Written 5:30 PM, Thursday, 5 May, 2011
Greymouth, South Island
(Posted 10 AM, Friday, 6 May, Hokitika)
I’m writing from Neptune’s International Hostel in rainy Greymouth, having completed the first leg of our trip with Magic Bus. After a hectic day yesterday, we managed to get everything squared away and ready to go, even on such short notice. I baked a chocolate cake and a batch of peanut butter cookies to use up some baking ingredients, we cooked up as many of our perishables as we could for dinner, booked all of our hostels for the trip, sold the van, signed our end of employment paperwork at Kathmandu, and did a million other little jobs and errands before actually managing to get our packs packed and everything else coalesced for storage (Nickola was generous enough to store our extra stuff for us until we return to Nelson, as we’ll be staying with her again for a couple nights when we get back there). We were up at 6:30 this morning to get all the last things packed and sorted out, and got our bond (deposit) back from Nickola, who was also generous enough to drive us to Nelson City YHA to catch the bus at 8 AM. So, after almost seven weeks of living in Nelson, we climbed aboard the bus with about 15 other travelers on a gray and slightly damp morning and began our final southern adventure. As Matt says, it feels like we are headed home now, because we’ve gotten rid of all of our excess belongings and have everything packed up, and are on the road from now until we arrive home in Portland. If that’s the case, we are definitely taking the long way home :)
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
Nickola snapped a photo of us and our packs at the bus stop.
From Nelson, we headed southwest on Highway 6 down the Waimea River Valley, and then up over the ranges to the village of Murchison, where we had our morning break, and Matt and I went to say hi to some local cows.
Our driver, Alan (for some reason I am inclined to call him Magic Alan), kept a running commentary going, giving us all kinds of information on the history and natural history of the places we were seeing, on plant and animal life and conservation efforts, and various other useful tidbits of information. As we drove through the southernmost reaches of Kahurangi National Park, we learned that “Kahurangi” translates from Maori as “treasured place,” and later we learned the the “poison” 1080 that is used for killing possums is actually a naturally occurring compound that is found in Acacia trees, and is not harmful on its own but becomes lethal when combined with hydrochloric acid, which is present in the stomachs of mammals. Here I must give appreciation to my self esteem and the fact that it allows me to be completely content as the nerd sitting at the very front of the bus with a small atlas and journal on her lap, taking notes on the route and commentary the entire way so I don’t forget any of it! That should make my parents smile, as my inclination in this direction is probably down to their fascination with natural history and the fact that my mother read aloud from the Roadside Geology books on every road trip of my youth (my brother and I pretended to hate it, but you’d be surprised by how much of that information I’ve retained…)
The weather today was consistently gray and rainy, sometimes heavy rain but mostly just drizzly. This made for incredible fogscapes, with constantly moving mist lying in the valleys between the very steep hillsides in the ranges. We started seeing beech forests almost as soon as we left Nelson, and all through the hills were immense, gnarled old beech trees, which look unlike anything else. Going over the mountains, the roads got pretty exciting as well, down to one lane in places, with a tiny traffic light at each end to send the appropriate traffic through.
One lane and a 15km/hr curve in a full sized bus.
Check out the overhang on the lefthand side of the (one lane) highway.
Just one of many beautiful views of the Buller River, which was running high from lots of recent rain.
As soon as we reached the West Coast, we hit the coastal rainforests, full of tree ferns and huge numbers of Nikau palms. I haven’t seen this concentration of Nikaus anywhere else in New Zealand.
We took a side road near Westport and visited the fur seal colony at Tauranga Bay, where we could see orange tags on the seals’ flippers, showing that they are being tracked or studied for some reason.
The rock formations at the seal colony were extremely unusual.
In the carpark we also got to know some friendly Wekas, flightless native birds that are endangered and have a taste for garbage. We hadn’t seen any in our entire time in New Zealand, but they must love this habitat, because we saw 6 or 8 of them just at Tauranga Bay, and other three down the road in Punakaiki. They look and act a bit like chickens, and weren’t at all shy about coming over to see if fingers were edible. It was really exciting to see these birds, they are fun to watch and their plumage is really beautiful.
From a short walk down to a unique sandstone beach:
Down the coast at Punakaiki (poon-uh-KAI-kee) we stopped for most of an hour for a tea, toilet, and sightseeing break. Punakaiki is home to the Pancake Rocks, a really unique formation of limestone that isn’t seen anywhere else. There are several blowholes in the formations that send up massive geysers of sea water at high tide, but we weren’t there at the right tide so missed out on that phenomenon. I’ll just post a few photos of the rocks here, but check out Matt’s blog at http://thegreatselkie.blogspot.com for a more detailed post about the Pancake Rocks. It was a genuinely cool spot.
Update from Friday, May 6th.
We spent last night in Greymouth, at Neptune's, a BBH Hostel that was comfortable enough, although a little rundown. It was such a cool building though, an old hotel and tavern, built in that uniquely New Zealand architectural style:
Greymouth is a coal mining town, and definitely feels like one, nestled up against the hills with a lot of industrial things going on in town, and loads of buildings that speak of company housing and the like. The hostel itself had a coal powered water heater, stoked regularly by staff from the big hod of coal in the kitchen. The Pike River Mine disaster last November occurred very near here, and it wasn't hard to feel the way a town like this would come together during such a tragedy. There are only 22,000 people living on the entire West Coast, and 12,000 of them live in Greymouth.
We were up bright and early this morning for the 45-minute drive south to Hokitika (hoh-kih-TICK-ah), pop. 4,000, where Matt and I disembarked and will be staying for the next two nights. Magic Alan gave us some recommendations of things to see and do while we're here, and enlightened us as to some of the history and politics of Pounamu, or Greenstone, which is the main economical factor in Hokitika. Because we arrived at 9 AM, we were too early to check into our backpackers, but we were able to store our packs there and had a nice chat with the friendly owner. The place is really sweet and cozy, on the upper story of a jade factory on the main drag. We're now at the adorable little public library around the corner from the hostel, once again taking advantage of New Zealand's awesome network of free Wi-Fi at libraries. Our first impressions of Hokitika are really good, it's got a cute little downtown area, loads of greenstone shops and places where you can see work, a beach right next to the city centre, and a cozy, sleepy feel to it all. I'm really looking forward to getting to know this place better over the next couple of days.