I’m not a surfer and had heard about the notoriously bad weather on the west coast of the South Island so we hadn’t planned to spend much time here, but what we did see was great and it certainly makes for a spectacular driving route.
Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park was our first stop after leaving Kaiteriteri and whilst not technically on the coast it was on the way. The lake is a kettle hole (formed by a glacier) and was incredibly cold. Certainly not somewhere I’d fancy swimming! It was surrounded by mountains so looked rather spectacular, but one of the most interesting things about the lake was the number of very large eels which were living in it. They particularly seemed to congregate around the pier so it was quite easy to spot them.
Westport was our first overnight stop and we didn’t arrive until the evening so there didn’t appear to be much happening, although it’s meant to be a good place to stay if you are a surfer. Just outside of Westport we went on a walk at Cape Foulwind to see a seal colony. This was our first impressions of the rugged coastline and the big waves of the Tasman Sea. We saw quite a lot of seals and some seal pups which were very cute and seemed to be using a nursery pool just offshore to practice swimming.
As we continued south along the coast we were treated to more spectacular views and were lucky to have blue skies to fully appreciate it. My favourite stop was at the pancake rocks which were really impressive structures. However it wasn’t just the rocks themselves which were good to see but the way the sea moved around them. At certain times you can see the sea spurt out of blowholes which have been eroded into the rocks.
At Lake Mahinapua we were able to try our hand at carving jade which was fun and less complicated than I’d expected (at least for our simple designs). New Zealand Jade, Greenstone, or Pounamu (to give it its many names) is sacred to the Maori and as such it cannot be taken out of the ground without their permission. Apparently it’s traditional and better luck to give your carving to another person rather than keeping it for yourself. As a result James got the short straw as he was much better at it than me so I now have a very professional looking necklace whereas his is a bit more amateurish (but it’s the thought that counts right?!).
Further down the coast we stopped off at a small bay and were lucky to see some Hector’s dolphins which are quite rare and native to New Zealand. Their dorsal fin is slightly more rounded than you’d usually expect from a dolphin but that also makes them slightly easier to identify from the shore.
The West Coast was much more beautiful than I expected and I’m really pleased we got to see it. Although there’s not much going on in the towns, the natural landscape is fantastic and it’s a great place for a roadtrip with plenty of beach stops.