After our glacier walk we hit the road heading south for about an hour. We found a small trailhead carpark and spent the night there. Over the hour or so that we ate dinner, we counted about 5 cars drive past on State Highway 6, the main road on the West Coast.
After breakfast we drove a bit down the road to a nice walk through beautiful dense 'bush' that ended at the beach. The beach had lots of sandflies and we had forgotten the camera, so we stayed there for about a minute. On the way back we saw a group of old farts in brand-new looking technical clothing. We figured they were staying at the nearby Wilderness Lodge where some rooms cost $800 a night (about $560US)! A few of them had very nice looking cameras and were using them to take photos of things like ferns and moss-covered rocks.
We drove on and stopped at the picturesque Knight's Point viewpoint. The sandflies were awful there too, so we took a photo, used the john, and moved on. We stopped for a few groceries in the town of Haast, the largest settlement for about 2.5 hours in all directions and home to 40 people. We then drove on a very quiet road to Jackson Bay, the southernmost town on the West Coast. In 1875 locals went to great lengths to bring in over 400 settlers - by 1878 nearly all of them had fled! We took a minute to admire the feeling of the tiny outpost, and took a nice walk through more dense bush to quiet Ocean Beach. On the way back we were able to resist the urge for fish and chips from a truck, the only tourist business in town.
We then stopped at Neil's Beach and walked a few minutes north up the length of the beach to the mouth of the Arawhata River. For the duration of our time there we were treated to the sight of about a dozen Hector's dolphins playing in the surf. We were the only ones there - it was incredible! Hector's dolphins are only about 1.5 meters long and have unique curved dorsal fins so it was really special to have these rare creatures put on a private show for us.
From there we drove over Haast Past, leaving the West Coast region and entering Otago. The scenery was amazing, with waterfalls, deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, and huge blue lakes. We spent last night in a holiday park in the pleasant resort town of Wanaka, which is surrouded by peaks and on the shores of a large lake. It's home to 3500 people and it really felt urban to us. We hadn't paid for a place to sleep since January 20th. The plus side of this was that we got to take hot, untimed showers for the first time in well over a week. We ate out last night, too. It felt like a real special night! Today was another sunny day and we went for a stroll up Mt. Iron where we were rewarded with great views.
A few more days of hanging out and on Wednesday we begin the challenging 3-day Routeburn Track.