Coastal Westland is a pretty rugged and sparsely populated place. Between Haast in the south and Hokitika in the north there are few towns and a thinly spread population.
“The District consists of a long thin strip of land between the crest of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. The low-lying areas near the coast are a mixture of pastoral farmland and temperate rainforest. The eastern part of the District is steep and mountainous. Many small rivers flow down from the mountains.
The southern part of the District notably contains the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.
Westland is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the country, with an area of 11,880.19 square kilometres and a population of 8,403 people (2006 census). Approximately 45% of the population lives in Hokitika (popn.3500). The remaining 55% lives in small villages such as Ross, Franz Josef and Haast, or in rural areas”. Wikipedia
From Wanaka we travelled beside Lake Hawea and over the Haast Pass to reach the West Coast at the mouth of the Haast River. Our destination for the night was Fox Glacier Village, from where we planned to visit the nearby Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers.
Some 25 km north of Haast is the Arthur’s Point lookout from where views of the Tasman Sea and the coastline can be seen.
In the year I left high school I hitch-hiked around the South Island of New Zealand with a friend. It was almost a right of passage between high school and university. We had travelled down the West Coast to Lake Mapourika, which at the time was almost the end of the road. To join up with the road from Haast to Wanaka we had to walk the newly formed but far from finished section of the road from the lake to Arthur’s Point, a distance of about 10 km in wet sticky mud. In the distance we could hear heavy road building machinery. As the time ticked far too slowly towards “knock off time” of 5.00 pm we were afraid we would miss any chance of a ride to Haast and have to sleep the night in the bush. At last gasp we reached the work party just as they were packing up to leave for the night. Happily we flopped onto the back of a truck for the final leg of the day’s journey.
Heading north from Arthur’s Point the road travels inland for a distance before touching the coast again at Bruce Bay, a rugged pebbly beach strewn with driftwood. If you like rugged storm-lashed beaches, this is the place to be. It was fine on the occasion of our visit, but it is easy to imagine the chaos when a south-westerly storm is raging – cold, wind-blasted, with wild surf and horizontal rain!
At the northern end of the bay the trees stand defensively against the weather, stripped of their lower branches and clinging to the eroding boundary between land and beach.
You have to be hardy to live in these parts. It’s little wonder that the coasters have that steely weather worn look that comes from living everyday with the elements.
Click on any image for a larger view.
After dropping our intrepid walkers at the start of their rain-soaking three day walk of the Routeburn Track, we decided to have a walk of our own before setting out on the journey to Te Anau. At the end of a small gravel road near the Routeburn Shelter there is a swing bridge that marks the entrance to the Sylvan Lakes Track. The rain was steady, but light as we set out across the bridge. Already swollen from the overnight rain, the river below the bridge heaved its way over boulders in the river bed in a tumultuous journey towards Lake Wkakatipu.
As we entered the rain forest the rain began to get heavier. The ground underfoot was already soaked with water and the track had become an endless series of puddles connected by islands of slightly higher ground. It was no use trying to keep your boots dry – may as well splash on regardless.
A walk in a rain forest, in the rain, is magical. Overhead the green canopy glistens and the moss on the ground is almost luminescent against the fallen and decaying leaves on the forest floor. Wetness turns the tree trunks almost black, speckled with green lichens clinging to their bark.
Scattered across the forest floor are branches that have fallen as a result of past storms, now decaying and acting as host to more lichens and mosses.
Thunder was starting to clap overhead and the rain became even heavier. Camera gear was getting wet. The temperature was dropping. It was time to retreat and head back to Glenorchy and a nice cup of hot coffee and a bite to eat.
(Click on images for a larger view.)
The End of the Lake
There has been a drama on television in New Zealand recently called “The End of the Lake”. It has been a collaborative effort by a local production company and the BBC and is centered on Glenorchy, a small township at the western end of Lake Whakatipu. For those who have visited New Zealand, you will probably know the lake better as the place where Queenstown is situated.
Lake Whakatipu is surrounded by spectacular mountains, and Queenstown is the place known best because as the center of all of the tourist activity in the area. Many however, like to leave the hustle and bustle of Queenstown behind for a while and take the 46 km drive to Glenorchy. The road follows the eastern shore of the lake, weaving in and out of numerous small bays, and at various viewpoints offers spectacular vistas of mountain scenery in all directions.
On the occasion when this image was captured we were driving our eldest son and his wife to the start of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s designated “Great Walks”. As we approached Glenorchy it was clear that we were heading into wet weather as the clouds at the end of the lake were low and rain could be seen in the valleys. By the time we reached the Routeburn Shelter at the start of the track it was raining steadily with very wetting large drops of water falling from the sky, although the light through the clouds was still warm, not the usual oppressive grey.
Little did the two walkers know what they had let themselves in for. On their first day’s walk they had to cross flooded streams and cope with heavy drenching rain. Not long after arriving at the Routburn Falls Hut for the first night winds reached gale force and heavy rain was driving down the valley, horizontally! The rain continued for the following days and was still falling lightly when we met them at the Lake Howden Hut, after we walked in from “The Divide” at the end of the track two days later. We had driven back to Queenstown and on to Lake Te Anau for a two night stay, before driving to “the Divide” on the road to Milford Sound. Click on image for a larger view.
Living near a coast with views to the north and east (I’m talking about the southern hemisphere here) you are presented with a range of moods in the sky and on the water that is driven by the weather. The sea can be angry, or placid. The sky can be clear, or cloudy. Visibility can reach to the horizon, or be no more than fifty meters. All of this presents an infinite menu of photographic opportunities.
This image was taken in early May last year from Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore. It is looking slightly east of north just before 9.00 am. An overnight storm is clearing and the sun is struggling to break through the clouds, while blue sky begins to show itself overhead.
On the coast and in the mountains are two of my favorite places at sunrise and sunset. These are the times when clouds are lit at their most interesting best. Because both places are fully exposed to all that weather systems can throw at them, they are also exciting (and sometimes scary) places to be in a storm.
After the Storm
The storm has come and gone, but there is more rain forecast for the weekend. Not as severe as last time, but bringing more welcome wetness.
Northerly storm systems pound the reef at the western end of Takapuna Beach and uproot kelp seaweed from the rocks. Waves then distribute the kelp along the 1,200 metre beach where it lies for up to two weeks until the local authority brings it’s machinery out to gather the seaweed up and take it away for composting. Local hobby gardeners also gather seaweed to add to their compost heaps, or dig it into their gardens to lie over winter in preparation for the spring growing season.