The Centre had some excellent displays and information, and were even selling possum pelts for $45 each (the possums were introduced from Australia in the 1800's and are a terrible pest here). Darryl went off on the Bridal Veils Falls walk, but we were unable to go to Devil's Punchbowl Falls as they were closed.
Further toward the east was Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, where there were fantastic limestone formations with fossils, and weird rocks 'gathered' with the largest ones on the tops of the smooth hills. Apparently, the limestone platforms had been pushed up by the tougher rock of rising mountains. There was a cave which the stream ran through, and you could walk through if you were prepared to go waist deep through the water. Although Darryl had been contemplating walking through (as it was a tunnel with an entrance and exit), he dipped his fingers in the icy stream and decided against it.
Further on was Castle Hill Village, and the rock formations certainly looked like ruined castles. This whole area is just heaven for someone like me who loves huge rocks and mountains. Further down the road was one of the funniest events - a herd of cattle were grouped around in a circle. Initially it looked like a couple of young bulls 'shaping up' and the others gathering round to egg them on, but then Darryl realised that a plastic shopping bag had blown into the paddock, and they were circled around that. I am still laughing!
We were still having trouble with the deep-cycle battery, so phoned the Camper place and found that the only place we could get a replacement was at their depot in Christchurch, so headed there. The problem was not with the battery itself, but turned out to be a blown fuse. They replaced it and we were soon on our way. We had been planning to camp at Mt Thomas Forest, so drove out through Rangiora. At the turnoff to the official site, we were faced with a dusty gravel road, and so opted instead to pull up beside the river. It was lovely and warm in the afternoon sun.
Big black storm clouds rolled over, and it rained during the night (though it didn't wash the dirt off the van). At one point during the night I woke and felt quite cold, so pulled on my beanie and went back to sleep. Imagine our surprise, in the morning, to pull back the curtains and find that it had snowed! It was melting down, but the windscreen was a third covered, and the paddocks and mountains were all freshly covered.
We drove back into Rangiora, and waited for the local library to open. A wonderful librarian gave me 20 minutes of her undivided attention looking for the gravesites of William Jordan and his wife Elizabeth (nee Parker – on my Anderson side). Their database had all the local burials, even for the town of Oxford, where William was said to be a farmer when his wife died in 1870. They weren't there, or even on the Christchurch listings, which she also looked up for me. She also checked local histories and found mention of a Mr Jordan, who was a printer in Oxford in 1925, and an earlier Mr Jordan who was a farmer in the 1870's, but no further information.
I must say that I really enjoy watching the sheep in the paddocks with their lambs. Many have twins or triplets, and I have seen several with 4.
We continued our journey, north, and arrived at Hell's Gate Corner where a jet boat was thrilling passengers through a narrow gorge. Just up the road was Hanmer Springs. The town has thermal springs, but as it was so commercial we decided on some walking instead. Unfortunately our walk to a waterfall was misdirected by me misunderstanding some road closures, due to logging, and their map, we walked for over an hour in the wrong direction.
West along the highway we were looking for the Sylvia Flat Hot Springs, but they were so un-commercial that there wasn't even a sign, and so we didn't find it. We pulled in at the Deer Flat camping area.
This was beside the Lewis River, and surrounded by beech forest. It had obviously snowed here, too, the previous night, as there were remaining patches of it, and someone had built a snowman....which, worryingly, was still standing at 5pm.
In the morning we drove a few km up the road, and pulled up at St James Walk carpark. The first surprise to us was a picturesque little tarn which had water vapour rising and beautiful reflections of the snow-topped mountains. We did the Alpine Nature walk and found out that NZ has 5 types of beech trees, and then started up the road on the Lewis Pass Lookout track. We were supposed to make our entry about 400m up the road, but an earlier track sign diverted us up through mossy beech forest. We were sinking into the deep spongy mosses underfoot, and unfortunately wet our shoes on a few of the many stream crossings. The views from the top were excellent, of Cannibal Gorge, several mountains, and the Maruia River. It was supposed to be a loop, so we took the track on the left coming down, only to find that it was probable the correct ascent, but it was nowhere near as nice as the path (not really a track) that we were on, so I was pleased (despite the soggy shoes and socks) of the mistake.
Our next port of call as Maruia Hot Springs. This was more expensive to enter than Hanmer Springs, but was really natural and beautiful. It as done as a Japanese resort, and the rock pools varied in temperature from quite cool, to really quite hot. We spent nearly 2 hours languishing in the medium temperature pool, occasionally venturing for a few minutes into the hot pool. The water was not chemically treated, and had green and black mosses (which the signs said are supposed to be good for your skin) throughout. In the sulphurous water my skin felt soft, and later it felt good, but initially when getting out the oils seemed to be stripped away and it felt a bit dry. After this we both felt really tired (despite a long sleep the previous night), and napped for an hour and a half before driving on.
We were hoping to do a waterfall walk, but it was closed due to 1080 baiting, and when we arrived at our night camp at Marble Hill, we found DOC constantly filling the bins on 3 helicopters to spread the bait (they continued until darl at 8.30pm). The walks here were also closed, and we spoke to a Ranger who explained that the previous good season meant a huge amount of beech seed produced, and the mouse and rat populations had exploded. When they bait, they also get the secondary bonus of killing the stoats, which feed on the poisoned rodents. This area also seemed to have lots of rabbits, so hopefully it will help control them. An interesting feature was an 80' wall built in last century across the Alpine Fault line to monitor movement – I am pleased to say that it is still perfectly straight. We had some visitors during the night as rodents got into the food cupboard, so Darryl put all the rice, fruit and noodles into the microwave and the potatoes into saucepans with the lids on.
From the camp was a short walk to 'The Sluice Box' a narrow slot gouged into a marble outcrop by the Mariua River. From the bridge we could see several trout in the deep clear water flowing through it. We drove west towards Reefton – a gold mining area – and stopped to walk in to Bolithos Mine (we think it was a coal mine). Greymouth has very interesting steep and sloping rock layers either side of the Grey River bridge. We had lunch between the beach and the airport, after an abortive attempt to find a 'nice' park. The route north towards Westport was very scenic, with winding roads clinging to the coastline, and eroded monoliths in the ocean beside.
Motukiekie Rocks was fascinating, and just north of them we saw people collecting NZ Green-lipped mussels, so, of course, Darryl braved the cold ocean to collect enough for us for dinner (we had them in a white wine and butter sauce with Capsicum Rice – Yum!!!!)
Our next WOW moment was Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. These are layered rocks at the ocean edge, and reminded me of photos of the temples at Ankhor What. The walk here was really beautiful, starting in rainforest, opening up into flax areas, and we saw lots of the Nikau palm (the southernmost naturally growing palm in the world) with its strange upward pointing fronds. There were caverns, blowholes, and bridges.
Punakaiki Cavern was a few hundred metres back along the road, and although it had started drizzling we went to investigate. It was quite interesting, and you could venture quite deep inside.
Up the road was the Truman Track, said to be one of the nicest short walks. This walk passed though virgin rainforest (and it was still raining a bit), down to a stunning coastline of layered sandstone and mudstone. There were shell fossils in the stone, and layers of erosion that looked like large froth bubbles, caves and overhangs, and even a waterfall. Further north, we took the road to Cape Foulwind. Named by Captain Cook, due to several days of foul weather he had experienced here, it had been previously visited by the Dutchman Able Tasman.
We went into Westport for a look before taking the highway east again. Fern Arch was a half-bridge (single lane with lights) around a rocky bend, and then at Hawk's Crag the road went under a half-tunnel. White Cliffs was dominated by high limestone cliffs, and we stopped briefly at Lyell, an ex-gold mining town site. Darryl went for the historical walk, but we decided not to camp there due to the numbers of mice and sandflies. There was not much to see on the drive to Kawatiri, where we stopped for the night. This was a historical railway siding, with a bit of the old bridge, a railway walk, and some interpretive signs. The sandflies here were in flocks and ferocious.
In the morning Darryl did the historical train walk up to, and through, the tunnel. It was then on the road again, heading north to Motueka, hopefully away from the rain. Although a scenic farming valley, the only unusual feature were some very strange funnel-shaped clouds. At Motueka we used the local library internet, as my phone connection was not working.
From here we had the Takaka Hill drive, up some very steep winding road. There was a walk through a private property which passed numerous tomos (sinkholes) in the marble limestone, and also, really strangely a little hut which held a mummified cow!
Just north of Takaka is Te Waikoropupu Springs (purportedly the World's largest freshest spring). The water was crystal clear, you could easily see metres to the bottom, and there was 8 holes gushing up into a small lake. We had passed some motorhomes stopped on the southern bank of the river the springs formed, and we returned to set up camp for the night – at last no sandflies, no rain, and warm afternoon sun – lovely! In the evening another couple, from Melbourne, Russell and Vallie, turned up, and we spent the evening chatting with them and sharing maps and 'must-do's'.
I have noticed a couple of things, the South Island is very Scottish, lots of Scottish place, street and sur-names, but also in Rangiora the schoolgirls were wearing ankle length plaid skirts. Also, what I had thought was wildflowers, is a terrible weed, the prickly yellow-flowering gorse. Apparently, as little as 50 years ago bags of the seed were being sold for 'quick-growing' hedges, now it is a pest.
We had quite an early start, and found the 'Devil's Boots', a sandstone outcrop, but could not locate the Aorere Gold Fields.
Then it was off to the northernmost tip of the South Island, and we tiptoed across sheep-dropping strewn paths to Wharariki Beach, with its sandstone rock island, Cape Farewell where there was an ocean-carved arch (and more in te process of being formed) – this is the most northern point) – and 3 seal mothers frolicking, or feeding, in the ocean while their respective pups slept on the rocks, and to Farewell Spit lookout which gave lovely views of Golden Bay, with thousands of black swans swimming near the shores. Heading south again, we stopped at Onekaka wharf – not much left, only a few rotting pylons - and the remains of the Onekaka Iron Works – only a few disintegrating buildings, and rusty bits of steel.
From here we went around to the southern part of Golden Bay to a pretty bay called Wainui, and walked in to Wainui Falls. This walk was characterised by the tallest treeferns we have ever seen, and a fragile one-person suspension bridge, but it was really worth it, to see the beautiful powerful waterfall gushing down through the massive waterworn sandstone boulders. We tried to camp at the harbour, near a rock tunnel, and stopped and watched some fishing boats being loaded with nets and anchors, but after chatting to some locals we moved on and returned to the same spot as the previous night, beside the Waikoropupu River (beside the local white-baiters). The weather is perfect – warm with a cool breeze, and still no sandflies.