Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The West Coast to Franz Josef & Road Safety

There seems to be little road side advertising around much of New Zealand (thankfully) other than numerous road side safety or other communal adverts.

Safety Advert 2  

Adverts often require some thinking about in order to get the message

Road Safety-1

Safety Advert-1

Litter Advert

some have slightly scrambled English (one wonders what a “high motor bike” is)

Road Safety 1

others have an obvious instant message

Safety advert

Road Safety 2

Road Safety

The above advert is reminiscent of an earlier period and seems to be an original.

The West Coast

The West Coast seems to be different to the rest of New Zealand for a number of reasons. Its position tends to make it feel more isolated being a strip of land about 30 kms wide (on average) and about 500 kms long and its weather is much wetter and wilder. Economically, it was very wealthy in the days of the gold rush and early timber exploitation, nowadays it is very dependent upon tourism (we estimate that about 20% of the vehicles we see are Camper Vans). It has few main towns and those we have visited have not been brilliant – many of the guide books seem to say – “do what you have to do and move on”. Being outdoors is the main idea.

Westport has seen better days but proudly displays an architectural heritage from more prosperous days

Westport Municipal Chambers
Municipal Chambers
Westport County Chambers
County Chambers
Westport Cafe
Westport Development Company
Development Company
Westport Supermarket
Supermarket – just to show you how wrong they can get it

One thing the West Coast is superb at is the weather. It can be sunny one moment and then pouring with rain the next – or the other way round or it seems, both at the same time.

Cape Foulwind & Weather

Here we have the seas off Cape Foulwind – so called because

Cape Foulwind and Weather 2

when Captain Cook (him again!) sailed round the Cape in 1770, the weather was quite foul. It is also home to a seal colony and a surprising number of Weka – these are rare


elsewhere in New Zealand but here they are so numerous that a local described them as a pest. They are flightless birds which apparently can run fast and are quite similar in appearance to a Kiwi.

Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast (around 10,000) and in our opinion does not have a lot going for it.  Most buildings of any interest have either been altered so much they have lost their charm or are recent builds with no charm. One of the tourist sites in town is (the rather expensive)

Shantytown Street

Shantytown which aims to recreate the image and experience of life in a 1900’s New Zealand gold town. On

Shantytown Hotel

the surface it does a very good realistic job but inside it

Old Bank

falls down and is certainly not as good as Beamish in the UK or  others we have seen in Australia or the USA. Its fault is a lack of attention to detail and also trying to wring an extra dollar from tourists at any possible opportunity. Where it is best is when it forgets that and accidently educates visitors as it does in its Chinatown section which explains the role and lifestyle of Chinese workers in interesting detail.

Never-the-less, the train ride was fun and smelt and sounded exactly as a steam train should.


As is often the case, one of the best moments came by chance. In Greymouth we decided to go to the cinema to see “The Kings Speech” at The Regent Cinema which was part of the Regent Theatre Complex. The film played to a full house - all 26 of us in one of the most spacious, comfortable, small digital screens we have ever been to. It had recently been refurbished and was so small that there were only four rows of seat, 3 * 7 and 1* 5. It was a bit like sitting in a large front room in someone’s house. And James – we did like the film and gave it an Arthur.

Although the weather turned to foul, we were passing the

Foul Weather 1

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki


and therefore had to dress in our wet weather clothing to see them (there are lots of raindrops on the camera lens of these photos and the video).

The rocks are layered but also quite soft and hence

Pancake Rock

the sea has created numerous caves and blowholes.

Rock Holes 2-1 Rock Holes 

The sea was extremely rough, it was high tide and it

was quite spectacular. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) has set out a brilliant walk around the rocks with view points at every corner. It is quite a amazing place.

Further south is Franz Josef Glacier, something which

Franz Josef Glacier

many visitors go to and quite a few climb.

Peter's Pool

There are some spectacular views of the Glacier (above is Peter’s Pool with the Glacier in the distance).

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