Exploring Past And Present In Hector And Kohaihai

Nine days ago we arrived on the West Coast (Te Tai o Poutini) of the South Island (Te Waipounamu). Having never ventured here previously, we’re taking as much time as possible to explore its delights. Before our planned Stewart Island stay at the end of this month. There’s many similarities between the North and South islands, as well as a number of differences. I’m sure as we venture around, we’ll be sharing many of those.

First Stop Hector

Travelling through Westport (where Barry was excited to get close to a weka for the first time in years), we continued to Hector and ‘moored up’ early evening. Freedom camping opportunities are extremely generous here; unlike the Nelson area where it’s been banned sadly. We’re thankful many NZ towns have been designated ‘Motorhome Friendly‘. Others have chosen to snub fellow travelling kiwis, and overseas visitors in their small campervans ‘stuck’ here since COVID hit last March.

Ah well, I’m sure each area has its reasons for welcoming or shunning. Hector was a quaint place. We liked it. One of many old settler coal mining towns in the region. This one still has a functioning coal mine.

The West Coast can be a wild place to live. Three years ago, the residents of Hector were evacuated in anticipation of severe weather:

Residents were evacuated from their homes in the West Coast villages of Hector and Granity amid fears a raging sea whipped up by ex-cyclone Gita could flood their homes.


Notices are found in many prominent places, warning of the danger of swimming in the sea near to the many river mouths. The tides can change swiftly, and ‘rogue waves’ appear unexpectedly. It’s very different to the east coast of the North Island that’s for sure!

One of the splendid sights we’ve noticed is the sunsets. We’re used to spectacular sunrises, but to watch the sunset over the Tasman Sea is very special. Barry has some super ones in his slideshow at the end.

The Start Of Many Walks

As far as possible (to The Bins) we had a short walk on the Charming Creek Walkway. We’d I’d tentatively planned to go as far as the waterfall, but several ‘slips’ in January rendered the rest of the track impossible to traverse from the Hector end for the foreseeable future. I took the chance to practice carrying my backpack half-full and walking in my new boots. Barry chose his ‘Samoan Safety Boots’. Who knows what they are?

Around 2008, my daughter bought me a book for my birthday, called ‘New Boots in New Zealand’. I loved it! I’ve since lent it to someone but can’t recall who damnit! Since the book was written another Great Walk‘s been introduced bringing the number up to ten—more about that in a future post.

NEW BOOTS IN NEW ZEALAND is a day-by-day account of all nine Great Walks, from the majesty of the famous Milford Track to the unexpected variety of the Heaphy and the beguiling mystery of the Whanganui River Journey. Full of humour and joie de vivre, it is a hugely enjoyable armchair read as well as an essential source of information for anyone intending to walk in New Zealand.”


Coal Mining and Crafts

Following our walk, we saw a line of coal ‘buckets’ full of coal and decided to head up the road to Stockton. The road was cut out of the rocky hill and called ‘The Grand Canyon’. Hilarious!

Barry enjoyed visiting the nearby Northern Buller Museum Granity, run by energetic volunteers, to investigate local history. Meanwhile, I strolled sedately around the town and found a gorgeous Craft Shop. We now have a campervan ‘witch’ made from orange and purple fluff. She’s light as a feather and lovely to boot. I also wanted to look closer at a beautiful house for sale with a replica mailbox. So quaint. Even if we had the money to buy a home, we wouldn’t consider living somewhere remote. Gorgeous as it is. Gisborne is as much off the beaten track as we’re comfortable with!

Southern Man

We treated ourselves to lunch at the Ngakawau Tavern, across the road from the Hector camp spot. We had fish (we realised he’d said ‘Rig’ sometime after asking three times what the fish was!), scallops, squid, and chips. It was delicious. But we could’ve done without the short sharp response from we imagine the landlord when we walked into the pub and asked if they were doing food. “Yes. In the place marked food.” Came a very curt reply. Look at the photo below. It seems the sign ‘FOOD’ means you need to enter via that door, not in the bar. Who knew??

I’d heard that ‘Southern Man’ can be rather abrupt (hence there’s a significant proportion of male singletons, or is that my imagination?). You’re not kidding! He must’ve been the epitome of one.

During his museum visit, Barry discovered more information about a nearby historic inclined plane and drove us to Millerton where we parked up and found it on a short walk through stunning native bush.

In 1963 coal carriages on the ascent were left empty. We found them full of water. On the descent side, coal continued to fill them along with growing vegetation. Fascinating.

Karamea to Kohaihai

We decided to drive as far as we could to the top of the west coast, while we can. The weather was windy, the terrain high, all involving breathtaking views. Friends had recommended we visit the outstanding Operara Basin and Arches. However, we discovered the road leading to it is unsealed, narrow and steep. It’s not suitable for camper vans/motorhomes, and certainly not for me despite Barry trying to persuade me otherwise!

This is a remarkable area one of immense national and international significance …

Please note The Oparara Experience guides can also pick up from Karamea which is a good option for those travelling in a campervan as there is a height restriction on the gravel road to the basin.”


We’ll have to make do with looking at photos from the web. We could’ve hired a car to go or signed up to a guided tour, but time and finances dictated otherwise. We spent a night at Karamea Domain Campground, paying $11 a night each, as we didn’t realise the nearby pub would’ve let us stay for free. Arriving late, we still had to leave by 10 am so it really wasn’t worth the cost. However, I have no doubt it would’ve cost us at least that much had Barry ventured into said pub … Plus, at the campground we got to do some washing which is always a bonus.

The road to Kohaihai is mostly unsealed, about twenty minutes drive from Karamea. Here the DoC campground charges just $8 each per night, with flushing toilets. We did a one-hour return walk to the ‘Scott’s Beach’ campsite on the Heaphy Track, which has its start (or end) here. It must be one of the most beautiful, untouched, remote, wild places in New Zealand.

The only downside we felt was the voracious, insatiable, sandflies! We both got a battering, leaving with itchy pimples all over our feet and ankles. Thankfully I’d bought insect repellant, which reduced the bites once we realised.

There were lots of cheeky wekas here. Barry loved making friends with them, letting them peck his fingers and toes. Similar to his antics with the ducks and swans on the UK canals. They have no teeth, so really can’t ‘bite’ you.

Through Barry’s Lens

As always nowadays, Barry’s spent hours editing and choosing his best images of this adventure. Click on the first one and the slide show will commence …

7 thoughts on “Exploring Past And Present In Hector And Kohaihai

  1. Pingback: Kohaihai To Westport And Cape Foulwind ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  2. Lovely photos, and beautiful blue skies. There is/was an incline from Denniston down to Waimangaroa. For many, unless they owned a car or vehicle, it was the only way down to the coast from Denniston and Burnett’s Face.

    • Kia Ora Catherine. It’s so beautiful here, and so interesting.
      Sadly we didn’t make it to Denniston. I’m sure the Inclined Plane is still there. 😉

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