The planned route for today involved more than 360 km of driving from Motueka to Hokitika via Murchison, Westport, Punakaiki, and Greymouth. Google estimated a bit more than 4.5 hours but we expected it to take longer than that in actual driving and then there would be time for coffee, lunch, comfort stops, and sightseeing. Weather forecast was for rain on the west coast. Unless it was especially heavy that would not impede our travel but it would dampen enthusiasm for sightseeing. Breakfast was scheduled for 7:00 am, with an 8:00 am departure.
We beat that by a little but our farewells to Motueka were delayed by a fuel stop to take advantage of the discount voucher valid at Z stations, an ‘M’ photo opportunity for Majella and her marvellously mad mates by the Motueka Quay signs, and another photo opportunity as we passed the cinema with figures from the Hobbit perched on the edge of the roof. Surprisingly, the most enthusiastic photographers of the figures had not seen any of the Tolkien movies or read any of the books.
The road south meandered up the Motueka River valley so progress was slowed by the narrow winding road. It was bordered by orchards where we could see ripening apples and pears, kiwi fruit plantings, and what we took to be hops. That stretch took almost an hour to reach the main highway and the weather mostly held off rain though it was overcast.
Progress from that point was faster over the wider and mostly straighter road to Murchison which we reached around 10:30 am. By that time some members of the group had been on intense coffee watch for well more than an hour so the Beechwood Cafe was a welcome sight. We lined up to buy coffee and various treats. Majella went for hot chocolate with a kumara and cashew pie. I couldn’t handle the thought of that and was even less impressed when she informed me that it included broccoli. I was half tempted by a ginger slice but managed to resist. My waistline will thank me later.
Nobody was keen on Majella’s suggested activity of gold panning. Perhaps they didn’t fancy their luck but more likely the prospect of more of the light drizzle we had encountered along the road was off putting.
We drove on down the Buller River valley toward Westport in intermittent drizzle. There were occasional glimpses of scenic stretches of river and we stopped once for the photographers to capture something better than they could manage with drive by shooting. We got a little damp in the drizzle but it was not too bad.
On our cruise up the Main Street of Westport somebody spotted a quilting shop so that was a required stop for the women. The men amused themselves in a nearby menswear store until we got together for lunch in Gibby’s Cafe. The steak and pepper pie that I had was more to my liking than the one Majella had at Murchison.
From Westport we drove south along the coast. That drive is ranked among the top 10 coastal drives in the world and, despite the dull overcast sky and fairly constant drizzle, it lived up to its reputation with surf pounding on beaches and rocky headlands with interesting rock formations. I managed some drive by photos when my finger presses and gaps in the foliage coincided, mostly by luck, and we stopped once at a look out before we reached Punakaiki. That was high above the water with views up and down the coast. The light drizzle was a nuisance but did not stop us getting photographs though clear conditions would have been preferable.
Punakaiki is a major tourist draw along that coastline with its pancake rock formations and blowhole, which is best seen at high tide. There was light drizzle as we arrived so we reached for jackets and umbrellas and headed across the highway. The path is well set up, mostly gently graded and well sealed with a one way flow of pedestrian traffic from entrance to exit. Both entrance and exit are in native rain forest but the vegetation closer to to the ocean is less lush. The path winds along the edge of the cliffs with a series of strategically placed viewing points. The rock formations are intriguing and, according to the sign, scientists have not yet agreed on an explanation for the layering in the limestone. The blowhole is an enclosed hole in the cliffs with tunnels in the rock through which the waves rush in. We were not there at high tide so did not see the full effect but did see enough to be impressed by the power generated in the waves. We had drizzle most of the way around the path and it was wet enough to use my umbrella to keep the rain off me and my camera. After completing the loop we headed for the cafe across the road where Majella ordered pancakes for the group to share.
We drove on to Greymouth where the steady drizzle persuaded us to take just the drive-by tour. Even the prospect of locating another quilt shop was not sufficient to persuade Majella and her crew to get out of the car and into the rain.
Half and hour or so down the road at Hokitika we quickly found our accommodation and then headed to the supermarket to restock. The women had decided that spaghetti bolognaise was the appropriate choice for a cool evening. We consumed that with wine and other goodies.