West Coast

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jacksons to Greymouth to Westport

It was raining in true West Coast fashion when we left Jacksons in the morning. Knowing today would be the longest day of the trip, we buckled down for the long haul—but it was not without a much-needed planned stop at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.

The rain and mist continued pretty much the entire West Coast trip, which really added to the wild and remote feeling. Most of the road followed the Tasman Sea, one of the roughest seas in the world. Waves crashed on the rocking shore. The road wound and curved along the coast, as masses of land were revealed in layer after layer of grey. Before passing through the appropriately named Greymouth, we had to cross the famous Taramakau Bridge. It’s a red bridge—and not really any bigger than many other New Zealand bridges—but what made it unusual for even a New Zealand bridge is that it was a train and car bridge where only one way of traffic could go at a time.

We pulled over at the Strongman Mine Memorial lookout to view the awesome rocks eroding in the sea. They looked black and grey in the mist, and sort of like Castle Hill, we picked out shapes in the rocks, like rabbits and other animals. The same clouds and mists hang eerily on the trees of the rainforest that come right to the edge of the coast; it looks like something out of Jurassic Park.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

Our extended stop for the day was at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in Paparoa National Park. A nicely paved pathway leads you through native forest and vegetation to the site of the Pancake Rocks. This place was much bigger than we had imagined, just like Castle Hill, and cool.

The layered rocks look just like the name: stacks of pancakes. Geologist don’t know exactly how they were formed, but most likely it is fossilized organisms that were sandwiched millions of years ago in layer upon layer. Every angle is different. Water and waves are forced through blowholes, the constant power of erosion on display. The surge pool sounded like thunder and the waves crashed with incredible force on the rock walls. One part of the path seemed a bit precarious, as it bridged over the surge pool area—and will likely someday be a victim to the erosion that is chiseling ever away at this coast. We got lots of great action shots of the powerful water splashing in this strange landscape.

We spent some time in the gift shop back at the main road before going on our way again. Jessica bought some paua shell necklaces shaped like kiwis.

North to Picton

The north of the South Island was our least-researched part of the trip, all we really knew is that we had to get to Picton, and as such, we didn’t know much about what kind of terrain we would encounter. (We had researched Abel Tasman National Park to some degree, but we could only fit so much on our two-week itinerary.) No surprise, though, because the roads were tight and winding with lots of ups and downs. We followed the Buller River gorge for what seemed like forever. Some of the hairpin turns freaked us out, and we saw a lot of mirrors at the curves so drivers could see around the bends. Some curves even had traffic lights to regulate cars as they made their way around the dangerous angles, which was helpful, but some bafflingly did not have them!

State Highway 6 was our chosen route to Picton, which wound through Nelson. It may have added at least 30 minutes to our total journey, but we went this way because there seemed like more chances to see things along the way, like the Pelorus River, and the more southerly route, although perhaps faster, looked like it went through fewer towns, and we didn’t want to get caught out somewhere not close to a gas station for just-in-case scenarios.

Our halfway stop was in Murchison, where we ate a late lunch. We decided to buy our groceries there, rather than when we arrived in Picton, because we knew it would be getting dark, and we didn’t want to bother going out when we would be more dead tired after a long day of traveling. Plus, Philip, who was doing all of the driving, needed a longer break, since the Buller River gorge had been especially challenging and there were more challenging roads ahead. Jessica and William shopped in the 4 Square Supermarket, where the cashier clearly recognized us as outsiders and asked where we were from. The people of New Zealand were definitely friendly thus far.

Around Nelson, we encountered our first four-lane highway of the trip so far, an indication that we were finally arriving in a higher population area. Most of the South Island that we had been in had been relatively sparse on people.

Picton finally came into view as the sun set in a pinkish hue—the only time all day that we saw the sun. It was only 6 PM, but our longest day in the campervan was complete. We saw a glimpse of the ferry we would be boarding tomorrow anchored in the harbor. We made a dinner of chicken soup and sandwiches, while watching the campground stray cat, which was black; we nicknamed her Diamond because of a white diamond on her forehead. We went to bed, our last night on the South Island.

Leave a Reply