Friday, January 1, 2010

NZ Sth Island - Pt 9 Hokitika, Punakaiki, Arthurs Pass to Christchurch

Day 17 (Tuesday 1 December) Off to Christchurch via Punakaiki

Today we sleep in. Some of us until after 9 oclock. I lie in bed listening to the rain and writing up my notes. Ever health conscious we are obliged to share a litre of icecream for brekkie today. Daughter and Sis simply couldn't resist some high fat percentage walnut and maple syrup variety when they were at the supermarket and time is running for opportunities to sample. Delicious, but it will be good to get back on a healthier eating plan when we get home.

This morning we have a few shopping errands. First up we go back to the glass studio and watch some glass manufacturing as there was none yesterday due to the public holiday. Having mulled over the options overnight we each make our souvenir purchases then it's off to the possum shop. I am very sorely tempted by a beautiful possum skin throw, but at $1000 it's a bit steep for the moment. I resolve to wait and see how the new house is in winter. No point having a possum throw if your house is too warm to ever use it. We settle for some luxurious possum slippers and a possum skin for daughter 2. In the course of our conversation with the person serving we mention that I hadn't heard of the availability of possum skins in NZ until I visited the Museum of Australia and read about how some of the indigenous people from areas most greatly affected by European settlement were wanting to resurrect some of their traditional skills. They referred to possum skin cloaks that had been collected back in the first days of contact and set about studying them and figuring out how they were made. Then they got busy making the cloaks that are now on display in the museum. Possums are protected in Australia, so for the project to go ahead they had to import skins from NZ. We are pleased to discover that it was this very same company that they bought the skins from. In another amazing turn of good fortune for us this shop only opened 3 days or so ago. It was still in the process of setting up!

Our Hokitika business completed we head north. We have a number of options again today and discuss the alternatives. It's absolutely pouring rain, but Mum is very keen to see the Pancake Rocks so that settles it. We head north. It consistently pours rain the whole way as we pass through Greymouth. Noone could doubt our faith as we press steadfastly onward to our next natural spectacle.

North of Greymouth the traffic ahead slows to a stop as we reach the site of a landslip that has just occurred. The road is blocked. A little way before we had overtaken a slow moving piece of earth moving machinery. Ah. Now the slow moving earth machinery overtakes us and heads to the pile of debris across the road. We watch the slow clearing of the blockage as sand continues to trickle down the escarpment. Most entertaining. It must have been alarming to be driving along here when the slip was taking place. Eventually the road is cleared enough to allow a single lane of traffic to pass and the cars queued in either direction take their turn to continue their journey.

Pondering on the chances of further road blockages before the deluge eases, and secretly happily philosophical about even a slight risk of maybe having to drive around to Christchurch via Nelson. I drive on as (temporary?) waterfalls cascade down onto the road and mist shrouds the bordering vegetation.

On arriving at Punakaiki I am somewhat surprised at the scale of the pancake rocks and the visitor facilities accompanying them. This is obviously a major tourist attraction. From the off hand, not a must see, sort of way in which I have heard them spoken about in the course of my research this was not what I was expecting at all. It's all very impressive.

On queue the rain which has been absolutely belting down, eases. Not that Mum was about to be deterred. She has already located her umbrella. We park and head through the impressive rock entrance to the very pretty walk to the viewing area. Daughter wastes no time in her appreciation of the macro attractions of the area when she sees some bright orange fungi peeping out from the leaves on the embankment.

In contrast to the beautiful tiny flora the mysterious pancake rocks are on a large scale. These are eroded cliffs. I was thinking they were an eroded rock platform or something flatter and more tide affected. Perhaps my confusion has stemmed from the references to trying to be here at particular tide conditions. The blow hole is indeed tide affected in terms of when it puts on a display, but the rocks themselves are enormous and would be worth the visit at any time. The infrastructure also is very very nice. Stone walls leading around the site. Bridges for viewing the deep hole where the swell surges and breaks. The whole precinct is fabulous.
There are a lot of people here and everyone is bearing expressions that suggest a sense of wonder is widespread. Mum and Sis in particular are loving it as they slowly move from one spectacular vantage point to the next.

Another marvellous attraction at the site is that it is a sea bird rookery. Now that's a happy bonus!! Terns and red billed gulls. Sitting on nests. Chicks! We settle in for some extended viewing of some nesting terns and have the great good fortune to see the parent bird return with a shining silver fish. The offering gratefully gobbled it heads back out to sea before some minutes later returning again to the nest with another silver morsel dangling from its bill. This is apparently the shift change and the bird sitting on the nest rises and it's place taken by its partner. Fantastic! Fancy seeing that!!

One of my favourite parts of the place was the huge hole where the tide surges and the foam of the breakers washes over the submerged rocks. You can't rush an appreciation of this area.

The rain is continuing to drizzle lightly like an aerial varnish for the beautiful flowers of the native vegetation. Here and there honeyeaters are dining on the flowers of the flax. Playing hide and seek with curious tourists like me.

The rain gradually accumulates and drips from the tiny flowers of what appears to be a species of hebe. The light shining around the edges of tiny water droplets as they hang weightily on the edge of a petal. How much we would miss if we only ever ventured out in the sunshine.

We are amazed at the continued restraint of the clouds overhead which are clearly aching to dump their load. Just one tricky obstacle to navigate. Some steep uneven steps in the track. Daughter hangs back to steady her grandma. We return slowly towards the road marvelling at a spider's web heavy with rain sparkles. Beautiful but shy for the camera.
Back at the road we venture into the cafe and gift shop. There is a broad range of quality souvenirs including the most beautifully carved pounamu we have seen so far. Daughter wishes she had the $600 necessary to buy me a gorgeous small piece called Spirit Carrier. I wish she had it too. I guess it would be cheating to lend it to her.
The others have an intention of picking up some snack wraps from Maccas or KFC or wherever in Greymouth (they were paying attention as we passed northward). I'm not keen on that and decide to try something take away from the cafe. I get a sort of quiche like product from the cabinet and decide to give the large Anzac biccies a go. The service was distinctly surly and the food pretty average. Quite disappointing. The Anzac biccie was OK, but I'm in the crisp school of Anzac biccie officionados and these are the chewy sort.

Conscious of the time we assume our travelling positions once more and head south. The coastline is quite striking with stacks of black surf sprayed rocks by a sea of pale green. We pull over at one of the lay bys to capture some memory joggers and hopefully decor shots too.

It's late for lunch but not dettered we do the rounds of the multi-nationals in Greymouth before turning towards Christchurch. (Ah, I inadvertently lied in my previous report from Dunedin. Oops.) It is in this area that we see what we decided is one of the most remarkable sights of our trip. We have had no difficulty negotiating the many single lane bridges but here the shared use of infrastructure takes a turn to the really extraordinary. Here there is a single lane bridge used not only for both directions of road traffic but for the rail line as well. It is closely followed by a large roundabout with the train lines running smack bang through the middle of it. What the... Noone will believe this. We head back to video the experience of travelling through this set of hazards. We find that we have just missed a freight train coming through. Drat! Clearly the local populace must be quite accustomed to the situation, but it seems unbelievable to us to see the local police patrol car queued up on the railway tracks waiting for their turn across the bridge.

Whilst enjoying this entertainment we take a particular liking to the hazard warning sign for cyclists. We think it communicates the risk quite effectively.

As we head up the valley towards Christchurch once more we find ourselves back in the realm of broom (or is it gorse?) which blankets the ground in bright yellow. Through the rain a little further up the valley wild foxgloves have established, their purple spires dripping. They are mostly just a pink blur through the rain today though.

We know we have climbed in altitude when we start to see the beautiful Mt Cook lily flowering on the hillsides. We failed to take any photos when we've seen them previously so make a point of pulling over when we see a safe opportunity.

Travelling through the pass, the scenery resumes what I can only describe as broad scale grandeur. By now its well after 6 pm and we are dull to say the least as we recline heads against headrests and periodically doze as the glorious scenery slips by, although not always unappreciated.

It is not often that I find I have a distinct sympathy with an arsonist, but yes, I discover that even this is possible as we enter the little community of Springfield. Now I have to say that I did enjoy the first several seasons of the Simpsons (we'll choose to disregard the 15 or so seasons since they ran out of ideas worth actioning). However I think things are really getting out of hand when a little town like this decides that a large pink donut with a bite out of it, should be its claim to fame. I guess I should note that my sentiments are not shared by all in our vehicle. Sis and Daughter think it is funny. Even funnier still when we notice the abortive attempt to obliterate it. A photo stop is demanded.

Having done the photographic deed we do a double take as in our peripheral vision we spy a sign that seems on casual glance to be a little extreme. One could be forgiven for wondering if Nazism is alive and well in this town. Then again, if that were the case surely the Simpsons would be the first to go.

The wagons are rolling into the Arthurs Court Motorlodge quite late after a stop to photograph an ostrich farm. 8:30 sees us stopping once more at Starmart Russley for a sneaky trip through the (fairly ineffectual) car wash. None-the-less the evidence of our explorations is less apparent when we emerge. None of us have any recollection what we did about dinner that night. Now tomorrow night, our last night of the trip - that is memorable!

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