The day is foul – a wind howls across the point resisted by only the hardiest of scrubby bushes and toughened grasses. Surf pounds relentlessly into the west coast’s limestone cliffs and volcanic beaches. Brooding dark seas merge into the pewter grey clouds blurring any idea of a horizon, a lonely characterless lighthouse warning all things marine to steer a careful path around this treacherous area. The original 1876 lighthouse was a fine timber building, its gleaming beacon guiding vessels for 50 years before being replaced by the current concrete automated lighthouse. Functional but rather unattractive.
In March 1770 the weather was no different for Captain Cook as Endeavour, at the mercy of the persistent gale-force winds, was blown off-course prompting him to appropriately name the point Cape Foulwind – today only a few kilometres south of the uninspiring town of Westport.
Almost indistinguishable from rocks and driftwood debris thrown by the savage waves, New Zealand Fur Seals luxuriate and relax at nearby Cape Tauranga. Sea spray showers the rocky shoreline, seals basking in the brutal weather conditions. The pockmarked coastline is only distinguishable as a faint greyish line in the murky atmosphere.
In the scrubby foreshore vegetation, western wekas fuss about their bushy hideaways. These plucky birds confidently go about their day oblivious to hiking travellers. Dealt a bad hand, birds like the kiwi and weka evolved into ground dwellers and lost the ability to fly due to the complete absence of mammals and rodents as predators when the continental split happened many millions of years ago. Sadly in the last thousand years as mammals and rodents reached the shores of New Zealand, populations of these wonderful but defenceless feathered creatures were decimated.
On a map as a thin long ribbon of red, SH6 weaves and meanders the full length of the west coast of New Zealand from Nelson in the north to Invercargill in the south. It makes for one of the world’s more inspiring drives with numerous areas of natural beauty – glaciers, fjords, cliffs, panoramic vistas, caves and weird rock formations - only occasionally interrupted by townships.
The west coast of New Zealand gets a considerable share of rough weather and rainfall, conditions which have carved and crafted the evocative coastline. Whether in glistening sunshine or foulwind, the drive down the west coast is an exhilarating natural experience encapsulated by the twin points of Cape Foulwind and Cape Tauranga.