Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pancakes and waves

After a few days touring the west coast of NZ I arrived at Punakaiki.

And decided to stay a while.

There's no mobile phone coverage, the roaring surf lulls me to sleep each night and the sunsets are pretty, if not quite as stunning as those back home.

The road between Greymouth and Westport hugs the coastline. Endless lines of swell crash perfect waves into cute little coves, and every few kilometres there are huge rockstacks emerging just offshore, home to seabirds, seals and blue penguins.

The beaches are comprised mostly of pebbles, with piles of driftwood marking the height of the tides. Hunting for greenstone / pounamu amongst the pebbles is a bit of fun, though most of the locals are busy fishing for whitebait instead.

The main attraction at Punakaiki is the Pancake Rocks and blow hole, which is well worth a visit. A visit at high tide is necessary to see the full effect of the ocean.

Further north, at Westport, is Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay Seal Colony, a pleasant walk along the top of cliffs between the lighthouse and the bay. Binoculars are set up so you can watch the seals playing in a sea pool on the offshore island.

Paparoa National Park also has some nice walks up rivers and through gorges. Over a few days I made some forays into these areas.

Much of the inland route has been closed due to a massive storm that ripped huge ancient trees out of the ground and blocked the track. The part that has been reopened took six men 2 months to chainsaw their way through the 6km trail. It feels more like a forestry site than a lush temperate rainforest.

There's been quite a bit of tragedy on this section of the track, as 20 years ago a platform over a cave collapsed, killing 12 students who were on it at the time. Cave Creek is an otherwise peaceful place, but it's hard to forget so many people lost their lives here. The platform hasn't been rebuilt.

Of course the reason for all this west coast lushness is a very high annual rainfall. Lucky for me I had a week and a half of glorious, mostly sunny weather, and very few pesky sandflies to deal with. It made leaving very difficult, but it looked like the weather was changing anyway, and I had a flight to catch back in Christchurch, so over the Arthurs Pass I went.

After 10 days on the coast it was strange to head through an alpine environment again. I had planned to visit some club fields this trip, but in the end I ran out of friends free to join me. I'm glad I went to the west coast instead: as much as I love skiing I am definitely a salt water person.

Christchurch went by in a whirl. I caught up with Yuri and we did a mutually beneficial currency deal, so I'm all cashed up with Yen for my trip to Japan next year, and she has a bunch of consumables for her new business coming from Australia. I stayed with my mate Sonja and her husband Chris, who have kindly agreed to store a pair of my skis and a few other bits and pieces in their garage until I return next year.

Yes, the ski goddess will be doing a lot more skiing again next year!!

Now off to Sydney!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cool times

Hokitika markets itself as "a cool little town". Personally, I couldn't quite see it. Sure there were some quirky second hand stores and a few bright painted buildings but the overwhelming impression for me was crass commercialism in the guise of multiple jade/pounamu galleries and other crafty stores. Painted rocks anyone?

The beach, however, was pretty cool, with lots of driftwood washed up. My second evening there I took the opportunity to take some sunset pictures, then tweak them in Lightroom to get some oh so nice colours.

South of town is Hokitika Gorge, which has awesome turquoise water, white limestone rocks, and obligatory suspension bridge over it.

There's also a couple of pretty lakes with walks in the forest around them, the option to go kayaking, and a nice waterfall.

My favourite walk was a walk down to a beach a bit south of Hokitika, through remnant coastal rainforest. I'm loving the lush greenery everywhere, sometimes it even looks like topiary!

Two nights was enough time in the "cool little town" before heading further north. I headed inland a little to check out some old mining tunnels near Goldsworthy, then met up with the Arthur's Pass Highway to see a remnant glacial boulder called Londonderry Rock. I mean it's just a rock folks, not exactly a tourist attraction…

Back down on the coast road I headed straight through Greymouth, stopping for lunch at a small estuary at the northern end of the Point Elizabeth walk. I decided against taking the walk, but instead headed on to Punakaiki, where I plan to stay a few days.

The Coastal Road from Greymouth to Westport is spectacular, with numerous rockstacks emerging from the churning Tasman Sea. There's some pretty mean surf coming in, and on the other side of the road is rainforest covered karst country. And you know how much I love karst!

Later in the afternoon I walked the Truman Track, another short walk through coastal rainforest to the beach, in this case a sandstone cove in which you can see blue penguins. The tide was coming in so we couldn't walk along the beach, and we didn't see any penguins. Nevermind, I shall return.

I've decided to stay at Punakaiki a few more days, as the hostel I'm staying at is right on the beach and reminds me of home. It's quiet but for the crashing waves, and the vibe is relaxed. There's lots of walks into Paparoa National Park, as well as the Pancake Rocks, plus some nice beach walks, so I doubt I'm going to be bored.

There's even more sunny days forecast.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Heading West

Third time lucky.

No rain, sunny days forecast for the next week, and no landslides closing the roads.

Buy sandfly repellant, though in typical Wanaka style, nothing with DEET in it seems to be available, so I go for the natural ingredient one. Here's hoping it's enough.

Heading out of Wanaka it's overcast and grey, and moody over Lake Hawea.

But further north the sun begins to shine as I head up the Haast Pass. There's some impressive waterfalls and rock gorges to visit, including the thunderous Gates of Haast which is crossed by bridge and then it's a winding journey down to the coast.

Haast itself isn't much, so I bypass it and head south along the coast to Jackson Bay. This is the furthest south you can get to by car on the West Coast, you need a boat to go further.

Jackson Bay has a small fishing port, pretty enough for a few photos, but it's sleepy and the only cafe in town is closed, so it's back up the road to the main highway and a search for whitebait patties at Curly Tree. Whitebait are a west coast delicacy, and are fingerling fish making their way from their spawning place to the sea, and right now they're in season. Whitebait patties, cooked by Curly Tree's owner Tony, are a pile of the fingerlings mixed with just enough egg to form a pattie, then cooked on a hotplate and served on a piece of bread. If you don't like looking at tiny fish you might find it a little off-putting, but if that doesn't bother you, it just tastes like a fish fillet. Yep, yummy. (sorry, forgot to take a photo, I was enjoying Tony's sales pitch too much)

I then continued north, through lush forests, farmland, and over single lane bridges, arriving in Fox Glacier just as the sun set. Only one sandfly bite for the whole day.

After an awesome sleep in a hostel I woke myself up after dreaming that a large spider jumped on me. I may have woken up my room mates with the scream as well!! Never mind, time to get up and go see some sights.

First stop Lake Matheson. This is a brown coloured lake that provides perfect reflections of the nearby alps, which just so happen to be the highest peaks in NZ. Mt Cook is incredibly close to the West Coast and haunts the horizon all day, even as I head further north. With perfect blue skies and no wind, I get some spectacular photos.

After carrot cake and coffee in the cafe, it's off down the road to Gillespie Beach. This involves driving along a twisting dirt road through lush green rainforest to a driftwood strewn pebble beach. It's wild and deserted, my kind of place. Still no sandflies.....

After lunch on the beach I drive back to the highway, stopping to take a shot of Fox Glacier coming down the valley, then turn north for Franz Joseph Glacier. I have no interest in visiting either glacier on this trip, as both have receded quite a way that the only way to get up close now is by guided tour or helicopter! I skied Tasman Glacier back in 2013, that experience is still pretty fresh.

With a full tank of fuel my next stop is Okarito, a small village with a lagoon and big sea cliffs. The tide is too high to do the beach walk so I headed up the trig to get some great aerial views. I'd definitely like to come back to this little spot for a few days, do some kayaking, walking and fishing, but it's dead at the moment with the only tourist shop in town closed up for the winter. The old boathouse on the lagoon has a small museum inside, and makes a good photo op.

The rest of the day I drive north in the fading light to Hokitika. The sky is orange as I arrive in town, a little late to get the camera out, but I'm staying two nights.

That's next...