Our plan for today was to be on the road by 8:00 am and heading for the west coast via Arthur’s Pass and thence to Hokitika with a side trip to Punakaiki, time and weather permitting. Majella and I were awake shortly after 6:00 am and it was not long before we could hear other movement around the unit. By 7:30 am we had all eaten breakfast and were packed into the Estima (Tarago by another name) and ready to roll.
Debbie took the wheel with Helen navigating. That was intended to minimise the risk of travel sickness as we wound through the mountains. We stopped for fuel as we left Christchurch and then headed west. The GPS must not have known about the new road, which was clearly sign posted, because it took us on the old road along the Waimakariri River until we joined the major road near Sheffield. From there we headed into the hills catching glimpses of small pockets of snow on some tops and noting the washouts on the steep slopes.
We stopped several times for photographs as we wound through the hills toward the pass. The most notable were at Castle Hill and the Waimakariri River crossing at Bealey. Castle Hill featured some impressively rugged rock formations poking out of rounded hills with snow capped mountain just visible through the clouds beyond. The river crossing afforded long views up and down the valley and a spread of lupins.
After crossing the Waimakariri River we followed the Bealey River up the valley to Arthur’s Pass. There we visited the chapel with its view of the waterfall behind the altar, wandered up to the lower waterfall, and had coffees and slices at the Wobbly Kea cafe. When Glen disappeared for a few minutes there was some concern that Customs had taken him but he reappeared on the other side of the street.
On the way down to the coast we stopped at Deaths Corner Lookout for a view of the viaduct and down the valley to the west. We thought that the name might recall a Mr Death but Google revealed it dates from a stage coach accident that resulted in deaths on the steep slope to the river crossing. From there we drove non-stop to the coast, enjoying the varied scenery along the river valley. At first there were numerous waterfalls on the steep sides but as things levelled out the scenery became more relaxed.
At Kumara Junction we turned north toward Greymouth and Punakaiki, our intended scenic destination. Not far north of the junction we came to what may be the scariest bridge experience anywhere. That is a single lane bridge encased in steel work. It crosses a reasonably wide river, perhaps 50 m, and both ends are marked as requiring to give way to other traffic. That seems sensible, given that any attempt to cross against another vehicle would result in a head on collision. For extra incentive to be careful, the same bridge doubles as a railway bridge with the rails running down the middle. At each end drivers must first check for rail traffic and then straddle the rails to see what might be coming from the other direction. Luckily there was gap in the traffic and we passed over.
We paused at Greymouth to buy bread to go with our other supplies for a picnic lunch. Not too far out of Greymouth we found a picnic area at the Strongarm Mine Memorial. It had tables and a clear view of some rock formations up the coast. We stopped for photos and lunch.
Next stop was the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. We found a parking spot right at the entrance and headed into the park. Most of the walking was level but there were some steep steps in places. Mum did well to get around the circuit, especially on the steep and uneven steps but there were plenty of places to stop for a breather and admire the view. The tide was reasonably close to full and the waves were big enough to make the holes interesting. We copped a bit of spray but even without the rain we had in February it would be a wet place if the sea and wind were up.
We had coffee at the Pancake Rocks Cafe and browsed the stores before climbing back in the car. Rather than turn across the highway we drove the few hundred metres into Punakaiki village to turn around so we could head south through Greymouth to Hokitika. We safely negotiated the railway bridge again but just a few kilometres down the road saw a train heading for the bridge. We had missed that encounter by just a few minutes and were half tempted to go back to watch the fun but resisted the temptation.
Mum had been talking about kiwis and whether we might see one. That’s pretty much impossible in the wild because they are nocturnal, rare and shy, but Helen had discovered that the National Kiwi Centre was in Hokitika and on the way there Majella had managed to check the location and opening hours. We headed directly for that when we arrived in Hokitika at about 4:00 pm. There were enough of us to warrant a group discount so we trooped in and, once our eyes were accustomed to the gloom managed to spy the kiwi at the back of its enclosure. The most visible part was the beak which was lighter than the rest. After a while the kiwi moved closer to the front of the enclosure to feed from a bowl and Mum managed to see it. Other displays in the centre featured whitebait, giant eels, frogs and turtles. We looked at those briefly and then headed into town.
Majella had asked about where we might be able to eat the local delicacy, whitebait (very small fish), which is typically served in fritters. She was advised to try Stumpers Bar and Cafe where she was informed that they had whitebait on the menu so she booked us in for 6:00 pm. We spent some time in a couple of stores selling jade, the local specialty for jewellery made from the Maori greenstone, but nobody bought any.
As the stores closed at 5:00 pm we headed off to check in at our motel. It took a few minutes to complete that process, including generating 7 unique vouchers for free Internet. Majella organised to get the laundry started so that it should be washed before we went for dinner. Once it was in the dryer we set off for dinner.
The only whitebait on the menu at Stumpers was in an omelette at $35. We decided that we could split one of those for entree and ordered meals to follow along with drinks. The whitebait omelette was as it sounds – omelette with fishy taste. The rest of the food was tasty and enjoyed.
On the way back we picked up some some wine to see us through the photo show and some more tonic water for Mum’s legs. Back at the motel we watched several hundred photos with many near repeats and Majella insisted that Mum select a winner. By that time we were tired but at 9:00 pm it was still not sunset and some were wanting to wait for dark to see the glow worms.