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Published: November 7th 2014
Arthur's Pass ( of Death ) - Day 2
On the road. I'm driving since I have left side of the road driving experience. Our plan is to do a counterclockwise loop around the South Island, skipping the northern region mainly out of time constraints. So today we drive to Greymouth via Arthur's Pass, a famous road long used by the Maori (indigent New Zealand people) but "discovered" by Arthur Dobson in 1864 as a way to get West during the Gold Rush. It's home to the highest settlement in NZ at 900m (Arthur's Pass Village population of 62). It's also home to a national park and cuts between two mountain ranges and is known for epic photo ops and lots of day hikes. So we think we will spend the day in the pass, hiking and snapping pics at the numerous view points and trails. It's clear and sunny when we leave Christchurch and then... Bam. Rain. Blustering winds shaking the car. Sheets of rain. Can't see anything. Awful. We stop in Sheffield, a small town famous for its meat pies, so we can hopefully wait out the storm and Anj can have her first NZ pie. We can barely get into the shop, as the winds are so strong and the rain is pelting, and my fluorescent yellow poncho goes blowing down the highway as I run with my floral umbrella to catch it. Tourists. We haven't even started and I'm soaking wet, shoes and all. We assemble ourselves somewhat in the tiny shop and we talk with the barista who says there is snow in the pass. Snow. And there is no sign that the storm is letting up any time soon. That's NZ for ya! Four seasons in one day! We aren't as thrilled.
We try to stay positive, but I know we are both somewhat deflated. It's our first day and we are so excited to get out and enjoy NZ. We are ready for the rain and we are ready for the cold, but we aren't ready for this. And I think both of us at some point wonder...is it going to be like this the whole trip?
We get back into the car and drive through the pass. The mountains are majestic but the fog cover is low, and then the rain turns to snow. It's slow going and not all that enjoyable. We make it to the visitor center and there really is nothing to do in this weather. It's just a bust. So we opt to head south to Hokitika, a western coastal town which offers some rainy day options. The town is cute and tourist friendly. It is home to the world's largest sock museum, a thriving jade business, and there's even a shop where you can carve your own knife. There is a small stretch of beach and a large sign made of sticks which says "Hokitika". A totally skipable stop, but provides some entertainment given the circumstances. The weather improves and we are able to walk around and enjoy some of the town.
My first stop is to find some more protective foot gear, as I only have my tevas and my barefoot running shoes and the thought of two weeks with cold wet feet is dreadful. I don't want to buy hiking boots as I have a great pair at home, and I find the gumboots (Wellys) are really heavy. And then Nelson, the owner of the store, comes to my rescue. He introduces me to waterproof socks, made from scuba type material. He said he tested them and stood in the bathtub with them on and his feet stayed dry. I don't think I have another option so I cough up the $70 and strap these babies on.
They ultimately are...incredible. My feet remain bone dry for the rest of the trip. I may set up a side business when I return to the states.
We then drive up to Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park check out the famous "pancake rocks and blow holes", a series of flat rock formations in the ocean formed by a weathering process called stylobedding. The sea surges into caverns and then booms through the blowholes. It's the one place that may be better to see in crappy weather. The weather picks up again and we head back to our motor inn to dry out and recuperate. Our hotel is fortunately really nice and spacious and I take a long soak in the tub and we arrange our things to dry. The weather looks more promising for the next day, so we plan to head back to Hokitika to check out some day hikes before driving to the Franz Fox glacier. But there is an air of baited breath, and I don't think either of us are too confident this trip is going to go as expected.
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