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Posts Tagged ‘West Coast’

What do you think? I took this photo on my December travels down the South Island of New Zealand. It was taken at Lake Kaniere, southeast of Greymouth on the West Coast, on a gorgeous day. It was still a week or so before Christmas, so there were only a few lucky souls enjoying the view, walking in some of the native bush trails around the lake, and visiting the occasional waterfall. I had fun with my camera, practising getting my hyperfocal range right, and on this photo, it seemed to come together about right.

Here is the original:

p1100358 lake kaniere copyright web

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A West Coast adventure

This could be an item in my travelalphablog (which has badly stalled at Q, not because I can’t find a place beginning with Q, simply because I can’t find any photographs … or haven’t looked hard enough), but I think it fits here just as well. It’s certainly a separate life down there.

The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is a long, narrow piece of land tucked in under the mountain range that divides the South Island that some forebear decided to call the Southern Alps, and edged by the often wild Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia. It is a beautiful part of New Zealand, with its often dramatic coast, dark and brooding beech forests, lakes and inlets, and in the south two glaciers that almost reach the sea. Only 30,000 or so hardy souls live in this part of the country, loving the natural beauty and often too the isolation. To get there is somewhat of an adventure in itself. There is a TranzAlpine train (and no, that is not a spelling mistake) which winds its way through river valleys and gorges and into the Southern Alps. The train is a tourist favourite, but I have never been on it, although it has always been on my list of “things to do.”” My mother would love to do it too, so maybe that’s a plan for next summer. The drive through Arthur’s Pass is different every time you cross, and requires the utmost concentration. Or you can fly there. The flight across the Alps only takes 30 minutes, straight up then straight down. Most days there is cloud cover, but occasionally, like this morning, the mountain range seems to be holding the clouds at bay, and from our small propeller plane you can look down, so close at only twelve thousand feet, onto jagged mountains still with patches of snow, and look south deep into the mountain range onto the snow-capped peaks, and Aoraki Mt Cook, rising it seems straight out of the sea, and towering above the rest of the range, over us, over the entire island.

I spent two nights in Greymouth, the main town on the West Coast, where I had a contract with a local educational institution. The day’s work went well, but there were some problems with the flights of another contractor, and I was asked if I would stay over another night to allow him to take my seat on the last flight out at 5.30 pm. I reluctantly agreed to do so (it would have been churlish not too), as long as they could guarantee accommodation.

The environment on the Coast is raw and wild, and the Coasters, as they are known, often reflect that. What you see is what you get. There are no pretensions here. Where else would you get a Wild Foods Festival that last year featured such delicacies as huhu grubs, wasp larvae icecream,and cucumber fish? Where else would you need to live for twenty years or so before you can even begin to consider yourself a local? So it’s an appropriate place to begin a race across the island.

That race began today. Which meant that the town was full last night. It meant that there were no rooms available after mid-day. Many poor, unsuspecting tourists drove into town expecting to find accommodation without booking, usually not a problem, and discovered that every single bed was taken. I was given one of the last rooms. It wasn’t in a nice hotel. It was in a homestay or B & B, in a small community on the main road out of the town. I hate homestays. When I’m travelling for business, I become quite insular. I want to slop around in my hotel room, be comfortable (which can range from wearing nothing to wearing just a little), have an ensuite bathroom, order room service, blob out in front of the TV or with a book, or go for a walk and relax and explore on my own. When I’ve spent the last day concentrating with strangers, I don’t feel like being sociable with hosts, or isolated away from the centre of town. (Yes, I know, I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon).

So I was not thrilled when I was told I was in a homestay. The room was found through the booking clerk at one of the large hotels. Knowing that the town was full, she rang her mum’s next door neighbour who had a B & B, and was referred on to the one where I stayed. It’s who you know, you know.

On reflection, it was quite amusing. It could have been kitch chic, but it wasn’t. It was however very much a home, filled with photos of the children long ago, knick-knacks collected over the years, old tired furniture, and carpet which should have been replaced about 15-20 years ago. The boldly patterned carpet, flowery curtains, table lamp with frilly shade, old-fashioned prints on mirrors, and glass collections made me feel as if I was at my mother-in-law’s before they redecorated. I stayed in Michelle’s room. I know it was Michelle’s room, because the sign she was given when she was around six years old was still on the door. I suspect Michelle is now the mother of the child talking to her gran on the phone when I arrived. Gran, the proprietor of the homestay, was a lively, talkative, rather lovely older woman, and my fondness for her makes me feel bad for having written this entire paragraph.

Her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Mine must have been the last room in town, and she received ten more phone calls in just an hour or so requesting a room. Then there was a knock on the door. An English couple arrived, and declared “we stayed with you fourteen years ago!” They begged for a room, but there was no room at the inn, so to speak. There wasn’t a room within 50 kms, and probably beyond that. On the West Coast, the next large towns or tourism centres where there would be some accommodation were hours away. And it was getting late. So, in the way of small towns anywhere, she talked to her next door neighbours and asked if they would put up her English guests. She then offered them dinner, as she was making her own. I felt as if I was living in 1972.

I felt isolated there, but if I stood in just the right position out on the terrace, looking across the main road to the tasman Sea, and held my cellphone up just so, I could get coverage. I managed to contact the one person I knew in the town – a former member of my Wellington bookclub, she was delighted to have the opportunity to spend an evening together, and she whisked me away to the 21st century for a few hours.

Finally, this morning, as the shuttle drove the 40 kms to the airport at 6.25 am, as the sun was still rising, we passed the competitors for the Coast to Coast. They were walking down to the beach, ready for the 7 am start. There were hundreds of them, all lean and incredibly fit, and I felt a real respect for the resolve of so many to voluntarily run, cycle, and kayak across 243 kms of dramatic, dangerous, steep, beautiful terrain, across rocks, rivers, hills, mountains and plains, until they reach the Pacific Ocean tomorrow evening. Tomorrow morning hundreds more take off from the same spot, endeavouring to complete that same feat in just one day. Adventure and madness seem to be a necessary combination. And sometimes they just have to be admired.

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