Leaving Collingwood our next destination was Westport, a town nestled on the west coast of the South Island. To get there we had to retrace some of our footsteps but it was mainly uncharted territory for us. If the drive to Collingwood had been spectacular then the drive to Westport was Awesome – that’s a word you hear a lot in these parts.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before but living in Waihi we are near the kiwifruit world capitol as you can’t go far without coming across a kiwifruit plantation. From what I saw on the drive towards Westport you are in apple country. And what I saw was not the traditional tree with apples dotted on it but a long small plant with hardly any leaves and lots and I mean LOTS of apples on them. It was pretty impressive for such a small plant.
On the way we had decided to stop at the Nelson lakes, two lakes with breathtaking backdrops. Lake Rotoiti, the first one we stopped at, was my favourite. It was a great place to break for lunch and it looked like we were not the first because as soon as we sat down by the lakeside we were surrounded by ducks. They weren’t shy buggers (that’s another word you see a lot here) either, they made it pretty clear they wanted some of our homemade cheese sandwiches. Even a few scaring tactics like a kick in their direction did not work. I did relent eventually and did give them my crumbs, persistence on their part paid off.
There were also a few black swans on the lake. They are a common sight in New Zealand and are really abundant in certain places. I really wanted a picture of a swan but unlike the ducks they were not getting too close. To try and get a picture I was running along the lakeside snapping away. I must have looked real stupid because as got closer the swan swam faster. I’d built up a bit of a sweat but I was rewarded for my efforts with a great picture.
The rest of the drive to Westport just got better. Amazing landscape after landscape was presented to us on the twisty windy road. If I’m the one that’s driving I find it difficult not to stop around every bend to take pictures. The best part was Buller Gorge, the final bit of the drive. Even the road was a feature here as it was chiselled out of the hill side with only enough room for one car to drive along it at any time. Magnificent!
Arriving in Westport I was busy reading the map and when I looked up I exclaimed “What a Dump!” A bit harsh in hindsight but after the journey there was nothing to say about the place. We stayed just outside in a holiday park near the beach. The beach was pleasant enough and after we’d cooked Dahl for tea we went for a walk along it. A nice enough sunset.
The next morning we did a quick detour to a seal colony close by. It was good but our experience a few days before getting up close and personal with the seals was way better. It was however a first for a couple of reasons, firstly we were there at the same time as two tour groups, the KiwiExperience bus and one other making it pretty busy. Secondly it was our first sighting of a Weka. The Weka is a flightless bird much like the famed Kiwi. Hoever looks wise it seems to be a cross between a chicken and a Kiwi. While I mention Kiwis, still not seen one and I’ve been in New Zealand for over a month!
We left Westport and headed to Greymouth, a town based at the mouth of the Grey River! On the way we drove along the coast which Lonely Planet has billed as one of its top 10 Ocean Drives. The way the bush (forest) meets the rugged coastline is definitely wonderful. Along the drive we stopped off many times at various lookouts and found a lovely one for a spot of lunch.
One of the main stops for us along the way was the pancake rocks. The rocks are layered like pancakes funnily enough. The rocks are interesting but what makes it worth stopping are the blowholes. This is where the waves push the water into the rocks forcing it out a hole, a bit like a whale blowing the water out as it surfaces. On our journey to date we’ve tried to see blowholes in, I think, every country we’ve been in with not much luck. We were lucky here through, it was high tide which was the perfect time to see them. We even got a little wet for the privilege. The rocks are well publicised and the place was heaving. Along with our friends on the KiwiExperince, there were hordes of others there too.
Arriving in Greymouth we found a motel to stay in and ventured out to have a look. It was deserted and due to it being the weekend, but I’ve got a feeling it doesn’t get much busier. The KiwiExperience had also arrived and between us we had swelled the number of people in the town. As we past them in the street we nodded like old acquaintances.
While there isn’t much to do in Greymouth, we did stay there a couple of nights so we could explore the surrounding area. We had decided to get off the beaten track and head to Hokitika Gorge. I’d read somewhere that it had amazing blue water. On the way we stopped of at Brunner lake which was surrounded by mountains.
Hokitika Gorge did not disappoint, it was picture perfect. The water was an amazing light blue colour and we shared it only with a handful of people. There were a couple of lads by the waters edge who were getting very excited as they panned for gold. I’ve got a feeling they were going to be there a long time before they got anything significant, if at all. Any gold rush in the area had long gone with all the spoils that came with it.
The town of Hokitika seemed to be a hub for jade, or pounamu in Maori. The whole place was lined with stores selling jade jewellery. We didn’t spend long there, however I think it made for a better stop than Greymouth as it seemed to have a lot more character. Wandering around the place it did give us our first chance to see the snow capped Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand at just under 4000m.
The trip down the west coast to Greymouth had been some of the best scenery I’ve seen in New Zealand and of the whole trip. The highlight has to be Lake Rotoiti so far and I know there are better lakes to come. I can’t wait.