Going West

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Jan 04, 2012


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What I did
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Flag of New Zealand  , West Coast,
Thursday, November 24, 2011

A long tiring day. 7 hours of driving, relatively breezy, winding roads, and little in the way of townships. From Springs Junction at our overnight stop (which we didn't see what looked like until morning after turning up at 10pm) we continued west along the Lewis Pass. The road forks at Reefton and we then headed northwards with a slight diversion in mind to take in the Punakaiki pancake rocks. Something had to fill the void of the day.

On this diversion north we noted a 'NZ's biggest Swingbridge' typeface on the map, a short side road further north along the Buller Gorge. It wouldn't be far, it didn't look far on the map.

The road kept winding and winding and it got to the point where we had gone about 30km. It was one of those strange times when you wish you hadn't come along a road but still wanted to drive on as you must be close to the destination. We must be. We were over half way to a town completely in the wrong direction.

And then we spotted it. The Swingbridge. I had in my wildest imaginations the bridge on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. When we pulled up and saw it from a slight distance away it just didn't look all that impressive. It was clearly a bridge that had been built just to claim 'the biggest' title. We walked towards the gate for payment to go over the bridge and then just stopped. Did we actually want to go over this bridge? Did we really want to see it? Or were we driven here by a whim and a map? The whim and the map seemed to be our leader and so we turned down the chance to cross the swingbridge and headed back. The little diversion had cost us 72km, about an hour and a half and a little bit more regret. It's like driving into London from Hemel, looking at Big Ben and saying "Yeah, it's not that big really" and then driving back. Farcical - we just wouldn't have even contemplated it at home.

Back on track and I put my foot down a little as the wind held off. The drive along Buller Gorge was fantastic. I was only one of a couple of cars on the road and happily swung the camper round tight corners along narrow stretches of single lane traffic hugging tight to the gorge walls. For an hour or so I was in my element, and Kate slept through it all.

We turned at Westport to head south and the wind picked up a little. Feeling more confident though I ploughed on and found myself overtaking other vehicles. Shocking. The road hugged the rugged coastline giving some terrific views of a stretch of coast with heavy powerful waves striking on the rocky outcrops. We were getting near to the pancake rocks.

Parking up at the first big gathering of vehicles I had seen all day, we trooped our way into the Punakaiki Rocks park which is a short 20 minute loop walk to the blowhole rocks and back again to the car park. A freebie. The pancake rocks are a geological formation where layers and layers of rocks have formed in, surprise surprise, a pancake formation. They deliver exactly what they say.
The blowholes were pretty awesome though with the big waves rolling in and causing a thunderous roar followed by a poof and a splash as water was squeezed up through the gaps in the rocks. Standing a little too close when the bigger waves thunder in generally results in getting a little wet.

After a light lunch I had a 4-5 hour afternoon drive. It was the kind of drive where we came across a town within the first 20 minutes and so I had to stop to allow Kate to do a tiny bit of shopping, and then after that it was 4 hours of nothingness. A road with towns indicated on the map, but when you actually drove through the towns it took all of about 15 seconds from the start to the end of the settlement.

Eventually the road took us to Franz Josef, and we had arrived by 5pm. We popped into the town and checked with the Guide centre as to what we would need in the morning for our hike and we scouted out some parking places for when we drove in in the morning. A successful if not exciting day. The pancake rocks were good though and worth the detour.
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