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Down South and Down Under

August 18, 2008 By: Stephanie Stephens Travel Agent

A seven-day journey through the West Coast of the Southern Alps, New Zealand

If your clients want to really get away, the Rough & Tumble Bush Lodge in the northwest corner of South Island, New Zealand, is the place to send them—a warm and welcoming detour in a land of endless breathtaking vistas and strange names. This vast primeval and rugged region, which is officially known as “the West Coast of the Southern Alps”, is all about adventure.

rough and tumble lodge new zealand

Rough & Tumble Lodge in South Island

Late April is fall in New Zealand, and we’ve flown to Nelson from Auckland in 1.5 hours, and decided to do the drive south—the famed West Coast Touring Route—and then continue to Queenstown.

Rough and Tumble is a tributary of the Mokihinui River, in the shadow of the Mt. Glasgow ranges. We’re glad this is not a more formal “super lodge”; the vibe is just right.

Both Susan Cook and her husband, Marion “Weasel” Boatwright, are keen to urge guests into a sit-on-top kayak or a dog-paddle in the Mokihinui’s “pool” out front, to cycle along the foot-friendly Chasm Creek Walkway or to cast for huge brown trout. Trained gourmet chef Susan will skillfully sauté your clients’ prized trophy or prepare other scrumptious homestyle dishes like cioppino with crusty sage bread. For those who like to pair wine with their meal, you can bring your own bottle here, too.

On day two, we head to Karamea, 61 miles, 1.5 hours north of Westport, curling back and forth over the mountains and descending to the coast, studying this unusual mountain-to-Tasman Sea ecosystem. Karamea is also the southern entrance to the famed Heaphy walking (“tramping”) track.

Oparara Guided Tours’ informative expert escorts us inside Honeycomb Hill Caves, where, sporting caving helmet with headlamp, we quiz our sub-terranean leader about luminous “moon milk” on cave walls, and about how to differentiate stalactites from stalagmites. To finish the day, we easily hike in to magnificent Oparara Arch, one of Australasia’s largest natural land bridges.
The next day we eagerly head to Charleston, once the gold-mining hub of New Zealand with 30,000 people, but now home to 150 lucky residents, including the pros at Norwest Adventures Ltd.

After donning wetsuits, life jackets and helmets, we hop aboard the open-sided Charles Nile River Rainforest Train that chugs through rainforest once used as a location for the BBC’s drama The Lost World. Soon we maneuver through narrow passages and expansive, cavernous spaces aglow with calcite formations in their natural unmodified state. Helmet lights off, inner tubes joined together by booted feet, the cadre of curious visitors floats in total darkness and in awe beneath thousands of glowworm galaxies before tubing into the sunlight down rapid and back to our base.

Continuing down the famed Coast road, we ogle Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks, with their crashing, spewing tidal geysers and blowholes cavorting amidst 30-million-year-old limestone formations. The Punakaiki Resort is a unique location for your clients’ overnight stay—ask host David Thompson for an environmentally friendly eco-suite on the hill and revel in the sounds of crashing waves. In the Waterline Restaurant, Chef Alex Hogg’s shiitake and ginger-crusted salmon fillet is the oceanfront meal ticket.

Day four on Highway 6, we find ourselves in Greymouth, the endpoint for the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch, and the largest town on the West Coast. In the nearby charming, interactive recreation of an 1880s’ gold-mining town, Shantytown, visitors ride one of three vintage steam trains, with veteran Ian Tibbles at the controls, doing double duty as he shovels coal into the furnace. Next, it’s on to the town of Hokitika for an energizing jolt of “flat white” coffee and a “ticky-tour” through the shop at Westland Greenstone, where artisans fashion nephrite jade into wearable works of art.

We can’t stay the night, but recommend your clients do, at hospitable Kathy Gilbert and Neil Ensor’s intimate Paramata Lodge in Ross Township, 25 minutes south of Hokitika. Here on the site of a former sawmill and on the border of a Dept. of Conservation reserve, Neil creates curious and captivating sculptures, while Kathy makes fabulous homemade pickles, butter, mayonnaise and tomato chili sauce. The couple eagerly hands over gum boots for a kayak trip in adjacent wetlands; beach access is easy, too.

In 90 minutes, we take a trip back in time to the alpine village of Franz Josef, where the boutique B&B Franz Josef Country Retreat, on 200 acres of farmland, is the right choice for luxury overnight stays. Each of the 12 rooms, including two “honeymoon” suites, is named for a local pioneering family. We love the Wallace Room, which beckons romantics with sumptuous touches of red velvet.

fox glacier

A view of majestic Fox Glacier

Visiting Glaciers
On our fifth day, we set out on a half-day glacier walk hosted by Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Our guide, Greg Davenport, says that “Franz Josef is forecast to reduce in length by up to 40 percent in the next 50 years.” We trudge over river rock and straight up the terminal ice face, appreciative of the safe, spindly crampons on our boot-bottoms and hand-ropes that help us pull ourselves up man-made “stairs.” Note: A “medium” level of fitness is required for this walk, lest a “self-pay” airlift out of the glacial valley be required.

On day six, we take a 1.5-hour ice-climbing lesson at Hukawai Glacier Centre. After donning even sharper ice-piercing crampons, jacket and helmet, Neville, our Swiss instructor, beckons us into the climate-controlled chamber to 15 different routes straight up the 30-foot frozen wall. “Walk like John Wayne,” he says, as we first carefully, then assertively dig our picks into the ice.

After a blood-stirring climb, take in the calming, informative Glacier Experience next door, where all your questions about “glaciology” are answered.

Informative Discussions
A perfect choice for the afternoon is an easygoing wildlife eco-cruise aboard the enclosed Hanna K on lovely Lake Mapourika. Glacier Country Lake Tours provides comprehensive detail of area history, biology and geology that’s as clear as the sparkling waters of this 140,000-year-old, glacier-carved lake.

The following morning, we move on to the next glacier town, Fox, 30 minutes away: only two of 140 glaciers flowing from the Southern Alps make it to the lower rainforests. Fox feels more “open” than Franz Josef. Take a walk around lovely Lake Matheson, where, if breezes are at bay, you’ll marvel at the realistic reflections of Aoraki/Mount Cook—New Zealand’s highest—and towering Mount Tasman.

It’s a spectacular six-hour drive along rocky rivers and expansive lakes, and through dramatic mountain passes, but we choose to continue south from Fox to two other regions: Lake Wanaka and then to Queenstown, for our day seven arrival. Another option is to double back to Hokitika, Greymouth or Westport for return flights to Auckland and home to the U. S.

West Coast of the Southern Alps’ Region Brand Manager Tina Chiffers ([email protected]) advises cautioning clients about driving distances and times. We were told to add a few hours to enjoy the scenic stops—and to snap some once-in-a-lifetime pictures.  

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