We woke up in Haast to rain – it rained much of the evening, it apparently rained all night, and it was raining when we got up and left. And Haast is one of those very tiny towns, or at least the part of it that we saw was tiny – on a Sunday morning, we couldn’t find anything open for breakfast.
So we headed north. In the rain. On winding roads that wove around hills and mountains, and over inlets and estuaries, and single-lane bridges that rivaled the OH MY GOD bridges we encountered in Costa Rica. On and on, in the cold grey wet morning, with our eyes a bit opened by gas-station-coffee-machine coffee.
We found a refuge at The Salmon Farm, a café and salmon farm (duh) – and the rain slowed, there were patches of blue in the sky, it looked like the day might redeem itself. The pot of tea and scone with clotted cream and jam did their job, and I woke up and felt alive. (A scone with jam and cream is enough to make even the grumpiest non-morning-person almost happy and cheerful.)
We drove on, over the winding roads that remained wet, past the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier – we talked about stopping and hiking in, but somehow a hike on a wet and muddy trail, on a cold morning, to see a giant chunk of ice, just wasn’t in our plan. Neither of us could get enthusiastic about it, so we drove on.
And on. And on. It turned into an endless driving day, on these twisting turning roads. It was a gorgeous drive, don’t get me wrong – but we covered close to 300 km in one day on roads that were pretending to be roller coasters. Wet roller coasters, kicking up spray as we zoomed along in our tiny Daihatsu.
We had our periodic stops to stretch, look at the scenery, just to take a break from sitting and driving. We drove through random towns and bought tea or coffee or soda, just to have a reason to stop. We stopped in old gold mining towns, old coal mining towns, towns that barely looked like a town. And towns that looked nice, and might have been fun to explore, but it was too early to stop and we were on a mission to put miles behind us and move along. Because we have just over a week left in New Zealand, and our must-see list includes locations on the north end of the South Island – so north we continued.
By mid afternoon it was actually sunny, and we breezed into Greymouth and found our hostel (which I booked online while we paused at a picnic rest area off highway 6 – yay for the electronic internet age!). The Neptune Backpackers is located in an old (1800s) railroad hotel, and we had a comfy room for the night. Wandered a bit around Greymouth, a port that shipped out all that coal and gold mined in the interior.
There are also penguins seen along the coast here – and this seems to be molting season for many of the west coast penguins, complete with caution signs on the roads, and articles in the newspapers warning drivers to slow down and take care.
Today (Jan. 21), we headed north toward Westport, taking a short break at Punakaiki so I could hike the trail to see the Pancake Rocks. These are weird, other-worldly sea stacks of compressed layers of rock, looking like giant grey stacks of pancakes. Geologists and coastal geomorphologists aren’t sure exactly why the rocks are weathering (or were formed) in these layers – but they are amazing! It looks like some fairy-tale castle of turrets and towers and bridges, all frozen in stone – Sleeping Beauty’s castle petrified, or something. It was incredible, and every time I turned a corner and saw a new section of the rocks, I actually gasped – and all the while the sea is crashing waves and spray, and at high tide there are all kinds of blowholes sending spray way up into the air. I’m so glad I took the time to do this (while Richard read his book at the café), because this is one of those weird natural phenomena that just boggles the mind.
Remember to click on the photos to enlarge - you need to see these big!
More driving, more gorgeous coastal views of waves
rolling in off the Tasman Sea, more penguin signs, more small towns – then Westport, another pretty coastal shipping town, where we stopped for a lovely lunch – and onward to the interior, heading vaguely north and east, still on Highway 6. There were more of the one-lane-take-turns bridges, and one with a giant rock cantilevered ceiling, almost a tunnel, where the bridge and road had been blasted out of a mountain. We had the occasional delay where a road crew was using various earth movers to clear the boulders and debris from landslides. And we saw more of the riverbeds that are littered with large cobbles and boulders, all washed down in the floods earlier in the month, with huge piles of rocky detritus piled on both sides of the highway.
Finally, we arrived in Murchison, a nice little
town (but not too little) in the middle of the hills, nearly at the north end of the island, a little town with several hotels and hostels and cafés, so that we have options.We’re at The Lazy Cow hostel, in a private room named Clover – each room is named for either a flower or a cow, I’m not sure. But the sun is shining, the evening feels like summer, and we are ready to head north to the town of Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park. At least, that’s tomorrow’s plan.