Departing at a reasonable hour was a priority for us since Motueka to Greymouth presented one of our longest travel distances so far. Much of the drive found us winding through the hills along rivers with views much like we’re used to seeing in Colorado.
One new sight for us though was the hops farms. The fields have a network of strings and support sticks all perfectly aligned and they form a woven pattern of geometrical shapes that is so unique and eye-catching, especially when the sun highlights the structures.
Rows of V-shaped strings anchor the canopy to the earth. It was easy to stay occupied looking at fresh landscapes along the way, and soon it was lunch time. We stopped at a recommended café in Murchison before we carried on through the upper Buller gorge.
This beautiful gorge presented periodic glimpses of the striking light blue Buller river as well as our first experience crossing one lane bridges on a main highway. We opted to pass on the opportunity to walk across the swing bridge at the adventure park in the gorge because Greymouth still lay several miles ahead.
By mid-afternoon we drove into the parking lot of our motel. An office was not readily visible but we saw the signs directing customers across a small bridge to reception.
The bridge was unlike any we’d crossed so far. It was of course just one lane but the platform consisted of a series of boards just laying across the main structure, such that when the tires rolled over they created this rather remarkable rattling and rumbling sound that was somewhat unsettling. Our host Steff greeted us in the cheerful, laid back way we’ve experienced at so many other accommodations. Asking what our plans were while in Greymouth, she also offered suggestions for walks and outings for sightseeing and exploring the area. We’d been to Greymouth once before, but only for one night, when we took the train ride from Christchurch. During that trip we didn’t see much of the town itself but got a personal tour of Punakaki also known as the Pancake Rocks during an unusual “calm” day. We’d been told the area has phenomenal blow holes and can be quite spectacular. A visit to this landmark was definitely on our itinerary this time, in hopes of seeing and hearing the amazing displays when high sea meets rocks. Greymouth, as one person put it, was named that for a reason and we had heard more than once about the gray and gloomy weather that is typical of the region. Interestingly though we were greeted with sunshine. The forecast for our first two days showed even more sunshine so we did our best to get out and see what we could during that time.
Punakaki was the first destination and proved to be a much different experience than our initial visit years ago. Though the sea was not extraordinarily rough there were waves big enough to create the rumble of thunder underfoot and periodically spray up through the blow holes. We could easily imagine how spectacular it’d be during stormy weather. A short ways further up the coast we found Truman beach, another place we’d briefly visited before. This time, the surf was stunning. Waves came beating in, rolling and thundering up onto the beach.
Behind them a rock outcropping hung over the beach with a thin waterfall pouring off the edge. The stream of water splashed on rocks below then disappeared into the sand. We expected to see a little stream running into the ocean but the water from the fall just simply vanished into the sand. Later, on our way out, Paul noticed where the water was re-emerging from the sand before trickling toward the thundering waves. It was like magic. On the road back to Greymouth, we chose to pull off at a viewpoint for a few more shots of the coastline and waves. As we pulled in, there was one other small car in the lot. A handsomely weathered local pulled in behind us in his “Ute” (short for “utility vehicle” we know it as SUV) loaded with a surf board. Apparently he came to check out the wave patterns before deciding whether to head to the beach for a ride. Unaware that this stop would turn out to be the highlight of our day, we noticed the owner of the smaller car as he walked over to his car and began equipping himself for some kind of dangerous activity, or so we assumed since one of the first elements of gear he put on was a helmet. He walked past us with this big backpack on carrying some sort of parachute. We then realized he was going to attempt paragliding. As he passed we shared a brief exchange inquiring if he’d be able to land back here in the carpark. He expressed his uncertainty of whether there was enough wind, but pointed out that the gulls were soaring peacefully so he thought he’d give it a try. We curiously watched him lay the chute out and give it a tug, unsuccessful at filling it with enough air to lift him. Then he gathered the chute, approached us and asked if we could move our car a bit. He spread it out again in the parking lot and tried again to fill it with air. It floated a few feet and fell back on the asphalt. After that he looked over at his audience of three, me, Paul and the surfer guy, and said “you got a spare minute, mates?” We all kind of chuckled, the answer seemed rather obvious since all we were doing was staring at him. He proceeded to instruct us where to hold his chute and explained how we should toss it in the air on his count. He sorted through the mess of cords attaching the parachute to his harness and then directed us to throw the chute on three. It blew a bit further across the pavement this time but we failed to get the guy air borne. We resumed our positions, I sensed we wanted to see him soaring with the birds as much as he wanted to be up there. He triple checked his harness, clips and cords, instructed us to adjust our positions and gave the count.
Success. Finally, up, up and away he floated, shouting down a “Thank yooou” that trailed off into the blue sky. We stood and watched him for a bit imagining what a peaceful feeling it must be, gently gliding back and forth floating high above the coast. Here’s a video.
The sun came out again the following day as forecast and we drove to the carpark along the coast from which we could walk to Point Elizabeth. On the map, this walk looked like a walk along the coast–which it was, but the bush was much taller and thicker that what I expected. The idea I’d gotten that we’d be watching the coast all along the way was quickly eliminated once we stepped on to the trail. It turned out to be a trail among a beautiful assortment of trees and undergrowth including several Nikau palms and tree ferns.
We could hear the ocean through the duration of our walk but didn’t get a glimpse of it until we reached the lookout point. From there, you could again see miles up the coastline and periodically feel and hear the thunder from the waves crashing under the cliffs below. We’re kind of starting to get used to having these places to ourselves, it is one of the best things about all the walks we’ve done so far.
Once we got back to the beach where our car was we spent a short while exploring it and marveling at the massive piles of driftwood before driving into Rarunga and finding the trailhead for Coal Creek Falls.
On this trail we did see a few other people on the walk, but when the falls came into view, it was just us. Sitting on one of the big boulders it seemed as if we had front row seats in our own little nature theatre with the falls at center stage. Timing was perfect for snacking on a fresh crisp apple. On our way out, as we neared the carpark in the little town where the trail came close to the houses, the scent of burning coal carried me back to my childhood home when we had a coal furnace. Apparently, in this small community in the heart of coal country, some residents still utilize it as a fuel source.
The next two days we opted to stay inside, it was cool, windy and rainy, our suite was warm and dry and offered a soothing audio of the rain. It eased toward the end of the second day and we took a quick drive into Greymouth and down to the beach to watch in awe as the roaring, thundering waves continued beating the rocky coast. The view sure exemplified why so many refer to it as the “wild” west coast. We had time to make a visit to the grocery store and were pulling into our place just as the rain and wind came again. That night the wind sounded ferocious and even the blinds on the closed window above our bed kept blowing in and out. Neither of us had a very restful sleep.
Patches of sun returned for the weekend. The wind continued. The first stop after lunch was the Brunner mine site, just outside town. We enjoyed a walk around through the ruins of the old coal mine and read about the historical site. It’s hard to imagine living such a hard life as those miners and their families.
I’d had plenty of time to surf the internet in the previous two days while we hung out inside and found that we were in the heart of “greenstone” territory too. Having learned some about this “New Zealand Jade” on our first trip to the country I was curious to find out more. Practically any gift shop and jeweler in the country has a display of beautifully carved and polished greenstone and being a lover of jewelry of any sort, I was even more intrigued to find out that you are allowed to fossick (search and collect) for greenstone on the beach. I had visions of collecting some with which to attempt my own carving and polishing. Our chosen location for this was in Hokatika.
How a place with a name like that not be charming? Plus it’s a coastal town, plus it has beaches where you could look for your own jewelry, I was sold before we even stepped onto the streets. The
tide was in when we arrived at the carpark to see that part of it was closed off. The reason for the closure quickly became apparent as a set of waves smashed into the rock wall and sent debris filled water cascading across the pavement. There we were again, in awe of the surf. It seemed monstrous to us, but anyone we asked said it’s not out of the ordinary. With the tide on the way out, we made our way onto the beach and I got a little obsessed with searching for greenstone. I wanted to find the “perfect” piece, then I envisioned polishing some for all my family and friends so I kept picking up more and more. By the time I left, it felt like I was carrying close to the 5kg limit. It was like being a kid again just hunting for pretty rocks, something I always liked to do walking the gravel roads around the farm where I grew up. Guess I’m still a kid at heart. By the time I tore myself away, it was dinner time, so we enjoyed a meal out in Hokitika before driving back to Greymouth in the dark and in the rain. Oh, and I forgot across the “all in one” bridge, one lane for both directions of cars AND trains. Freaky!
The day of our departure came with more sunshine, we felt fortunate to have such weather in a place known for grey skies. It was only a two hour drive to our next accommodation in Okarito which allowed for a leisurely trip with many stops. We started off with breakfast at a little café in Greymouth and a wander through the streets. After that, we once again found ourselves in Hokitika on the beach, returning most of the rocks I’d collected previously. I’d sorted through my collection and kept a handful of the most intriguing specimens but the thought of having all that extra weight in my bags for the flight home was not appealing so the bulk of them went back to the beach. That didn’t stop me from continuing to look once we returned. It seems silly, I know. Now, we’re off to Okarito.