February 11, 2016
Today was extraordinary. We passed through Lewis Pass that divides the east from west on the South Island. It was gentle compared to Sonora Pass but it was still green and scenic. We started our descent towards the Tasman Sea and quickly became immersed in the jungles of the western South Island. I guess I want to say that while New Zealand is relatively small, the climate and environment and scenery can change quickly as you go from east to west across the central range. The same applies as we move to the north. The dramatic Antarctic winds have gone and the days are much milder.
As we neared Greymouth on the mouth of the Grey River, we saw the interesting remains of the coal mining town of Brunner. The mines have been abandoned but the towering brick smelter remains. When Peggy saw it, she was excited as it could be something to climb. Fortunately, the access was sealed and I lived to climb another day. The bridge crosses a lovely section of the river that needs a kayak.
I need to mention that the Kiwis and their guests are extremely cleanliness minded when it come to their roads and public facilities. I find it almost unbelievable that picnic spots have no trash cans. People are expected to take their trash with them when they leave and they do. The bottle pickers would starve in NZ. I give it the same high marks as Switzerland. And unlike Switzerland, they do not have the death penalty for littering.
We skipped the city of Greymouth and headed north along the equivalent of Big Sur to San Simeon on the California coast highway. Having made that trip many times, I can truthfully say that the miles between Greymouth and Westport were equal to the above named California stretch. Now I must admit that the day was perfect with the sun shining and the warm summer temperatures were much better than the Antarctic influenced conditions further south. However, imagine the dramatic coast on one side and a jungle suitable for Tarzan on the other. Amazingly, few people live there despite the availability of electricity and no coastal commission. Maybe the idea of the pounding surf and jungle sounds at night would keep you too awake.
We stopped frequently for the next amazing pictures. I have posted just a few of the hundreds Peggy took. We finally reached the Punakaiki “Pancake” Rocks and their blowholes. We were not alone but despite the crowds we were able to enjoy this geologic wonder. Hundreds of rock layers are piled up like a giant plate of thin pancakes. They are eroded by the smashing waves from the Tasman Sea. The blowholes are a consequence of this erosion. The entire park is done extraordinarily well. You walk along paths with stopping points and picture opportunities. Everyone takes their turn. Peggy is fanatical about getting the splash and the rainbow and the rest. It will take some time at home to sort through the few hundred she took today. Actually pictures can only capture so much. The sounds and the wind and salt spray were something to be experienced. We decided that the experience was one of the best of all time.
We continued north and reached a Fur Seal colony with a nicely improved path to reach a location overlooking the seals. Safely below us gawkers was a colony of a hundred or so fur seals. There were moms and pups and a few cantankerous dads. If the poor pups got too close to the cranky old men, they were severely chastised. It was fun to watch the pups hop from rock to rock asking, “Are you my Mother?”. We enjoyed the show for a half hour or so before encountering a Wakeo bird. A local told us that these birds were Cheeky and would steal your keys or Snickers bar and run into the Bush. We will be on the lookout in the north of the South.
Our motel is fully equipped and we enjoyed a nice dinner of rotisserie chicken that was stuffed with a dressing reminiscent of liver paste. The meat was fine along with the Monkey Bay wine.