Pancakes, They're Not Just For Breakfast Anymore!

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Punakaiki YHA

Flag of New Zealand  , West Coast,
Monday, February 15, 2010

After leaving Golden Bay, I was determined to get to Punakaiki, which was a several-hour drive down the west coast.

Punakaiki is famous for the Pancake Rocks, which are clusters of giant flat rocks that are stacked, resembling a pile of flapjacks.

The drive took me across Buller Gorge, which is miles of a winding gorge set inland.  The gorge itself was impressive, and the lookouts were crowded with campervans and cars, so I kept driving, passing over a cool suspension bridge at one point on the trip.

I decided to stop in a sleepy  town to fill up with petrol, and I'm glad I did.  There were no service stations anywhere from that point to Punakaiki.

I thought I would just stay at a backpackers other than a YHA.  Although they are reliable, they are usually not very charming, and they tend to be like freshman-year college dorms.  I wanted to stay someplace with character after having fallen in love with the Kiwiana.

The road to Punakaiki is miles of gorgeous coastline and forrests, and there is no real signage for anything.  I arrived in Punakaiki without even knowing it, and almost drove right through the whole area.  I was tired and had passed some signs for accommodations, and I really wanted to watch the sunset from the beach, so I pulled a u-turn and made a sharp left off the main road, down a gravel path. The "road" I was on was lined with small cottages that were backpackers (which, I should probably explain, since I've been referring to them, are what are commonly called hostels).

After making my way further toward the end of the path, having stopped in at each accommodation along the way and being turned out due to lack of vacancy, I ended up at the furthest possible one, and the most remote— The Te Nikau Retreat.

As it turns out, it was YHA owned, but absolutely fantastic.  The Retreat was like a little cabin in the woods.  After checking in I was directed to what I thought was a pathway to the Enchanted Forrest.  It was actually a rain forrest in the Te Nikau Nataional Park.  The entrance was veild by manicured vines, and the pathway led from the main cabin to several smaller cabins in the middle of the woods. AWESOME!  Just what I wanted!

I dropped my stuff in my room, grabbed my backpack, which was laden with camera gear and my laptop (I didn't want to leave my MacBook in a room I was sharing with six strangers), and headed further into the woods where I met seven dwarves.  No, wait, wrong story...

The path let out at an overlook above the rocky beach.  Several people were standing on a lookout platform waiting for the sun to set.  To my right was a stairway, part wood, part carved out of the natural rocks, down to the beach.

As I descended, I saw a long spit of high rocks that stretched out into the sea.  The moment I saw it, I said to myself, I'm going out there.

I trudged through the sand, and with my heavy backpack secured to me, I climbed up and over and across the rocks, jumping and lifting myself higher and farther out until I got to the end. The rocks were covered in mollusks that had washed across them during really high tide.  They were attached to the surface like co-dependent barnacles. I found a space that was shell-free where I sat and watched the sun set for over two hours.

I took some magnificent photos until it got dark.  I unpacked my pocket-sized, high-powered flashlight, called a torch here, and steadied myself as I made my way back across the rocky shelf. I stopped suddenly at the edge.

See, after two hours, the tide had gotten higher.  And where I had come walking across had now been under water.

You know those chase scenes on foot where the cop is running across the rooftops of New York City buildings, and the bad guy jumps from one rooftop to another?

I took several steps back, and thanking my common sense to insure all my gear for full value, and cursing my lack of common sense for thinking that low tide happens at night, I took a running start and leapt from one rocky shelf to the next, landing skillfully by absorbing the shock by kneeling when my feet hit the surface.  I felt like Spiderman!

I circumnavigated around a narrow rocky ledge and ended up safely on the sand.  As I made my way around the far side of the rocks, I noticed a cave through which I could have walked, instead of trying to climb around a the narrow ledge.  :-(  The view through the cave was beautiful— the sky was dark orange and the water a midnight blue.

When I got back to the main lodge, I wet inside to make some dinner.  Everyone was gathered in the dining room exchanging photos of the sunset.  Someone asked if I had seen it and I told them about venturing out to the end of the spit.

"We saw some crazy person out there from the overlook!  Was that you," asked a german biker-looking dude.  Yes, yes it was me, I nodded, appreciating the moniker.


The next day, I checked out and went to see the Pancake Rocks, which were a quick, two-minute drive.

The Pancake Rocks can spew water several feet high, gyser -like, depending on the tide.  If the tide is high and the current strong, it can force the water though crevasses in the rocks, and the force of the water jets out from the sides.

But it doesn't happen all the time, and it didn't happen the day I showed up.  So I just walked around the pathway and stopped at all the lookouts to photograph the cluster of rocks from different angles.

It was a bit overcast, so the colors in the scenery weren't as vibrant as they could be, but the rocks were still pretty cool.
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