West Coast Wanderings
By Mal Law on 9th November 2017 Trail Reports
Driving over the Haast Pass in the pouring rain might have made driving the campervan a little tricky, but nothing was going to dampen my enthusiasm for what lay ahead - a 2+ week roadie, exploring new trails, running in the Taupo Ultramarathon, attending RunFest in Wellington, meeting old friends and making new ones. And to kick it all off I was about to hit the wild West Coast - one of my very favourite parts of this beautiful country of ours.
I love arriving at the Coast. It's always been this way but in the last few years - since we moved to land-locked Wanaka - seeing, hearing and smelling the ocean has taken on extra significance; it's ability to rejuvenate and enliven has become even more pronounced. The rain, still falling quite steadily as I left the township of Haast behind and headed north, was just a minor inconvenience. I was travelling with only loose plans, determined to explore at will as time and weather allowed.
As it turned out I didn't have to go too far to find my first trailhead. Just after crossing the Moeraki River there's a small DoC car park and from there a gentle 2.5k run through stunning coastal rainforest leads to the awesome Munro Beach, home to Fiordland crested penguins during the breeding season. I had the beach to myself and took my time to revel in the raw beauty of the place before turning tail and heading back. (See the trail guide here)
The rain had stopped as I started running and now, as I stepped into the campervan, it started again - the timing seemed like a good omen. On up the coast I drove until I reached Franz Josef Glacier. I'd been through the township many times but never taken the time to drive up the valley a wee way to the road end and the start of the touristy glacier walk trail. Time to fix that I reckoned. I parked, it stopped raining (really!) and I ran under huge mountains and beneath tumbling waterfalls to the trail end and what would be a spectacular view of the sadly retreating glacier on a nice day. I could just make it out amongst the brooding cloud - that was enough to convince me that I would return to brave the hordes of tourists another day. Turning back it was a fast, mainly downhill blast back to the campervan. The heavens opened again! (See the trail guide here)
That night I stayed at the wonderful little community campground at Okarito Lagoon, on the coast just north of Franz Josef. Overnight the rain cleared and first thing next morning I was back on the trail checking out a run that had tantalised me ever since prolific trail guide contributor, Tony Sharpe, had submitted it for publication. The Okarito Majesty run did not dissapoint, despite the fact that cloud kept the much anticipated views hidden. The run consists of an undulating pack track through the bush, with a diversion to a lookout, then return via a truly wild and spectacular beach. Not much more than 9kms, but what a joy-filled run it was. (See the trail guide here)
Later that day I continued driving to St Arnaud, gateway to the Nelson Lakes National Park. I'd left the coast behind, and as always found myself wishing I'd had longer to enjoy the casual pace and spectacular topography of this most untamed of coastlines. Next time you get the chance to visit the area make sure you leave yourself plenty of time. It's simply awesome (in the truest sense of the word!)