Melissa at Buller Gorge Swingbridge -look, no hands!
Drove from Picton
via Blenheim through the vineyards, Wairau Valley with our first stop at Kawatiri Junction. This still has the old train station in situ at the intersection between two highways, a bit odd to see at first. There's an interesting information panel about the settlement that used to be there when they were building the railway and mining - it was once a thriving town. Life there was apparently pretty rough with much rabble-rousing and carousing - so much so that the story goes that one miner woke up one Sunday morning with his tent in a huge mess and thought he must have had a great time the previous evening.
Seals at Cape Foulwind
In fact, the Murchison
Earthquake had hit (measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale - so this indicates somewhat how much of a good time was often had by all!). We then stopped at Murchison to take a photo, as Melissa's father's family come from Murchison in Victoria so interesting to see the contrasts. Next stop was at Buller Gorge for a walk over the swingbridge ($5pp)and around the old mining area. By time we got over to Westport on the west coast the rain had well and truly set in. In fact we saw on the news the next night that there was so much rain overnight that the highway we travelled on had been cut and Westport was isolated, so we were lucky we got through when we did. Even though it was raining, we went out to see the seal colony at Cape Foulwind (named by Captain Cook because there wasn't much wind about when he was there and he thought he might get stuck - the aroma was quite OK!).
View of Cape Foulwind - wouldn't like to be out in that but Capt. Cook probably would have preferred it!
We were very lucky, as the seal pups had only been born about 3 weeks previous so we got to see them playing and lounging on the rocks - really cute. We also saw some wekas in the carpark - they are sort of like a kiwi but very curious and bold, they come right up to you. On the way down to Hokitika, the road is very like the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, just as spectacular, we reckon! We stopped at the Pancake Rocks and walked around the terrifc paths with their wonderful explanations. The rock formations are like the Devils Causeway in Ireland, they look like stacks of pancakes one on top of the other in great big piles - very interesting, even in the rain! We arrived in Hokitika in the rain and went out to get some fish and chips for dinner - we can safely say that it was the WORST fish and chips we have ever had anywhere! It seemed to by the only one in town (called Porkys, avoid it at all costs) and thus we can only assume that lack of competition breeds contempt for the customer.
A wascally weka, one of NZ's native flightless birds. These guys are very curious and don't think twice about chewing your shoes or exploring your bag.
It was one of the only times in Melissa's life that she actually threw food out and didn't finish it - for those of you who know her, this is saying A LOT!!
The next day it was still wet in the morning so decided to drive back to Greymouth
and visit the Monteiths Brewery, which is indoors ($12.50pp). Monteiths is probably a boutique brewery in that it is quite small and still brews in batches, but this meant the tour was great because the premises were small and the people who make the beer were actually all there - there's a staff of only 12 who do the lot including deliveries! Melissa wasn't particularly looking forward to the tastings because not a beer drinker, but they had three really nice no-too-beery tasting beers which she liked! Noel thought they were all pretty good! When we came out at lunch time the rain had stopped so we drove out to Shantytown which is a recreated gold mining village ($18pp but you can get it for $15pp if you pre-purchase the tickets at the tourist info centre).
Pancake Rocks, west coast of South Island.
We got there just in time for the next steam train journey up to the old steam mill. We walked down to the gold panning area from there where we panned and came away withe our very own flakes of gold! Also bought some old-fashioned lollies, picking out two of these and three of that so just like when were kids. The site is quite like Sovereign Hill in Ballarat (for those who know of that) but much smaller scale.
Our last day in Hokitika was spent very creatively - we both carved a jade pendant! We did a day "course" at Bonz N Stonz ($90pp) where you designed your own greenstone pendant, cut it out and then carved it and polished it. It took most of the day but we've now got something great that we did ourselves. The teacher, Steve, was really impressed with Noel's skills and thought he must've done it before - no, he's just clever (from sissa!).
Melissa pulling a pot of her favourite NZ beer, Monteiths Golden.
This was really enjoyable and highly recommended for those who have the time. Afterwards we drove down to Pukekura
to taste the famous possum pies - that's right, pies actually made of possum! They were pretty good, especially with mint sauce (the owner calls them "chicken of the forest"). We also had some possum pate but have to say that this didn't really taste of anything much, OK though. This evening we went 1km to the edge of HOkitika
to see the Glowworm Dell - it's just a little dell a short walk up a hill beside the highway which at night lights up with thousands of tiny lights. It was quite amazing as you walked up the pitch black path and then saw all these lights starting to glimmer on the walls of the dell - also worth a visit, particularly because it's free! Do take a torch though, so you don't crash into anything on the way in.
Gold panning area, Shantytown, Greymouth.