Saturday, June 7, 2008

Punakaiki Trip

Simon and I set out from Wanaka on Thursday, coincidentally Halloween. We drove into the wind along Lake Hawea and it was raining by the time we got to Makarora so we had a head start on the West Coast weather. We drove through Haast without stopping but took a look at the view from Knights Point lookout. We stopped for a break at Lake Paringa and ate the remaining slices of Treacle Tart from the previous nights dinner.

Then on to Fox Glacier for a walk up to the terminal face. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are a rare example of glaciers flowing down almost to the coast and as such are easily accessible. You can see in the pictures where the river flows out of an ice cave at the base of the glacier.

You can climb up onto the glaciers with a guide but we decided to spend our travel budget on large meals and soft beds and leave the ice climbing for another time. It started pouring with rain when we had just started walking back to the car and so the upper halves of us stayed dry as we had our cycling jackets on but our trousers got soaked and we had to change when we got back to the car.

A stop in Fox Glacier township and lunch at the Cook Saddle Café and Saloon filled us up and warmed us a little bit too. This is an American themed bar and restaurant with mostly burgers, sandwiches and salads on the menu. Simon managed to avoid ordering nachos in a stunning display of self restraint.

We drove on to Franz Josef and got a room for the night at Glow worm cottages which aren’t cottages but a motel complex. Spent the last of the afternoon drying our clothes and drinking wine. We decided skip the offer of the $3 BBQ and instead have dinner at the Landing Café. We shared a garlic bread to start, Simon had sirloin steak with garlic and mushroom sauce and I had lamb rump with pesto and couscous. Drank a bottle of Lindauer with dinner and then shared an apple tart to finish. Simon got bitten by his first sand fly during the meal and we resolved to be more thorough with our insect repellent applications. Our room was comfortable but our nights sleep was broken at 1:30am by Franz Josef having a sizeable percentage of its four metre annual rainfall accompanied by thunder and lightning.

Okarito Lagoon
On Friday morning we got up to find that Franz Josef had not washed away over night and so we filled ourselves with muesli for breakfast and covered ourselves in insect repellent. We then walked up to Franz Josef glacier. The terminal face of the glacier is not as accessible as Fox Glacier and so we had a look at what we could and then headed back. We stopped at Peters Pool, which is a small kettle lake (see picture right), on the way back to Franz Josef and then bought some French bread cream cheese and oranges to take for our lunch to Okarito. Keri Hulme, author of The Bone People, is probably Okarito’s most famous resident but it is the scenery and wildlife which draws people here. We first walked up the Okarito Trig walk to get a great view of Okarito lagoon (left) where we should have got great view of mountains including Mount Cook but it was very cloudy. As we walked back down the sky started to clear and we continued on an old pack track for another hour to three mile lagoon where we stopped for lunch in the now blazing sunshine We had been advised that the Okarito coast walk was able to be attempted an hour either side of low tide. It was an hour and a half before low tide so we decided to go anyway as we could just stop on the rocks if the waves were still too high. The coast proved to be a great example of how wild the West Coast can be, with huge surf and massive boulders stretching right out into the waves and we needed to do a lot of climbing around the rocks as the sea still had a good distance to recede. During our clambering we tried to watch out for seals as they may chase or attack people who come too close. I just managed to surprise a baby seal which was probably scared of us. It took us about an hour to walk back to the car along the coast in the hot spring sunshine.

The next stop was in Harihari for some diesel and a surprise for Simon as the woman in the petrol station complimented him on his Mr. T t-shirt. We got some coffee and L&P and drove on to Hokitika for the night. In Hokitika we stayed at the Jade Court Motor Lodge. We got into our unit, had a hot bath and then the rain started. We waited an hour for the rain to subside, then put our rain jackets on and extra trousers in the backpack. We managed to stay dry enough on the walk into town that we didn’t need to change at the restaurant.

We had dinner at the Café de Paris which was participating in the Monteiths West Coast Wild Food Challenge, which is a competition to match wild foods with Monteiths beer. In an example of chivalry, Simon forwent the option of smoked eel as a starter and instead we shared antipasto. Simon had Denver leg of goat with horopito from the wild food menu and I had venison with blueberries from the regular menu. We both had crepes suzette for dessert and had a delicious Barossa valley red with the meal and then Saints semillon with pudding.

The next day our breakfast was just toast and fruit and then we drove north for our first surprise. Simon is used now to one lane bridges but there are a couple of long one lane bridges between Hokitika and Greymouth which are shared with the railway line. We had a beautiful clear and sunny day to be head ing off into though, and a short stop at Rapahoe and look at the wild coastline. This part of the West Coast seems to be where old buses come to die and many houses have a dead bus in the garden. They could be the West Coasts answer to sleep-outs.

The picture above left shows how far south in New Zealand the Nikau palms grow naturally and hopefully gives a feel for the beautiful sunny day we had to enjoy Punakaiki. The picture left shows the famous ‘pancake rocks’ of Punakaiki.

Punakaiki is famous for the pancake rocks and blow- holes and has become a lot more developed since I last visited as a child, they even have fences now to stop you falling in. We had arrived after high tide when the blow holes are at their best, but still managed to get a great view of the blow holes in action. High tide had been just after nine this morning so we decided to come back at 10 o’clock tomorrow to get a good view of the blow holes.

As breakfast had been small, we stopped at one of the cafes near the blow holes for milkshake, tea and quiche. Thus fortified we were off for a walk along the Truman Track to an amazing little beach with thundering waves and waterfall. We got plenty of pictures here, but none that really capture the scale of the two metre high breakers. Standing there it was quite easy to believe that there was nothing out there but ocean until you reach Africa. Heading back to Punakaiki we visited the Punakaiki Cavern which is a cave which you can explore if you have a torch. Simon was disappointed that he only saw one glow worm.

Staying at Punakaiki Rocks Hotel south of the rocks on a wild beach and we arrive just in time to get some lunch, I had a lovely warm potato salad with loads of feta and pine nuts, Simon had pasta with Blackball chorizo, mussels and a tomato and chilli sauce. Blackball is an old gold mining settlement near Greymouth which has one pub and a now famous salami making company. Simon spent most of the rest of the afternoon dozing until I managed to get him out for a walk along the beach to the river where we looked at the white baiters and paddled in the ferocious, freezing surf. Dinner was a feast of scallops to start and then Simon had Warehou with loads of chilli and I had a rib eye steak, I had a strawberry and yoghurt mousse for dessert and Simon had Kapiti cheeses. We shared a bottle of something delicious but now forgotten with the meal.

We had a peaceful nights sleep and then I had blueberry pancakes for breakfast and Simon had a miners breakfast which was English muffin, poached eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms. By 8 o’clock we were wedged into canoes and kayaking on the Pororari River. There were a few white baiters out down by the sea but as we paddled up the river there was nobody else around and I watched a bird dive into the water and rise up again with a mouthful of white bait. The season is nearly over and I hadn’t had any of New Zealand’s strangest seasonal delicacy yet this visit and vowed to try and get some soon.

Due to the recent rains, we were eventually defeated by the current flowing through the rapids upstream and so we paddled back down the river and out into lagoon as the tide was coming in. There were waves breaking over the sand bar as we returned the kayaks and headed back to blowholes for high tide.

We drove south to Hokitika and stopped there to visit the aquarium where Simon fed the eels, some of which were two metres long. I bought whitebait fritters for lunch and was really disappointed as they had hardly any whitebait in them and loads of stodgy batter. We stopped just past Lake Ianthe to see a giant Matai tree which is apparently 1000 years old.

Just north Harihari, at the bridge over the Wanganui River, is a small side road. We drove up there for a couple of kilometres and over an old bridge. There is a short track down to the river and then we walked down the river bank almost to where the next creek comes in to reach the Amethyst Hot Springs just bubbling up out of the ground.

There are several small pools dug but someone was already in the best looking one so we moved down the river another 50 metres and found a dug pool which was too hot so we opened it out into a pool that got some river water, stripped off and bathed. No smell of sulphur, just lovely hot water bubbling out of the river sands.

This is bliss, better than any spa or commercial springs. The only difficulty came on getting out as our insect repellant is not waterproof and we could not get dressed fast enough to stop being bitten by the hordes of sand flies. Went drove back to Fox Glacier and booked into the Rainforest Motel and then took the car to the glacier viewpoint on the other side of the Fox River. The view from there would only be worthwhile if you were not prepared to walk up to the glacier. There is a small marked warm spring next to this road but it is right on the road so I could not imagine enjoying bathing in it. We had dinner at Café Neve and shared a delicious pizza bread, then Simon had wild boar from the Monteiths Wild Food menu and I had chicken with pasta and chickpeas. We had a bit of a beer night with Simon drinking Monteiths Celtic and me having Steinlager. We shared ice-cream for dessert which was delicious but unnecessary.

In the morning we got up and ate muesli, then went for a walk around Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is famed for the reflections of Mount Cook in the surface, and the reflections were amazing but Mount Cook was hidden by cloud. We drive home with just a brief stop for a bagel in Haast and got home early afternoon having driven 1126kms and had a fantastic time.

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