There aren’t many DOC campsites (AKA cheap places to camp) on the West Coast, so if you want to sleep close to Fox Glacier / Lake Matheson and you’re on a budget you’d better head to Gillespies Beach. It also helps that it’s a beautiful place, with views of the Southern Alps and awesome sunsets.
Sunset at Gillespies Beach
We arrived just before sunset and headed straight for the beach. We live in Dunedin, which is on the east coast of New Zealand, so we don’t often see sunsets like this. We were joined by most of the other campers on the stony beach while the sun slowly fell to the sea — it was a great way to finish a big travel day.
The view towards the ocean is nice, but turn around and you’ll see a section of the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook and Mount Tasman (New Zealand’s tallest mountains) catching the last of the sunlight. It’s not often you see mountains this size from the beach — it’s worth visiting Gillespies Beach at sunset even if you’re not staying at the camping ground.
Camping at Gillespies Beach
It costs $8 per person to stay at the Gillespies Beach DOC Campsite and you can sleep in tents, vans or cars (there are no cabins etc). Most people were sleeping in vans / cars and the car park section almost completely filled up. We were there in early November, so if you’re planning to stay there at busier times you’ll probably want to get there early. The tent section seemed quite small too, but there was heaps of room free when we were there.
There are no showers at Gillespies Beach and you can’t drink the tap water unless it’s boiled / treated. You might also have to wage war with the resident sandflies — it’s just part of the experience when travelling in this part of New Zealand. Also, make sure to bring some water with you as you can’t drink the water at the campsite.
Other things to do at Gillespies Beach
There are some hikes close to Gillespies Beach as well as a historic graveyard. We were in a bit of a hurry so skipped them — I’m sure we’ll be back one day though. We did walk along the track above the beach for a bit before sunset and the mountain views were great.
Getting to Gillespies Beach
Gillespies Beach is 15 km from Fox Glacier Township. Part of the way is along a narrow gravel road, so drive carefully. It’s the same road that you take to Lake Matheson.
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