wenty-three kilometres further north, the Franz Joseph Glacier
can no longer be seen from State Highway 6, but on a dull day there is no mistaking its
presence as a pale light emanates from the deep valley through which it moves. To see it,
visitors must follow the valley road, whereupon the glacier comes into sight with dramatic
suddenness - a river of white and blue ice flowing down from the snowfields high above,
between the Baird and Fritz Ranges.
The glacier feeds the swift and turbulent Waiho smoking
water River - the Maori name comes from the vapour rising from its ice-cold surface.
It carries pieces of ice with it on its headlong rush towards the sea. From the access
road, a short walk will take you to Peter's Pool, a tarn left behind as the glacier
North of Franz Josef a drive of perhaps 20 minutes down a no-exit road
off State Highway 6 takes you to Okarito, justifiably famed for the breeding colony of
kotuku, or white heron, on the Waitangiroto River lagoon north of the Okarito lagoon.
Although indications are that they were once more widespread, when the Pakeha arrived they
had already been reduced to one small colony breeding on the Waitangiroto and a demand for
kotuku feathers for the millinery trade reduced them still further, from 25 pairs in 1871
to about four in 1940.
Since then, with rigorous protection, the recovery has been slow but
steady and today there are between 100 and 120 birds at Waitangiroto, about half of
breeding age. Little shags and royal spoonbills also nest here and trips to see all of
these birds can be arranged in Whataroa on State Highway 6.
The kotuku arrive here in September, which coincides with the whitebait
run in the nearby river, and disperse throughout the country after breeding is completed,
which is usually sometime in January. i Thomas Potts was one of the first Pakeha to visit
the heronry and although never noted for the restraint of his writing he is even more
effusive about the kotuku:
One gazes with delight on the flight of the kotuku on the purity of
its plumage, relieved by the spear-like bill and black feet, whilst the movement of its
arched wings lends an impression of aerial softness, like the waving of a delicate
feathery fan, such as some gentle spirit might employ to win to the forget forgetfulness
of slumber the restless soul of some warrior chief
Near the white heron nesting site, and framed by flax and forest, Lake
Rotokino is yet another beautiful lake in this part of the country. The adjoining Rotokmo
Swamp, which was once rich in birdlifeand contained a sizeable population of giant kokopu,
is now mostly drained. Kokopu are the largest of our galaxid fishes and probably the most
beautiful, with a pattern of golden stars on a velvety brown background. However, they are
also now much reduced in numbers through habitat loss. Their young are a small component
of the annual whitebait run which is made up of the fry of a number of different fish.
Abut Head at the mouth of the Whataroa River is considered to be one of
the most spectacular coastal landforms along the entire West Coast. It has long been
rendered relatively inaccessible to development by rivers, lagoons and the sea, and this
has also meant that it is still close to its original state with some of the best birdlife
on the coast being found here.
Further up State Highway 6, about 15 kilometres north of Harihari is
yet another of Westlands beautiful U". Byrons poem 'Childe Harolds
Pilgrimage' was dedicated to Ianthe and the explorer who found tins lake decided it would
make a charming name for a charming lake. Ianthe covers an area of some 900 hectares and
is surrounded by kahikatea and matai forest. One matai close to the road is reputed to be
the largest in New Zealand. It is an enormous tree estimated to be over 1000 years old.
Ianthe supports good numbers of brown and rainbow trout and the birdlife too is prolific.
More great crested grebes are found here than on any other Westland lake, and black teal
and grey duck are also in good numbers.
From Lake Ianthe the road north to Hokitika and Greymouth shows the
actions of humans at their worst against what was once some of nature at its best. Here
and there, farms have been cleared with much effort from the forest and the swamp. First
by the pioneer with his firestick, spade and axe, and more recently by his successors with
chainsaw and bulldozer. Much work was needed to subjugate the forest and constant
vigilance is needed now to keep it at bay. The forest crowds in from all sides, scattering
its seed across the stolen acres and bracken and scrub spring up wherever the land is left