Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park is located on the northern part of the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand, about halfway between the towns of Westport and Greymouth.  The small community of Punakaiki has a few services for visitors, but the whole area is very rugged and scenic.   The prevailing winds come from the Tasman Sea to the west and the area can be quite wet, but we arrived in good weather and enjoyed exploring the beaches, trails, headlands, caves, and park faciliities.

On the east side above the coastline is the granite Paparoa Range, but underlying the hills is limestone, the reason for the carved river canyons, cave systems, high coastal cliffs, and the “pancake rocks” on Dolomite Point.

IMG_7316brTrails go up the river valleys into the hills and we were able to do a loop route through the forest.

IMG_7341rThe broadleaf forest features nikau palms, podocarps, rata trees, and beech trees.   Lush vegetation including ferns and vines fill in the understory.

IMG_7359rWe followed the Pororari River upstream for 3.5 km, then climbed over a ridge into the Punakaiki River Valley on a loop of 11 km.   A swing bridge connected the trail to the access road.

IMG_7363rOn the way back, we passed Dolomite Point and stopped for another look at the  limestone “pancake stacks.”

IMG_7315rAlong our loop, on the inland side are limestone cliffs and the Punakaiki Cavern.   The underground passages go deeper into the hills and there were a few stalactites, karst formations, and some glow worms deeper in the longer chambers.  I was able to work my way back for a few hundred meters before having to crawl through ever-narrower tunnels, then turned back while I still could, covered in cave mud from scrambling through tight spots on my own, thankful for my headlamp.

On the road north of Punakaiki, we also hiked the Truman Track, a short trail through mature podocarp forest down to seacliffs and a secluded beach.

IMG_7322rWe would have liked to have stayed in the area longer, but poor weather was coming in the next day, so we chose to find drier spots in Otago,  a few hours of driving along Highway 6 to the southeast.



Murtle’s Rivers

Murtle Lake sits in a basin deep within Wells Gray Park.   It is North American’s largest non-motorized lake and a destination for many paddlers.   We launch out of the lagoon and spend a few days of paddling, camping,  and enjoying the remote rugged scenery.   The lake was created when a lava flow from the northwest dammed the Murtle River and over thousands of years the lake has expanded east and north to what it is today.

The major source of the lake is the Murtle River which flows 18 km from the north, draining glaciers, snowfields, and watersheds of the Cariboo Ranges on the northeastern edge of Wells Gray Park.

Murtle NorthThere is a campsite at the narrow beach at the north end of the lake, but the area floods during spring melt and stays marshy all summer.   The silts carried down by the river have created a sandy beach, but the northern end of the North Arm is a remote and unwelcoming place (especially in bug season).

A few additional streams (including Strait Creek) also empty into the lake from valleys to the east and west.  At the southeast corner of the lake Snookwa Creek drains the Stevens Lakes and Shuswap Highlands to the south.

Murtle SouthAlong the northwest shores are two more larger creeks that drain into Murtle Lake.  Anderson Creek flows south carrying the meltwaters of the the Mobely Range and Anderson Lake.   File Creek arises in the Cariboo Ranges, collects into McDougall Lake and then flows south where it is met by the creek that drains Kostal Lake.   There are campsites right at the stream outlet.

Murtle WestThe outlet from Murtle Lake is at the western end where it flows down into Diamond Lagoon, then over McDougall Falls on its 36 km route over several falls, last of which is Helmcken Falls, then it meets the Clearwater River.

The Clearwater River flows south to meet the North Thompson at Clearwater, then south to Kamloops where it meets the South Thompson and becomes the Thompson River.   At Lytton, the Thompson meets the Fraser River.   In theory, if we put a message in a bottle on Murtle Lake, it would arrive at the estuary in Steveston and beyond to the Salish Sea in just a few months.   :)

Murtle 3cr Esvy Range


Punakaiki lies on the rugged (and somewhat remote) west coast of the South Island of New Zealand.   The beach and small community are surrounded by Paparoa National Park.    We spent a couple of days in good weather at the beach, but also explored the trails, headlands, hills, and beaches of the area.

We also hiked the trails of Paparoa National Park, a follow-up article to come.



Winter Beach Walks

When the winter snows start to melt, ice follows, then mud, but we can choose to find some winter beach walks while conditions continue to change.   The open beaches facing south clear off first and the porous sand takes away the melting water leaving us with a sandy surface to hike and walk on.   There are a number of beach walks in the Kamloops area, but the best is probably the long one that parallels the river trail heading out to Tranquille.

Park at the end of Aviation Way, then take left turns to stay close to the beach.   This is an area where eagles can be seen all year.

IMG_7851rAlong the trail there are yellow-twig willows and red-ossier dogwoods providing some winter colour.

IMG_7854rA trail through the woods leads to an old vehicle dump next to a flood channel, where dozens of old cars rust in the shrub growth.

IMG_7859rThere is a 1 km long beach at the west end of this route where the shoreline stretches toward Cooney Bay and Kamloops Lake.

IMG_7861rFollowing a route through the dogwood, we stop for a tea break at a last beach before the estuary.

IMG_7867rThe river is at its lowest at this time and the ripples in the sand above and below water show the inexorable flow of the river toward the ocean.

IMG_7869rPools and channels form at the edge of the estuary.   Even on the first day of February, aquatic insects were hatching in the still pools.IMG_7874brThe route back follows the bare sand flanked by red-ossier dogwood and cottonwoods with Mts. Paul and Peter in the background.

IMG_7881rThe north-facing snowy bluffs across the river flank the view to the south.

IMG_7884rThe last leg of the return route joins the Rivers Trail with the eagles keeping close watch in the trees above.

IMG_7856rWinter beach walks are a good alternative while the hills dry out.   Mission Flats Park will be next.   Wait for a sunny day and go out to explore the sandy “trails” next to our rivers.