In the days following our fantastic day out near Takaka, on the south island, Carol and Sherry and I said a temporary goodbye to Graham and Jo, and we headed south along the west coast. We didn’t know it at the time, but just a few days later, a tropical cyclone would ravage the island, tearing up roads and infrastructure. Takaka would be pounded, Golden Bay would be cut off by road and have to be resupplied by sea, and the coasts would be lashed by six meters of storm surge. But by dumb luck we were mostly in the right places at the right times; the worst we had to deal with was fairly mild rains and a long detour on our next-to-last day on the south island.
But that was a week in the future. For now, the weather was still benevolent; and the route ahead of us hopscotched from one airbnb to another along the coast on an itinerary that would eventually bend inland toward Queenstown.
Before splitting from Jo and Graham, we all channeled our inner Gimli and explored Ngarua Cave, a pretty cavern beneath the hill range stretching between Takaka and Motueka. While the cave itself was not as splendid, perhaps, as some I’ve visited, it featured some interesting bones: the skeletons of Moa birds, a flightless species that went extinct some thousands of years ago. And the above-ground entrance shop enjoyed a spectacular view overlooking Tasman Bay.
The next day, after parting from our NZed relations in Lower Moutere, we turned south toward the coastal city of Greymouth. Along the way, my wife took the opportunity to put paid to an old regret, at the Buller Swingbridge and Zipline. Years before I met her, in this very part of the world Carol had chickened out on a chance to ride this selfsame zipline, which crosses a gorge over a roaring river; and ever since that day she wished she’d stepped up. Now she could set matters aright.
As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to do the same! I’m joking, of course; I generally regard ziplines, roller coasters, and other thrill rides with the same enthusiasm I reserve for head lice and Fox News contributors. But I could hardly stand in the way of Carol’s chance at personal redemption. In the end, Sherry, who was also somewhat skeptical of the enterprise, signed on to the suicide pact as well. So led by my wife, who eagerly bounced her way across the swing bridge en route, Sherry and I gingerly followed to the zipline terminus; and one by one we, er… zipped.
And it was pure, terrifying hell.
Ow, ow, ow, alright, all right! I admit it. It was kinda fun.
Later that same day we reached the coast in earnest, and stopped to visit Pancake Rocks — a dramatic cluster of formations with their feet in the pounding surf and their tall heads crowned with emerald shrubs and coconut trees. Pathways and viewing points yield broad vistas over the ocean, and when the tide is in, seawater blasts through tunnels and blowholes carved from the stone. The name of the place comes from the characteristic appearance of the stone formations, which appear to be stacks of thin horizontal layers. It is not completely understood why the rocks here have weathered in this distinctive manner.
I should mention that for several days after this I craved pancakes.
Arriving in Greymouth that evening, we stayed in a gracious old house on a hill. I flirted with a hernia getting the luggage up the veritable stairway to heaven, but at the top we all had a nice view over the town. Our initial impression of Greymouth itself that evening was a bit underwhelming; it seemed kind of gritty and uninteresting. But next day, as morning fog burned off and the downtown streets came alive under blue skies, we began to appreciate the subtle beauty of the city.
That day, Valentine’s Day, was our last on the western coast. On a long drive southward that was distinguished by Sherry drying her laundry by flying it from the car windows, we stopped in the charming town of Hokitika to buy some souvenirs, and then pushed on to visit Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the latter, the morning’s sunshine had liquified into a persistent, chilly afternoon rain. Our soggy hike out to the viewpoint for the glacier was something of an anticlimax, as you can tell from the rather bleary-looking photos.
At least, given my drenching, I was finally baptized a True Kiwi. So there’s that, then.