Lake Paringa is one of the West Coast's natural treasures, and it is just an hour drive south of Fox Glacier village. The ‘Far Downers’ (local residents of Haast) used the Haast-Paringa Cattle track to drive cattle to the Whataroa sale yards, and until the airmail service began in 1932, the post was bought in by pack horse along the same route. Until the mid 1950s Paringa was the end of the main road and the ‘Loop Road’ around the South Island remained unfinished until 1965. Today you can still walk the Haast Paringa Cattle track and stay in Blowfly, Maori Saddle or Coppermine Hut.
Owing to a sprained ankle, Paringa was the turnaround point for one of New Zealand’s greatest ever ‘bush bashes’. In 1848, the explorer Thomas Brunner travelled from Nelson down the West Coast and back again on foot, with the help of Maori guides.
Lake Paringa also marks the beginning of the botanical anomaly known as the “Beech Gap”. The podocarp rainforest regenerated after the glaciers had scoured the region, over 18,000 years ago. As you drive up the West Coast road you will not see another beech tree until you reach the Taramakau River just south of Greymouth.
Birdwatchers can roost for a few days and look for the rare crested grebes, scaups, shovelers, mallard ducks, black swans, and black shags on the lake. In the forest, fern birds, kaka, kakariki, bush falcons, and kerearu can be found. At night, mouse sized bats fly from their nests in hollow tree trunks and sometimes make an appearance. Brown trout can be caught in Lake Paringa all year round, and the salmon season runs from the 1st October to the 31st March. Windbag Creek, feeds into the lake by the boat ramp at the Department of Conservation campground, and it is known for its spawning salmon frenzies. See www.nzfishing.com for more information.
The Department of Conservation campsite also has a basic toilet block, picnic facilities and 12 tent sites. You can stay for $6.10 adult/night, $1.50 child/night (5-17 years), under 5’s free. If you would like the luxury of a bed and hot running water, stay with Ken and Mata Holiday at Paringa Lodge. They have cabins, motel rooms, and powered campervan sites; and don’t forget to stop to feed the salmon and have lunch at the Salmon Farm Cafe which is just up the road.