Planning your West Coast Itinerary

Initially I thought I would write a post called something like ‘The Ultimate 1 week West Coast Itinerary’. Certainly I have come across many similarly titled blogs. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that the components that make it the ‘ultimate Itinerary’ for me, won’t necessarily be the ultimate for you.

I was in Italy 2 years ago and while I liked Italy, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. This has nothing to do with Italy, it’s an incredible place, but more to do with the activities I planned. We did all the art galleries and historical sites, you know, all the things that you do when you go to Italy, but the truth is, art galleries are not really my thing (although seeing the statue of David was quite an experience). I like a bit of history, but I’m not a history buff.

Then we got to Slovenia and we fell in love. The crystal clear waters, snow capped mountains, rolling hills. That’s my thing. If we had spent our time in Italy in the Lake District and Dolomites Mountains, I am almost certain that I would have also fallen in love with Italy.

So I wanted to share our West Coast itinerary with you, but also leave you this piece of advice, this is by no means the only things you should see and do, pick and choose from it, the parts that get you excited and give you wonderlust. Craft your own epic adventure.


Here is the route we took.

  • Day 1: Wellington to Picton by ferry, then onto Punakaiki via Nelson
  • Day 2: Short day trip up to Charlestown with a side trip to Westport
  • Day 3: Punakaiki to Frans Josef
  • Day 4: Day in Franz Josef
  • Day 5: Franz Josef to Hokitika via Okarito
  • Day 6: Day in Hokitika
  • Day 7: Hokitika to Mt Lyford via Lewis Pass
  • Day 8: Mt Lyford Lodge to Wellington via Kaikoura and Picton

Wellington to Punakaiki

Ferry Crossing: The first part of our journey involved crossing the Cook Straight. As we had a vehicle (our motorbike) we had 2 options, Bluebridge or The Interislander. If you are a foot passenger, Bluebridge may be a better option for you as it is located across the road from the train station so is really convenient. I have also found that Bluebridge tends to be a little cheaper. The reason we have used The Interlslander the last couple of times is because of the Plus Lounge, a fully catered, adults only lounge with guaranteed seating. It’s a really relaxing way to start or end your journey and your meal, drinks (and snacks) are taken care of.

The Route: We didn’t take the most direct route to Punakaiki. Being on the motorbike we always look for the scenic coastal routes and twisty roads, trying to stay of big main highways. I would highly recommend Queen Charlotte’s Drive that starts in Picton, taking you around some gorgeous coastline with stunning views, taking you all the way to Havlock.

Food: We carried on to Nelson and stopped for a bite to eat at Burger Culture. Simply scrumptious food. If you’re in the mood for a sugar overload, they have a delicious selection of donuts. And milkshakes, topped with donuts!

Accommodation: We stayed at Te Niaku Lodge which was gorgeous. Our lodge was nestled into the forest, our windows looked out across the canopy. You feel like your in a tree house here. There is also easy access down to the beach where you can watch the setting sun.

Link: Check out this post I wrote, ‘Heading for the West Coast’

Tip: Check your map for directions. We didn’t, we just assumed we were on the right track and ended up taking a rather large detour that added on a fair amount of time.

Charlestown & Westport

The Route: After a long riding day the day before, I had scheduled in a late start. I spent the morning down on the beach, breathing in the fresh ocean air before we made our way to Charlestown for our activity. It’s only a 30 minute drive but the road is sensational. We pretty much had it to ourselves, twisting and turning along the coast enjoying the incredible views. After our activity, we headed another 20 minutes north to Westport to get some petrol before enjoying the great drive back.

Activities: We headed to Charleston for a caving, tubing and glow worm experience with Underworld Adventures. This was a 4 hour tour that was super fun. Caving is such a unique experience and this cave was particularly special, being very much in it’s natural state (no built walkways, hand rails, lighting etc) It also has the most incredible glow worm colony I have ever seen. Honestly, words can’t do it justice, it was out of this world mesmerising!

Food: We loved The Punakaiki Tavern, we had breakfast and lunch there. The hosts were really friendly. The food is what I would describe as simple, hearty, home cooked meals and the outside garden is the perfect place to enjoy the last bit of warmth from the sun before it says goodnight. In Westport we popped into Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar expecting to grab a quick bite to eat but ended up staying for a couple of hours chatting to a local over some good food and drinks.

Link: Check out my previous post ‘Caving in Charlestown’

Tip: Be sure to keep an eye on your petrol. There’s a station in Westport and Greymouth but nothing in between. They are an hour and a half apart. If you aren’t careful, you might find yourself out of gas!

Punakaiki to Franz Josef

The Route: We headed from Punakaiki to Franz Josef, initially along the stunning coast and then through some beautiful rainforst. We made stops in Punakaiki and Hokitika for some activities.

Activities: We didn’t have any planned activities for the day as it was a riding day, but it was a leisurely ride so we were able to make some spontaneous stops along the way. The first being a walk at Pancake Rocks. The rock formations are quite unique as well as the blow holes. We also stopped at Hokitika Tree Top Walk and experienced the forest from birds eye view. In Franz Josef I also managed a short walk along Terrace Walk track which is through some lush, green glacier rainforest.

Food: We had a rather nice dinner at Monsoon Restaurant & Bar located on site at our accommodation. The buffalo cauliflower was delicious and even my carnivorous husband loved these.

Accommodation: Rainforest Retreat in Franz Josef has been on my bucket list for a long time so I was really pleased to finally stay here. They have a range of accommodation options to suit every budget. They are in some beautiful grounds – lush rainforest, and centrally located. We also were given a room upgrade when we arrived which was a lovely surprise.

Tip: The blow holes at Pancake Rocks is tidal. If you can time your trip with high tide you will see it in it’s most impressive form. But, even if you can only visit at low tide it would still be worth checking out. At the time of writing, Hokitika Tree Top Walk is on Book Me, so if this is something you are able to book in advance then you should be able to get it at a discounted rate.

Link: You can read more details in this blog ‘Franz Josef Bound’

Franz Josef

Activities: It was a last minute booking through Book Me but we were able to spend the afternoon quad biking through some rainforest, sand dunes and across rivers. It’s a great wet day activity. We did this through Across Country Tour.

Food: The power was out for a while so we weren’t sure if we would be able to get brunch anywhere, fortunately SnakeBite was well prepared. They have a really cool atmosphere, mouth watering counter food and an extensive menu. A great place to sit and watch the world go by when it is pouring with rain (or the power has gone out)

Tips: Even if you are traveling in Summer, go prepared for rain. The West Coast is a very wet place (but it makes the rainforest smell incredible) If your looking for a deal in Franz Josef, be sure to check out Book Me. Or you could even just go for a stroll along the main street, I saw a lot of different deals being offered.

Link: Check out ‘Quad Biking in Franz Josef’

Okarito and Hokitika

The Route: We started heading back up the island, again through the spectacular forest and later along the coast, heading for Hokitika. It’s simply stunning

Activities: Okarito Kayak has been on my bucket list for a long time so I made sure to plan in this little detour. It did not disappoint. The lagoon was mirror like, reflecting the glacier forest and mountains. It is also the breeding site of the Kotuku (White Heron) It was a privilege to get so close to these majestic birds. In Hokitika, take some time to have a wander around the town, check out the beach and take a look at the Hokitika Driftwood sign down on the beach.

Food: We were rather famished after our 3 hour kayak trip so we made a stop in Harihari, a small, rural settlement. We had lunch at the Pukeko Store and Cafe. Filled with some deliciously tempting home baking, pies and friendly service, this was a delightful little stop.

Accommodation: In Hokitika we ended up staying at Mountain Jade Backpackers. I couldn’t find any accommodation that wowed me, at a price I was happy to pay, so we went budget and central. It was a great location, clean tidy facilities and perfect for our requirements.

Tips: Take insect repellent if you go to Okarito Lagoon. They will attack you in thousands!

Link: Kayaking with Herons


Activities: Of course you could buy your own greenstone souvenir, but why buy a pre made one when you can carve it yourself. At Bonz ‘n’ Stonz you create your own piece to take home. Everything you need it provided and there are excellent tutors on hand to help you every step of the way. This was a most excellent day.

Food: If your a pizza lover like me, head to Fat Pipi Pizza. Fresh, simple ingredients, delicious food and a lovely outdoor courtyard. Also try Sweet Alice’s Fudge Kitchen if you are craving a sugar hit.

Tips: Make sure you allow time to sit and watch the sunset. Hokitika is famous for its gorgeous sunsets. Even on an overcast day like we had, it was still a beautiful sight.

Link: Read more about my greenstone carving experience here.

Lewis Pass & Mt Lyford

The Route: This is where we left the West Coast. We could have gone back up country through the West Coast but it would have been a lot of back tracking. Instead we headed over to Canterbury to My Lyford, via Lewis Pass. Its a pretty well known route and a nice bit of road.

Activities: Check out Hokitika Gorge before you leave. You will be wowed by the incredible colours of the water. Its an easy walk too, suitable for all fitness levels.

Accommodation: We splashed out a bit here and stayed at Mt Lyford Lodge. Nestled into the mountains with a couple of spa pools, it was the perfect place to soak away the aches of being on a motorbike for a week, while breathing in the fresh air, watching the sun slip behind the hills and enjoying a drink or 2 at the bar.

Tip: Just be alert on Lewis Pass. It’s a popular road with tourists (along with many other South Island roads.) We drive on the left hand side. There are instances where tourists will get confused and drive on the wrong side. Or sometimes just stop on a blind corner to take photos of the beautiful scenery. A lot of our highways are not like highways you may be familiar with. Narrow, single lane and twisty. Make sure you allow a lots of time.

Link: Turquoise Water, Swing Bridges and Pool.


The Route: First you will do the inland route to Kaikoura. If your on a bike, just watch out for gravel, there was quite a bit on the road when we did this ride as well as a year ago when we were down that way. From Kaikoura to Picton you get to enjoy more coastal road, this time along the East Coast. Keep an eye out for seals which you can easily spot from the road while driving (Only do this if your a passenger! Eyes on the road driver.) You will see them on the rocks or frolicking about in the ocean.

Activities: If you are in Kaikoura and an animal lover, Kaikoura Seal Swim is outstanding. Don’t go near seals on land, they can be very aggressive. But in the water, just wow. I have heard them be described as dogs of the ocean and they really are. They are playful, curious and so much fun to watch. This experience was a real highlight.

Link: Want to know more about swimming with seals? Read my previous post here.

A few other things

There were a few activities we didn’t get to do on this trip for various reasons, but I want to still mention them here as I think they would be activities that are well worth while.

  • The Wild Kiwi Center in Franz Josef. We ran out of time for this one. Here you will be able to see Rowi, the worlds rarest kiwi, and tuatara, often described as the oldest living dinosaur.
  • Lake Matheson – a glacial mirror lake that is picture perfect. But you want to see it on a nice day to get the full impact of the lake. I have tried to get here twice now. Hopefully it will be third time lucky.
  • In Franz Josef we were booked in for a glacier nature tour with Glacier Valley Eco Tours. This was unfortunately cancelled due to the weather. We were prepared to get wet, but DOC had closed the walking track. We were in the West Coast back in 2012 and were able to do a tour of Fox glacier. It was such a unique experience and I am definitely keen to do something like this again. The difference being that now, if you want to walk on the glacier, you need to do it by helicopter, you can no longer walk in. The tours with Glacier Valley Eco Tours don’t go on the ice but do offer views of the glacier, along with expert knowledge of the area.
  • I was hoping to book in a nighttime kiwi spotting tour with Okarito Kiwi Tours. We unfortunately missed out as they closed up from 2nd Feb, but they reopen again in October so make sure you check them out.
  • At the top of the West Coast is a place called Karamea, home to the Oparara Basin Arches. These natural limestone arches were formed by the Oparara river and sound really impressive. The main reason this one didn’t make it onto our itinerary is because access is down 13km of gravel road. Gravel road is not fun when your on a sports bike.

So there you have it. Some suggestions on how to spend your week on the West Coast. I am sure that you will, like me, fall in love with this part of the country. The people, the forests, glaciers, wildlife, it feels pure and untouched. The glacial rainforest had me captivated. They made me swoon. The vibrant colours, the ancient feel from moss covered trees, it’s unlike any other forest I have experienced before. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Planning a West Coast itinerary? What parts will you be including in your epic adventure?

Discovering Hokitika


A coastal town in the West Coast of the South Island with a population just under 3000.

We didn’t really know what to expect when coming here. I booked us a couple of nights because it was a convienent stopover point on our way back up the country and I found out you could do greenstone carving here which I thought would be fun.

What we discovered was a delightful town with lots of crafts, great sunsets and fun activities. It’s a place we would both certainly visit again and I feel this town deserves it’s own post

Here are 10 activities we really enjoyed while here:

Greenstone Carving

This is the reason we came to Hokitika. Although a rather pricey activity, Bonz ‘N’ Stonz was a really cool experiance. You begin by selecting your stone and drawing out a design and work through all the different processes, carving, contouring, sanding and polishing to create a unique piece to take home. It is very hands on with excellent tutors to help you along the way and give guidance on how to use the machines and tools. I wrote a whole post on this activity which you can check out here if you would like to know more.

Art Galleries

Turns out, Hokitika is a bit of a crafty town. I had an afternoon free so I took to the shops to check out the local talent. Of course, there is a lot of jade, stone and bone carving jewellery which you can buy if you don’t have enough time to do a workshop like mentioned above (or if crafts are just not your thing.) But there is much more than just this. There are beautiful artworks, lots of painting and photographs of gorgeous West Coast scenery. Hokitika Glass Studio is also a great place to visit and watch the glass blowers in action. It’s a fascinating process to watch.

Fossic for Stones

At fist glance, this may not seem like the most exciting activity, but I probably spent a good hour (a very enjoyable hour I might add) doing just this. Greenstone, while precious, is also quite common. You can find it down on the beach or along the river banks. Take a stroll along the shore and keep a look out for any interesting stones, you never know what you might find. Once you have collected your treasures, you can take them into Bonz ‘N’ Stonz and they will identify them for you.

Hokitika Sign

No trip to Hokitika is complete without a visit to the beach to get a snap of the famous Hokitika driftwood sign. This huge sign perched right on the beach is made entirely from driftwood. It’s creator, Don Neale, made it a few years back as an entry into the town’s Driftwood and Sand competition which happens every January. It has been a permanent feature ever since. With the mighty Tasman Sea as it’s backdrop, make sure you check it out at different times of the day as the light changes behind it.

Watch the Sunset

Hokitika is pretty well known for it’s epic sunsets. Head down to the beach, pack a picnic and watch the sun slowly slip down below the big blue ocean. After a day of fun and excitement, it’s nice to be able to sit back, relax and marvel at how awesome this world is.

Go to the Flicks

I am not usually one for suggesting you spend your time shut away inside, but if the weather is bad or you are wanting a relaxed evening, why not check out the local cinema. It’s in the center of town in a beautiful heritage building. It was built and opened in the 1930’s and still oozes the charm of the art deco period. It seats nearly 400 people and when we went, we nearly had the place to ourselves.


Did someone say fudge? Yes please. Yes, I have a rather sweet tooth and just couldn’t resist making a stop at Sweet Alice’s Fudge Kitchen. It is bright and colourful, the cabinets lined with an assortment of tempting treats. (So hard to choose) So why not grab yourself a slice (or two, you naughty thing!) to enjoy while you walk on the beach or wander around the shops.

Mamma Mia Pizzeria

I do love a good pizza. If you do too, then head to Fat Pipi Pizza’s located pretty much on the beach. Dine inside and enjoy the ambience or outside in their delightful courtyard. Or get take away and have a picnic on the beach or enjoy in the comfort of your accommodation if it’s been a long day. Wherever you dine, their freshly made pizzas are sure to be a delight to your taste buds.

Hokitika Gorge

You will need a car for this one as it’s a bit out of town, but if you want to go exploring and stretch your legs, it’s a really great walk. We did a loop walk that took us about half and hour (wearing bulky motorbike gear) along a well maintained, easy walking track. There are lots of viewing platforms looking out at the gorge and your eyes will be treated to some amazing milky blue and turquoise water.

Hokitika Tree Top Walk

Get up high into the canopy and experience the forest from a different perspective. Enjoy walking along side giants and looking down on canopy, experiencing the forest with a bird’s eye view. Walk along 450 meters of platforms, 20 meters up in the air. For those who are brave, climb the tower, 47 meters above the forest floor or head out onto the cantilever and sway in the wind like a tree. You will need a car to get out to Hokitika Tree Top Walk but its a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We did this walk, you can read about our experience here.

Whatever you decide to do in Hokitika, I am sure you will find the town just as delightful as we did. Did I miss something? What have you loved doing in Hokitika?

Turquoise Water, Swing Bridges and Pool

It’s a riding day today. We need to get from Hokitika to Mt Lyford. It’s a 4 hour ride, but as we only really need to get from A to B, we decide to head to Hokitika Gorge for a walk.

It’s an easy 30 minute walk, along a well maintained path, through forest, with lots of viewing platforms to stop and admire the view. The track snakes it’s way along, following the gorge. Not long into the walk, we get our first proper look at the gorge from a viewing platform.

It’s stunning. The water is a gorgeous, milky, turquoise blue. I am sure it’s probably quite fast flowing, but the water isn’t wild and raging like I had expected.

It feels peaceful.

Kereru (native wood pigeon) are swooping through the gorge, birds are chattering away and I can hear the sounds of the leaf litter and gravel beneath my feet. The sounds of the forest.

Along the walk we come to two swing bridges. The first holds up to 6 people at a time. It crosses over the gorge and swings about a bit in the air, but not too much. I am ok with this height. My knees aren’t buckling and I am able to get some excellent, uninterrupted views out across the gorge.

The second bridge is much newer. It can hold up to 20 people and doesn’t really move around. Daniel pauses for a while to admire it’s structure and foundations. I am sure if left him to take all the photos, the majority would be of structures, cranes and fancy cars. (We have a lot of motorbike photos from our Italy trip, and Daniel’s photo of the Colosseum is actually of some construction work with the Colosseum in the background!)

It’s quite a warm day. The downside to travelling on a motorbike is having to do the walk in all our protective gear, along with carrying our helmets, as we don’t have enough luggage space to store it with the bike. It’s a rather sweaty walk. But soon enough we are back on the bike and that cools me down pretty quickly. We have a long ride a head of us so we jump back on the motorbike and make our way to Greymouth for lunch.

It’s amazing the difference that weather makes to a place. The last time we stayed in Greymouth, the weather was very dreary, grey and bleak. I didn’t think much of the place. Today the sun is shining, Greymouth is sun kissed and seems rather nice.

We continue our journey, we are heading East, taking The Lewis Pass to get there. We travel through forest and I can smell it. Damp, earthy and fresh. Amazing. I love the way travelling by motorbike allows you to interact with your surrounding and environment, much more so than in a car.

We follow the river for a while and then the road turns up into the hills. Its a really quiet road. It’s normally quite a popular one I believe but with no international tourism at the moment, we have the whole road to ourselves! It’s nice not having to worry about meeting other vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road (which does seem to happen a bit in popular tourist destinations here.)

We arrive at My Lyford, a lodge nestled into the hills. 5 minutes later I am in the spa pool, soaking away the aches from a long ride. Dinner is at the lodge but we decide to have a few pre-dinner drinks over a few games of pool. We are both as bad as each other but it’s an enjoyable and relaxed way to spend the evening.

Greenstone Carving in Hokitika

Today we are stepping out of the box and doing something a bit different.

Greenstone carving.

The Te Reo name for Greenstone is Pounamu. It’s a beautiful stone, found in the South Island. It is highly valued in New Zealand and carvings made from Pounamu play an important part in Maori culture.

I am really looking forward to carving my own stone today which I can take home with me.

We arrive at Bonz ‘n’ Stonz and I take a quick look around the shop at the pendants on display for some last minute inspiration. I have been thinking about this for a while and know I would like to keep it simple and make a drop pendant, but even then, there are so many options it’s a bit overwhelming. Daniel hasn’t given any thought to what shape he will make.

We are introduced to Steve and Niko who are our tutors for the day. The first task is to draw out our shape and choose our stone. These two tasks kind of work simultaneously. The other guy in our class has a picture of what he wants to make. We are not so organised. Both Daniel and I begin flicking through google images to try and decide what we are going to make – it’s a big decision!

I settle on a tapped, rectangular shape which I later am told is called Toki and symbolises strength, determination and courage. (Pretty awesome!) Daniel decides to carve his pendant into the head of a spanner.

There are a couple of containers filled with bits of pounamu so I start looking through it, picking out stones I like the look of and finding the ones that speak to me. It’s quite different to what I am use to seeing. The finished products are always so vibrant and glossy, in it’s natural form it is quite dull and unassuming. There are quite a range of shades, from light green through to very deep, green. There are even some in various shades of brown. It’s hard to choose when they are looking so dull, but if you wipe it with a damp cloth, you get a good indication of what it will look like when it’s polished.

I find a beautiful dark green piece with dark, almost black lines running though it with some lighter highlights. This will make a nice feature. Daniel selects one of the brown stones.

I draw my shape out on paper – a few times. I want to make sure it is symetrical, but also testing out different sizes. I draw it out on the stone in pencil and once I am happy with it, I commit and draw in the line with a marker. One of the tutors then roughly cuts it out, chipping away the stone closer to our drawn line.

Then it’s tool time. We are given aprons and ear muffs and given a quick demonstration on how to use the first tool. It’s like a belt and we have to use it to cut away the stone to the shape we want to make. Some of mine chips away (I am told the stone I picked is very hard) but it doesn’t matter, these will get smoothed away later in the process. Once we have the basic shape, it’s time to contour it. It’s challenging to get it all even, but after some time and perseverance (and some help from Niko) I get it looking pretty good.

The next task is to drill in a hole and make some indentations in the top to make room for the twine to sit. A new tool is required to do this with (a bit like a drill) so again, I am back to learning how to use it. Starting very slow and getting a bit faster as my confidence grows. There is lots of chiseling to do, bit by bit, slowly taking away bits of stone. It’s intricate work but slowly it starts to take shape.

Next it’s time to start sanding. At the start, our tutor told us that he probably spends just as long sanding as he does carving. When I see the 7 sanding blocks in front of me with their various grains, I know I am going to be here a while! I work my way down the blocks slowly so I can get a beautiful finish. Daniel is still carving his spanner – I know we will be here for a while longer so I am in no rush. I think I actually spend more time sanding than I did carving. It’s a slow processes. The stone needs to be wet to sand it, but the scratches and imperfections are easier to see when it is dry, so it’s a repetitive process of wetting, sanding, drying, inspecting then repeat. It’s a mindless task, but I am enjoying seeing the colours and lines start to appear more vividly in my pounamu. It’s getting smoother and smoother beneath my fingers and is starting to look quite stunning. Daniel and I both have trade backgrounds. He was a welder, now mechanic and I was a pattern maker and seamstress. I am really enjoying working with my hands again.

At one stage during the sanding process, a small part chips off. Steve is quick to the rescue and with his masterful skills and 20 years experience, he is able to fix it for me.

After 2 hours of sanding, I decide it’s time for waxing. I move onto the next machine that buffs the stone with wax. I thought it was looking pretty good after the sanding but wowzers! The wax transforms it again. It’s a pretty exciting process to watch.

The next task is to give it a gentle scrub with a toothbrush and some detergent to remove any wax build up and then it gets a quick dip in some baby oil. The twine is added next. It’s a very intricate and complicated processes, wrapping it, weaving it. It needs to be wound tightly and accurately so Niko does this part.

Then, Voilà!

My gorgeous toki pounamu pendant is completed. What a special souvenir to be able to take back home with me. I love the colours in it, and the best part is that I created it. From start to finish, a labour of love. Daniel has done an excellent job with his spanner, shaping it and contouring it, it wasn’t an easy project.

This has been such an amazing and memorable experience. It has taken us 5 hours, but 5 hours well spent I say. If you are ever in Hokitika, make sure you book in a carving workshop with Bonz ‘n’ Stonz. It’s been a real highlight of the trip!

Kayaking with Herons

The mist is hugging the hills. The lush green forest flowing out from beneath it. Once again, I feel like I am on the set of Jurassic Park.

There is no rain today. There is even a patch of sun breaking through the clouds, beaming down on a snowy mountain.

Surely I live in the most beautiful place in the world.

A short, 30 minute drive and we are at our next stop.


I have wanted to come here for a long time. Finally we are here. Today, we will be kayaking on the lagoon, which is home to the Kotuku (White Heron)

We are warmly greeted by our hosts. Again, it is just the two of us on the tour. They have kindly allowed Daniel and I to have single kayaks! Whenever we have been on kayak tours we get put in a double kayak, it’s so nice being able to have our own for a change. I have never seen kayaks like this before though. They have a small rudder at the back with pedals in the front that you control with your toes. I’m potentially going to be going round in circles. It might take me a while to get the hang of this!

Before long we are out on the lake, with a million sand flies. They are everywhere and feasting on my ankles for breakfast! Our guide, Gemma, assures us that they only hang out at the lake shore and will leave us fairly soon. Thankfully they do!

Once we are free from the hungry mouths of sandflies, I am able to start enjoying the perfect conditions. There is not a breath of wind. It’s a bit misty and drizzley, but really, this just adds to the atmosphere. The lake is so flat. It’s like a mirror, beautifully reflecting the land.

Absolute magic!

Not far into our expedition, we spot our first heron. It is magnificent standing there on it’s long, slender legs. It launches into the air and flies right past us, so silently, so elegant and graceful, until it open’s it’s beak. The honking, squawking sound it makes does not match the gracefulness of this bird!

The lake is so silent, the stillness is unreal. I am so used to city noise, but here, there is nothing. Peacefulness washes over me.

We continue our journey up river. It’s very green here. The native forest is filled with rimu, kahikatea, vine rata, wild orchids, flax, manuka. Gemma is very knowledgeable, pointing out all the different trees and answering my many questions about native flora and fauna. I love learning about my country, it’s history, wildlife and plants. This is why I often opt for guided tours over self guided. It costs more, but the experience is so enriched with the knowledge of a local guide.

Paddling further up river I spot little fish hanging out among the river plants. There are kereru (wood pigeon) and the gorgeous, cheeky little piwakawaka (fantail) that flitter about in the low tree branches. This is so incredibly peaceful and I delight in just floating along, listening to all the birds. In the distance I can hear the roar of the ocean.

While paddling back, we spot 2 more herons. They aren’t bothered by kayaks so you can get quite close. Gemma takes us on a different route so we can get closer, but warns us that the water here gets pretty shallow and we might get stuck. Worth the risk I say. The water does get shallow and in the end it is far easier to push yourself along using your hands against the mud bed rather than the paddle. We then run aground and have to get out and drag them. It’s kayaking at it’s finest!

We do manage to get pretty close to the herons though. They are not bothered by us so we enjoy watching them for a while. Totally worth getting wet feet!

Okarito is a very small settlement, a place probably not many people have heard of. I imagine so many would just drive straight by and not even know it was there. They are missing out. This kayak trip was all I had hoped it would be; peaceful, magical and so very special. If you are in the area, make sure you check out Okarito Kayaks.

It’s a breathtaking experience.

We have begun making our way back up country now. Tonight we are staying in Hokitika. It’s 2 hours away so we saddle up and carry on, driving through some splendid rainforest.


Lunch is in a small rural settlement called Harihari at the local cafe. For such a remote place, I am pleasantly surprised to see they have a vegan kumera and cashew pie on the menu. I also couldn’t resist sampling one of their homemade yoyos. I have to say, it was all pretty delicious.

We arrive in Hokitika, check into our accommodation and then I am straight out to explore the town. There are a lot of art and craft shops, particullary ones selling New Zealand Jade which is quite abundant in the area. I then head down to the beach – I want to see the Hokitika Drift Wood Sign.

A stroll along the beach is next on the agenda. Its a long beach, the sand seems to stretch on for ages. The sand is dotted with many fascinating stones. I collect a few to take home. You can even find pounamu (greenstone) right here on the beach. I pass quite a lot of time, fossicking about, looking for anything that might be greenstone.

I make sure I am on the beach for sunset. It’s not as spectacular as images I have seen of this beach, but it is a bit overcast today. Regardless, it is still lovely to sit on the beach and watch the fading sun as I reflect on the awesome day I have had.

Quad Biking in Franz Josef

Call us lucky, or maybe we are just foolish, but the last few times we have gone away, we haven’t taken wet weather motorbike gear. That’s pretty risky for the West Coast.

Today we have woken up to a wild, wet storm. But it’s not a riding day, so maybe we are lucky. Our room windows look out into bush and I am enjoying watching the storm from the warmth and comfort of our bed.

Today we are booked in for a Fox Glacier Nature Walk and Lake Matheson Walk with Glacier Valley Eco Tours. Unfortunately, due to weather, DOC has closed the Fox Glacier Track. And Lake Matheson, well, that’s famous for being a fabulous example of a mirror lake, but in this weather, it wouldn’t be worth viewing. So sadly, our tour today has been cancelled.

Not wanting to spend all day sitting in our room, I jump on line and have a quick look for some suitable wet weather activities. There is the Kiwi Center (slightly regret not visiting here) but we do decide to go quad biking. We have done quad biking before in terrible weather and it was super fun. The rain means big puddles to splash through and actually, it’s meant to be way better in the rain. When it’s dry, you just end up getting covered in dust!

The tour is not until the afternoon, so we decide to venture out in search of some breakfast. The power has gone out so we are not sure if anything will be open. We are hoping at least one place has a generator. We are in luck, SnakeBite Brewery obvously has a generator, the power outage hasn’t effected them. They are packed and serving up hot, delicious looking food. Breakfast sorted.

There are a lot of delectable looking treats in the cabinets, but I must resist. I almost don’t fit my motorbike jeans anymore! Sweet treats aside, its the perfect place to sit, relax and watch the stormy outside weather.

After a lazy start to the day, it’s time to go quad biking. Today’s adventure is with Across Country Quadbikes. We are the only ones on the tour, I guess no one else is crazy enough to do this in heavy rain, but I know it makes it more fun! We begin with a rather strict health & safety briefing, before getting kitted up in full wet weather gear and helmets. We are then shown how to operate the bikes (I am relieved that they are automatic) and are sent off around 2 different test routes.

Phew, I pass the test!

The first is easy, just going around in a circle and weaving in and out of markers. The second, I guess, prepares us for the type of terrain we are likely to expect – sharp turns, big slopes and a huge puddle. I am actually surprised at how deep it is, the water comes right up to my ankles. Fortunately we are wearing gumboots!

And then we are off! Its a 2 hour track along a variety of terrain – a road, glacial river beds, grasslands, rivers and the most stunning rain forest. At each section, our guide stops us for a quick chat about what type of terrain we are approaching and how to handle it. Each section seems to get a bit harder.

The first section, along the road, is rather challenging as we are in full wind and rain. I am driving in an open faced helmet, straight into the weather and can hardly see! Fortunately this doesn’t last long as we soon reach the forest. This section offers some tight turns and lots of puddles, some pretty long and deep. I love splashing through the puddles.

The next section is a narrow path with tight corners, among tall grasses. It’s along sand though, which is easy to ride on, which means, more speed!

Then we get to the riverbed. There are lots of hills, some quite steep, with plenty of river crossings. As I cross my first few rivers I am very much aware of the strength of the current as I push across on my bike. Its take me a long time to find the right speed, not too fast, but also not too slow that I get stuck.

The bike is heavy and powerful, it has no issues navigating the rocky terrain – it’s just my steering that’s the issue. I have to say, there are many occasions where my handle bars are going in every direction as I bump along over the rocks. My muscle lacking arms are getting a real workout trying to keep the bike on course.

We make a stop to get some photos while on the riverbed. On a clear day we would have been able to see Franz Josef Glacier, but today, it is hidden in a blanket of fog. Our guide explains that the area we are currently in, many thousands of years ago, would have been a glacier. From this perspective I am able to get a really impressive sense of just how big, deep and wide it was.

We start making our way back retracing our path. My favourite section is through the rainforst. It is warm, misty and covered in moss. I think from my previous posts you must be starting to get a sense of just how much I am in love with the West Coast Forest. It is making me swoon. We learn that this is called temperate rainforst and that it is very unique. It’s where glaciers meet forests and is only found in 3 places in the world. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in New Zealand and Patagonia in South America. This rainforest is also home to our little Rowi kiwi which is the world’s rarest kiwi. There are less than 600 left in the wild. You can see them at the Kiwi Center.

We make it back to base, soaking wet, dripping head to toe on the outside but completely dry underneath. The wet weather gear was excellent!

Apologies for the quality of photos this week. They are still taken from our GoPro video. The rain was so persistent that the lens constantly had droplets of water on it, making everything a bit blurry.

Franz Josef Bound

Today we are saddling up the bike and heading further south, down to Franz Josef. Before we leave Punakaiki, I head back down to the beach for one last look. It’s such a beautiful view, so wild and untouched. Sometimes I become a little obsessed with getting ‘that perfect photo’ that I spend all my time taking pictures from different angles and on different cameras, viewing the sight through a lens rather than my own eyes.

So while I do take some photos, I also try to stop, soak it all up and take some ‘memory photos’. Shutting my eyes, imprinting the image in my mind, the hypnotizing sound of the ocean tide, the cool breeze on my face, the smell of fresh ocean air. Photos are great, but being in the moment is even better.

This is why I love travel.

A short distance down the road from where we have been staying are the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This is part of Paparoa National Park and the start of the walk is right in the heart of Punakaiki. Here you can follow a well maintained track that leads you around massive limestone rocks. Their very distinctive layers giving them their ‘Pancake Rocks’ name.

Over many, many years, the limestone has been slowly eroded away by the waves pounding against them, creating blow holes and surge pools. The sights are affected by the tides, (I didn’t realise this at the time, although thinking about it now, it makes total sense) and is best views at high tide. I am not sure what the tides were doing when we were there, but regardless, it was still pretty impressive.

Its a fairly short, easy walk, it took us maybe 30 minutes (with photo stops at the many viewing platforms.) Some of the rock formations look like people and animals. There was one in particular with plants, like flax, growing out of the top making it look like a person with spiky hair.

This place is full of natural beauty. I love it’s rawness. It’s a place where you are reminded of how powerful nature is. For a while I watch the sea swirling below me in the Surge Pool. The water pounding against the rocks. I spot a large clump of seaweed dancing about beneath surface of the ocean. I watch it for a while, fascinated at how strongly it much be attached not to be ripped from it’s rock. The sea is so wild!

We continue on to Hokitika and make a stop at The West Coast Tree Top Walk. Its a great opportunity to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. The walkways are high above the ground and allow you to view the forest from a different perspective. Some trees we are looking down on, at other times we are walking alongside giants. I am not a fan of heights, but this is OK for me.

We then get to The Tower. I begin climbing the stairs, spiraling around and around, getting higher and higher. It is 47 meters above the forest floor! I finally make it to the top and am rewarded with some excellent 360 degree views. From here I can see all the tall slender trees moving in the wind. Swaying together in perfect time. Its pretty high and windy up here and while my knees aren’t buckling (just yet!) I do have to hold onto the railing at all times!

We head back down the spiral staircase and continue on, arriving at a Cantilever viewing platform. It’s a long platform, only attached at one end, allowing it to move and sway in the wind, just like the trees I was viewing before. Of course Daniel delights jumping up and down on the thing to make it move even more. (Such a considerate husband)

I reach the end of the platform and look out across the forest with it’s yellowy-green foliage, out to Lake Mahinapua.

It’s time to carry on with our journey so we jump back on the bike. I am loving State Highway 6 on the motorbike. There is such beautiful scenery – aquamarine coloured lakes, tall, lush, ancient looking forest and of course twisting, windy roads that are so much fun on 2 wheels! Every now and again I get a glimpse of a snow covered mountain, peeking out from beneath the clouds. This really is quite a spectacular place.

We arrive at our accommodation and am delighted to find they have given us a room upgrade. We are staying at Rainforest Retreat in a lovely unit that is nestled into the bush. Its very comfortable, the perfect place to relax.

We have no plans for the rest of the day, so I head out for a walk – I want to explore. I find myself at Terrace Walk, the entrance is right on the main road. The walk is through some gorgeous old looking forest. I swear, the colours of the forest on the West Coast seem so much more vibrant than other places I have been. There is bird song and cicadas, they are writing their own melody. Towards the end of the track, the tall trees have grown up and over, intertwining at the top, creating a long, fairy tale like tunnel.

If you need to step away from schedules, technology and reconnect with yourself, you wont have any issues doing that on the West Coast.

Caving in Charleston

One of the things I love about international travel (it’s certainly not the flight getting there, I am quite fearful of long haul flights!) is that you know you are somewhere else. It might be the landscapes, the climate or the smells. Your senses tell you the place is foreign. Somewhere different to what you are used to.

I am getting that same feeling here on the West Coast. Not to the same extremes but enough for my senses to pick up the change. There is no wind, which I always find odd. A windless day in Wellington is very rare! The landscape and vegetation here is so different, foreign even. I am loving the tall gangly nikau palms and punga trees that cloak the land. It is so dense, green and lush. I feel like I could be on the set of Jurassic Park!

Breakfast is at the local tavern and we are greeted by the friendly staff. It’s a lovely setting, it’s interrior has lots of timber giving it a warm and inviting feel. The fire is going too. Out of every window I see green. The West Coast is so pristine. It has a very pure and untouched feel to it.

Today we are heading to Charlestown. Population 522. Until recently, I had never heard of the place, I came across it while doing research for this trip. It is a historic gold rush village and in the mid 1800’s it population swelled to 30,000. Nowadays, it is the limestone caves and caving experiences that attract tourists to the place.

That’s exactly what we are here for. Today, we are joining Underworld Adventures to explore limestone caves and gaze upon a galaxy of glow worms. After a safety briefing we kit up in all the gear, jumpsuit, jacket, socks, boots, and helmet. There is a lot of gear to get on. It’s always challenging when it’s made of neoprene!

Our journey begins with a short drive in their van, followed by a ride in Dorothy, a bush tram like train that takes us through The Nile River Rainforest. The forest is stunning, lush, dense and so green I am in awe at it’s beauty. We also past huge limestone cliffs, again I feel like I am on the set of Jurassic park!

We disembark the train and begin our walk, pick up our rubber tyres for later and continue walking some more. We then reach the steps. There is 148 of them! We climb them slowly. Everything is much harder when you are dressed head to toe in rubber!

It’s now time to begin our walk into the cave. I’m slightly nervous, I don’t like being in confined spaces, but am relieved to hear that most of the cave is pretty large and open.

Wow! Just Wow! This place is stunning! It’s hard to believe that treasures like this exists beneath the forest. How many times have the hills above it been walked, without anyone having a clue what lies below?

It’s a secret, magical place.

As we walk through the cave, our guide, Samamra, tells us about the cave’s history, how it was formed, how it was discovered (by a man and his dog, the footprints and paw prints can still be seen.) Super interesting stuff!

Samara also stops to point out all the different types of formations. Cauliflower rocks, thin straws, lace and of course the impressive stalagmites and stalactite all glistening with mineral water.

Absolutely gorgeous!

The cave is super impressive and also very natural. I have been in caves before, at Waitomo in the North Island and Skocjan Cave in Slovenia. What makes The Nile River Cave System so unique is how ‘untouched’ it is. There are no ropes, no barriers, walkways, platforms or permanent lights, it’s very much in it’s original state. It does mean you have to be super careful, the surface is uneven and if you’re not paying attention you could easily trip, but it’s natural rawness is so beautiful.

Well into the tour, we enter into a big chamber and we are instructed to all turn off our headlamps.

Total darkness.

I stand there, looking around, waiting for my eyes to adjust – of course they don’t. There is not an glimmer of light around for my eyes to adjust to. I can’t even see my hand when I hold it up right in front of my face. It’s quite an unusual experience. We stay like this, standing in the pitch black for quite sometime, listening to the quiet dripping sounds of water.

It’s so peaceful.

After a while we start to turn our headlamps back on, starting with the low setting first, to let our eyes slowly adjust. Apparently, if we stayed in total darkness for a long period of time we would start to get disorientated and loose our sense of balance.

Carrying on, we come to a huge, impressive formation, a stalagmite and stalactite that have joined together to create a column. This part of the cave is also full of little droplets on the ceiling that sparkle, giving the appearance of being covered in gold dust.

When we get near the water, we sit down and turn off our head lamps again, only this time, we are not in total darkness. We are in the remarkable presence of glow worms. As time passes, more and more turn on their lights. They use their lights to attract food. When our lights are on, they turn theirs off as they can’t compete with the amount of light and is just a waste of their energy.

Before moving on, I take some time to look carefully at the rocks with my light on. I can see the little worms in their ‘hammocks’ and their ‘fishing line’ that they use to catch their food on.

Now the part I have been looking forward to and the reason why the have walked all this way in wet suits carrying a rubber tyre! It wasn’t just for a laugh! We enter the water, sit in the tyre and turn off our lights. The water feels cold but not freezing. The wet suits are pretty thick.

We then form a long train and our guide paddles us along the river, through the cave. A few glow worms appear on the ceiling. And then some more and then all of a sudden I am staring up at hundreds and thousands of tiny little lights. I have never seen so many before in my life. Apparently, there are somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million glow worms here.

It is absolutely magical. I feel like I am looking up at the night sky, although I am sure I have never seen this many stars in the night sky. Perhaps more like looking up at the galaxy on a clear night in a dark sky zone. It is enchanting and mesmerizing and I can’t take my eyes off them as we float silently down the river.

I don’t want this to end.

But it does. We reach the entrance of the cave, light is streaming in through a large opening in the ceiling. We have emerged from a magical underworld, our faces are once again touched by the warmth and light of the sun. We are a fair way from where Dorothy is, but we are not walking back. We have our tubes so we are taking the river!

Unfortunately a lot of the river is quiet shallow. The West Coast hasn’t had any rain for 3 weeks, which here, is considered a drought! This means there are a few bums scraping on the rocks as we make our way down the river (and I kept getting stuck, impersonating a beached whale) but there are also a few rapids which are fun to go down. We board Dorthy and make our way back to base after an exciting 4 hours of rainforests, caving, glow worms and tubing. This was a pretty unique experience!

It’s mid afternoon but we are in need of petrol so we head north to Westport (We won’t pass any petrol stations on our way back to Punakaiki. We have been caught out before on a previous trip and are keen not to repeat that mistake!) After filling our thirsty bike, we find ourselves at Jimmy’s Bar & Lounge for some tapas and a drink. We weren’t planning to stay long, but ended up chatting to a local for well over an hour. So far, I have found the people on the West Coast to be really friendly and hospitable.

Dinner is back at Punakaiki Tavern, enjoyed in a beautiful garden area, looking out at the lush forest and huge cliffs, while watching the setting sun. I’m pretty sure I am falling in love with the West Coast.

Most of these photos were taken by our awesome guide, Samara which were made available to everyone after the tour for free! How great is that!

If you want to join Underworld Adventures and gaze upon a galaxy of glow worms, check out their website here. They also have a 12.5% discount off their Underworld Rafting and GlowWorm Cave Adventures till September 21. Win Win.

Heading for the West Coast

It’s adventure time.

I love adventure time, especially when it’s on 2 wheels.

I find travelling by motorbike so easy and freeing. I love the simplicity of having limited luggage space.

Our bike is packed. We are ready to go. For the next week, it will just be us and our 2 wheels as we explore the West Coast of the South Island.

The Plus lounge on the Interislander Ferry is a great way to start our trip. It is comfortable, quiet and fully catered. This is excellent as we are on an early crossing and have not yet had breakfast. The Plus Lounge makes it easy to sit back, relax and watch the world go by.

As we start to slip into holiday mode, I realise just how tired we both are. Daniel has been really busy doing long hours at work and I have spent a lot of time painting the exterior of our house. I think it’s fair to say, we are both in need of some down time. I have activities planned for this trip, but have been much more controlled. Normally I plan action packed days, trying to squeeze in as much as I can, but I have toned it right back this time. Hopefully it will be the right balance of fun and rest.

The Marlborough Sounds are looking stunning today, as usual. The water is always so calm and peaceful, the landscape pure and untouched. I am privileged to have done this journey a few times in the last year, so instead of battling the wind outside, I enjoy the views from the comfort of my armchair in the Plus Lounge with my cup of tea and scones.

We disembark in Picton and I am surprised at how hot it is. Even on nice days I usually layer up under my motorbike jacket – when you are moving it can get quite cool, but today, a t-shirt is all that is needed.

We are heading towards Punakaiki (also known as Pancake Rocks) The most direct route would be to head towards Blenheim , but the journey is all part of the adventure. We prefer to get off main roads, so instead choose to take Queen Charlotte Drive and head towards Nelson which offers some beautiful views. We stop at a look out and enjoy the sight of Picton, soaking in the sun. The cicadas are chirping and little boats bob up and down in sage coloured water.


We carry on, passing a gorgeous little campsite. It looks simple and very relaxed, the quintessential kiwi summer holiday.

By the time we make it to Nelson, we are definitely ready for a late lunch and find ourselves sitting down at Burger Culture. It’s a funky place and lots of people are outside enjoying their food. Daniel gets a burger but I am so intrigued by the sweetcorn ribs that I have to give them ago. As it sounds, they were rib’s made from corn on the cob, smothered in sauce.

Wow! These were sensational and I enjoyed how messy they were to eat. Such a cool concept. Some people are so creative!

With our bellies full, we carry on, we have one of our longest riding days today and I am keen to arrive late afternoon so we have some time to explore. Our journey takes us through The Buller Gorge.

Oh my. It is stunning.

It is so lush and green and I can smell the forest. The road is windy, following the river – great fun on 2 wheels! Unfortunately I don’t have any photos as we didn’t make any stops.

We carry on riding. It’s near late afternoon and I am thinking we should be nearly there. I pull out my phone to check directions and realise that we have taken a wrong turn.We should have headed towards Westport and then down the coast, but instead we are still travelling inland, on our way to Greymouth! We have traveled in the wrong direction for so long that it’s quicker to carry on and head up the coast, than turn around and backtrack! Apparently I was on navigating (No idea why – Daniel knows I have a terrible sense of direction!)

The route we took
The route we should have taken!

We finally make it to our destination, 13 hours after leaving Wellington! It has been a really long day and I am ready for a sleep! We are staying at Te Nikau Retreat. What a sanctuary to relax in. Set among tall nikau palms, our lodge is nestled into the trees and looks out along the canopy line. I feel like I am in a tree house.

We have arrived just in time to watch the sunset so we shoot down to the beach. Conveniently there is a path from our accommodation that takes us right down to a viewing platform. I can hear the powerful roar of the ocean well before we even get there. I have heard the West Coast gets some pretty spectacular sunsets and tonight it doesn’t disappoint. There are unusual rock formations dotted about in the ocean and a warm golden glow from the setting sun. It is so stunning, I forget all about our long travel day.