You know when you go on a road trip there are some places you are excited about and some places that you just figure you will stop at seeing as you are passing through? Well Westport was the latter, we were passing through on our way down to Franz Joseph from Kaiteriteri and figured it was as good a place as any to stop to see some seals if nothing else. But we soon discovered that the area around Westport has lots to explore – once again we discovered lots of the off the beaten track adventures in the NZ Frenzy Off the Beaten track guide ( available to buy on line, not sponsored in any way just love the guide )
Anyhow back to Westport….Just getting there from Kaiteriteri is a breath-taking drive through the Buller Gorge. After setting up camp our first afternoon there we drove out to see the seal at Cape Foulwind which was indeed foul but very scenic with great views of the seals and lots of information boards about the wildlife in the area.
The next day we were up bright and early as it turns out there is lots more to do in Westport than just look at seals so we headed North to Mokihinu where there is a 100 year old ship wreck on the beach. West Coast beaches are pretty rugged, add to that a ship wreck and you have a great photo shoot.
From here we drove to Chasm Creek walkway which we couldn’t go far on as it was closed. Turns out it was probably lucky we couldn’t go too far on that track as we still had lots to explore. So on to the Charming Creek walkway, near Ngakawau, which was on an old tramline up a gorge. We walked for about 1 hour through tunnels and across a swing bridge before we reached a clearing where there had been a sawmill and found a spot close to the river to have lunch. There was lots of train relics, stunning native bush and even a waterfall along the way so lots to keep everyone entertained on this walk.
From here we drove up the Denniston Plateau, a very steep climb in the car up 600m to a spot where coal miners lived over 100 years ago. Some people never even came down from the Plateau and when they did it was in the coal wagons. On a clear day you would get great views from the Plateau – although am just not sure its ever a clear day on the West Coast of the South Island. There are a lot of relics and information on what life would have been like on the Plateau. We would have liked to have spent longer but the temperature was dropping which made us realise what a hard life the coal miners would have had up there.
When you are road tripping there are some parts of the journey that are just an overnight stop on the way to your destination and I think that is what I thought our overnighter at Glen Tanner was. I couldn’t have been more wrong and the walk we did was one of the highlights of our 3 weeks in the South Island.
We had already booked in at the only other campground, Glen Tanner and arrived at about 4 in the afternoon and found a spot with an impressive view of Mt Cook.
Already I was impressed as I love a campsite with a view.
After a quick set up and a lot of time admiring the view we set off on the Hooker Valley Track about 5pm. One of the things I loved about the South Island was how light it is in the evenings so we could make the most of every minute of the day.
And what an amazing walk up the valley with stunning views of Mt Cook and the surrounding mountain ranges. Awesome suspension bridges spanning an impressive river. It’s a very walkable track and I expect it could be quite busy during the day but walking it at 5pm meant we didn’t end up with too many other people in our photos.
It took about one hour to get to Lake Hooker. It’s not the most picturesque lake as the dirt washing off the glacier at the other end of the Lake makes it very sludgy looking. The glacier at the other end of the Lake doesn’t look that glacial either as it’s covered in grey sludge but the views of Mount Cook are stunning and the little icebergs floating in the lake add to the atmosphere.
We popped our beers and cider into the lake to cool down and then sat for about half an hour soaking in the views.
As we returned to the carpark there were still people starting the track, making the most of doing a very popular South Island walk when it wasn’t too crowded.
Planning a trip can be exciting and daunting. When we planned our South Island trip we first had to decide what we wanted to do in each place and then how long to stay…or did we plan the other way round? Either way we loved our South Island trip and felt like we made the most of every minute.
First day was recoup and recover time after 2 days driving from Auckland so you may not need this day ( depending on where you drove from ) but it was nice to spend some time relaxing on the stunning beach in Kaiteriteri.
We spent one day walking in Abel Tasman National Park. We wanted to kayak but the kids were too young for the kayak rental company so we caught the water taxi to Anchorage and explored the tracks and beaches in the area including Cleopatra’s Pool.
We also were delighted to find an awesome mountain bike park that we could easily ride to from the campground where we were staying. Plenty of tracks for adults and kids to ride together. Walked around beach and cliff track.
Drove over to Takaka the next day to walk the Grove Scenic Reserve and up to Rawhiti Caves. In the afternoon more mountain bike riding (we found a lovely local childminder so we could ride without the kids this time ) The “Jaws” track is amazing, hard up but awesome down.
In between our adventures we made the most of the long evenings and sat on the beach relaxing.
Day 5 – 7. Westport ( 2 nights, 1 full day )
We arrived in Westport about 5pm after a day of chores in Motueka and a stunning drive through the Buller Gorge. Quickly set up the camper and headed out to Cape Foulwind to see the seal colony. It didn’t disappoint – it was a foul wind and there were lots of seals.
The next day we spent doing some of the most amazing walks I think I did in the South Island but then I do say that about a lot of the walks. Headed north of Westport to Mokihinui to soak up some West Coast beach vibes and check out a 100 year old shipwreck. Then on to the Chasm Creek and Charming Creek Walkways. Both stunning and the scenery is so rugged. Then up to the Denniston Plateau for a peek into what a coal mining town would have been like….tough people, hard work.
Day 7. Westport to Franz Josef
Stopped in at Punakaiki and Shantytown on the way to Franz Josef. Try to visit Punakaiki at high tide to see the full effect of the waves and blowholes but its still spectacular anytime.
Day 7 -9. Franz Josef ( 2 nights, 1 full day )
Rode our mountain bikes from the campground in Franz Josef to the start of the Franz Josef Glacier walk. The walk up the glacier valley to the snout is amazing and gives a great sense of nature’s power. Considered doing another tourist activity but they are pretty expensive here so we relaxed for the afternoon.
Day 9. Franz Josef to Queenstown.
One of our longest drives. Crossed the Southern Alps at Haast pass then stopped at Puzzling World in Wanaka which was lots of fun.
Day 9 – 13. Queenstown (4 nights)
Spent the morning doing chores and got out for an adult mountain bike ride at Wilsons Bay. Wasn’t the best riding but I think we had high expectations after Kaiteriteri.
Did a 24km bike ride with the kids alongside the Kawerau river and down to the Bungy bridge. Crossing the Shotover and Arrow river bridges along the way was very spectacular. Arranged a shuttle bus pick up to get us back to Queenstown.
Boat trip across the lake to Mt Nichol sheep station. The farm tour was great for the kids to see all the farm animals but the promised barbeque lunch was a bit average.
Day 13. Queenstown to Glen Tanner, Mount Cook
13.Nice drive north through the mountains crossing Lindis pass and stopped at Omarama for lunch on a riverbank. We arrived at Glen Tanner about 4pm. Its about a 20min drive up to Mt Cook Village and we walked the Hooker Valley Track that evening, lucky it stays light late down here.
Day 14. Glen Tanner to Geraldine
14. Another long drive but the scenery is amazing all the time so the time passes easily. Stopped at Tekapo for lunch, went up Mt John for an even bigger view of the stunning high country scenery.
Day 16. Geraldine to Hanmer Springs ( 4 nights )
Decided to take the inland Highway 77 through to Rangiora rather than traverse the endless Canterbury plains. Culverden for an icecream (the biggest we have had) then arrived Hanmer about 4pm and explored the Hanmer Springs area. Went for a swim in the river to cool down.
Mountain biked with the kids in the morning and then hot springs/pools in the afternoon. Bought a 2 day family pass.
Walked up Dog Stream forest track to a cool waterfall, then back to the hot springs/pools again.
Found a childminder in the campground for the kids and got out for an adult mountain bike ride. Relaxed for the afternoon
Day 19. Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura ( Unfortunately this area has been hit by an earthquake so you would need to check roads before you travel )
19. Took the inland highway to Kaikoura. Whale watching in the afternoon. The whales were amazing and the massive pod of dolphins was an added bonus.
Head for home ; (
We camped in our camper trailer and I didn’t estimate how long it would take to move on each day and prepare food as nothing happens quickly when you are camping. I loved the experience of camping but some days I did wish we could just unplug and move on like the camper vans did. So if you aren’t camping like us you may find you can move faster.
You really don’t need to spend a lot of money on activities in the South Island. What we didn’t budget for was flat tyres, one on our car and two on the camper!
We mountain biked a lot and went for many walks to enjoy the natural surroundings. If that’s not your thing then you will of course have more time than us.
We were very lucky with the weather but it can be wet. If you are camping it might pay to slap some waterproofing on your tent like we did with the camper trailer.
Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors