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Conservation is not just about protecting the ‘real scenery', such as the mountains and glaciers, it is also about the lowland forests and wetlands. The Waiho flats, near Franz Josef Glacier village, were once covered in thick kahikatea forest. Today, after the clear felling to create farmland in the early 20th Century, only 2% of the native forest and wetland is left.

In 2010, the Nature Heritage Fund, purchased the 378 hectares adjacent to the mouth of the Waiho River at the edge of the Tasman Sea. This section of virgin kahikatea forest and wetlands, ticked all the Fund’s requirements, and it is now managed by the Department of Conservation as the Waiho Forest Scenic Reserve. You can cycle or walk through the virgin lowland kahikatea forest to the Tasman Sea, and gain a whole different perspective of the enormity of the Southern Alps.

Drive down Waiho Flat road, past South Westland Horse Treks and the Air Safaris airport. If you have a 4WD, and Docherty’s creek is low you can drive to the start of the Waiho Forest track. Be warned that Docherty’s creek can rise quickly, so be careful not to get trapped on the other side. If your vehicle is not that robust, park at Docherty’s Creek, and walk or cycle past the farm buildings to the first intersection. If you go straight ahead you can follow the 4WD track to the beach, if you turn left, you will see the sign at the start of the Waiho Forest Walk.

Follow the old forestry road from the start of the Waiho Walk, through the regenerating bush to Neil’s Creek. Turn right at Neil’s Creek and head downriver along the stop bank. The track is well defined and easy to follow. When you reach the stand of flax, if you cannot already hear the breaking waves, know that you will be at the beach soon.

Once at Waiho beach you can walk north to the mouth of the Waiho River or south to explore the Omoeroa Bluffs. Lookout for fur seals and penguin tracks and enjoy the wild seascape. Walking from the start of the forestry track to Waiho beach takes approximately forty-minutes, however, give yourself lots of time to enjoy the beach.

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