Saturday 22nd January – Tuesday 25th January 2011 Lewis Pass
From Hanmer Springs we headed to the west coast – better weather was forecast for the next few days than on the east coast so we thought we'd take advantage of it. Besides, there were places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do.
The road took us over the Lewis Pass. We wound our way up a while, checking the map and the settlement names as we'd been told about some free hot springs along the way. We found the parking spot by the river and the warm pool easy enough – and the infamous sand-flies found us. We'd barely stopped and the little biters were all over us (not fun when trying to feed a baby). The water wasn't warm enough or the scenery tempting enough to make us stay very long, neither were we looking forward to weeks of slapping at the sand-flies. At least Colin and I could put on repellent (I have some natural, chemical free stuff so as to avoid poisoning Samara with nasty chemicals), but poor Samara doesn't even know to bat them away when they land on
her and we are very reluctant to put anything on her skin.
We either missed the sign telling us we were at the top of the pass, or there isn't one. One minute we were driving up, the next we were heading down again. Just like that we'd crossed from east to west South Island. The scenery was stunning, steep, bush clad hills straight up either side of the river, road clinging to one side. One thing we did notice quite quickly was the sudden improvement in the weather. The clouds disappeared, the sun came out and it was much warmer.
We risked more sand-flies and stopped at a sign for a waterfall walk. After stripping off a layer (yes, it had got that warm!) and loading Samara up in her wrap, we took a walk through the trees and found a lovely waterfall. And no flies! Perhaps if we sat still long enough they would have found us, but the only ones we encountered were those we let out of the van when we stopped. Hope they found their way home over the pass again!!
We had lunch at a nice DOC picnic area / camp
ground called Marble Hill where we met a very brave robin who happily hopped round us and checked out all we had out on the table. Gold Fever
We camped at another DOC site at Slab Hut Creek. It was nice enough, but plagued by swarms of wasps and bees, not to mention the ever present sand-flies. It was one that mentioned gold panning in the river, not that we knew what we were doing or had pans or anything. There was a nice walk through the bush alongside the river – and less sand-flies and bees – so we grabbed a tin plate and Samaras tent and went for a wander. We found a likely looking spot on the river bank, set up the tent (small and mossie-proof) and had a crack at making our fortune. It obviously wasn't our day. We didn't find anything that we recognised as gold. Back at the camp we got chatting to a couple from outside Christchurch who do gold panning as a holiday activity. The guy had a couple of pans and a sluice, and offered to give us a lesson in the morning. So the next morning Colin rushed
us up the creek again for another go. Still no fortune, but we did find a couple of flakes, and Colin now has gold fever.
In order to escape from the wasps and bees (theres no escaping the sand-flies!) we headed back into Reefton for a look around, then back up the Lewis Highway to Black Point for some walks. We were mixing gold with “black gold” – the mines were gold but there was a seam of coal through the hill too. Seals
Just outside Westport, where we'd splashed out on a night at a Top 10 holiday park for the showers and laundry (and sea view), was a colony of NZ Fur Seals. We walked up to the viewing platform to check them out, and found that DOC workers were hard at it catching the pups and weighing, measuring and tagging them. It was hard on the ears with both mums and pups squealing.
We spent an hour or two walking round Westport town centre as Samara was fast asleep in the buggy. We knew she would wake if we tried transferring her from buggy to car seat, so just kept wandering! We got
some new fuel filters for the van (its been bit sluggish since the Molesworth Road) but couldn't get air filters, and checked out the local op shops. I managed to find some books to read, so was keen to get going somewhere I could start one. Gold Fever pt II
About 20 minutes north of Westport on the road to Karamea is the Britannia Stream. There is a walking track along the stream and it is also known for gold. So of course we had to stop there! Colin had bought a plastic gold pan in Westport and he wanted to try it out. We walked a little way up the track and found a spot by the river where I could sit with Samara in the shade while Colin tried to give us a life of luxury. The massive amount of gold he found meant that we free camped in the walk carpark that night! Nevertheless it was a lovely spot, bush on three sides and the river on the fourth, a weka wandering about and plenty of big, fat kereru / wood pigeons in the trees. Colin even got up early to try panning again while
Samara and I had a lie in. The little guzzle guts got me up at 5.30am for a feed! Black Gold
We always thought that black gold referred to oil, but here it refers to coal. The gold seams dried up as we headed north, and the coal seams took over. We stopped at a place called Denniston, a near deserted “town” with an interesting past. We say “town” with inverted commas as there isn't much left there now, a few houses, the old hospital (now a museum of sorts) and all sorts of chimneys and other remains scattered in the bush. The population now is all of about 8 people, down from around 1500 at its peak. Most of the houses, the school, club etc are all gone, but there were plenty of photos, descriptions and stories on boards round the incline and in the museum.
Denniston is about 600m above sea level, and the road climbs pretty quickly up there, on a bare plateau. It was one of the country's most difficult mining towns to live in. Access was either up a steep pack track or in a coal wagon up the 'incline', an engineering
masterpiece where empty coal wagons were hauled up the hill at a 45º angle by the weight of the full wagons going down. Looking at the incline, 45º sounds pretty shallow – it was a very steep drop off from the loading area at the top. We stopped at the bottom of the incline too, and it looked just as steep from there as from the top.
A bit further along the road to Karamea is the settlement of Ngakawau. One end of the Charming Creek Walkway leaves from behind the township. We walked for about an hour though forest and by the river along the disused railway line to the Mangatini Falls. Much of the path still had the tracks and sleepers bedded in and went through old tunnels. The falls were really impressive, but we missed them at first. We were so busy watching where we were putting our feet (it was that sort of track) that we couldn't always look at the surroundings, and it wasn't until we stopped to read a sign that we looked up enough to see all this water tumbling off the cliff face in front of us.
It would have
been nice if this was gold country instead of coal, as the path was almost paved in coal. No regular gravel needed here, there was plenty of the black stuff around. Imagine if it had been gold...
We “discovered” a really neat camp ground at Gentle Annie, just across the river from Mokihinui, about half way between Westport and Karamea, right on the beach, a really chilled out place. Samara and I sat on the grass outside the van watching the wekas wandering round, Samara smiling away at them, and me watching out for the sand-flies. That place just before the top of Lewis Pass has so far been the worst for sand-flies, there they were a menace, everywhere else they have been a pain. They'll get worse again I'm sure.
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