Saturday, 17 March 2012

Gillespies Beach

Gillespies Beach

We are staying in Fox Glacier and we have already today done a lovely walk around Lake Matheson. It is typical mountain weather: a bright start, but now dull and cloudy. But we noticed that to the west i.e. towards the coast, it was bright and clear, so we decided to follow the gravel road to Gillespie's Beach and walk there. The lady at the motel had enthused about it, and remarkably someone we had met when we were in the North Island had also sung its praises.

Before we started the walk, we had a quick look at the beach. It is a wide grey expanse of round stones, covered with drift wood. We were expecting the drift wood, which is standard on west coast beaches in the South Island, but we were struck by how substantial the driftwood was: tree trunks rather than branches. It seems that it is washed out to sea when the rivers are in flood and then brought back in to land by the tide.

Initially you walk along a pleasant grassy track behind the beach. It was quite English in character - except of course for the palm trees on the hills in the distance. We saw several Common or Boulder Copper butterflies along here - the first we have seen.

After a while the track arrives at a rusty gold dredger dating from the 1930s. We chatted to some fellow walkers who explained that this form of gold mining was carried on here until the 1940s and continued to this day on both an industrial and hobby scale elsewhere in the South Island. We knew of the gold rush in the 1850s, but it came as a surprise to realise how long gold mining had persisted.

In fact, according to the DOC Glacier Country website, at the height of the gold rush Gillespies Beach was home to 700 miners, mostly living rough, although there were hotels and shops to serve their needs.

Now the path followed the back of the beach and the density of driftwood reached a new level of intensity. It seemed like some animal graveyard or the site of an ancient battle.

At the end of this section of beach we reached a lagoon - inevitably Gillespies lagoon. A remarkably pretty spot. The lagoon was effectively a river which didn't quite connect to the sea.

We went a little further along the coast and enjoyed fine views towards the north. I took another of my new trademark photos with a low camera angle and foreground rocks.

Out to sea, a large rock had a collection of Shags, regular black and pied, perched on it. One of the pied ones patrolled the waterline with a proprietorial air.

We returned to the lagoon and found the path leading to a miners' tunnel and reportedly onwards to a seal colony (although the lady at our motel had said that there were in fact currently no seals).

Shortly past this point ...

... the path was completely flooded. We could see a bridge over the lagoon, but we did not feel in the mood to wade through the mud to reach it, so we decided to retrace our steps. We later met some other people who had found their way along the beach to the seal colony - where in fact there were seals (they had photos to prove it).

Conditions: hot and sunny

Distance: three miles.

Rating: four and a half stars. A wonderful beach and an interesting walk. We learned later from the Glacier Country website that James Edwin Gillespie was the first to find “colour” (i.e. gold) in 1865 and gained naming rights to the stretch of coastline. We never discovered why he did not rate an apostrophe.

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