A few years ago, the drive down the West Coast of the South Island was voted one of the top 10 drives in the world by Lonely Planet. Alongside the trip around the East Cape, this would have to be one of my two favourite drives in New Zealand.
There is something beautiful about such an amazing stretch of New Zealand, populated by so few people. I like to do this trip at least once a year. You can read about the previous trips here (fishing trip in Jacksons Bay) and also discovering the hot springs in Hari Hari a few months ago.
Christchurch to Arthurs Pass
I started out driving over Arthur’s Pass (State Highway 73) from Christchurch and stopping in at the Department of Conservation Avalanche Creek campsite, which is right next to the train station on the right-hand side of you are driving west (Christchurch – Hokitika). It’s a pretty handy campsite and popular, so you’ll often meet like-minded people staying here.
Otira Gorge to Westport
Pushing on toward Hokitika through the Otira Gorge, the traffic was slow as a truck up ahead was going at a super slow speed, I’m guessing staying in a low gear so their brakes don’t overheat going down this steep hill.
Instead of taking the normal route to the West Coast, I turned off at Lake Brunner toward Greymouth. I had bought a surfboard off Trademe and needed to go pick it up just south of Westport.
While in the area I stopped off at the beautiful Iveagh Bay on Lake Brunner, a beautiful freedom campsite operated by the Grey District Council.
You can stay a maximum of three nights if you are in a self-contained vehicle. Don’t even try with a non-self-contained vehicle. You’ll be told to leave, by the locals or the other vehicles staying here.
Down the West Coast to Lake Paringa
After picking up the surfboard just south of Westport, I found out two Christchurch lads could’ve bought the board back to Christchurch. With 5 hours of driving ahead of me in order to reach Lake Paringa, 2 and a half hours could’ve been really handy!
So, it was a fairly manic drive down the West Coast. And it felt like sacrilege to drive straight past the Glaciers without even taking a look. However, the scenery was great, as you can see below.
The weather was superb, and the surf was wild too, which made for (in my opinion) the ultimate West Coast driving experience!
There are loads of places to stop for photos of this amazing scenery as you drive along. The spot below (located approximately here) was just one. What an awesome spot for a picnic table!
Lake Paringa, West Coast
I arrived just on dusk at Lake Paringa, 30km north of Haast, and put my boat in the water. The head of the lake is perfect for a spot of fishing or hunting because it can be only accessed by boat.
As it turns out, the flax is very thick at the head of the lake, which needed some serious bush bashing to get through. Something that any deer within 1 km could’ve heard! So, the chances of a successful hunt were pretty slim.
At dusk, I had a go at trawling for trout, as they were jumping all over the place. The fish were feeding on the little insects that fly around and get caught in the water. Sadly, I had no luck. Thank goodness for packed meals!
West Coast Rain and Mosquitos
Westland and the West Coast is famous for rain. Sure enough, after both an unsuccessful hunt and unsuccessful fish, the rain came bucketing down as I was dozing off.
Waking up wet in a tent is not on my list of favourite pastimes. To top it off, the mosquitos were also savages. They managed to get through tiny holes in the tent, even though I had sprayed insect repellent.
Despite the rain, mosquitos, and lack of fish, it was still a great feeling driving down the West Coast, accessing some awesome country like the image below.
There is a DOC campsite at Lake Paringa too. If you are heading down the West Coast, I would definitely recommend dropping in.
By the way, if you have had better success at Lake Paringa, let us know!