Why I keep going back to Punakaiki

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It’s been no secret how much I love New Zealand’s west coast.

Ever since my first visit in 2013, I have been in love with this quiet yet powerful corner of New Zealand. The least populated region, the West Coast, stretched almost its entire length The South Island. Home to big mountains, unusual birds, ancient forests and no people, it couldn’t be more perfect, especially for introverts like me.

But no place captures my heart more than the stretch of coast from Greymouth to Westport, specifically around Punakaiki. It is a place that tourists visit, but not as many as other places on the South Island with more dramatic views. This part of West coast is about slowing down, taking it easy and enjoying being in nature.

You can’t rush here; it is a place that inspires mindfulness and relaxation. I come here at least once a year to get off the grid, relax and reset, and I often come up here to write. Last winter I spent almost a week on Perfect Stranger’s Bach on a west coast getaway, which was magical.

West Coast Escape

There is something so nostalgic about being by the sea. I often wonder if it speaks to an ancient part of our brands; are we tapping into something we inherently crave but can’t vocalize? Why? I think. Can you relate?

One of my favorite things about this part of the West Coast is that it’s full of hiding places and old baches (classic Kiwi holiday homes) tucked among the flax bushes by the sea. With its dense rainforests, you often don’t even know they’re there. Over the years I have stayed in many of them and loved them all. Each one has an epic story and makes for an unforgettable West Coast vacation.

Maybe I love this area because it feels like another decade. With poor phone reception to being fairly remote, many beaches have directions like “1.4 miles past the bridge at the third mile sign and if you get to the big bay, you’ve gone too far.”

Far out, I love it.

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

This time I spent five days on Perfect Strangers Bachjust north of Punakaiki.

One of the OG beaches of its time, it is tucked away right by the surf. Family owned for decades, discerning readers may recognize the name from the 2003 Kiwi movie Perfect Strangers, much of which was shot here. Trust me; it’s much calmer in real life.

Welcome to my happy place! I’ve driven past this place so many times but unless you know it’s here you’ll miss it. It is so remote that you park along State Highway 6 and walk down to it. There is not much traffic in this part of the country.

Weka absolutely surpass the locals here, as it should be.

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

A secret I spill so often that it can’t really be called a secret anymore is that I think New Zealand’s west coast is best experienced in winter, especially Punakiki.

From Fiordland up to Golden Bay, the wind dies down in winter and the sea becomes calm. The clouds disappear, and you often get beautiful bluebird silence, clear and warm days. Because it’s such a wild place, people tend to think winter must be the worst weather, when I’ve found the opposite to be true. Big storms come in the summer.

And once you get up to Punakaiki and further north, it sits in a little trans-Tasman microclimate that brings warm, humid air. That’s why you get so many tropical native palms and nikau here. You can even grow fruit that you could otherwise only grow far north on the North Island.

The locals will probably murder me for sharing this, but I can’t help it.

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

But by far, the best part of staying at Perfect Stranger’s Beach on a West Coast vacation is that you have your own private beach.

There are no cabanas or coconuts here, but it does offer some of the coastline’s best views. You have a sandy beach plus rock pools to explore – always check the tide; low is best. And there is a magnificent amount of clams to forage along the coast. Is there anything better than white wine linguini with clams you’ve caught yourself? No, it’s not there.

Just writing this has made me so nostalgic for this incredible place. Falling asleep to waves crashing along the beach and native birdsong in the air is nothing short of magical.

Where is your refuge? Do you have a favorite seaside spot that calls to you? Share!

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

West Coast Escape

Many thanks to Perfect Strangers for hosting me on the West Coast – as always I keep it real – as you could expect less from me!

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