The South Island, or Te Waipounamu in Maori, is as diverse as it is beautiful. From the extremely wet and lush West Coast to the semi-arid Eastern plains, and from the Tasman Sea to the highest peak of the Southern Alps at 12,316 feet the Island is a fascinating smorgasbord of nature and pretty nice people as well. The rough West Coast is where we turned our sights next. Leaving Fiordland behind we headed north on Hwy 6 to the Fox Glacier, Barrytown, and Punakaiki before making the turn to the east at Golden Bay.
We stopped for short breaks in Lake Wanaka and along the coast at Bruce Bay on our way to the Fox Glacier.
We had arranged a helicopter ride over and onto the Fox Glacier, but the ceiling was too low that whole day so we had to settle with going in on foot. Somewhere along the 30 minute hike out from the parking lot I must have dropped the car keys. Noticing they were nowhere to be found and in a panic we retraced our footsteps carefully back to the parking lot. The terrain along the path varies from smooth and clear to rough with small streams and standing water to step over and around. I began to second guess if I’d left my keys in the car, but I was certain I had them when we left on our hike. All the way back to the car and still no keys. Not to be found on the ground, and not in the car. We were miles from our hotel and I’d begun to think about what it was going to cost me in time and cash to have the car towed back to the hotel and have the rental car agency figure out if they had another key for me. Then, as if on cue, there was a tour guide with his hand up in the air, keys dangling and waving……. toward me. He must have noticed the stress on my face or my near frantic search of everything around me. He found my keys! This Chinese tour guide left his group on the trail and came back to the parking lot to find whoever lost those keys. He explained that they were just on the trail, but in a little notch between some rocks. He just happened to look down when he saw them. I couldn’t thank him enough. He wouldn’t accept any reward. He was grateful to be helpful and we were heading back up to the glacier.
One of the most enjoyable parts of our trip was our stay at Blue Waves Homestay in tiny Barrytown. The word “town” is a misnomer as there is no town within 30 minutes, but this place is pure heaven on earth. We were greeted by our host Dennis who was out tending to the lush surroundings on the property. Dennis is a retired search and rescue guy who can tell a story like no other. And does he have some stories to tell! He is animated, real, friendly and FUNNY!
Dennis warmly greeted us and showed us the house and our room, offered us a drink and immediately made us comfortable in his home. The property is simply beautiful. Raelyn arrived home from work later in the afternoon and advised us “tea” would be sometime shortly after 7:00 PM. Rae is equally delightful and enjoys a little playful banter with Dennis much to our entertainment. We decided to go for a walk on the beach across the street. It was overcast that day, but it didn’t detract from the fact that we had beach as far as the eye could see both directions to ourselves. The driftwood and the birds and a calm Tasman Sea at low tide made for some great photo opportunities.
The best part of our short stay was the meal that Dennis and Rae prepared. I’m not sure what was better, the food, including delicious fish caught by Dennis across the street, or the conversation. If you have even a passing interest in fishing you must ask Dennis about the “torpedo” Dennis designed to fish for deep water fish from the shore. You need to see it to believe it. I felt as though I was among old friends. Dennis cooked fish that he had caught just across the street and while eating we got to share in some stories of Dennis’ life working Search and Rescue on the West Coast over the years. Dennis’s best mate Neil was there as well and between the two of them we had some great laughs and learned some interesting facts about the area.
Another highlight was being handed a copy of Neil’s biography signed by both Neil and Dennis who is mentioned many times in the book as the two had worked for decades in Search and Rescue while Neil was a Senior Sergeant with the Constables Office in Greymouth. I read the 373 page book, Step Up to the Line, Biography of Neil Smith from cover to cover on the flight home and it was a continuation of the conversation we had that night over our meal.
I get the feeling Dennis can do or build or fix just about anything and having built the property with his own hands there’s just something special about it. The room was comfortable with great views of the sea. Breakfast was wonderful we only wish we had another day or two to stay at Blue Waves. If you’re looking to stay on the West Coast and enjoy some authentic West Coast hospitality I highly recommend this place. There is plenty to do in the area and I certainly plan to return for a longer stay in the future. Don’t forget to ask about the torpedo!
This is Blue Waves Homestay:
From Blue Waves we headed north to Golden Bay. A must see along the way is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago from tiny fragments of dead marine animals and plants. The water pressure and time caused the fragments to solidify in soft and hard layers creating the limestone layers that were then sculpted into the interesting shapes you can see today by wind and seawater. The hike is an easy 20 minute loop.
We completed our trip up the West Coast with a couple day stopover in Golden Bay. Like the rest of what we’ve experienced to this point it was another beautiful destination. The Wharariki Beach (featured below), Farewell Spit, and Waikoropupu Springs were among the places we visited. Wharariki Beach is a good 30 minute hike from the parking area through sheep farmland over easy terrain. With Cape Farewell at the northern point it’s usually windy. Although wind and sand don’t normally make for a pleasant beach experience we had a calm enough day to make this really worthwhile. The vistas with their massive sand dunes and rocky sea views were spectacular. By sheer luck we were there at low tide which was good because more of the beach is accessible.
Hope you enjoyed traveling with us to New Zealand!
NEXT: Abel Tasman National Park – Picton – Crossing the Marlborough Sound to the North Island – Wellington