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A collection of photographs and stories by Invercargill photographer Rick Harvey

waiting for the whitebait to run at karamea

A West Coast Road Trip

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Since leaving Invercargill just over a week ago we’ve clocked up 1,001 kilometres on our West Coast road trip. I could have said 1,000 kilometres but the extra one-k seems to make it a bit special.

This morning, Sunday, we have woken to another greyish West Coast day. We are parked up at Gentle Annie Camp located at the mouth of the Mohikinui River, having yesterday morning travelled down from Kohaihai, the northernmost point of the West Coast road network.

But let’s go back to the start  of our West Coast road trip.

The first leg was Invercargill to Wanaka via the Crown Range. What a great road- zigzagging up the side of the hills with fantastic views back over the Queenstown basin.

Lunch was on the shore of Lake Wanaka – at half past three!

Lake Wanaka
Lunch at the Lake Wanaka shore.

Out intention had been to stop at Makarora overnight but with heavy rain forecast, and knowing that the Haast Pass highway can be closed at the drop of a hat due to slips, we decided to press on to Haast itself.

The weather was somewhat inclement (for inclement read “shitty”) all the way through – in fact it bucketed down and blew a gale. But we made it safely.

Hills overlooking Lake Wanaka
Hills overlooking Lake Wanaka as seen from the Neck

Just over 45 kilometres up the coast from Haast is Lake Paringa – our first overnight stop. Thankfully the notoriously hungry West Coast sandflies weren’t biting.

Lake Paringa is a DOC site with room for half a dozen or more motorhomes plus a few spaces for those who like tenting.

A small stream runs into Lake Paringa
A small stream running into Lake Paringa.

Next stop Greymouth – but not before a lunch break at Lake Ianthe – another DOC site.

Lake Ianthe West Coast South Island
Lake Ianthe.

After all the heavy rain of the previous 24 hours Lake Ianthe was high – but still very peaceful – and popular too judging by the half dozen or so motorhomes which stopped while we were there.

It doesn’t really matter what weather the West Coast throws at you, the Coast always seems to be a little bit magic. Heavy rain – normal for the Coast – and mist around the hills seem to add to the magic and mystique of the area. But magically the sun came out for us in Greymouth. Admittedly not the day we got there, but a few days later.

Tainui Street looking south from the floodwall
Tainui Street Greymouth looking south from the floodwall.


frontage of the old royal hotel on
The old Royal Hotel on Mawhera Quay.


A view of Greymouth from the Cobden Bridge
Greymouth from the Cobden Bridge.


fishing boats tied up in greymouth harbour
Part of the fishing fleet that works out of Greymouth.


the fishing boat cook canyon about to cross the grey river bar
The Cook Canyon about to cross the Grey River Bar on a good day.

To see the Cook Canyon crossing the bar on a bad day check this out


seagulls at the greymouth breakwater
Seagulls hanging out at the Greymouth breakwater.

Friday afternoon saw us on the road again. We were heading to Westport but first made the obligatory stop at Punakaiki – the world famous pancake rocks. As were we working to a time schedule (Lyn’s grandsons to deliver to their Dad a few days break), there was just enough time for a quick walk around the pancake rocks and snap a few images.

pancake rocks at punakaiki
The pancake rocks at Punakaiki.


the surge pool at punakaiki
The surge pool.

Unfortunately the sea was very calm so the surge pool was nothing like the washing machine it can be at times, and nor were the blowholes blowing.

After dropping the boys off and a quick stop for supplies in Westport  we pressed on further north. We had intended to stay at a freedom camping site at an old derelict sawmill just north of Karamea but that turned out to be, in our opinion,  a bit of a dud place to stop. So we continued our West Coast road trip all the way up to Kohaihai, and were treated to one of the West Coast’s regular fantastic sunsets way out over the Tasman Sea..

sunset at kohaihai on a west coast road trip
Sunset at Kohaihai.

Kohaihai is the start – or finish – of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks – the Heaphy Track. The Heaphy is a 3 to 4 day, 80 kilometre tramp (or cycle at certain times of the year) through some of the West Coast’s most rugged bush.

Add it to your bucket list. Lyn and I walked the Heaphy over 30 years ago and would love to do it again, but with passing years the spirit has remained willing but the flesh would let us down.

It’s a tough track – but I understand there are some foolhardy souls who mountain bike the complete track in a single day!

a mountain biker crosses the swingbridge at the start of the heaphy track
A mountain biker sets out to conquer the Heaphy Track.


mouth of the kohaihai river
The mouth of the Kohaihai River.


the end of the road kohaiha start of the heaphy track
Kohaihai – the northernmost end of the West Coast road.

Kohaihai is the end of the road going north, so it was about turn time. First stop heading back south was for breakfast just on the outskirts of Karamea beside the Karamea River estuary.

The tide was on the way in and there quite a few whitebaiters scattered around the edge of the estuary, but it seems the little fish weren’t playing the game that morning.

An old chap I spoke with, originally from the Cook Islands, has lived in Karamea over 60 years and he told me that although he is impatient, and wasn’t catching any whitebait, he loves the tranquility that whitebaiting offers.


waiting for the whitebait to run at karamea
Waiting for the whitebait to run.

Today it’s back to Greymouth to complete our all too brief West Coast road trip, then later next week inland to Nelson.

Before I finish this little road trip story I need to tell you a little bit about Gentle Annie campground where we stayed overnight. You’ll find Gentle Annie about 3kms up a gravel road that turns off just on the northern end of the Mohikinui River bridge. It is a wee gem of a spot; right at the river mouth overlooking the sea. The whole place seems to work on trust. If there is no one in the Cowshed (the office) just sign in and pay later, then choose your campsite. There are no powered sites (yet) but we thoroughly recommend a stopover here – it’s fantastic.

Enjoy the images and I hope they may inspire you to take your own West Coast road trip.

(All photos taken using a Nikon D300 with 18-200 Nikkor lens; processed in DxO Photolab and Luminar)



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