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Published: June 21st 2011
After saying our goodbyes to Elspeth, our gracious hostess, we left the little orchard on the estuary at 9:42AM, forty-two minutes past our planned departure time. We had relative clear skies for our drive ahead to the West Coast of the South Island.
The state highway sliced through the Kahurangi National Park in a couple of places as it left the orchard and pasture land and rose up through the Buller Gorge. The road climbed as it followed the course of the Buller River that carved a winding path on its way to the Tasman Sea to the west. We passed over so many streams that apparently they gave up creative names and turned to measurements as descriptions. For those keeping score at home: Eight Mile Stream, Nine Mile Stream, Ten Mile Stream, Four Mile Stream, Eleven Mile Stream, Seven Mile Stream another Seven Mile Stream, etc.
Near the top of the pass through the mountains, we saw a sign for a swing bridge and decided to check it out. It was a privately owned venture that had a 100+ meter swing bridge over a gorge with the Buller River flowing at full force beneath. Hanging to the west
of the bridge was a 160 meter zip line. After sizing it up, we all decided to give it a go. We did the short loop hike and then Suzy & Theo were set up on the line to cross first. I got out on the bridge to snap a couple of pictures. They cruised by me at a brisk pace on seats that were tethered in tandem under the line some 150 feet over the rushing river below. Theo, of course, immediately asked to go again. He actually wanted to fly solo on the ride...not lacking an adventure gene. I ran back to go next and then Geddy and Ivy went. A nice adrenaline rush as a break to the drive.
After our adventure-break, we were presented with some amazing scenery through the river gorge. The river was running so deep that the surface was smooth, although the power of the current was palpable. The depth of the waterway seemed to exude a steely cold power. Cool fog hung in the lush forest a couple hundred meters above the river but the forest on the banks of the river was clear as if the cold river had sucked
the fog from the air.
The beauty of the forest soon gave way to magnificent coastal beauty with rocky outcroppings jutting through the surf. The Tasman Sea was at high tide and was giving the coast a potent beat-down. We rounded one scenic bend after another and finally reached Punakaiki, where we stopped to check out Pancake Rocks. There was a short loop hike over a rocky spit that had formed in layers that were being eaten away by the sea. The erosion patterns had created funky inlets and blow-holes and resemble stacks of pancakes. A circular chasm dropping down some 100 feet to the thrashing sea below was aptly named Surge Pool. The surging waves of high tide swept into the pool with a ferocity from nearly every direction. The more forceful waves seemed to shake the entire area. Another impressive stop on our journey.
The coastal beauty was immediately eaten by a harsh city, named appropriately Greymouth. The size of the city was surprising. The West Coast only boasts a population of about 30,000, a fraction of the region's peak during the gold rush period in the 1860's. Greymouth fortunately fell in our rear-view mirror and
we continued down the coast to our destination of Hokitika. Here we rented a small chalet off of the beach in a small holiday park. We brought our bags in and hustled down to the beach for the remains of the sunset. The sea was still pounding forcefully at the shore but it was calming watching the last bits of pink give way to the light blue hues of early evening. Signs on the beach also indicated that blue penguins might be spotted on the beach! They apparently waddle up on the shore at dusk and burrow into the sand. Come dawn, they shake out of the sand and hit the surf. Sounds like we have an early wake up call tomorrow!
We made it back to dinner and had one last adventure - a night hike to a glow worm dell across the street. We hiked up about 50 meters from the road and turned off our flashlights. We could immediately see glow worms in the sides of the carved out hill side. We held on to a railing and made our way up further into the dell in the dark. It was an exciting experience. Occasional breaks
in the forest canopy revealed stars above, and the walls around us looked like stars all around. Cool.
Another epic day in the land of kiwis!
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