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Posts Tagged ‘West Coast’

I love a road trip. That’s no secret. And as our PM has announced that, as of Thursday, we are free now to move around the country, and support our local tourism businesses, it seems appropriate that this week my Blogging with Friends topic is “take me on a walk, or road trip.” I’ve taken you on road trips before. I initially was going to take you on a short one, giving you intimate details of a short, lockdown drive my husband has been making to visit his father. But suddenly life seems a bit freer here, so I’m going to whisk you around the South Island, on my favourite route. No, it’s not a short trip; in fact, ideally you’d take three to four weeks (or more). But I’ll try to keep it brief. And a note for hopeful future travellers – I highly recommend this for international visitors too, as I think it is varied and captures the best of the South Island.

The perfect road trip begins on the ferry, just five minutes drive from our house. We leave the lovely harbour, cross the sometimes treacherous Cook Strait, and enter the always calm Marlborough Sounds, gliding through the Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound, before arriving at cute little Picton, which we barely see as we drive off the ferry and into our South Island road trip.

We’re heading for the West Coast, but first we’ll make a quick photostop at Lake Rotoiti. This is where the famous West Coast sandflies first make an appearance, and as I always forget to have any insect repellent on hand, I take a few snaps, and get back in the car eager to continue my journey.

Lake Rotoiti, with mountains in the distance

Lake Rotoiti

In what feels like the middle of nowhere, we might take some sustenance for a meat pie and a coffee at the Inangahua café too. I have stories about meat pies, always a Kiwi favourite (especially amongst the men), but will save them for another post sometime. We’ll drive down the West Coast, one of my favourite stretches of road in New Zealand, from the aptly named Cape Foulwind in the north, past lakes and wild coastline and snowy mountains and glaciers, through beech and kahikatea/totara (podocarp) forests and narrow stretches of farmland squeezed between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea.

Road trips in New Zealand require patience – roads are windy and hilly, and so distances become deceptive. But that’s part of the joy of this route too – meandering around hills and landscapes, and never quite knowing what you’re going to see or find next. So we would usually overnight at least once on this road. Last time we did this route, just 18 months ago, we had two overnight stops, and enjoyed that little bit more freedom it gave us to explore and do some bush walks, and just relax in the beauty of this area.

When we leave the coast, we head west and then south again, through the gentle Haast Pass, a route lined with waterfalls, down through a valley with classic NZ shots of sheep grazing with snowy mountains behind. There are plenty of lovely spots to stop and take photos, or have a picnic, if you’re well-organised. We rarely are, and my most common phrase on a road trip – in NZ and throughout the world – is always, “that would have been a great shot” as we speed past!

Sheep grazing with snow-capped mountains behind

Sheep on Haast Pass Road

We arrive at Central Otago’s large lakes. Wanaka is my favourite spot here – I reminisce about childhood holidays in this area, known for its cold winters and hot summers. It’s beautiful in all seasons, though I associate it most with summer. Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu is – usually – tourist central, filled with adrenalin-spiking activities, or if you prefer, beautiful mountain scenery, winter skiing or summer walks, and really, really good wineries. A platter lunch surrounded by vines, coupled with a Central Otago pinot noir, looking up at the dramatic rocky Central Otago cliffs, is an absolute delight, and the reason we go there.

Now we head “home,” up to the east coast of the South Island. We take the Lindis Pass. It’s remote, and barren, but when you get up into the tussock at the top of the Pass it is beautiful, with rolling hills and the play of light and shadow.

View of the tussock-covered hills and valleys of the Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass

From there, it’s all downhill, down through the barren MacKenzie Country, past the three large hydro lakes and power stations on the Waitaki River, where my father used to go fishing (and where I caught my first and last trout), and cousins still holiday as often as possible. We turn inland, crossing the river, and drive through increasingly familiar farmland, where friends from school lived, through a narrow gorge, and arrive at the town where I went to high school. It seems so small now, and I don’t know anyone there anymore, but the streets are still wide, the gardens still lovely, and the huge silos are now covered in murals of local luminaries, including NZ’s first female GP, a local Maori chief, a former NZ Prime Minister who was born in the town, and a local hero and Victoria Cross recipient.

Silos with paintings of a Victoria Cross recipient Eric Batchelor, and Margaret Cruickshank, NZ's first female GP.

Waimate’s painted silos

Once I tear myself away from childhood memories – which always include a detour loop off the main highway down past the farm where I grew up, and these days a stop with my sister about half an hour further north – we’re into the Canterbury plains. They used to be lined with wheat fields when I was a child. These days, dairy beats wheat, fed by irrigation from the several great local rivers. The Southern Alps are now far to the west, but they are almost always visible under the plains big skies.

Christchurch is often an overnight (or two) stop as we head north. A chance to catch up with friends, check on rebuilding progress after the earthquake, and for the Husband to visit the casino. We met here, many moons ago, at university, so it is a city dear to our heart. Continuing on our final leg of the trip, I’ll take you the coastal route north, through the North Canterbury vineyards (where I get a favourite riesling and chardonnay) and then out to the coast, looking out for seals sunning themselves on the rocks, and a stop in Kaikoura, perhaps for some of the local koura (crayfish/lobster) of its name. Our last trip we saw all the new roads, the evidence of rockfalls, and the sea floor that had been lifted high and dry in the 2016 earthquake.

We arrive in the vineyards of Marlborough. Famous the world over for its sauvignon blanc, it is well set up for relaxed vineyard lunches, wine tasting, or staying out surrounded by the vines. We have come here for destination dinners (celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary), quick lunches before or after catching the ferry, relaxed stops of a day or two or three, or just for a weekend break. The chocolate factory is always worth a visit too, before heading back through the narrow gorge to get to Picton, in the heart of the beautiful and tranquil Marlborough Sounds, filled with canoeists and boaties and tourists in their camper vans (though not at the moment), and the ferries taking us home.

Vineyards backed by ranges of hills

Marlborough vineyards

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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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