Published on
March 22, 2022

After a relaxing couple of days in Hamner, our adventures then took us back over to the West Coast via the Lewis Pass this time. Again a spectacular drive. Many photos stops later, we found ourselves at Punakaiki, which lies between Greymouth and Westport on the edge of the Paparoa National Park. Home to the Pancake Rocks, a geological marvel.  30 million years of eroding limestone has created multiple layers of hard and soft rock to form what looks like a ‘pancakestack’ hence the name. The same erosion has also created a series of caves and channels. On a rough day, the sea thunders into the caves and forces its way up through the vertical shafts, bursting out the top through the blowholes. A pretty impressive display of a natural wonder. Our day was far more serene as we took the walk around and over the Pancake Rocks fascinated by what we saw.

The West Coast is famous for it’s sunsets and we were lucky enough to experience a beautiful one that night.


The coastline north from Punakaiki to Karamea, is quite beautiful. White sandy beaches with rugged headlands to our left and soaring cliffs with overhangs and dense forest to our right made for quite a nice drive! We stopped by the Pororari River, The Truman Track, Irimahuwhero lookout, The Nile River, Denniston, Charming Creek, Granity, Hector Beach and the Mokihinui River to name but a few.

Just over the Mokihinui River we came across a secluded eco camp called Gentle Annie’s. Voted the 3rd best campsite in NZ. Well we had to stop there. One intended night, turned into three! We loved it.Imagine... A coastal enclave on the mouth of the river, long white sandy beach, covered in lonely driftwood, Nikau-fringed natural bush, landscaped gardens occupied with cheeky Wekas and the sounds of Moreporks (owls) and other such wildlife...a real tranquil, off the beaten track find. Back to basics but with enough modern facilities to be more than comfortable, with a large cafe (the pies & baked good are to die for!), a relaxed lounge area in a restored cowshed, with wooden timbers, a fish pond with and a log fire, an outdoor seating area complete with a stone pizza oven and a huge fireplace area to enjoy marshmallows and a drink around whilst watching the sun go down. Bliss!

We really indulged in the lifestyle here and went for forest walks, bike rides, collected driftwood from the beach, had a go at creating our own pizza and attempting to cook it in the woodfire oven (we might need a bit of practise!), lighting a fire and playing cards...oh and the best bit, having a go in one of their recent additions, the wood fire cedar and stainless steel hot tubs. What a treat, having a hot soak, whilst watching the sunset, turn into the night sky with a billion stars above us, surrounded by natural bush.

A day trip out from Gentle Annie’s up to the 350 million year old Oparara Basin in the Kahurangi National Park was next on our agenda.The Oparara River, over this time has carved the basin into an intriguing complex of caves, arches and channels. Arriving at the car park 14kms off the tar sealed road, we walked through a Podocarp and Beech tree ‘enchanted’ forest, which was thickly carpeted in mosses and something out of a fairytale, to reach the huge elegant arches. These really have to be seen to be believed. The first one, Oparara ,soared 219 metres above our heads, the other,Moria, smaller at 19 metres high, curved gracefully from one opening to the other. We entered this, via a snug hole in the ground. Once inside we were able to explore and walk along the river bank from one end of the arch to the other. Lit up from both sides, creating reflections in the water, it was very photogenic. We took the forest track back to the car park via the Mirror Tarn Lake. Along the way, a beautiful little NZ Robin befriended us and we spent about 10 minutes watching as he hopped around our feet, inquisitive little fella!

Before returning to Gentle Annie’s, we turned right and headed a further 4km up the coastal road to where it ends and is officially the most northerly point you can drive to on the West Coast of the South Island. Here is where one of New Zealand’s premier walks starts....the Heaphy Track...and what a beautiful starting point it is...

As we left the West Coast, once more, we travelled through the Buller Gorge. This scenic drive runs between Westport and Murchison and comprises of the Upper and Lower Gorge sections with the Buller River flowing in between. New Zealand’s longest swing bridge at 110m in length, spans the Buller River 14kms West of Murchison. We stopped off here for our lunch, we braved the bridge and enjoyed the short walk along the river bank, that explained the area’s gold mining and dramatic seismic history. We were fascinated to see how much the land had been lifted in the 1929 7.3 magnitude earthquake of that area. There is a zip line across the river next to the bridge for a little bit of extra fun!



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