Episode five: Kahurangi, Paparoa, Westland
In this episode, Gus travels to the national parks on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, a rugged remote landscape wedged between the Tasman Sea to its west and the great Southern Alps to the east, thrust upward by the collision of tectonic plates, and gouged by rain and ice over 23 million years.
The West Coast is a wild terrain that continues to be shaped by the eroding forces of water. Here Gus finds Westland, Kahurangi and Paparoa National Parks, three conservation parks protecting this primeval landscape.
The jewels in the crown of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park are its longest glaciers: Franz Josef and Fox, where Gus heads first. Fox Glacier trudges down from the Alps for 13 kilometres, a colossal mass of ice that grinds and gouges down the steep mountain slope, scouring out a massive icy ravine.
Gus meets one of the tour guides who take more than ten thousands visitors to Fox each year, eager to see one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world.
He learns about Aotea, , a sacred stone to Māori, found in only one river of the wild west coast.The spectacular Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, are a dynamic feature of Paparoa National Park formed by waves, wind and rain that pound exposed limestone, continuing to etch out these pancake-like formations.
Some of the best features of Paparoa are underground, where the earth is riddled with infinite holes, shafts, passages and giant caverns – all the result of constant rainfall working its way through the rock over millions of years.
Above the limestone caves, Paparoa National Park’s coast is lashed by wind, rain and swell; it's an environment where only the tough survive. Gus visits one of the hardy creatures that make this place home; the Westland Petrel. This is the only place on earth where these remarkable seafaring birds touch land.
Another one off for this coastal area is Okarito, the largest unmodified wetland remaining in New Zealand and the only place where the country’s tallest tree species, Kahikatea, grow. Okarito is also the only breeding ground for the Kotuku, or Eastern Great Egret.
In Kahurangi National Park, Gus finds the second largest conservation park in New Zealand, and the longest of the country’s 9 Great Walks, the Heaphy – 78 kilometres of tracks that take between four and six days to walk. The Park is also home to caves that contain the country’s largest collection of sub-fossil bones and is known as the holy grail of Moa remains.
At face value the three National Parks on the wild West Coast are landscapes of spectacular and varied beauty, but the true magic of these places is that hidden within their boundaries are infinite treasures yet to be discovered.