had suggested a good spot for a break was a lay-by that would allow you to take the c. 30 minute hike down through the rainforest to Monro beach, where (at the right time of year) penguins can be found, and which is a beautiful location at any time of year.
The walk was pretty quiet (only a few other similarly 20s-30s, middle-class, couple-types (NZ seems to be full of them) down through the forest, and it wasn’t so steep that we worried about the clamber back up. On reaching the beach, we found stones, beautiful blue pacific surf, a lovely bay, rocks out in the bay, and a complete absence of penguins (we must have just missed them, based on the signs out).
Just up the coast, there is a lovely viewpoint (Knight’s point),
named for the dog of the foreman in charge of the road construction, and several other lesser viewpoints. This one is famed, since there is a meeting of currents, and on quite a few occasions throughout the year (not the day we were there) one can see whales and other large sea-mammals feeding in the waters below the road. The views are good without the whales too though.
The West Coast is a truly stunning place, and is (for a busy European) very empty. You can easily drive 60km or more between settlements, and each of those might only have 350 people. You do tend to see the same people / cars / Jucy vans at every guide-book location however! Finally we came to Haast, and turned off the main route 6 road, to head down the road towards (but not all the way to) Jackson Bay (we would later return to Haast for a beautiful fish and chips at the Hard Antler (next door to a shop selling New Zealand jade and other interesting lumps of rock)), to our B&B for the night at the delightful Collyer House. Run by the lovely Neroli Nolan (just about everyone within a couple of miles is a Nolan!), who is an excellent photographer and equally excellent hostess, the special place is close to the ocean, with wonderful views.
Breakfast is also very good, and we enjoyed talking with Neroli and the other guest (who had just come down from one of the great walks the day before) about travels and life in NZ. Needless to say the others’ stories were slightly more exciting than ours (such things as being left stranded by a broken down bus in the middle of the night in Vietnam etc!). But a lovely convivial morning it was, and we certainly didn’t start the next day’s journey as early as we had thought we might! The rooms at Collyer house are stunningly appointed, and contain antique British furniture in many places (ask Neroli about that!), and it was a very comfortable place to stay; we wish we’d booked it for more than just one night.
Next… away from the coast and into the mountains.