“Oh, just wait until you get to the West Coast of the South Island.”
“Why, what’s there?”
“You’ll see. It’s stunning.”
I had been hearing about the West Coast of the South Island for weeks. The stretch of shoreline between Westport and Greymouth was argued to be one of the most gorgeous drives in all of New Zealand.
I first arrived there with Birgit after we had trekked the Abel Tasman. Black sand beaches, dinosaur egg-looking boulders, sunbathing seals, unbelievable rock formations, and spectacular sunsets are just some of the highlights we had the chance to witness.
But the beauty of this place was deceiving. A flesh-eating evil was lurking right outside our car windows, ready to lunge at us from all directions for a taste of our warm, sweet blood.
The West Coast is home to the famous “pancake rocks and blowholes.” These are unusual rock formations that look like layers of thin sheets of rock piled high like stacks of paper on a CEOs desk. Ocean swells crash in between them sometimes in the perfect way to create huge spewing water displays similar to the air vent on a whale’s back. Many people drive down Route 6 on the West Coast of the South Island anticipating to stop at them—but we had other plans.
Well, more accurately, we saw a sign for “fur seal colony” and automatically found ourselves deviating some 15km off the main road. Our new path led us, instead, to Cape Foulwind.
Originally named the “Rocky Cape,” Cape Foulwind is known for its characteristic island of rock protrusions and its breeding colony of fur seals.
We didn’t know exactly where to find the seals when we arrived, so we just parked about halfway up the road at the beach, kicked off our flip-flops (or “jandles,” as the Kiwis say) and ran out onto the blackened sand.
I noticed surfers struggling to catch the huge waves racing into shore ahead of the rocky mound in the distance. I asked one of them, “How is it out there?” “Terrible,” was his response.
We walked to where we thought the seals might be laying on rocks piled up on the far side of the beach. Rings of water circled huge boulders normally submerged by the tide. Some of the smaller boulders were brightly colored with clusters of black barnacles making them appear spotted like dinosaur eggs.
The dinosaur eggs and other large boulders did not have any seals laying on them. But we did find a tiny human floating around in a pool of water leftover from high tide. She was a Kiwi who lived with her family. They had one of the few homes we saw on the West Coast. It was built on a hill overlooking Cape Foulwind. “Wow, this is a beautiful place to live and so fun to go swimming here!” The young girl agreed.
She swam around happily in her natural pool, amusing us with questions about our accents. Then her older sister walked over and informed us that the seals could be found up on the walkway on the other side of the beach.
We eventually made our way over to the walkway and located just a few seals hanging out in the hot sun. They blend in really well with the gray and brown rocks we inspected from the walkway above. If you look hard enough at these photos you’ll spot them like we did!
After we had dinner at a picnic table at Cape Foulwind, we got back onto Route 6 and drove right past the pancake rocks in the direction of our campsite for the night.
We were climbing a hill, with native bush on both sides of the car blocking the view of the coastline when suddenly the scenery altered. Around a bend, the view to our right opened up to an unbelievable sight.
Bright white sun rays stretched out from the edge of the world and glistened on wave after wave rolling into the shoreline. Rocks shot up out of the shallows just off the coast creating a dramatic scene. We could see the road stretching down alongside the beach then curving upwards again and around a huge cliff up ahead.
Play this on repeat with a new scene of different rock formations around every bend for the next 20km. We could not help but stop for photos of each moment all along the way.
On the drive inland from Greymouth to our campsite, the sun turned golden behind us and made for a stunning sunset view of the native countryside of the West Coast.
At Nelson Creek camp, we had just enough sunlight left to get our tent set up. Then we warmed ourselves by a fire and chatted with the locals who were also camping there. A German woman named Verena joined us. She was traveling alone camping out of a car she had bought. We all decided to stay at the camp together for a second night so we could experience the full sunset without worrying about setting up camp before dark.
Leaving our tents set up the next day, we left the camp for the West Coast an hour before sundown.
We found a spectacular sandy beach strewn with small pebbles, big boulders to jump on, and enormous rocks creating what looked like a city skyline of craggy pillars on the ocean.
Here is a photographic progression of the stunning sunset at this location:
So far, I have neglected to mention one literally teeny tiny detail of our West Coast experience.
As we were driving along the coast, admiring the untouched native forests and beaches free of man-made structures obstructing the views, we wondered why this part of New Zealand was so unoccupied. With views like this, we imagined this area would be prime real estate. How could no one have thought to invest in this part of the country?
Our questions were quickly answered as soon as we stepped outside the vehicle.
“Ouch! Something just bit me!”
“YOW! Me too!”
Looking down at my skin, I saw a tiny dot of blood surge into a hole in the skin on top of my foot. That’s when I saw them all. Nearly hundreds of itsy bitsy teeny weeny flies were swarming around my ankles, landing aggressively every time I stopped shaking my feet around.
“Ahh nooo! Sandflies!!!!”
I knew what these were. Birgit and I had experienced them before at a previous campsite several nights before. These tiny black insects chomp small holes into your skin creating a drop of blood they like to slurp up.
The result is a tiny red bump that itches like mad usually in the middle of the night. The itch is worse than any mosquito bite I’ve ever had. My ankle swelled and ached with itch from several bites I received in just a few short seconds.
Sandflies officially beat out mosquitoes on my worst enemy list.
The most awful part is the bites come in multiples because these little mongrels attack in large groups like a pack of wolves. At certain times of year, people have reported black clouds of them over the ocean heading for the coast. Yikes!
It’s best to wear long pants, tall socks, and shoes completely covering your feet to avoid them attacking your lower body where they like to congregate. I’ve also heard people effectively evading them by dousing their bodies in coconut oil. The oil makes it difficult for them to land and doesn’t come off when swimming.
Thankfully, once we covered up, the sandflies (mostly) left us alone to enjoy the West Coast in all its glory.