Awakening to the raw soundtrack of crashing ocean breakers and the gentle pitter-patter of a pre-dawn shower, I was up with the seals to strike out along the coastal trail at Cape Foulwind.

History runs deep here, as it was where Abel Tasman first dropped anchorage in New Zealand in 1642 and the cape earned its name from the atrocious howling weather that greeted James Cook on his voyage in 1770.

It's also the closest point to Australia. The sweeping panoramas are stupendous. I gazed north along the coastline to the strikingly sculpted cliff-backed beaches at the northern end of the cape.

Omau Cliffs at Cape Foulwind
Omau Cliffs at Cape Foulwind

Omau Cliffs, where hard granite intersects with softer mudstone, glow a golden hue in the sunshine. Once nicknamed the Scarborough of New Zealand, they remain a favourite shoreline haunt in the summer.

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To the east, the inland ancient marine terraces rise up to the Paparoa Ranges, while patches of pakihi were readily conspicuous.

On a clear day, Mt Cook serrates the southern skyline, while the Kahurangi National Park rises up to the north.

The untamed Buller coast
The untamed Buller coast

Scores of weka were nonchalantly grazing in the trackside scrub. Unlike most of New Zealand, Buller is one of the few places where you'll regularly encounter them.

Friendly and flightless, they are fleet-footed. One of them ventured out on to the road just as I was bearing down. I have never seen a bird scramble so frantically, on foot, in a mad mercy dash.

The 90-minute coastal walk from Cape Foulwind to Tauranga Bay passes along the edge of an escarpment, where the granite bluffs serve up monster views of the rugged coastline.

I cheated and drove around to the beautiful golden sweep of Tauranga Bay, a surfer's haven, taking the shorter track from the car park to the seal colony, draped across the wave-battered rocks.

Seals at Tauranga Bay
Seals at Tauranga Bay

Beyond the shoreline, a rocky outcrop called Wall Island is like a satellite town to seal city, and the thoughtfully mounted free-to-use binoculars, provide magical glimpses of the playful fur seals enjoying some island time.

Tauranga Bay is one of New Zealand's most accessible fur seal colonies and over summer, the place is teeming with frolicking pups.

Pointing the car north, I ventured up the highway, past Westport and over the bush-clad heights of the dramatically scenic Karamea Bluff, draped in rimu and matai forests. More expansive vistas of the pounding Tasman Sea unfurled before me, before I descended into the coastal lowlands of Little Wanganui.

Purring across the flat terrain, a roadside billboard was emblazoned with the greeting: Karamea - Welcome to Paradise. Lush and velvet green pastures, backdropped by jagged ranges, thickly carpeted in native forest, is my kind of paradise.

Karamea classics

 The Kohaihai swing bridge.
The Kohaihai swing bridge.

On the doorstep of the Kahurangi National Park, as the warm spring sun blazed down, I took the short drive to the Karamea end of the Heaphy Track. A sublime little taster of one of our Great Walks can be enjoyed by taking the Nikau Grove walk.

Starting from the gnarly old swingbridge that traverses the Kohaihai River, the 40-minute walk ushers you into a lush heart-stealing forest of palms, headlined by thousands of nikau palms. With rigid fronds forming a uniform fluted shape, they've long been my favourite New Zealand tree.

The Nikau Grove walk is a sublime appetiser for the Heaphy Track.
The Nikau Grove walk is a sublime appetiser for the Heaphy Track.

One final experience on my itinerary was a rendezvous with the Oparara Basin.

Close to the Heaphy Track carpark, McCallum's Mill Rd is the route you'll need to take.

This old logging road, narrow, steep, unsealed and winding, is not for the faint-hearted.

But the 15km ordeal is undeniably worth it. The surrounding karst landscape is mantled in primeval rainforest and is home to a beguiling network of caves and spectacular limestone arches.

From the carpark, an easy 45-minute return leads you to the big-gun attraction, the Oparara Arch, New Zealand's largest natural arch, spanning 200 metres in length and 37m in height. It's a celestial spectacle, dry and roomy inside, with stalactites and stalagmites.

There's been talk of "Disney-fying" the arch, festooning it with a coloured light show. Please God, no.

This glorious limestone creation towers above its namesake river, which slinks through its wondrous limestone landscape, wrapped in magnificent podocarp forest.

TOP TIPS

Buller Bridge Motels is a winning West Coast roost, boasting self-contained accommodation with free Wi-Fi, flat-screen satellite TV and a DVD player.

It's a family favourite with a barbecue area, kids playground and it's also pet-friendly.

Ideally positioned to soak up the coastal gems, your accommodation is fully equipped with kitchen facilities, so you can cook up a storm after a power-packed day of sightseeing.

I booked my Buller stay through Wotif.co.nz, a leading online travel site, offering plenty of choice and a simple and easy-to-book process.

Whether you're travelling locally or going overseas, with Wotif.co.nz, you can book everything in one place, from flights to accommodation, car hire, packages, and activities.