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           Home >  Regions  > West Coast  :

Franz Josef to Nelson

Dorothy - 1/12/06

This journey from Franz Josef, to Okarito, Hokitika, Reefton, Inangahua, the Upper Buller Gorge, and on to Nelson takes the traveller through luxuriant bush, beside beautiful beaches and lakes, beside the mighty Buller River, and through areas rich in interesting history. There is much to attract those interested in photography, bird watching, plants, conservation, forestry, early aviation, fishing and walking.

Travel information about much of the area between Franz Josef and Nelson is covered in other NZine articles The purpose of this article is to give travellers in one article a travel guide from Franz Josef to Nelson, a continuation of the journey for those taking a round trip around the South Island,including Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford, Wanaka, the Haast Pass, the Fox Glacier Franz Josef Glacier.

From Franz Josef you travel along the shore of Lake Mapourika to the turnoff to Okarito Lagoon. This place is especially interesting to bird watchers. It is 13km from the main road to the coast.

The southern end of the lagoon
Photo source Bill Moore

Painting Bill Moore's painting of Okarita
The Okarito lagoon is the largest estuary on the West Coast. - 20 square kilometres in area. The kotuku, the New Zealand white heron, nests from November to February near the northern end of the lagoon in the Waitangiroto Sanctuary - their only nesting place, The royal spoonbill (kotuku ngutupapa) also breeds here. Booking a trip by kayak or by jetboat is well worth while.

One very interesting walk takes you to the Okarito Trig (survey mark) on a headland where you get a view of Mount Cook and other high mountains in the Southern Alps. The walk takes about 45 minutes each way on a well-formed track.

The old school is now the YHA hostel and there is other budget accommodation available.

The next township is Whataroa, 15km further on. The booking office for tours to the Okarito Lagoon is here.

You pass through the small towns of Harihari and Ross before reaching Hokitika. In 1931 Guy Menzies, an early aviator, was the first to fly solo across the Tasman, but ended by crash landing in La Fontaine Swamp near Harihari when he mistook it for pasture. The seventy fifth anniversary of his flight was marked with celebrations attended by aviation history enthusiasts including aviator Dick Smith, Menzies?brother and sister, local people, and Menzies?nbsp; biographer, Dr Max Wearne.

The Life of Guy Menzies: The Forgotten Flyer - by Max Wearne
Click here to view a larger version

The earliest known history of the town was as a stopping place for parties of Maori who had come through the Haast Pass in search of greenstone. Then gold was discovered in the area in 1864. Within a year the population of the tiny settlement grew amazingly fast, 100 hotels opened, and the port became the busiest in New Zealand. There were many shipwrecks because getting into the port was difficult and dangerous. The growth did not last long, as most of the easily available gold had been taken by 1869.

Later gold was again a major industry as dredges began to work the area and by 1903 there were sixty three gold dredges working on the Coast. The last was dismantled in1953. To learn more about the history of this interesting town visit The West Coast Historical Museum.

Other places to visit are the Plane Table on the road to the airport, the glow-worm cave, the craft galleries, a greenstone factory and the glass blowing factory.

A well known landmark in the town is the clock tower unveiled in 1903 to mark the coronation of Edward VII and to honour the memory of soldiers who were killed in the Boer War (1899-1902).

Clock tower
Hokitika's memorial clock tower
Photo source Bill Moore

The Wild Foods Festival
Hokitika has developed the annual Wild Food Festival held in early March. Many kinds of unusual foods are on offer, and special dishes in 2002 included deep fried grasshoppers with cashew nuts, multi-coloured vodka jellies with floating sandflies, and smoked mako shark.

To Greymouth 40km
The road to Greymouth follows the coast most of the way.

Greymouth is the main town on the West Coast. A number of good motels and hotels offer accommodation for a stopover, and there is a good choice of restaurants and cafes.

There are interesting walks close to the town. One of the most popular is a walk along the Great Wall, an innovative flood protection built beside the Grey River after the town experienced serious flooding in1988. At the southern breakwater on a clear day looking south you can see Aoraki (Mount Cook), Mount Tasman and other mountains in the Southern Alps, and looking north you can see the beautiful rugged coastline. This is one of the places where you can view a sight greatly appreciated by visitors to the Coast - the sun setting over the Tasman Sea.

The West Coast is a favourite home for many artists and craftspeople and there are many galleries to visit.

Monteith's has been brewing beer in Greymouth since 1868 and is still producing fine beer and you can take a tour of the brewery.

Greymouth is a good centre from which to take a trip to the famous Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki or to Shantytown, the replica West Coast gold mining town set in the 1860s gold rush.

Pancake rocks
Pancake rocks

Click here to view a larger version

Greymouth to Reefton 77km
For some distance the road (SH7) follows the Grey River.

On this road you pass the Brunner Memorial, built to honour the miners who lost their lives when there was a great explosion in the mine in 1896. Sixty five men and boys were entombed in the mine.

Further on the little town of Ikamatua is in a good area for fishing. There is moderately priced accommodation available at the hotel.

developed because of the gold mining industry and took its name from quartz-bearing reefs discovered in the area in 1871. The main industries today are coal mining, gold mining and dairy farming

. While you are in Reefton go to the Visitors' Centre, 67 Broadway, to see interesting displays about the mining industry and beech trees, and to collect pamphlets about the walks in the areas, especially the Powerhouse Walk and Waiuta.

Reefton is possibly best remembered in New Zealand history for being the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric light. It is worth going to the site of the original powerhouse close to the town.

Reefton is where the road from Greymouth, the road to Springs Junction and the road which runs to Inangahua and on to Nelson all join. The scenic road which we recommend goes to Inangahua, and through the Upper Buller Gorge to meet the other route a short distance before the town of Murchison.

Reefton to Inangahua 34km
The road runs through pleasant farmland beside the railway line to Inangahua. This place came into the news headlines in 1968 when it was the worst affected area in a major earthquake which caused damage in other areas from Hokitika to Karamea on the West Coast. The buildings in Inangahua were so severely damaged that everyone had to be evacuated. It was felt as far away as Christchurch.

The road through the Upper Buller Gorge to Murchison 53km
The road is winding, but it passes through beautiful scenery - steep bush clad hills, ferns by the road, views of the river below, and mountain peaks.

When you see the signpost indicating Lyell it is difficult to believe that this isolated area once was the site of a goldrush. The township built in 1862 had five hotels and numerous miners' tents and huts. There is now a picnic ground and a walkway into this historic area.

Just before you leave the gorge you will see a sign indicating the fault-line Upthrust where the earth's surface cracked during the severe Murchison earthquake in 1929. One side of the crack rose over 13 feet.

From O'Sullivans Bridge, where you turn left, the road continues to follow the Buller River and passes through dairying country to the town of Murchison.

Murchison to Kawatiri 29km The road then follows the Buller giving easy driving to Kawatiri through undulating country with high bush clad mountains not far away on either side. There are inviting places to picnic beside the Buller, but if you want to stop be sure you have put on insect repellent.

At Kawatiri is the turnoff to St Arnaud, the township beside Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Kawatiri to Nelson 92km
The highway runs beside the Hope River, crosses the Hope Saddle, runs through forestry plantations and rises on easy grades to the summit of Spooners Range - 465 metres. It is worth stopping and looking at the view from the lookout on the left - a vista of mountains and right through to the sea at Tahunanui in Nelson.

The next important place to watch for on the way to Nelson is the memorial to Ernest Lord Rutherford between Spring Grove and Brightwater. Ernest Rutherford is New Zealand's most famous scientist - one of the world's most illustrious scientists, and the first New Zealander to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Inscript_ions at the site read:

Rutherford was born at this site on 30 August, 1871. He died on 19 October 1937.

This site is a tribute to one who rose from humble beginnings in rural New Zealand to world eminence. It is also to show New Zealand children that they too can aspire to great heights.

There is a small bronze statue of a New Zealand schoolboy, with a catapult hanging out of his pocket.

Entering Nelson
Watch the signposts carefully as you drive into Nelson. We suggest that you drive around Rocks Road from Tahunanui as this gives good views of the harbour.

Nelson is a popular holiday place and there is a range of accommodation available.

Nelson is known for its good climate and there are many interesting places to visit.

After a long trip Nelson seems a perfect location to relax and enjoy beautiful places close at hand.

Editor's comment
Do send in your comments on these interesting areas. There is a lot of driving between Franz Josef and Nelson, so please tell us where you thought were the best places to stop for a break. If you arenít a member of NZine do join now so that you can add to the forum. Joining does not take long.


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