New Zealand green a welcome change from drought affected western Queensland.
New Zealand green a welcome change from drought affected western Queensland.

Wild west adventure

MAORI legend tells us the first person to set foot in New Zealand was Maui, who came ashore on the South Island's wild and rugged West Coast at a place now called Bruce Bay.

Good choice. Bruce Bay, like much of this coast, is windswept, isolated and utterly beautiful.

Bruce Bay has long held a fascination for passing travellers; they have left their mark on the beachfront with small cairns of smooth rocks carefully balanced on boulders which line the shore.

There are hundreds of them, and it feels like a place where wishes are made.

It's just one of the unexpected discoveries that make exploring this coastline such a delight.

This stunningly scenic drive hugs the coast for almost 450km between Westport to the north and Haast to the south.

While the coast offers a never ending variety of natural vistas, there are also many man made attractions to keep you busy - the coal-mining town of Westport, for example, with its array of art deco and heritage buildings.

But the main attractions along the West Coast are undoubtedly those nature has provided.

About 12km from Westport you'll find Cape Foulwind, home to New Zealand's northern-most breeding colony of fur seals.

A walkway runs along the headlands, and platforms allow overlooking views of the seals basking and playing in the rock pools.

North of Westport, on the banks of the untamed Mokihinui River, I find one of my favourite experiences.

After a 50km drive through rain and mist (the locals haven't nicknamed their part of the world the 'wet coast' for nothing) and fording a couple of streams, we arrive at Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge.

Owned by an ebullient American, Marion 'Weasel' Boatwright and his Kiwi wife Susan Cook, the lodge adheres to its own principles of sustainability without sacrificing comfort or a few touches of luxury.

With the rugged Glasgow Range as its backdrop, the lodge sits on 40ha of native bush.

Heading south again, the road leads us to the remarkable Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, a formation of huge limestone stacks and blowholes.

Walking tracks and viewing platforms allow close-up views of this natural wonder.

Nikau palms tower overhead and fearless native weka birds pecks along the roadside.

Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, just 23km apart, are easily accessed from this route and offer a range of activities including heli-hiking, guided glacier walks, ice-climbs and scenic helicopter flights.

The writer and photographer travelled courtesy of Tourism West Coast, Air New Zealand and Avis.

■ Air New Zealand has daily direct flights to Christchurch from Brisbane and Sydney, with domestic connections available to Hokitika on the West Coast. To book visit www.airnewzealand.com.au.

■ For more information, go to www.west-coast.co.nz or www.newzealand.com.


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