NOT the Wet Coast!

Trip Start Dec 01, 2009
Trip End Jan 23, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wynne's back for this blog, then for the rest of NZ, Mark will be your guide!

The coastline north of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers was another treat to behold. The roads undulated with the curves of the coast, and it was easy to get into the groove of feeling our bodies sway left, then right....left, then right, around the bends, catching a new turquoise beach with crashing white waves around one curve, then large rock formations off the coast around the next curve. We stopped at a quiet, isolated roadside cafe for an afternoon caffeine stop, and sat at their outside benches, breathing in a warm sense of peace. As an added treat, the cafe owners had 2 young kittens, so I was able to hold one and get my kitty fix--I was missing Tsunami back home.

Not much later we arrived in Punakaiki. Punakaiki is known for its "Pancake Rocks." This is basically what they look like--one formation of rock, with generally equally thick layers piled one on top of the other. Now, plop these unusual rocks on a seaside coast on a warm day, with a blow hole spouting out water at high tide, and you've found something quite picturesque. For the time being, we continued slightly past Punakaiki to a small eco-resort called Te Nikau Retreat. This tranquil place was recommended to us by another traveler. Nestled in tropical forest, with Nikau palms and giant black pines engulfed by strangler figs, and epiphytes, we found our little cottage and dropped off our bags.  We found a narrow path nearly at our doorstep that led to the Truman Track.  This DOC trail wanders through thick tropical forest that shortly emerges on the beach.

Truman Beach is a stunning spot. Short sand-colored cliffs, filled with millions of tiny holes, reach almost to the sea, stopping with just enough space to leave a nice stretch of sand for walking. To the south, we looked out on a broad, undeveloped bay, where the jungle nearly meets the sand.  To the north, a small, nearly private cove invited us down from the cliff to walk around some large boulders and onto the sand. We discovered a hole through the cliff just wide enough for Mark to lower himself through to the sand below. Of course, most everyone else just walks down the steps! Being at the beach always seems to invoke a sense of innocent play.

There were still enough hours for a goodly walk, so we returned the full length of the Truman Track to the highway (passing the footpath back to our cottage), craning our necks to look into the forest canopy, loving every moment of the lush scenery and warm air. We walked a couple of km south along the roadside, taking in the coastal scene, where brilliant orange lilies grow thickly on the edge of the bush, and tiny yellow orchids hang down from the upper trunks of Nikau palms. We were looking for the start of another track, heading up a river.

The Pororari Track follows a river of the same name that carves its way through pale yellow and dark grey limestone cliffs. On a sunny day like this one, young folk were kayaking down the river, laughing and having a grand time.  We only went hiked up a short distance, knowing we would still have to walk back to the cottage later, but enjoyed every minute of the walk.  The river typically looked like a clear, deep emerald, but later I realized this was simply from the reflection of the forest along its edges.  Other patches reflected the clear blue sky. We listened to the sound of the river, staring up at the cliffs, ducking under the trunk of a massive podocarp tree, and hopping on top of the occasional boulder to catch a broader view.

Back at our cottage, we whipped up another salad, with our new favorite salad item, grilled haloumi cheese, coated in lemon-infused olive oil & herbs, and served up with olives, tomatoes, and avocado on a bed of greens with a basic vinaigrette. For the main course, we had a plate of pasta topped with sauteed onion, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and (for me) mushrooms. While the food was cooking, the French doors to the cottage were open to the humid and pleasantly warm air, and we were treated with a visit from a curious large native bird, a weka. Once the weka sauntered off into the woods, we sat down with another good bottle of red and polished off every morsel of our meal. What a life!

Darkness was coming soon, so we were quick to rinse our dishes and walk down to the beach for sunset. While the sun crept closer to the horizon, we played for a few moments around both onshore and just offshore large boulders. Mark discovered a cave system penetrating one of them, and disappeared into it for a while, exploring the large room within. He emerged in time to watch one of the most glorious sunsets I can recall. Take a look and see if you agree. Interestingly, both our cameras ran out of battery power before the colorful display reached its peak, so the spectacle you're seeing isn't as vibrant as it became! I wanted to slow time and just stare at the texture of clouds for hours, while the rhythm of the waves played their gentle music.  Complete relaxation and calmness were all I felt.

Walking back to the cottage, we were glad we had already walked this way twice before. The jungle along the footpath was so thick that none of the pale evening twilight lit our way. I felt a momentary thrill from the sense of walking through something wild & mysterious. I experienced a glimpse of what the early Maori must have known each night in the forest. It is no surprise to me that so many cultures create stories of wonder and fear about forests at night! Safely back in our cottage, we took warm showers and brewed some vanilla rooibos tea for dipping our crunchy ginger bickies into before we turned in for the night.

The next morning, as close to high tide as we could manage for our brief time in the Punakaiki environs, we went to the Pancake Rocks themselves.  A wide, paved trail leads out to the cliffs, briefly through low forest, then through a dense growth of NZ flax, and shortly to a view of the marvelous shapes of these rocks.  Waves carved deep inlets into the rocks, creating caves, narrow coves, and bridges over the sea.  So many fun shapes there were, that between us we must have taken at least 50 photos (no, we're not going to punish you with most of them!). 

Returning to the trailhead, we crossed the street to where some folks might have ordered edible pancakes to fill their bellies.  We wandered in for a few minutes and were impressed by some of the most intricate carvings of greenstone (jade) and paua shells, as well as a few luxurious scarves and blankets made of NZ wool, sometimes blended with the incredibly soft fur of another non-native critter, the opossum.

We had a long drive ahead, so we didn't linger.  From Punakaiki, we continued north for another hour or more, still loving the drive along the coast (see a short video of the winding roads), and not at all tired of taking in new scenes.  After a while, our road turned inland, following the Buller River, which in places was a broad gorge. One lane bridges were common. Eventually we stopped at a hotel and restaurant in the center of Murchison to get a coffee for the last push of the drive.  A bunch of motorcycle riders, decked out in their leathers, and wearing T-shirts from bike ralleys all over the world had stopped there too.  This was our 2nd encounter with Harleys and such.  We must have seen at least a couple hundred bikes ride by on our 2nd day in NZ, up on the North Island while we were still with Alice & Richard, many weeks ago now.

Our easterly route took us over more mountains, and eventually down into a broad valley, with the tall, dense Mt. Richmond Forest Park to the north and the golden Wither Hills approaching to the south.  This meant we were returning to the wine country we had visited almost a month before.  The sight of the countryside in sunnier weather was delightful.  It seemed like a simple, happy place for folks to spend days.  With 2 hours or so before we needed to reach Picton to catch a ferry back to the Wellington on the North Island, we stopped into Domaine Georges Michel winery for a taste.  Their wines are made in the French style, and have a subtle, yet complex & unique aromas and flavors.  I liked everything I tasted, and highly recommend stopping in for a visit.  We took a couple of bottles with us for the remainder of our trip.

We boarded the ferry and departed Picton and the Marlborough Sound in the early evening. I had grown attached to the pristine beauty of the South Island and felt sad knowing we were leaving it behind, but told myself silently, "somehow I will be back".  Crossing the Cook Straight was uneventful, and gave me a chance to practice my sea legs when I walked the corridors of the large watercraft amid the bobbing waves.  

We pulled into Wellington at dark.  The streets were wet from rains of the past few days.  Jason & Ruby were working the night shift at the hospital, so we let ourselves into their flat, sorted through our belongings and packed what we would need for the next 3 days until we returned, leaving the rest behind.  We made our traditional evening cups of tea, then crawled under their clean sheets for the night.
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Heather on

What a treat for me to see this beautiful. lush, mysterious spot from your camera lens and evocative narrative. Thanks for this sweet little gift of memory.

wynnejoy on

Can't wait to see YOUR photos of the area!!! Especially since I think you had more time there than we did. I SO wanted to spend at least 3 more days there, but our ferry back to the N. island left the next day. And to think we almost didn't even plan to stop at this spot at all!

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