West Coast Region

Westland is an entire region of New Zealand, but even so it only has a population of about 8000. It occupies much of the west of the South Island between the Southern Alps and the sea, but that’s the problem – it’s very long and thin, hard to get to, and it rains a lot of the time. And while a ‘rural retreat’ may seem idyllic, most of this place is beyond ‘retreat’ and it’s all a bit disappointing. I’ll concede that when the sun does come out (I saw it in 2000) it’s pleasant, though even then the sunny beaches are only the same as everywhere else in New Zealand.

Entry to the southern end of Westland is the road from Wanaka coming through the ‘Gates of Haast’. The road is twisty and the hills are spectacular: you’re lucky if you catch them without rain, though there are lots of rainbows in compensation.

Haast itself is basically a scruffy petrol station with some tourist villas scattered around: the best hope is to stay in the Beach Motel and enjoy a sunny moment on the sand (before torrential rain overnight…)

After Haast there’s a hideously long drive up the coast and two only settlements of any significance, at the glaciers Franz Josef and Fox. Both have extensive bars which offer alcohol and fry-ups, and helicopter companys which offer flights over the glaciers. Neither of these really appealed, so when I came through I was quite glad that the rain and fog had grounded everything.

Next up the coast is Hokitika, which at least has a clean BP garage and a New World supermarket. It also – like many New Zealand towns – has an elaborate clock tower, and there are at least three churches serving the 300 or so houses.

To the north is Greymouth, which is a more significant town and a port. But I found nothing there really worth photographing, so I hurried on to the Pancake rocks at Punakaiki.

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