Escape to New Zealand’s West Coast

What can you do in the Glacier Country when you visited both glaciers on the first day? The weather wasn’t as good as on the previous day, still good enough to do some less challenging hikes. Because you always anticipate rain on the “Wet Coast” we opted for some easier walks such as Tartare Tunnels Walk, and Callery Gorge Walk. What is convenient, both have the same starting point and for about 5 min share the same trail.

The Tartare Tunnels Walk start as a nice and gentle climb through the native forest and opens for a scenic view towards Tartare Gorge. The forest is very dense, and not surprise Kiwi birds live here. Even our kids moaned less than usual, as the climb through the forest is quite picturesque and calming. As we reached the entrance to the tunnels, we noted information board explaining history of purpose of them. Pioneer miners drove a tunnel system from Tartare Gorge to Waiho Terrace during West Coast Gold Rush. Even though gold that was mined didn’t cover the cost of the operation, Franz Josef town was established on the site. From 1911 the sluice pipes, that you can see on the front of the tunnel provided water supply for one of the hotels. The water from the tunnels generated electricity for the sawmill and the lights for the town in the early XX century, and from 1938 till 1982 powered a small hydro station in the Tartare Gorge. It was eventually destroyed by a slip in 1982. The tunnels become a touristic attraction after that.

We entered the tunnel; however, Matylda became claustrophobic, and eventually started panicking to the point, that we had to turn back. Konrad and I went back inside, halfway through Konrad decided he’s too scared to carry on. It was pitched black; the only light was my good quality headtorch. It wasn’t good enough for Konrad, who insisted on going back. I used to be much more competitive, and in not-so-distant pass I would simply go through the tunnel on my own. As kids grew older, I don’t want to just do my own things, as it sets bad example for them. I might be abandoning my adventurous part of my personality; however, we stick as a group, a unit that work together, and individual needs are less important than collective ones.
As we went back, the track reached a junction with a Callery Gorge Walk. Matylda wasn’t impressed with the idea of another walk, eventually agreed, knowing it’s only about 5km. The track is easy and runs through the native forest. On the side you can still see the water race, and some rusty relics that remind of the gold rush era. Interesting feature was a container with sings informing that TNT is kept inside. The track eventually descent towards Callery Gorge Bridge. There are few points on the way, where small waterfalls can be observed. The track terminates at the end of the bridge, offering amazing view of Callery Gorge, that changed dramatically over the years due to gravel deposits filling the gorge and raising the riverbed. Under the bridge we had some snacks, and took lots of pictures, as it is absolutely stunning. Terrain is potentially dangerous, with some quick sands, and river current being quite strong. That stopped us from dipping the feet into the water, never mind having a quick swim. After 10-15 min we went back to Fran Josef the same way and had a lunch in there. We tried a Snake Bite, beer mixed with cider. Quite tasty, however 15$ for a glass is a pure rip off.

For the last trip of the day, we chose a black sand Gillspies Beach, that is about 25 km from Fox Glacier. It’s a mostly gravel road, that offers some beautiful mountains scenery. There was a time when Gillspies was a third largest town on West Coast, with a population over 650, eleven stores, two bakeries and two butcheries. The remnants of once busy gold mining town are a cemetery, and remains of suction dredge designed in 1891 by Edward von Shmidt, that visited the area on one occasion. This device wasn’t suitable for harsh environment and was constantly clogged by branches and stones. There is an information board with the principle and history of the device. There is also a short walk around the pond where gold was excavated, with some relics of the past. Beach itself is quite unique, as the sand is black. That suits well with the dark colours of the Tasman Sea. The beach is filled with driftwood, some oddly shaped. It was very windy, sea was cold, the weather wasn’t particularly inviting so we didn’t stay for too long.

Overall, it was refreshing trip. In my opinion West Coast is one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, that can easily compete with Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The only two things that can sour your visit a wet weather and sand flies. Other than that, it is a fantastic place, where you can get away from it all. I’m sure we will come to this place again.

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