The main highway snuggles in close to the Southern Alps for most of the 135km to the glacier at Franz Josef. The journey through dairy farms and stands of selectively logged native bush is broken by a series of small settlements – Ross, Pukekura and Harihari. The most popular attractions along the way are Whataroa, to visit the White Heron colony, and Okarito, where the relaxed charms of the lagoon and kiwi-spotting trips may give you pause.
Immediately south of Hokitika, it’s 5km along SH6 to a relatively hidden landing where gentle paddleboat cruises take you along the Mahinapua Creek to the lake. A couple of kilometres on, the Mahinapua Walkway (16km return; 4hr; mainly flat) offers easy walking with picnic opportunities at a lakeside beach. A further 2km south along SH6 the Mananui Bush Walkway (30min return) leads through coastal forest remnants to dunes and there’s a particularly nice basic camping spot at Lake Mahinapua, accessed off SH6 1km south.Read More
In 1642, Abel Tasman became the first European to set eyes on Aotearoa at Okarito, 15km south of Whataroa and 10km off SH6, now a secluded hamlet dotted round the southern side of its eponymous lagoon. The discovery of gold in the mid-1800s sparked an eighteen-month boom that saw fifty stores and hotels spring up along the lagoon’s shores. Timber milling and flax production stood in once the gold had gone, but the community foundered, leaving a handful of holiday homes, a few dozen permanent residents and a lovely beach and lagoon, used as the setting for much of Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Bone People.
Nature-based kayaking trips and cruises departing from Okarito offer the chance for close encounters with the area’s seventy species of birdlife including the kotuku (white heron) and royal spoonbill, while bushwalking tours have an excellent success rate for spotting kiwi.