Tasman Sea: Cape Foulwind to Buller Gorge, Nelson Lakes

SPECTACULAR State HIghway 6 north winds through hills, over gorges, and alongside steep ravines. Along this route, we found special places at 1) Cape Foulwind; 2) Buller Gorge Swing Bridge; 3) Maruia Falls; 4) Nelson Lake National Parks.

1) Cape Foulwind

Westport is 90 minutes north of Greymouth. In between sits Punakaiki, (Pancake Rocks) Click link to view.

Outside Westport the headland was used as a sheltered anchorage. Abel Tasman named it Rocky Point in 1642, but in 1770 when Captain Cook’s ship was blown off-course, he referred to it as a “place of foul winds”. The ambiance at sunset was mystical.

Cape Foulwind Walkway

A seal colony, a lighthouse, and mountain views on this easy walk. At dusk we followed the Tauranga Bay coastal walk to Cape Foulwind Lighthouse which sits 70 meters (230 ft) above sea level, lit in 1876.

Directions: Westport south to Cape Foulwind Road to Cape Foulwind Lighthouse carpark (northern end), or to Seal Colony carpark (south end). Walkway: 2.9 km – one way.

2) NZ’s Longest Swing Bridge

A most astounding road is the narrow Upper Buller Gorge Road with its hairbending turns aside the sheer gorge walls. “Your fate is in your driver’s hands, and you spend much of your time fervently hoping their eyes are glued to the road.” AA Traveler

New Zealand’s longest swingbridge is located near Murchison, (1 hour east of Westport, 3 hours west of Nelson). Over the Buller River, the bouncy wire swingbridge (110 meter, 360 ft. span) is uspended 19m (63′) above the Buller River Gorge. Not gonna lie, off-balance and wobbly I clutched my phone, knowing with one stumble it would be gone.

There is also a zip-line across the gorge and several short bush walks.

3) Maruia Falls

A 16 minute detour south of Murchison takes you to accessible Maruia Falls, a very wide waterfall, caused by an earthquake fault in 1929. The rocky riverbed gives you terrific views. Distance: 5 minute walk.

4) Nelson Lakes National Park

Sixteen lakes make up Nelson Lakes National Park. The alpine lakes of Rotoroa (largest lake in the park) and Rotoiti form the heart of the 102,000 hectare national park. Surrounded by steep mountains and lined with native honeydew beech forests, and native birds.

“That Jetty Picture”

Walking and hiking are the primary reasons to visit Nelson Lakes National Park. Day walkers can follow a network of short tracks and serious hikers can strike out for single or multi-day tramps. 

Visit the Department of Conservation Visitor and Information Centre for track maps.

Eels seeking shade under the jetty.

The Forest – Beech trees and a Fern Grotto.

Bellbird and Honeydew Walks: A small insect buries within the tree bark to feed on the sugar-rich sapwood. The insect’s waste excretion, termed honeydew, forms droplets at the end of long anal tubes, or anal filaments (bug butts). They say it tastes quite sweet.

Trails: Brunner Peninsula Nature Walk, Rotoroa Walking Track

A Women’s Protest – 1955

An 80 year effort to build a railway to end Nelson’s isolation from the rest of South Island resulted in a railway to nowhere. in 1955 a women’s weeklong sit-in occurred on the line to stop the pulling up of the railway lines with nine arrested and convicted when they refused to move. The railway line was gradually dismantled.

Trip Planning

  • Westport – consider Lodging in Carters Beach, or inWestport motels.
  • Nelson Lakes – lodging in the village of St. Arnaud.
  • If you love the mountains, go south on SH 6 through the Southern Alps to Haast.

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9 thoughts on “Tasman Sea: Cape Foulwind to Buller Gorge, Nelson Lakes

  1. I actually got nausea looking at your swing rope picture. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative and incredible pictures!

  2. Incredible. So glad you are out enjoying NZ.

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