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           Home >  Regions  > Nelson  :

Trip from Nelson to
Franz Josef in 2002
Dorothy - 21/06/02

Unlike the motorist in 1920 anyone travelling from Nelson to Franz Josef in 2002 will drive over sealed roads and will find bridges over the rivers.

For an account of the first section of the trip - from Nelson to Inangahua - please refer to the article on the road from Nelson to Westport.

To Reefton 34 km (21 miles)
At Inangahua turn left and follow the road which runs beside the railway line through farmland to Reefton. This town grew up to serve 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.

For those who have time to stay in the town there are several attractions - trout fishing, hunting wild pigs, deer and goats, walking interesting tracks, and exploring the area on a mountain bike or in a four wheel drive vehicle.

To Greymouth 77 km (48 miles)
This is undulating country and for part of the way the road (SH7) follows the Grey River. Some 24 km (15 miles) from Reefton on the left you come to the turn off to Waiuta, built beside what was the South Island's richest goldmine. Mining ceased in 1951 when a mine shaft collapsed burying the gold deposits so deeply that mining was no longer economic. It is now a ghost town with only a few cottages still occupied, but there are interesting historic walks, a thirty bunk lodge, and plenty of space for tent camping.

Back on SH7, a kilometre further on, Ikamatua, well known for its fishing, also offers places to stay.

At Ngahere note the turnoff to Blackball. This former mining centre, the birthplace of the New Zealand Labour Party, is now being promoted by enterprising residents and business people as a holiday centre. Attention nationwide was drawn to Blackball when they were challenged by the owners of the Hilton Hotel chain because they renamed a historic hotel "The Blackball Hilton". They made an interesting compromise and now call it "Formerly The Blackball Hilton". It offers budget accommodation and has books and relics highlighting the history of the area. There is a regular programme of events offered in the town to liven up your holiday. If you want information about what's on at Blackball contact Formerly The Blackball Hilton. Don't leave without trying the smallgoods, sausages or salami produced by the Blackball Salami Company.

Brunner Memorial

Miner memorial
Memorial to those lost in the Brunner Mine disaster
Photo source Joe Levy

It is worth pausing at 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.

The inscription on the memorial reads:
The Brunner mine disaster occurred on this site at approximately 9.30 am Thurs. 26 March 1896. The Royal Commission found that the initial explosion was caused by a blown out shot in the dip section and with the abundant dust lying on the roadways a series of coal dust explosions intensified and quickly swept through a large part of the workings. All 65 men and boys working underground lost their lives.

This 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 is a choice of galleries to visit.

Monteith's has been brewing beer in Greymouth since 1868 and has long had a reputation for producing fine beer. The increase in its popularity led to a suggestion that the Greymouth brewery be closed and all the Monteith's beer be manufactured in Auckland by its parent company, DB Group. There was so much opposition round the country that a compromise was agreed to, and now Auckland supplies the North Island and Greymouth supplies the South Island. That means that the Greymouth brewery is still producing fine beer and it is possible to 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.

To Hokitika 40 km (25 miles)
The road to Hokitika follows the coast most of the way.

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. When gold was discovered in the area in 1864 within a year the population of the tiny settlement exploded, 100 hotels opened, and the port became New Zealand's busiest. Access to the port was difficult and dangerous as evidenced by the number of shipwrecks. The phase of growth was shortlived, 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.

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

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).

With typical West Coast ingenuity 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. The New Zealand film Magik and Rose was set at this festival.

To Franz Josef 142 km (88.5 miles)
Leaving Hokitika you cross the Hokitika River on a fine modern bridge and drive south through open country to the town of Ross, a small settlement sited between the foothills of the Alps and the sea. Here again you can explore the history of gold mining through displays in the 1885 Miner's Cottage and on walks in the vicinity - the one hour water race walk and the longer Jones Flat Walk.

The highway takes you through native bush known at Fergusons Bush and then at Pukekura 25 km (15.6 miles) south of Ross, your attention will be caught by the model of the giant sandfly on the front wall of the Bushman's Centre. It's worth stopping at the Centre for the living museum and menu of the restaurant which includes Wild Food, with a special feature of Bambiburgers with venison patties. A little further along the road the rest areas around Lake Ianthe offer a good place to picnic and to view the giant matai tree signposted at the south end of the lake.

Some 16 km (10 miles) further on cross the Wanganui River and reach Harihari. This town began as a farming and forestry and sawmilling centre. It was July 1911 before the first car reached the township from Hokitika and the trip took eleven and a half hours! (In 2002 with the road sealed and all the rivers bridged unless you stop for the attractions on the way you can do the trip in about an hour.)

In 1931, in much the same time span as the first car trip, 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 southern end of the lagoon
Photo source Bill Moore

Painting of the view from Okarito by
Bill Moore

Main Street
Franz Josef's main street

The next township is Whataroa, 32 km (20 miles) further on. The booking office for tours to the Okarito Lagoon is here. The turn off to the Lagoon is 15 km (9 miles) further south and the side road adds another 13 km (8 miles).

Abel Tasman first sighted New Zealand off the coast near Okarito in 1642 and Captain Cook mapped the area in 1770. As with several other towns on the West Coast the discovery of gold turned Okarito into a settlement with several thousand people and a busy port for some eighteen months in the late 1860s. After that came timber milling and the flax industry, but now it is a quiet settlement with only a few residents and some holiday homes. Much of the setting for Keri Hulme's novel The Bone People is drawn from the beach and lagoon at Okarito.

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 impressive walk takes you to the Okarito Trig on a headland where you are rewarded by 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.

From Okarito drive back to the State highway and along the shore of Lake Mapourika, the largest of the lakes in the south of the West Coast and soon reach the township of Franz Josef. You have arrived in the Glacier area and more wondrous scenery lies ahead.

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