Tag Archives: gold mining tunnels

The Wild West Coast

The west coast lived up to its reputation most of the time for us with rain, drizzle and wind but we managed to get good weather in the right places.  We headed south down the coast visiting lots of old gold mining areas because we can’t resist all those tunnels. The first one was one of the best, the Charming Creek walkway, which followed an old rail line that had been build through a wild gorge. We had tunnels, old machinery and to cap it off a superb waterfall.

We timed our visit to Pancake Rocks with high tide and they performed for us in the rough seas. We followed a walk up a canyon and visited some of the local sights – Truman track leading to a colourful curved cliff and a huge sea cave that used to be used by the maoris. We revisited Pancake Rocks at low tide in better weather but not performing well.

The wild  weather causes the sea to create lots  of foam which is rich in nutrients but also is fascinating to watch as it gloops its way onto the shore and flubs over rocks. Another pretty waterfall and then a visit to a secret beach as recommended by our guidebook and only able to be accessed at low tide. It gave us lots of sea stacks, holes in rocks and arches and as the tide retreated, rock shelves covered with huge mussels and clusters of starfish.

More gold mining tunnels, tailraces dug out by hand that were 10 metres deep and a recreated site where NZ’s worst mining disaster occurred with the loss of 67 lives in 1896. We visited Hokitika where their sign was looking a little lopsided. It is the home of jade (greenstone) carvers on the coast and we took a tour but only saw someone putting holes in pieces. It also shares its name with the river which slowly flows through a gorge giving it a chance to show off its amazing turquoise colour even in the rain. The rain also caused Dorothy Falls to thunder though they quickly dropped overnight with no rain.

We finally had good weather in the morning when we were at Franz Josef glacier so we quickly made us dash to Lake Matheson to catch the almost perfect reflections. The clouds started coming over again soon after as we visited the two glaciers. We found the less visited Fox glacier much more impressive as we got closer to the snout and didn’t have those annoying helicopters flying overhead delivering tourists to their glacier walk.

Gillespies Beach is a free campsite with a view of the mountains that is apparently packed in summer. We didn’t have the crowds but we only got glimpses of the mountains until we were driving out the next morning.

After watching the whitebait fishermen (and women) all down the coast we finally stopped to try some. There is only a ten week season to catch them and lots of people spend the whole time fishing. Lots sell their catch (for $100 kg) and others freeze it to feast on during the year. Some have permanent shacks and structures to put out their nets and have to pay an annual fee while those who walk the rivers with their nets do it for free. We bought our pattie from an authentic shed on the river bank made with whitebait caught the previous day. They mix the fish with egg and fry it and serve it on white bread. We added some salt, pepper and lemon and were surprised to find it had a very subtle fishy flavour as we were expecting something much stronger. We are glad we tried but won’t go out of our way to have more.

We left the west coast via the Haast Pass which brought back memories of our last trip through after 200mm of rain fell overnight at Fox Glacier. On that occasion the river filled the banks while this time it was a narrow band of water with large shingle beds. We camped on the way through with the sand flies and explored some extra side canyons.

Old Haunts revisited

Having circumnavigated the island and with two weeks until our return home we decided to head back to some areas where we now had more information about sights to see and time to explore. We started by doing a loop in the Waitomo area taking in yet another waterfall and then checking bits of the west coast we had missed. The rain had caused rivers to run well and they stained the sea brown as they emptied their loads. We headed down one narrow country road which ended at a tunnel cut into the cliff for the previous flax trade. We walked through to emerge onto an empty back sand beach backed by towering, orange cliffs with a waterfall cascading down and ours were the only footsteps. It was a magical place.

The coast road deposited us back at Waitomo where we revisited some of our favourite places and also went to Ruakiri tunnels walk which we had missed. It was a loop walk through a gorge accompanied by the river which dipped in and out of tunnels ( and so did we). We also did a tramp as opposed to a walk (rough track, no steps, river crossings instead of bridges, marked by orange triangles thank goodness or we would have lost it!) to a waterfall that was well off the beaten tourist path. The falls were worth the effort falling through a sunlit slot into an orange canyon filled with green, mossy rocks.

Next came a walk along a limestone gorge that the track notes said could be boggy. It most certainly was and we deliberately walked through the stream at the end to remove some of the mud off our boots. It also didn’t deliver the views we were hoping for due to the vegetation. Having time to kill we then headed to the previously ignored McLaren Falls as the photos didn’t look impressive.  The river had been dammed for hydro purposes and was now a trickle but we found a beautiful lake had been made and the area planted with a great variety of trees. It was lovely especially with the autumn colours.

Another day and another waterfall – this one came down in three leaps and then dropped into a green gorge which was very pretty. It was then back to the coast which was decidedly warmer than inland and a climb up a local mountain with lots of the locals walking and jogging up and down. New Zealanders are prolific walkers and joggers and every hill near a major town always had lots of people.

The Coromandel Peninsula drew us back for more walks and coast watching.  We timed our visit to Hot Water Beach so we could feel the hot water bubbling up through the sand with our bare feet. I went on a boat trip that I couldn’t manage previously due to bad weather but found it a bit disappointing as our boat rushed madly from one attraction to the next with limited time to take photos, especially as it was advertised as great for photographers. (I also had to contend with people in front and we were rarely given side on views.) We took walks through the old gold mining tunnels to find lots of wetas and a surprise from some enterprising local. Another waterfall also gave us lots of exercise.

Hamilton gave us a much cheaper alternative place to store our van and also the unexpected delight of their themed gardens, well worth a visit.

After three months in New Zealand I feel qualified to espouse some observations

– The price of living is similar with petrol more expensive but fish, icecream and bakery items cheaper.

– DOC (Department of Conservation) is a very big presence and do a great job providing a variety of mostly well signed walking tracks, camping areas in some beautiful locations and lots of huts ranging from very basic (which we did not visit as they require more knowledge of the area) to palatial like the 80 bed Pinnacles hut in Coromandel with mattresses, gas cookers, lights, shower (cold!) and a barbecue for bacon and egg breakfasts.

– NZ is having as much trouble with depletion of native species as we are. They are working very hard at addressing the problem of stoats and possums in particular which have had great effect on their bird life. Certain areas have been targetted for intensive trapping and poisoning and we did hear more birds in these areas. They have also made use of their many off shore islands as sanctuaries for captive bred  and released populations.

– NZ is more open to adventurous activities than Australia and is not such a nanny state. They allow people to take responsibility for their own actions (less fencing of cliff edges, tunnels not closed off, free self guided caves with leaflets ).

We are now back in Australia for the winter with plans to return and travel the South Island in spring.