My impression is that, after leaving the Franz/Fox area, most people heading north do so in one go, driving up to Picton, catching a ferry on the same day and staying somewhere in the North Island. The campsites, lakeside stops, towns and villages around Tasman suggest far fewer people stop over in this area and it’s a bit of a shame. The scenery isn’t quite as stunning as the snow-peaked mountains of Westland but it’s a beautiful area.
We left Franz Josef early morning and drove north, stopping in Hokitika for some food. Hokitika is a seaside village around an hours drive from Franz. Being Boxing Day, a lot of the town centre shops and cafes were closed but I imagine on a normal day this is a lovely place to stop off or spend a couple of nights.
Continuing further north, we didn’t stop again until Murchison. This took us through Greymouth, up the coastal route with some awesome scenery on the way. We passed through an odd-looking village which had a “visitors not welcome” feel, stopped to watch some big waves crashing into the shore, followed the river for a while with hills either side, eventually arriving in Murchison a few hours later.
The two nights and one full day in and around Murchison left the impression of somewhere worth returning to for more than a stopover. The area from the town to Saint Arnaud, including lakes Roititi and Rotoroa, have so many excellent looking walking trails which traverse the sides of mountains and along ridges, that it would need a few days to tackle some of these. We, unfortunately, didn’t have the time in our short stay here.
We did take on some shorter walking routes, generally sticking by the lakes or short climbs up some of the smaller hills. The views are still awesome, including a great view over Lake Rotoiti from reasonably high up. But I can imagine the effort expended to climb to some of the summits will be rewarded with tremendous views over this part of the Southern Alps.
Murchison itself is a nice little town. It had everything needed, plenty of choice for food and accommodation and a pretty laid-back atmosphere. Add in some perfect weather and it really felt like a shame to have such a short stopover here.
The accommodation, along a gravel track a bit out of town, was an off-grid, self-sustainable home in the middle of nowhere, complete with a friendly dog and some sheep. It caught the sun all day and had a natural alarm clock when the birds started to go nuts around sunrise. And it continued the trend of having had some interesting places to stay along the road in New Zealand so far.
In hindsight, Murchison and the surrounding area shouldn’t have been a quick stopover – it should have been another place to settle for a few days. But then there’s only so much time available and it’s not possible (or sensible) to squeeze too much into a single trip. It’s definitely an area to return to.