After a few days in Nelson, our plan was to continue to Greymouth stopping in Murchison, Westport, Punakaiki and finally Greymouth. A road trip can be very exciting but it can drain your energy when you fit in many activities in a short period of time. It is important to rest and be fit enough to drive. Make sure to take regular brakes and if you feel extremely tired, there is no problem with having a short nap in a resting area. Remember, it is better to get to your destination a bit later than planned than causing an accident when not fully alert. I will share with you some information on these great places and why they are worthwhile exploring.
Too many early mornings and late nights had caught upon us. We surely needed a break. We stopped in Murchison for a coffee while browsing this mining era town. Murchison is surrounded by river, calling itself the ‘white-water capital’. The town is located at the edge of the road down the Buller Gorge. You might call it a base for adventurers seeking thrills in a jet boat, or water rafting, as well as bush walks near Lake Rotoroa (Nelson Lakes National Park), just to mention a few. A very short history lesson first. Murchison was named after one of the founders of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Impey Murchison. Gold discovery in the region activated the settlement and growth of this town in the late 1800’s. The Hodgsons Store established as a general store during the gold mining era by John Hodgson. In 1906 sons Herbert and Ernest took over the store. A fire in town strayed the town hall, Downiest Hotel and the store. In 1915 another store was built in the same place but fate had it again in 1929, this time being destroyed by an earthquake (the same earthquake that formed Maruia Falls). In 1930, the store was rebuilt yet again and stands as it is now. Long may it stand. Today the shop is a usual convenient store where you can buy almost anything you will need. It is also a Post agency so if you have postcards to send, this is a good place to drop them off. The Dust and Rust sells vintage items within its 1890’s historical stable. Definitely a must if you like antics. Another very interesting attraction to mention is the Natural Flames not many know about. A couple of local farmers went hunting in 1922. When they were deep in the forest they smelt what seemed gas. Curiosity got the best of them when they suddenly lit a match and – boom- The flames appeared. There are a few places in the world with significant oil and natural gas deposits burning continuously. However, this seems to be the only place known where flames are burning on the forest floor layer – without burning the trees! You can take the tour to witness for yourself this geological wonder.
Having had a bad week (weather-wise speaking) in the past few weeks, there were still problems on the roads. Some were still closed and certain areas had traffic. Be prepared to see some crazy driving at least at one point of your trip. For those of you who have a driving licence or preparing for the theory test. How many times were you reminded about the dangers of Tailgating? I think too many times, at least speaking for myself. If you are not familiar with the term, tailgating is not respecting a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. There are different kind of tailgaters. The bully who wants to intimidate you, the inexperienced new driver, the oblivious of their surroundings and the impatient driver who thinks everyone should drive to suit their speed. It is considered aggressive and an offence in many countries. In NZ it is classified as careless or dangerous driving, where you might end fined up to $4,500. Aha! You might think. This is a good deterrent, right? Well, I thought so, but it doesn’t seem to show on the roads. What surprised me the most were tailgaters on hills and curves. They obviously are not frightened by the fact that they are mere mortals. You might be lucky and don’t encounter tailgaters on your trip but do prepare yourself mentally so you stay calm when the time comes. The best thing to do is to let them pass when it is safe to do so. For your own sake. It can be sometimes where you will have someone very close to you for a very long time like going up a mountain. If you have no safe area to pull then don’t stress and keep within your speed limit. You don’t have to put yourself in danger because a selfish driver is not thinking straight. Some Kiwi friends have told me: “Kiwis are friendly until they get behind the wheel.” Don’t let this scare you. There are nice drivers too. NZers overall hate tailgaters too.
Westport- Cape Foulwind
Before heading to Cape Foulwind we made a quick stop in Westport for some provisions for the evening. Westport is an old mining town with a Maori settlement history. If you would like to know more about history, you might like to head to the Coaltown Museum. We decided to do the coastal walk at Cape Foulwind as it is very abundant in wildlife. I will mention a few. This is an important area for Sooty Shearwater/ Tītī. This incredible species breed in New Zealand, Australia and Chile, migrating for feeding grounds to the Northern Hemisphere. They do a roundtrip of around 65,000 km (39,000 miles), which is the longest migration ever recorded in animals. As a diving bird, they are vulnerable to fishing when searching for food they can get caught by baited hooks and trawl nets. Scientists have also found that they are an indicator of climate change and ocean health as they travel so much. You can see them between October when they arrive until May.
There are Blue penguins/Korora in the area but are not that common to see as they are shy and you won’t just see them walking around where humans are present. Many populations of this species are threatened by human disturbance. Predation is also a big problem. In 2012, free-ranging dogs were behind the extinction of a whole blue penguin colony at Cape Foulwind. Sadly, because of irresponsible dog owners, there are many places where dogs are not allowed. Not even on a leash.
Cape Foulwind is also a great breeding haven for Fur seals/Kekeno as the rocky shore and food abundance makes it the perfect ‘haul-out’. Wall Island provides reasonable offshore where they can rest and protect themselves from the harsh sea and winds. Seals are present all year round but if you want to see seal pups, the breeding season is during Spring and Summer. Thanks to conservation efforts and species protection, fur seals numbers have recovered over the last years.
About an hour drive down south from Cape Foulwind you will find the small town of Punakaiki. The Region is most famous for the Pancake Rocks and dramatic blowholes. Punakaiki is a spectacular starting point to see, explore and experience many outdoor activities, as well as to enjoy its wildlife and nature. To begin with, you have the Paparoa National Park. About 30,000 ha, it is one of the most untouched wilderness spots and just breathtaking. Some of the outdoor activities include walking, cycling, horse riding, kayaking, canoeing and with maybe some luck you can add a dolphin encounter too. As for wildlife, you will find here the only Westland black petrel mainland colony in the World! You might see other birds such as the Bellbird/Korimako and New Zealand pigeon/Kereru, Shags, Terns and Wekas.
A sculpture of nature, the rocks impressive Pancake Rocks are believed to have started its formation some 35 million years ago. Made of Limestone, containing fragments of marine microorganism through the rough sea, wind and erosion over time, the stone stacks have created its unique shape. During high tides, you can see some vertical blowholes. Eventually, the stacks too will be reclaimed by the sea one day. Before heading to the site, we decided to get some food at the Pancake Rocks Cafe as it was getting late. They have a good selection of vegetarian and gluten-free (GF) dishes. We ordered 2 GF Pizzas. They were surprisingly very tasty too. There are several paths taking you through the rock formation with informative signs. Some of these paths are also accessible for wheelchair users. I was happy to see a small colony of White-Fronted Terns/Tara feeding their chicks. Some bellbirds were feeding on a Harekeke plant. One thing that is important to mention is that while it is a very enjoyable experience, some areas could potentially be dangerous if you are not cautious? What do I mean by that? For starters seeing little kiddos running around like they are on the playground with no parents in sight when we are clearly near cliffs. Remember to stay on the path at all times. There are some signs explaining the dangers of silly selfies. You know the kind I am talking about. Is a photo really worth dying for?
The biggest and most populated town of the region, it is considered the heart of the West Coast. A Maori settlement and former mining town. You will found out more about its history by visiting the local museum as well as Shantytown. Greymouth/Mawhera is known for its Pounamu (Greenstone) carvings going back to Māori origins. The Maori name Mawhera means ‘wide spread river mouth’, meaning the mouth of the Grey River where it is located. The TranzAlpine return train journey is considered one of the best train trips in the world, taking you through the mountains of the South Island.
It was getting dark as we arrived in Greymouth. We stayed at the Apostles View Motel. It’s a great location as it’s only a few minutes drive from Greymouth Centre. The rooms are in units, with a nice living and dining area, kitchen with all essentials and offer a play area for the family with children. From here you get a very good view of the Apostles Ranges. To be honest, I just had a shower, a grand cup of tea and went straight to bed. They are really comfy.
In retrospective, it’s a shame we missed the high tide at Pancake Rock. Make sure you check the time as the Blowholes are a truly spectacular sight and a shame to miss if you want the whole experience. It is always hard to squeeze everything into the time available to see, explore and experience what you want. This post might give you some guidance on the things you would like to see when driving on State Highway 6. Up next, Hokitika…