February 15th 2011 - Greymouth
Feb 13th 2011 – We took our leave of Motueka and took the road towards the West Coast. Immediately after leaving the town we were surrounded by fruit trees, mainly apples, some plums and lots and lots of hops! Well they’re very fond of their beer in New Zealandand and have several breweries around the country so they will need lots of hops! Clive’s current favourite is Monteith’s Original, on draught, which may have just eased Speight’s Gold into second place! I have to say that Monteith’s cider is extremely good too! We also think we spotted a few fields of tobacco, at least it looked like tobacco! Unfortunately I didn’t get a photograph of it but I couldn’t miss the hops!
The route we were following was once an old Pioneering trading route back in the 1800s and prior to that had been used by the Maori for centuries on their way to and from the West coast. Not a lot of people know this but New Zealand had its very own gold rush! Back in the1860s it was reported that there was gold to be found in Lyell on the Buller River and the rush was on! It was therefore necessary to improve the route but this was not to be done in a hurry and it was several years before it was accomplished. Finally the Government wanted a mail run established and two young farmers called Harry and Tom Newman won the tender and the very first mail run took place on 1st July 1879! The modern road is in itself an amazing feat of engineering, it runs through natural bush-clad gorges following the Buller River.
We finally arrived in Murchison and after stopping off at the Info office for some more brochures and a pit stop at the local supermarket for supplies we located a campsite and got settled in. It was a really lovely little campsite, as usual there were full facilities, including a kitchen complete with cookers, hotplates, and sinks for washing up. Campsites like these are all over New Zealand, they don’t just cater for people in campervans and caravans but also for backpackers, some with tents some not, because also on these campsites are little cabins, some just big enough to accommodate a bed! Most of the kitchens are equipped with everything you need to make a meal (except the food!) which means that backpackers only need to carry clothes and essentials, they are a brilliant innovation. The camp at Murchison however had an added ingredient, which made it a bit special, it had a small menagerie! There were chickens, sheep, a deer and best of all emus! I have never actually been close to an emu, or an ostrich for that matter but these huge birds were just the other side of a fence and within touching distance (we didn’t though!) and Clive actually fed them with small yellow flowers that were just out of their reach - they appeared to like them very much!
Clive and Emu (watch out Parky!!)
One of the most amazing thing about these birds is thei rfeet, they are dinosaur’s feet without a shadow of a doubt! We all saw JurassicPark didn’t we? Remember when they found the footprint of the T Rex? Well just look at these feet – look familiar!!!!
OK, its got skinny legs but it could be a Velocoraptor!
We spent a very relaxing evening and then had an early night. I awoke during the night to the sound of rain pounding on the roof and I could also feel an odd splash every now and again! I got up to investigate and realised the skylight was fully open and the rain was coming in through the mesh! I lowered it and climbed back into bed and was soon fast asleep again – good job I had woken up though, we could have had a very wet carpet and the bottom of the quilt would have got quite damp too!
February 14th 2011 - when we woke up in the morning the rain had stopped and the sun was shining – another lovely day on the cards! I did remember to wish Clive a Happy Valentine’s Day by the way!
When we had stopped off in the Info office the day before we had asked about gold panning! I have a vague recollection of a photograph of my mother doing a bit of gold panning when she came to New Zealand in 1993! The lady in the office gave us the low down and told us where to go if we wanted to do it. She also mentioned something about a swing bridge – oh no, not another one!!
We continued our journey through the Buller Gorge and after only travelling about half an hour we spotted a sign “Swing Bridge 4Km” – oh dear! Clive pulled in and we donned our walking boots and hats and went to investigate. The swing bridge in question crosses the Buller River and takes you onto a peninsula which is almost circular. This was a gold mining centre back in the 1800s but is now a heritage park. Interestingly there was an earthquake here, the Murchison earthquake, on June 17th 1929, my mother's 15th birthday! There is evidence of this on the peninsula, an upthrust of 4.5m, which we stood on! There are also artefacts left over from the mining days such as a miner’s cottage, old vehicles and mining equipment. You can still pan for gold in this area too with your own pan and trowel and you don’t need a license, best of all you can keep anything you find! We didn’t get around to panning in the end but did see somebody else doing it from a distance. What we did do was have a lovely bushwalk culminatingin a rock scramble(!) and a view of the falls but first we had to cross that damn bridge!
This swing bridge was far bigger than the one we had crossed in Abel Tasman National Park, this one is 110m long and 17m high and the Buller River is hurtling down the gorge below it – scary stuff! Fortunately it was a very stable bridge and didn’t swing or bounce too much. You noticed it most when trying to take a photograph and other people were starting to cross the bridge, it was difficult to hold the camera still enough to take a pic! Finally we were safely on the other side – phew!
Clive on the swing bridge!
The bushwalk was amazing, it was just a narrow, path with white markers stuck to trees occasionally just to keep us on the right route. In the muddier parts there were planks to walk on. It was really wonderful with lots of birds singing, especially Tui’s. At one point, just before we entered the bush itself Clive spotted a large bird running up the track in front of us, it was a Weka! We were absolutely delighted to see it as these birds are now quite rare in the wild, unfortunately it was running to fast for Clive to get a decent photo! After walking for almost an hour we finally came to the end of the bush and in front of us were huge rock formations, between us and the waterfall! They hadkindly provided ropes to help us over the tricky bits and at one point there was a climb of about six feet down to the lower level, again with a rope provided! Well I certainly wasn’texpecting to be doing this at my age!
I survived to tell the tale!
Eventually we were rewarded with a great view of the Ariki Falls and the Buller River rushing past below us. It was from this vantage point that we spotted the guy panning for gold just up from the falls! Wonder if he hit pay dirt?
We finally tore ourselves away and headed back over the rocks to the track through the bush and then back over the swing bridge. Alongside the bridge was what the Kiwi's call a Flying Fox, a sort of zipline with a seat! Clive couldn't persuade me to cross over the river using this method so we just had to take a photo of somebody else doing it!!!
Flying Fox - er I don't think so!!!
We returned to the van, had coffee and TimTams then set off once more on our journey to Westport on the West Coast. We followed the Buller Gorge all the way and the scenery was spectacular! At some points the drop from the road down into the gorge was quite scary! Eventually the terrain levelled out and we finally arrived in Westport. There isn’t much to say about Westport, it was basically one main street with the shops and restaurants on and that was about it! We weren’t staying in Westport itself anyway, we were heading for a camp site just outside the town at Carter’s Beach. It didn’t take us long to get there and we were soon settled on our pitch but when Clive went to plug the power line in it tripped the breaker! He tried it again and the same thing happened! He tried a different socket, same again! Then another campervan drew up, a big fancy modern one, they plugged their lead in and the same thing happened to them! Well at least we knew it wasn’t our lead! Clive went to the office to report the problem and it turned out that the owner had just had that part of the park rewired with a new type of hook-up system installed which had some kind of phase-shift mechanism involved, which only the very modern vans are compatible with! So, we ended up having to move to the other side of the park where the old hook-ups were - charming! The modern campervan stayed put, he must have had a switch to enable him to get "phased"
After dinner that evening we decided to stroll down to the beach before going to bed. It was quite windy at the campsite but still pleasantly warm. We arrived on the beach and nearly got blown away! It was very, very windy down there and dry sand was being blown along the beach, it almost looked like water flowing. Needless to say we didn’t stay long, we had a little walk on the beach but the sand was actually stinging our legs, it was blowing so hard! So we returned to the van and bed. I actually woke in the middle of the night and had to go for a pee! The wind had completely died down and the sky was absolutely clear, the stars were incredible and the Milky Way was sooooooooooo bright, it was made of Jersey cream, never mind milk!
February 15th – I can’t believe its 32 years today since my dad died – he would have so loved New Zealand. My mother certainly did, she came out for three months when she was 79 years old and never stopped talking about her trip, she enjoyed it so much.
Before continuing our journey down the West Coast to Greymouth, we took a drive further along from Carter’s Beach to a place called Cape Foulwind! That’s what Captain Cook called it, I believe he was there for a while and had nothing but terrible weather!! Anyway, the weather couldn't have been better for us! We were there to visi tthe seal colony! We parked the van and were just about to set off to view the seals when a bird ran out from the undergrowth – it was a Weka! These lovely birds are now quite rare in areas where they were once common, so we were thrilled to see one. However we were doubly rewarded when another one suddenly joined the first! We have read that Weka’s will eat just about anything, including your lunch if they get the chance! I rushed back to the van and grabbed a crust of bread which I gave to Clive so he could feed them, they didn’t need asking twice and came rushing up to him, they actually took break out of his hands!
Clive feeding the Wekas
We left the Wekas behind and headed for the viewpoint over the seal colony. Unfortunately the breeding season is now over (Nov – Jan) so none of the big bull seals were around, just the females with their pups. There weren’t as many of those as I was expecting either, it wasn’t exactly a colony! However we were delighted with the ones that we saw, especially the pups. It was great to see them actually nursing from their mothers too.
New Zealand Fur Seals - mothers and pups
There were a couple of youngsters in a rock pool tearing around and playing together in the water, so funny! Also a full grown seal was cavorting in the sea and getting bowled over by the big waves but it didn’t seem to worry it, it kept shooting up half way out of the water then the next minute it was lying on its back, floating!
Finally we dragged ourselves away from the seals and resumed our journey to Greymouth, a short time later we got our first glimpse of the Southern Alps in the far distance with snow on the tops of some of the peaks! Again the scenery was fantastic and we could see huge waves pounding up the beaches all the way down the coast. This of course is the Tasman Sea and evidently there are very few beaches along this coastline that are even remotely safe for swimming, that was pretty obvious from the ones we passed on the way!
We had decided to make another stop on the way to Greymouth at a place called Punakaiki (pron. poon-a-ky-eeky) where there were some amazing rock formations called The Pancake Rocks. There was a convenient parking area and we managed to just squeeze in, it was quite busy. Also a coach had just arrived and disgorged all its passengers who were now heading across the road to visit the Pancake Rocks so we decided to have coffee and TimTams first before setting off to look ourselves. The car park was next to a lovely little pool surrounded by Nikau Palms (New Zealand’s only native palm), it looked just like an oasis!
Finally the coach party returned and piled back onto their bus so we reckoned it was safe to go to look ourselves! It was quite a pleasant walk through the bush and in no time at all we arrived at the top of the rocks. There are also blow holes here, which are evidently at their best at high tide when there is a swell. Well it wasn’t high tide but there was definitely a swell! Only one of the holes was blowing and we couldn’t actually see it, only the spray that came up and drifted all over us – we got quite damp! Over on the right of the rocks however was an amazing beach and the surf rolling up was incredible! The noise was amazing too! The beach was made of the tiniest gravel, a bit like the stuff in the bottom of fish tanks, it was really soft to walk on! The waves were absolutely huge but the beach suddenly fell away and as the waves retreated they hit the incoming waves, it was like the clash of the titans!
Clive watching the big waves
I could have stayed on that beach for hours watching the waves, they were absolutely compelling and the beach itself was fascinating, there were the most amazing rock formations where the limestone had been worn away by wind and water, huge overhangs where the rock underneath had been totally ground away, however we couldn't sleep on the beach so we had to keep going unfortunately!
Finally we reached the bridge over the Grey River and were awed by the rock formation on the other side, obviously the result of some great upheaval back in the annals of time!
Incredible rock formation on the approach to Greymouth
We drove over the bridge and on into Greymouth itself but I am going to leave it there and continue in the next instalment as I have a crap signal and its taking forever to download the photos! Don’t go away - I'll be back, soon!