Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Sea Stacks & a Caveman

Not too far north of Greymouth there’s a very special place that not too many people have visited or in fact know about- the Motukiekie Rock Stacks. The stacks can be seen from a couple of vantage points along the main highway which follows the coastline, but it’s just about impossible to work out a way to get down to them through the steep bush covered bluffs that rise from the beach below - unless you know where to look that is. And nope, I’m not telling.

Motukiekie Rock Stack photos appear in numerous West Coast tourist brochures and websites promoting the coast but their location is always omitted. DOC also make no mention of them in their brochures. There’s a good reason for this, it’s actually quite a dangerous place, not only are the limestone rocks unstable but the beach can only be visited about an hour either side of low tide. There is no escape if you get caught by the tide and especially if it’s the usual rough west coast sea.

I have long had Motukiekie on my list of places to visit, I’d heard about them from a photographer friend a few years ago. We’d passed the stacks on our way south(in the rain) to Lake Kaniere a few weeks ago so I knew that when we made it back to Greymouth the stacks would be on my must do list before we left the area. There was just one day out of our four where the tide suited a visit and luckily the day was sunny and calm.

I also had no idea where the access track was but struck it lucky when I spied a small sign that quite possibly only a New Zealander would know what it was for. We were in for a ‘treat’ as we made our way down a rocky, overgrown, steep & slippery track. After maneuvering along a rocky ledge we had to hold onto an slippery moss covered, old knotted rope and clamber down a steel ladder to get to the next level. Obviously DOC don't oversee this track! David was a bit worried it would break.

Eventually the track opened out onto a large rock ledge where another knotted rope (and no ladder) gave us access to a rock platform just above a stony beach. The rope David is holding was near the one we came down. This one gave access through a hole in the rock to a narrow canyon from where a stream flowed. Unfortunately David needs to eat a few more Weet-bix for breakfast, he just could not manage to pull himself up into the hole so we have no idea what sights awaited us behind the rock.

The stream that flowed out from the canyon landed on the smooth rock platform and then flowed down over the side in two places and disappeared into the stony beach. After working up a thirst trying to climb the rope David helped himself to the cold crystal clear water, it was very refreshing. Our track came down the bush covered bluff to the left behind him, the other rope is in that dark spot amongst the flaxes.

You can now see how high the bluffs are along the beach. I bet you thought it didn’t look too high in those first photos from the lookouts. Now you can see why this is a difficult place to access.

We decide to walk south first- the stacks are to the north- I’d had a fleeting glimpse of an archway in a rock that sat at the mouth of a creek we’d crossed on the road earlier. I suspected it was the same rock that a coffee-cart guy had told us about. We'd got talking to him at the old Fox River bridge earlier in the trip.

Motukiekie is a hidden wonderland, the beach is absolutely stunning; along with the sea stacks there are colourful cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky formations, rock pools, and large boulders scattered about as if they’d been thrown over the top by a giant. And then there was the very tall and very unusual chimney stack perched on the edge of a cliff. Imagine if you were underneath that in an earthquake. The outgoing tide was still swirling around our feet as we walked along.

This bluff had more than colourful cliffs to show off….

We did a double-take to see a guy with a small back-pack sitting in a cave, a beer in one hand and what looked like a feed of mussels in the other. A real life caveman! Where the hell did he come from?

We waved out, and later David stopped to talk to him on our way back. He lived in Greymouth and had walked in from a beach further on where he’d left his pushbike. He said he was just relaxing with a beer watching the ocean- we thought he was going to stay the night but no, he was just visiting. From his lobster colour it looked like he’d had his shirt off a little too long…. in more ways than one. A very weird encounter indeed…but I guess each to their own.

Further on another chimney stack appears in front of us and the sand changed to boulders, there are deep rock pools out to the right. This must be where our Neanderthal found his mussels. Did you spot David in the photo?

The chimney stack has a opening where it meets its limestone neighbour, its a small cave that opens onto the creek behind, the creek where I’d seen the archway.

This is our destination, 10 Mile Creek, and you can’t see it but the highway runs along the side about halfway up the bush on the left, it runs inland for a few hundred metres before crossing the gorge and coming back out to the coast high up on the right (out of shot). Can you see the power lines strung across the creek near the top?

And this is the large rock that I’d spotted with an archway in it. I really needed David in the photo to give you an idea of the size but he’d shot through. It was reasonably large though, about 1.5 metres high.

Not only did it have an arch it also had a large hole in the centre, which is probably what I spied from the road.

Across the creek (which was ice cold) I could see the large flat slabs of stone we’d seen from the first lookout- check back to the first photo. They look like a stack of fallen dominoes. I would have loved to explore further along but it was getting late and the tide had turned so I reluctantly headed back up the beach after David.

The sun was low in the sky and the sea spray created a haze over the stacks.

The many textures of Motukiekie…

You can let your imagination run wild with the formations and the shapes the sea stacks make….

Give us a kiss….

Trumpeting elephant…

Dennis the Menace (David’s suggestion) keeps a wary eye on a couple of photographers who were setting up to catch the sunset. We find their motorhome parked beside our ute when we return, I guess we made it easy for them to find the track. I hope they have torches, I wouldn’t like to make my way up the track once the sun goes down.

This stack has a small hole in the rock through which a sunbeam is shining.

At the northern end of the beach there are more waterfalls which flow over the rock shelves onto the beach and high up in the coastal flaxes and bush is the house I’d love to own! What an awesome place to live. I’m still not sure what my first love is; windswept tussock covered mountains or a wild west coast and especially a wild west coast in the winter. I love isolated and rugged coastlines, when you can tuck up inside with a roaring fire and the howling wind and crashing ocean outside. Motukiekie would suit me just fine.

One last pano of the Motukiekie Rock Stacks. What a thoroughly wonderful place to visit. I WILL be back.

We headed home as the sun set, both quiet and reflective after our visit. What an incredibly beautiful and special place, another highlight of our journey.

If anybody would like to know where the track is please send me a note via the email contact form from the right hand column of the blog.


  1. Hi Shellie, I'm stunned by your stunning shots of this new discovery north of Greymouth......maybe your local pink lobster was also stunned or at least half boozed.
    I get a sense off, in spite to the rain and a certain vibe about the Coast, going by the blog backload, would have to be very high up on you favourite regions.....(so far)... Dare I say a stunning area....the weather stu.......... too!.
    Wot ..... No mullets on the beach then!

    1. You'd be right Jimu, apart from the persistent rain, the West Coast has surpassed all expectations. It's a truly beautiful place that needs time to explore. And we've only done the top half, I can't wait to see the remainder, to see if it lives up to all the hype.

  2. Hopefully you got to see all of the colourful Starfish around the rock pools at Motukiekie

    1. Francis, I was waiting for someone to mention the starfish. I knew all about them but got carried away with the grandeur of the stacks and forgot to check them out! I suspect the photographers waiting for sunset were also taking shots of the starfish, it looked like they had a few pools around them. You know what this means don't you? Motukiekie Rocks is on the re-visit list. Right at the top. And next time I'd like to stay nearby so I can have more time on the beach.

  3. Hello there, I am planning a trip to new zealand and really want to see this beach and starfish at low tide. I am wondering if you have any idea what kind of low tide i would need to get out to the starfish. Would any low tide work or does it have to be a minuse tide?
    Any help will be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Jamie, any low tide should work although I'd suggest timing it to be right at the end of the tide just before it turns. If the sea is rough you might not be able to access the pools because of the turbulent water. Do be very careful and keep an eye out for rogue waves (usually 1 in 7) that can sweep you off your feet and dash you against sharp jagged rocks. Good luck.

  4. Hi Shellie.
    Thanks for your great story of the best kept secret of New Zealand. We have a house in amongst the group of cottages. The route you took to access the beach is dangerous and slippery.
    I recommend that you park your car about 500 meters north of the letterboxes, Here you can walk straight onto the beach and you will have a pleasant walk all the way down to 10 Mile creek. We recommend that you access the beach about 2 Hrs before low tide and you will have heaps of time exploring the many features of this beach. If you get stuck on the beach. There is a track leading from the beach where the sea stacks are. Just walk around the rock outcrop with the caves and you will find the track.

    1. Thanks for the extra information (it is quite fun using the ladder and ropes though, when it isn't slippery) and what a special place to have a house. I could quite easily live there for a few months enjoying the solitude and the many moods of the West Coast. Are any of the cribs rented out?


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