On the West Coast, the glaciers are the superstars. These celebrities of the tourism world are the sights that everyone comes to see. And rightly so, but the beauty of the West Coast is also found in the hidden gems. Some the best spots on the West Coast are off the beaten track and one of our favourites is Gillespies Beach.
Located 25 kilometres from Fox Glacier, Gillespies Beach is a secluded, yet beautiful beach that offers a glimpse into our gold mining past (as well as the chance of the odd seal encounter). It’s a great way to spend half a day; you’re guaranteed to come back feeling rejuvenated.
In 1865, gold was discovered in the area by a miner called Gillespie. His find led to a swarm of prospectors arriving and the small claim soon became a bustling township home to several hundred people.
But the township didn’t last long. By 1920, most of the prospectors had left, unable to access the gold they believed was still in the ground. When a bucket dredge arrived, there was hope the new machinery would access untold riches. But this too, turned out to be folly. Today, visitors to Gillespies Beach can view the rusting remains of the dredge (the beach’s stones and pieces of timber were sucked up by the dredge, rendering it useless).
The great beauty of Gillespies Beach is the contrast between the beach, the lagoon and the expansive West Coast coastline. The beach is often strewn with driftwood; it’s a fossickers delight. It’s mesmerising and you won’t want to leave.
Got some time to explore? Here’s what’s on offer at Gillespies Beach
- THE LAGOON At the northern end of the beach is the lagoon. Often landlocked by the tide, the lagoon offers a more tame option for swimming than the wild beach. The water is warm and stained from the tannins of the nearby trees. There is a boardwalk that crosses over the lagoon, giving access to the walking tracks leading to the Miner’s Tunnel, the Cemetery and onto Galway Beach.
- THE CEMETERY The Miners Cemetery Walk is a 5-minute return walk from the Gillespies Beach campsite and car park. Hidden amongst the bracken is a tiny graveyard, a sombre reminder of the hardy miners who lost their lives in the quest for gold.
- MINERS TUNNEL TRACK This walk takes 1 hour and 40 minutes return and follows the old miners pack track. From the lagoon boardwalk, follow the track up the small incline until you see the tunnel. This 30-metre tunnel was blasted through the sea cliffs to give the miner’s access to their claims whatever the weather, or the tides
- GALWAY BEACH & THE SEAL COLONY If you’re looking for a longer walk, then the 3 and a half hour Galway Beach Track is worth it for the rewarding views. Look out for the Galway Beach sign just before the Miners Tunnel Track turn off. The track will take you through a Rimu forest, before arriving at Galway Beach. This stunning, yet isolated beach is a seal colony and there are often seals resting here, especially during winter. Seal etiquette: Be careful, seals can be very aggressive. Don’t get close to seals and never stand between them and the sea. They won’t be happy about you blocking their escape route to the water.
How to get there
Heading west from Fox Glacier, take the Cook Flat Road turnoff, just past Lake Matheson. Follow the road to Gillespies Beach. Much of the road is unsealed, so watch your speed.
If you’re looking for further information about walking tracks at Gillespies Beach or anywhere around the West Coast, the Department of Conservation (DOC) office is the best source of information and maps. The closest DOC office to Rainforest Retreat is on the Main Road, Franz Josef Glacier.