The slow-moving tea-coloured waters of Ship Creek New Zealand make an excellent backdrop for two easy forest walks. This family-friendly stop is quick, yet around every turn, we discovered rare and hidden treasures. First, we enjoyed the ancient Kahikatea Swamp Forest walk. Next, the Lake Dunes walk, all in just less than a one-hour stop.
Stained by tannin and humic acids, the deep golden colour of Ship Creek is, in fact, typical of small tributaries in the region. When this sediment and nutrient-rich water overflows the banks, it enhances the surrounding soil. As a result, Kahikatea (white pine), cabbage trees, flax and kowhai grow well.
Whitebait, eels and a variety of birdlife can also be found here, including kingfishers, bellbirds, tui, fantails, gray warblers and less commonly spotted are kea and kaka.
Kahikatea swamp forest walk
New Zealand’s best example of a swamp forest is accessed along an easy boardwalk stroll. The path follows alongside Ship Creek offering easy viewing of the forest and wildlife.
We looped through an area of dense swamp forest where we could see New Zealand’s tallest tree, the kahikatea. Looking into the swamp waters of Ship Creek, we could see both reflections of the existing foliage as well as the fallen trees under the water.
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Kahikatea: New Zealand’s tallest native tree
Growing to 60 metres in height, Kahikatea, a white pine, is New Zealand’s tallest native tree. In addition, it traces back over 100 million years, giving it the nickname of Dinosaur Tree and the distinction of holding the oldest fossil record of any NZ tree.
They grow well and strong in fertile flood plains and swamps, often almost in an arrow-straight formation. In the Haast region, Kahikatea live for 500-800 years.
Dune Lake walk
A one-kilometre return Dune Lake walk took us out to a sea of rolling waves. The walk through a dense coastal forest passes dunes and windswept trees. From the viewing platform, we get expansive coastal views all the way to Jackson Head as well as overlooking the dune lake.
For us, it was way too cold to swim, but it was early springtime and quite overcast. Summer would be a different story.
Tips for visiting Ship Creek NZ
- Bring insect repellent.
- There are plenty of interesting interpretive panels along the way.
- Remember, there are two separate hikes to enjoy from the car park, one into the swamp forest, the other to the beach.
- If it’s a nice day and you plan to swim, you might want to wear surf shoes, it’s rocky rather than sandy.
Getting to Ship Creek New Zealand
- Located between Haast and Fox Glacier in the Tauparikākā Marine reserve, Ship Creek is one of many stops we recommend on our west coast South Island itinerary.
- Ship Creek will be signposted along State Highway 6 about 20 kilometres north of Haast.
- If you are travelling south, you will find the Ship Creek car park about 20 kilometres beyond the Monro beach trailhead at Lake Moeraki (Monro beach is home to rare Fiordland Crested penguins.)
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Which will you prefer, Ship Creek and theKahikatea Swamp Forest walk or the Lake Dunes walk?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …