Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New Zealand Artist's Tour: Marlborough Sounds, Karamea, Okarito, Fox Glacier

Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds are a series of inlets and islands at the northeast end of South Island . The Marlborough Sounds are the main point of access to South Island if you are traveling by ferry from North Island and Picton is the main terminal .

There are a two roads leading off from the main highway between Nelson and Picton into the Marlborough Sounds One for Kenepuru Sound and one for French Pass.

There are a number of places you can camp in the sounds but there are no amenities except at French pass where there is a toilet and a cold shower .

If you plan to explore the Sounds extensively you would be well advised to stock up well with food as there is very little opportunity to buy any except at French Pass. The easiest way to explore the Marlborough Sounds is to travel by water,either by yacht or canoe. The hardest way is to walk around the coast line . The later is very rewarding and there are magnificent views to be seen from the top of the ridges above the Sounds.


Karamea is almost at the end of the road leading north from Westport along the westcoast .The journey is some 100 kilometres with flat straight road until you reach Mohakinui then the road rises steeply and meander's over a number of hills . The road is very quiet so there is very little danger from traffic if you decide to walk to Karamea.


Okarito is about ten kilometres of the main highway . The junction for Okarito at the Forks is between Franz Josef and Lake Wahapo and easy to miss . The journey is worth the effort even if you are walking and you could easily spend a few days here to appreciate the area .

The town of Okarito is small and spread out along a single road which backs onto the beach and the campsite . The camp site has basic amenities which consists of a toilet and a cold shower . The payment for the camp site is via an honesty box .There are commanding views of the Southern alps from the camp site which is directly on the beach .The camp site sits directly on the beach which is littered with drift wood so there is no shortage fire wood .

For more majestic views of the Southern Alps there is the Trig Point above Okarito which gives a panoramic view of the mountains with a plaque pointing out the various mountains . The track upto the observation deck passes through bush which has benches on the way up for those that feel they need a rest . Even though the climb is not too strenuous it is worth taking your time to appreciate the scenery and flora .

Okarito is home of Keri Hulme the author of the Bone People , a Booker award winning book ( 1985 ) which is based on life in and around Okarito . Donavons store is the name above the door but it is not open any more and there is no means to buy food except to travel into Franz Josef if you are walking this can be a bind as Franz is some fifteen kilometres away. The artist has a wealth of material here and be prepared to do a number of sketchs or even painting's .

Karamea itself is a very quiet town with a general store , grocers and a pub. There are a few houses and considering how small Karamea is it also has a Plunket room, (For those not aware ,a Plunket room is somewhere for mothers to have some privacy with their children).

The main attractions for Karamea is the fishing, both beach and trout fishing, bush walks where there is the opportunity to see a variety of New Zealand birds such as the Black Robin and Fantails . There is a bush walk that leads to some caves as well as a challenging walk up the Karamea Gorge to stormy ridge.

As well as the walks in the Karamea bush there is the Honey Comb caves just 5 kilometres up the road from Karamea where you can take a boat into the caves.

Karamea is an ideal place to either start or end the Heaphy track which leads over to the north coast of south island at Collingwood. The accommodation in Karamea is a bit limited but sufficient. There is the Karamea camp site just before you come into the town proper before the bridge. In Karamea itself there is the Domain which has some showers in the block house.

For the artist there is the Gorge which is challenge to paint, capturing the drama of the white water washing over the bolders whilst the sandflies chew at you , dont expect any mercy. There is also the coast line plus a number of old west coast buildings, some which have seen better days.


Fox and Fox Glaciers are about half way along the west coast of South Island. Fox is a small town with a hotel, a store, post office, a camp site and last but not least a tourist information office. From Fox you can catch a helicopter ride up to the Glacier and around the mountains .

There is considerable amount to see and do in and around the area . There is Lake Matheson just a few kilometres down the road which is a must if you are in the area and have time . If you intend staying in the area for any length of time it is worth getting up early to catch the lake as the sun rises .

There is a viewing point above the glacier where you get a majestic view of the valley and the glacier which is a good starting point to appreciate the geography .

After this you can then walk upto the face of the glacier . Also you can take a organised walk on the glacier with a guide. There is a choice of accommodation at Fox. The hotel which is very good and welcoming,the Camp site which is of a high standard with full facilities for cooking and washing.

There are power points for camper vans to connect to, there are also some basic but comfortable cabins and there is the area for the tents which has a magnificent view of the glacier and South Alps as illustrated on the right. For the artist there is a wealth of material to keep you busy either for sketching or producing the finished article .

From Fox you can take a bus south to the start of the Copland track that leads over into the Mount Cook National park . Fox is the ideal resting place prior to starting the track or after having finished where you can chill out and have a well deserved hot shower .

Franz Josef Glaciers

Franz Josef is a small community on the west coast that takes its name from the Glacier which is several kilometers off the main highway. Franz as it is so commonly referred to has a small promenade of shops, cafes and vendors for flights around the southern alps in either Helicopters and planes .

There is an information centre that has regular lectures on the local geology and glaciers and is very recommended. There is a camp site which has very comfortable rooms which are ideal after a long day walking to and from the glacier .

Franz Josef is an ideal base to visit other places such as Okarito ,Fox and Lake Matheson .In the Franz area there are a number of short walks that you can take which lead across gorges and up mountains. There is a long swing bridge that is a challenge for those who do not have a head for heights.

As well as doing the walks you can take a flight over Mount Cook and into the Glacier valleys. The area itself is very picturesque and there are lots of opportunities for the artist to get numerous sketches and paintings done. The weather in the area can be a bit unpredictable and the cloud can come down shrouding the mountain tops

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