For the record, this visit to The West Coast started at Murchison — and it ended in Westport.
This was a glorious drive as we drove down through Inangahua and the Buller Gorge, but progress was slow as I insisted on stopping the car at every photo opportunity and we arrived in Westport mid-afternoon rather than early afternoon. So many decisions! Should we stay in Westport and head up to Karamea the next day? Should we head up to Karamea now and stay the night? Or should we head up to Karamea and come back that night and stay in Westport?
We decided on plan C, which was to find a place in Westport for the night and strike out on a lightning raid to Karamea and back.
We did make some detours — up the hill to Denniston, where I chatted to a couple from Motueka who had just spent a few nights in a lodge up near Mokhinui.
Just before the start of the Karamea Bluff where the flat, straight road goes into convulsions, we tiki-toured up the Mokhinui Valley to Seddonville where Graham McKenzie runs a very tidy little pub.
The drive over the Karamea Bluff is sensational, twisting, climbing and plunging, through well-established second growth native bush. Contrary to popular opinion the road up the coast doesn’t end abruptly at Karamea — it goes on for another 15 kms or so to a small DoC camping ground and the start of the Heaphy Track.
It’s often said that The West Coast has its own micro-climate that’s considerably warmer than the rest of the South Island and Karamea is almost sub-tropical with a profusion of Nikau palms that grow almost like weeds. There’s a lovely little pub painted in a most un-West Coast pink. The sign outside said “Established 1868”, and it’s one of the few that’s never been burned down and replaced.
Westport was incredibly friendly. The staff at the information centre couldn’t do enough for us and if there are three things we would recommend going to Westport for alone it would be the warmth of the people, the Coal museum and Gibby’s restaurant which is hardly upmarket, but the array of home-made food and baking is incredible.
The drive up the coast to Westport remains sensational — put it on the list of the ten things you have to do before you get too old to do it!
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