We did have a couple of stops along the way. Our last taste of the Kahurangi National Park was via the one hour return trek to what is tantalisingly advertised as "The Big Rimu Tree". I had no idea what a rimu tree was and pretty much still don't as the viewing point allows you to see the lower end of its trunk only, which makes the whole jaunt a little pointless
. I'd been half hoping we might see one of the rare Kaka parrots that the region also provides a home for but the rainforest seemed strangely lifeless, with the only audible noise being Tony's low grumble after what he, admitedly quite rightly, viewed as a wasted hour. From there, it was a straight two hour drive back down the winding rainforest roads, through gorges and back on to the coast, eventually passing the Pancake Rocks and arriving at Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast.
We'd be warned about Greymouth and its reputation for perfectly reflecting its name with its atmosphere. In truth, I didn't think it was so bad, perhaps because we caught it on a good day with bright piercing sun lighting up its sealine in an assortment of yellows. That's not to say that there's much to do there aside from the usual coastal tracks which by now were only worth walking of particularly distinct which these weren't, a bit of shopping along the main street and a visit to the beardy fisherman statue which stands with its back to its sea opposite the jetty. It wasn't a life enhancing visit, but it didn't depress me. The Greymouth tourist board are welcome to use that slogan in their brochures.
From Greymouth, it's only 40km on to the town of Hokitika where we would be making our next overnight stop
. Now, did you know that the rapid Komet Sewing Machine can churn out socks at an impressive 20 s.p.m. (socks per minute)? Or that the process of the preparing textiles for sock production is known as carding? Or that a person can card by hand simply by holding one carder in one hand and pulling the textiles through it using a carder in the other? I didn't either, but you can find out all this and more at the excitedly unexciting Heritage Sock Museum in Hokitika, which boasts one of the world's largest collections of antique sock making machines. On second thoughts, perhaps it's more a confession than a boast but there was no doubt I wanted to investigate further. The collection sits in a room at the back of a sock shop and its owner is clearly a big sock fan and believes that others can be big sock fans too, if you arm them with the correct amount of Sock Knowledge. Her belief has even led her to in fact, that produce and star in her own DVD showing you how to make a sock from start to finish and plays it on loop in the museum. Tony watched for as long as he could mentally cope before politely leaving but I was impressed enough to make a second visit. As tourist attractions go, it makes Geraldine's big jumper look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but that's why I liked it.
In the 1860s, Hokitika had been at the centre of the gold rush which enticed immigrants in their thousands, causing the town to boom, only to bust just as quickly once the hills had been ransacked
. The gold heritage remains but as the town has regenerated, so has its industrial focus. The arts and crafts are now the big business in Hokitika. There's always someone blowing glass, or painting stones or carving the precious green Jade, which is found in huge quantities offshore, into interesting shapes. We visited the Jade factory briefly to watch the carvers at work (well, "a carver" but then it was Saturday) before dropping in at the local Acquarium cum Wildlife Centre. The fish there are fish as fish should be - ugly, gormless and miserable looking, they do little to entertain the tourists who have paid their money. The main attraction, though, is the nocturnal house which allows around the clock viewing of the elusive Kiwi, the national treasure which most modern natives will never see in the wild. Not exactly classically attractive with their podgy bodies, long chopstick beaks and brown furry plumage, their charm is in their incessant industry. We watched as they moved around their enclosure floor, investigating the leaves and chippings while clearly oblivious to our presence.
Exploration of the sights of the town itself took little more than half a day (notwithstanding a couple of extra visits to the sock museum), although of greater interest is the Gorge which lies 30km inland and is famous for its waters which are astonishing blue in colour, almost to the point where it doesn't look real
. Nearby Lake Kaniere wasless welcoming, mainly because you need a boat or jetski to really enjoy and we had neither. Back in town, evening offered a couple of tourist opportunities which we took advantage of on both nights of our stay. The second night we were joined by Carmen and Enke, a pair of German students who have been posted to New Zealand on work experience and were down on the Coast to explore glacier country. First stop was the beach which is littered with driftwood, sometimes consisting of entire trees which have been uprooted, stripped of any bark and indeed dignity, thendumped on the sand in solemn lumps. At the far end of the spit, there's a designated sunset point where tourists and locals flock nightly to watch day turn to dusk. The sun sinks like a long distance runner, taking its time to make its way down to the horizon but sprinting out of sight when it gets there. There's plenty of photo opportunities although the view is blocked by fishermen and there's only so much clubbing of fish heads with rocks that any of us can take. After dark, it's time to go and see the glow worms which cling to a mossy dell just a couple of hundred yards from our hostel. They were more plentiful than the ones we saw in Karamea and with the rocky walls pitch black, they looked like fairy lights. Christmas had finally come, and only a month or so too late!
We stayed up late in to the night chatting with Carmen and Enke about life, future plans and travel. I spent a huge amount of time trying to convince them to go to the sock museum before they left town. Their German accents disguised their excitement pretty well.
My night's sleep in Karamea threatened to be rather uncomfortable when I decided to retire at 2am and found myself locked out of the bedroom. We were told we didn't need a key to get in but the door clearly locks from the inside but my saviour came in the unlikely shape of an old man with a face as wrinkly as a lettuce and the bladder capacity of a moth. His third toilet break of the night allowed me to sneak in to the dorm behind him and get enough's sleep to allow me to drive us (me and Tony that is, not the man with the dickie bladder - the number of stops you'd have to make with him would make the journey time unbearable) the 350km journey south to Hokitika.