Sunday, January 22nd, 2023

Distance travelled 423 kilometres

Another long day beckoned us, so we were up and about at an early hour.

There was also a bus driver staying in the B&B. He was driving a party of golf enthusiasts around New Zealand to play at various courses. He told us that the course in Napier, where we had enjoyed a brief hour of sunshine during our cyclone experience, is ranked at number 16 in the list of the world’s best golf courses. I said we had noticed a lot of golf courses on our ride. A Kiwi himself, the driver joked that, in New Zealand, a town is not considered as a town that has “made it” until it has both a rugby field and a golf course. We told him about our discovery of the world’s longest links, across the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, but he said he could not imagine his people driving 2500 kilometres just to play a mere 18 holes (and, I am sure for someone who was any good at golf, less than 50 strokes !).

We both left at the same time. He went to find his bus, collect his people and drive them to a course in Nelson. We took a last look at the caravan we had skillfully avoided and set of in the direction of Westport on the west coast.

The South Island of New Zealand is widely considered to be “the prettiest“. The bus driver had told us that, on the northern island, there are better views from above, while on the southern island one is always having to look up. Even on the short trip down from Picton we would have had to admit that it was a different experience.

We left Grovetown, which is a suburb of Blenheim (even though most of the towns are so small in New Zealand that I do not know if the word “suburb” is really appropriate). At a junction, we turned onto the SH63 and drove in the direction of Saint Arnaud. This route took us along the floor of the Wairau valley and through kilometre after kilometre of vineyards from where most of New Zealand’s wines originate. It was interesting to note that, in the southern hemisphere, it is the north facing slopes that are the premium sites. High hills, that were almost mountains, flanked the valley on both sides and the road was predominantly straight and well surfaced. It was pleasant riding indeed.

As ever, we made a stop every hour or so which, with our very relaxed rate of progress, was about every eighty kilometres. All over New Zealand, we had encountered vast fields of Maize (or Sweetcorn). Every one of these has a notice stating exactly which “strain” it is growing there.

On we went. It was a lovely, well surfaced, road with great scenery – sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh – and it was a great day to be riding through it.

At St Arnaud, we had a good breakfast in a small café attached to a petrol station. Our principal reason for stopping there, however was to see the beautiful nearby Lake Rotoiki. This is said to be the most photographed lake in New Zealand. It certainly was a stunningly beautiful view.

As always when we stopped, one of the fellow travellers started talking to us. He admired the Harley, as everyone seemed to. He also informed us that there were eels at the pier. Of course we went to see and there certainly were a lot of them. Comically, a man on the pier, looking down, toppled straight into the water in front of us. If only we had been filming, that would certainly have got us a payout from a television clip show !

Curiously, the eels were totally unfazed and swarmed all around his feet. Who needs their toes cleaned by those tiny little fishes when you can have it done by a huge and hideous eel ……

We drove on and filled up the Softail in Murchison. The way now led along a beautiful road through the Buller Gorge, with views of the rivers, many, mainly rocky beds with a small central flow at this time of year.

Here and there we crossed on a bridge, still usually of the single/lane variety.

There was also often what Lucie called a local specialty, the “abandoned bridge“. Sometimes there were only pillars sticking up out of the river bed, other times the entire bridge was standing there, but there is no road leading to it and there were also a few chain bridges – but without the bridge deck.

We did not actually want go to Westport and, shortly before it, we turned south, onto the SH6, in the direction of Greymouth. Just after the turn, we noticed a signpost pointing to a seal colony at Tauranga Bay, Cape Foulwind. Lucie looked it up on the internet and found that it is billed as the “most successful” Fur Seal colony in New Zealand. We decided to go and see it as it only involved a detour of about 28 kilometres.

We soon reached the coast, where, in a stunningly beautiful bay, the path to the cliff lookout point started. The bay was so glorious, the name “Cape Foulwind” seemed singularly inappropriate.

Happy looking tourists were returning down the path from the cliffs. That gave us confidence of seeing some seals. At the lookout point, a sign informed us that we would see seals in the water, so we looked there first. However, there were none in the water, but there was a single female basking on a rock with a cub frolicking around. Another adult lay, slothfully sunbathing, a little further away. Three in all ! I said to Lucie that if this was the most successful colony, I would not want to see what the less successful ones looked like.

After returning to the original route, we headed for the “Pancake Rocks” (or Punakaiki rocks depending on the exact location). Graham, the policeman on the Inter Island ferry, had recommended these as something to see and they had not appeared in our original planning.

The rocks get their name because they really do look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. The layers are estimated to be at least 35 million years old and formed by sedimentation. What nobody, even expert geologists, seems to know is just how that sedimentation came to take the distinctive pattern that it did.

There was a nice path around the cliffs that gave good views of the layering in the rock formations. We also saw those places where the sea has worn through and created what are known as “blow holes“.

A passing lady noticed my HOG jacket and told me she knew a Czech word. Strangely, it was “poupek” (stomach). Not me we were talking about then !

Opposite the entrance to the walk, there was the Pancake Rocks Café (Coast Road, Punakaiki), where you could get pancakes stacked to resemble their geological counterparts down by the sea. Against my better judgement (such places are usually rubbish) I agreed to split a portion with Lucie. When we went to order, the guy who was serving immediately began talking to me in Czech because he too had spotted my HOG vest. It seemed that he and his girlfriend (who was the waitress) were working there to fund the next part of their trip around the world, which they hoped to continue at the end of the tourist season. Lucie had quite a chat with him in their native language and then we had to move on. After the, by then, “customary” electronic alert had buzzed, the pancakes, as an aside, were delicious – but if Czechs had a hand in their preparation, that is not surprising.

We had to prevent a prowling bird, some kind of Rail or Bittern (I think)  from grabbing them.

We refuelled in the surprisingly ugly town of Greymouth (maybe it was named by J.K.Rowling as its name seemed very accurate). We did not dither there !. Almost immediately, we drove along yet more glorious coastline and persuaded a lady who was photographing a scenic bay to take a picture of us.

Not long after that we finally arrived in Hokitika. With her linguistic capabilities, Lucie can usually get her mouth around any word, but she had been struggling with Hokitika for two days. Right after the town sign, we turned to our accommodation at the Beach Side Motel (252 Revell Street, Hokitika). This was simple, but fully equipped (as all motels in New Zealand seem to be), surprisingly light and spacious and very close to the sea.

Best of all though, as we turned right from the highway to the motel, the signpost to the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, the wide cleft in the rocks where the glow worms live, was right beside the road. What Lucie had been referring to as her “Waitomo Caves fiasco” was about to be fixed when it got dark !

We looked at the brochure in our room which showed a fairly large selection of restaurants in the town and chose the one we thought was best for us. The lady at the front desk said it was a five minute walk, but I do not know what she had been smoking, maybe she had spent time in Taranaki ! We were aware that, on a Sunday, the place might close early, so we completed what was quite a long walk in record time. It was, of course, in vain anyway because, far from being just closed, it appeared that our choice had not opened anytime recently ! Foiled again ! In the end we could find only one place open which, I suppose, saved us having to make a choice. This was Stumpers Bar (98 Revell Street, Hokitika), a sort of pub combined with a sports bar. Of course, it was full. We waited for a table with a couple from Christchurch who I chatted with but Lucie did not say much. It later transpired that their strong accents combined with the noise from the pub had rendered the whole conversation unintelligible to her.

In the event, the food was surprisingly good. Lamb shank for me and shrimps (which were really prawns) for Lucie – topped off by some sticky desserts involving meringues and chocolate.

Then, as dusk began to fall, we walked slowly home. We collected our new flashlight and set off for the Glow Worm Dell, which was only about 180 metres from our front door. We were far from being the the only ones to do so. There were around twenty people congregated at the entrance to the track and at least fifty more of them took turns there during the time that we spent admiring the tiny lights on the rock walls and in the bushes. There were many little children and you could tell they were totally enraptured. You could not see the glowing worms, but the lights made quite a spectacle. The camera refused, of course, to even countenance a picture (no flash was allowed !), but my iPhone automatically adopted some inner technology and you can see the tiny lights in the photos.

It almost looks like a picture of the night sky on a clear evening. It was not just the LITTLE children that were excited and enthralled, I can tell you.

Another box ticked. Away from the dell, there was a kind of glorious orangey twilight.

We walked the short distance home via the beach which was semi-lit by a strange oceanic phosphorescence and went to bed happy !