Leaving Appleby one week ago we have endured torrential rains, thunderstorms, flooding and road closures during our travels down the west coast. Leaving the farm cottage early on a Saturday morning we chose the scenic route to our next destination. The roads were twisty and narrow as we threaded our way through the lush green mountains eventually reaching the Western coast. The coastal road took us past the popular tourist destination of Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. The Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes during high tides, luckily we were there just before high tide. The ‘pancake’ layering of the limestone was formed 30 million years ago, created by pressure on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments. Gradual seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed where water, wind and sea spray eroded the softer layers leaving the pancake like stacks of limestone. The attraction was much larger and more interesting than we had expected with a long walkway meandering along the cliff tops, through the rock formations and around the various blowholes. The layers of rock were so unusual, we have never seen anything like it. This is one of the west coast’s most impressive natural wonders so if you are nearby, don’t miss a visit here.
From Pancake Rocks we hugged the stunning coastline all the way to the town of Hokitika and our cosy little beach cottage where we could unwind, enjoy the sunsets and feel the ocean breeze on our faces. Or so we thought 😢 When we arrived the weather was partly cloudy, ie no sunset, and deteriorated overnight. For the following two days the wind howled and the rain blew sideways outside the windows. This was meant to be a low key few days, but being housebound was not really the plan so we headed into Greymouth, 30 min north, and spent an afternoon at the gym to keep our sanity. Hokitika is a cute little town with a few attractions in the area that we did not have the opportunity to venture out to see. I’m sure it would be a lovely place to spend a few days if the sun was shining. Beachcombing is a popular activity with many interesting pieces of driftwood washed onto the beach by the large waves. We walked through the town center a couple of times during a lull in the rain as well as the beachfront walkway but that was pretty much the extent of our sightseeing here.
Leaving Hokitika our next destination was just under 2 hours away at Franz Josef Glacier for 2 nights. We did not have high hopes the weather would be much different being such a short distance away, and because it rained the entire drive. In fact, the weather was worse in Franz Josef with low clouds filling the valleys and heavy rain coming down. Still a beautiful part of New Zealand!
The benefit from all this rain were the numerous waterfalls we saw along the way and raging rivers swollen with muddy water. I must admit I was a bit nervous crossing some of the smaller bridges 😮 We arrived in the town of Franz Josef before our villa was ready so we popped into town for a cafe lunch, it was jam packed due to the poor weather, so we thought. Checking into our hotel later the manager told us the reason town was so busy is the road is closed just south of here because of a rock slide. We had 2 nights booked at Franz Josef hoping to see the glacier but it was a 20 min walk in from the parking lot and we were not that interested in getting soaked to see a glacier, we have seen a few in Canada! Sadly we did not get any sightseeing done due to the abysmal weather, but, we did watch all 9.5 hours of the Lord of The Rings. It was fun to see “The Shire” in the movies and recognize everything.
After 48 hours of thunderstorms and heavy rain we left Franz Josef, disappointed that we did not see the Franz Josef or Fox Glaciers during our time here. The 5 hour drive to Wanaka was…guess what…WET! Just 30 minutes after leaving Franz Josef we arrived at a road closure. Fortunately we were delayed only 20 min before the scheduled re-opening of the road at 10 am. Once through the landslide areas the road was open the rest of the way to Wanaka. The drive through the rain forest was absolutely beautiful with moss covered trees and low hanging clouds, the trees appear to be steaming.
Fern covered walls of water lined the road and waterfalls tumbled down the mountainsides everywhere. It was a gorgeous drive and one could imagine themselves deep in Middle Earth. Emerging from the rain forest we burst into another world, the sun was shining and we were surrounded by brilliant blue lakes, lush green fields filled with fluffy sheep and high snow capped mountains. What a complete change of scenery from the rain forest!!
Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s 4th largest lake, covering an area of 192 square km, running in a parallel valley is Lake Hawea. We enjoyed a sunny drive alongside both of these lakes before arriving into the resort town of Wanaka, where we spent 48 hours. The town has a permanent population of around 10,000 however tourism is big business with an abundance of outdoor adventures for everyone. The afternoon we arrived was not raining so we jumped at the chance to get outside, breathe some fresh air, see a couple of sights, and do a short walk to the Sticky Forest, just up the hill from our apartment. In Wanaka town center the lakefront road was closed because of weeks of heavy rains putting the lake at flood levels.
We got as close as we could to the lake for a quick look around the flooded beachfront areas, and glimpse of “That Wanaka Tree”, the most photographed tree in New Zealand. Framed by the South Islands stunning Southern Alps, this lonely tree stands just off shore in Lake Wanaka. Normally surrounded by just a few inches of water the tree is partially submerged under the current flood conditions.
Our only “plan” during our visit to Wanaka was to hike Roy’s Peak and sadly that did not happen 😢 While we had a couple of pleasant hours upon arrival the weather turned overnight, back to overcast and raining. The forecast for Roy’s Peak was snow and rain, not conducive to a 6 hour hike, so off to the gym we went. We can only hope the weather improves over the next week while we are in Queenstown, only an hour away, and possibly give us a chance to come back and do the hike. A perk of our stay in Wanaka was the apartment complex we stayed at was not busy so they upgraded us to a 3 bedroom unit from our 1 bedroom unit. The extra 2 bedrooms were locked off but we gained a huge kitchen and living room, perfect for our extended time indoors. Wanaka looks like another wonderful place to visit when the weather is nice, I wish we had been able to see more.
Our week was a busy one with three locations on the agenda. Not our usual travel style but New Zealand friends suggested our plan to stay one week in a single place may be a bit too long, so we broke it up into three brief visits along the coast. It was a great suggestion as this historic route is one of the most spectacular stretches of the west coast, named one of the top ten coastal drives in the world. We can attest to this, with the Tasman Sea on one side and dense rainforest on the other, it is a wild and rugged landscape. Despite our weather woes I would recommend visiting this area of New Zealand, I hope we can come back one day. We were not outside as much as we wanted and the driving conditions were stressful for Blair but if we look back at the 8 weeks we have been in New Zealand so far, we have been extremely lucky with good weather prior to this past week. We turn our sights ahead now hoping for a clearing trend in the weather as we move onwards to Queenstown…