South Island meanderings…January 2017 (Part 1) … Waiuta-Greymouth-Punakaiki-Fox River-Westport

2017 – another New Year – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!

After spending New Years Eve at Waiuta we spent another day there before heading back to civilisation. We ‘broke camp’ early and managed to drive down the narrow road before it started to get busy with incoming vehicles.

Rejoined SH7 and started towards Greymouth but did a detour along the way to go back to Nelson Creek to do the walk to Cobb Dam that we didn’t complete when we camped here recently as it was too wet. This time it was a dry, pleasant stroll through the scenic bush, past the dam and more goldworking trenches while following a circuit starting/ending at the swingbridge beside the camping area. We were glad we took the time to return.

Colls Dam
Colls Dam
Dam Reflections
Dam Reflections

Arriving at Greymouth we also did a bit of exploring around the town and drove out along the breakwater on the southern side of the Grey River. There is an elevated viewing point here in the shape of a ships turret and information boards tell the tales of unfortunate ships that have met their fate crossing the bar to enter the harbour.

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Greymouth breakwater
Greymouth breakwater

The sea was pretty calm – but could well imagine the waves coming over the road on rough days.

Grey River on left - South Beach on right
Grey River on left – South Beach on right
Entrance to Greymouth Harbour
Entrance to Greymouth Harbour
Upstream to Greymouth town
Upstream to Greymouth town and wharves

We spent another three nights in Greymouth but this time parked in a free camping area right on the beach-front at North Beach. Nice to go to sleep at night to the sound of the sea.

Sunset from North Beach
Sunset from North Beach

There was also a pleasant little walk around a lagoon from here that we did one evening to the sound of roaring engines from the neighbouring stockcar track. We tried to see if we could see over the dunes for a sneaky look, but no such luck…they had that angle well covered!

So after re-stocking the fridge, getting a haircut, making lots of phone-calls, filling up with fuel and water we were ready to hit the road again and cover some new ground. This time heading north along the scenic coast road.

Strongman Mine Memorial
Strongman Mine Memorial

First stop wasn’t far up the road – a Lookout point overlooking the coastline and location of an impressive Memorial for 19 Coalminers that lost their lives in an explosion at the nearby Strongman Mine in 1967.

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Continued on and pulled over at a couple of Rest Areas for photo stops then just past Greigs and the 14 Mile Bluff found a nice picnic spot for lunch right on the shore.

13-rocky-view 14-rock

Afterwards we drove on to the next Rest Area to consider it as a possible overnighting place, however, we ended up going back to our lunch spot as it was nicer with a grassy area to park on instead of dusty gravel. And we got quite a nice sunset in the evening.

Picnic spot beach
Picnic spot beach
East coast sunset
East coast sunset

Next day we arrived at Punakaiki. Every spare inch of the roadways and carpark areas were full of jostling people, cars, vans, motorhomes and buses. Eventually we found a spot and we set off to do the walkway around Dolomite Point to view the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Again it has been a long time since we last visited and we found that there are a number of new viewing areas and the track is organised as ‘one way’ for better people-flow. Unfortunately it was low tide so there wasn’t any sign of the blowholes spouting.

Punakaiki walk
Punakaiki walk

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Nikau Forest along walkway
Nikau Forest along walkway

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Birdwatching
Birdwatching

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The Arch
The Arch
Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks
Blowholes area
Blowholes area
Nothing blowing today
Nothing blowing today

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Canyon view (we're standing on the Arch)
Canyon view (we’re standing on the Arch)

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Use your imagination - can you see the Lion
Use your imagination – can you see the Lion
View looking north along the coast
View looking north along the coast

The Nikau Palms were flowering and some had trunks the width of the tall ones but looked ‘stunted’ being only a few meters high.    People have also been weaving some of the flax leaves alongside the path into clever designs.

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We moved to another carpark at the north end of the township beside the Pororai River to have our lunch. Then set off walking the riverside track into the river gorge upstream.

39-tall-bluffs-2 40-tall-bluffs

The river is popular for canoeing – though fairly shallow it was quite fast flowing in places and we watched a family group struggling to tow their canoes behind them where it was impossible to paddle against the current. They did not look like they were having much fun at that point. No doubt they would have enjoyed a quick return trip, once they turned to go back downstream.

41-track-overhangWe continued along the walk, through the impressive gorge with towering cliffs, thick Nikau Palm forests and ferns everywhere. After 20mins we came to a lookout point where we’d decided to turn around and head back.

Lookout point
Lookout point

The path continued on for another 40mins to a swingbridge and junction of another track that continued around in a loop to the main road south of Punakaiki.

Would have been nice to complete the walk to the swingbridge but we wanted to find a place to camp early so as not to miss out on a spot.

Back at Punakaiki though, we did stop on the side of the road to have a quick look at the Punakaiki Cave located beside the main road that you can safely walk into and scramble around looking into nooks and crannies. Interesting but very muddy underfoot in places.

47-cave3  45-cave4  

44-cave1    46-cave5

Punakaiki Cave
Punakaiki Cave

Drove south of the town to Fishing Beach to stop the night. Got there just in time to claim a spot, it wasn’t very level but with blocks under the wheels it was OK.

We walked up to the end of the beach to look at the sea crashing against a rocky bluff and found a hidden little chasm area to explore. It was quite interesting (though wouldn’t have liked to be there during an earthquake).

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Hidden Gully
Hidden Gully

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Next morning we were out of bed at 6:00am so that we could get back to the Pancake Rocks during high tide in the hope that the Blowholes were performing. We were being very quiet so we wouldn’t disturb our neighbouring campers too much…then as Neville was getting back into the cab after putting our wheel blocks away…trying to avoid a boghole, he grabbed hold of the steering wheel to pull himself in and accidentally set off our airhorns!! Well, that certainly woke everyone up!! We took off hoping like mad we wouldn’t be recognised by any disgruntled people later in the day.

Truman Track
Truman Track

Anyway, we still didn’t see the blowholes ‘blowing’. The sea had calmed down overnight and despite being high tide, not a splash was to be seen.

We ate our breakfast then drove to the north end of town to do another walkway, the Truman Track ending at some pretty amazing beach coves.

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It was drizzling today so no beautiful blue sea colours (as the brochures depict) but it was still a great sight. Enormous overhanging cliffs line the coves and in one corner a little waterfall drops off the overhang onto the stony beach.

First cove
First cove

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Behind the waterfall
Behind the waterfall

Tide was on its way out so we were able to climb down the steps onto the beach and walk around the rocky outcrop into the next little cove as well.

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65-rock-stack
Amazing colors on face of rock stack

The overhangs were quite impressive. They were also handy to shelter under during the heavier showers.

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Outloook of second cove
Cavern outlook of second cove
Deep overhang
Deep cavern
Under the ovehang
Under the overhang
Empty nest
Empty nest

I also spied an empty birds nest against one of the beach rocks but the stones and the piece of stick looked too conveniently placed, so it must have been placed there by someone who’d found it.

71-gravel-beachThe beach is just a mass of nicely polished pebbles of all colours and sizes. Hard to resist and we left with our pockets full (now where will we put them in the motorhome?)

We left the area and continued northwards. Stopped at Irimahuwhero Lookout along the highway – good view up the rocky coastline.

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Coast road again
Coast road again

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We got at far as the Fox River at Tiromoana settlement. Looked like a good place to overnight – area was metalled so no chance of getting bogged. Later in the afternoon we went for a walk to explore the area. Alongside the main road bridge sits an old historic wooden-truss bridge that you can still walk over and on the other side an old man-made road tunnel.

Fox River Valley
Fox River Valley
Historic Wooden Truss Bridge over the Fox River
Historic Wooden Truss Bridge over the Fox River

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Tunnel entrance from the Bridge
Tunnel entrance from the Bridge
View from other side
View from other side
Tunnel entrance
Tunnel entrance

Looked at a Natural Arch near the settlement houses on the main highway – it was quite overgrown so you had to know it was there as you whizzed past at speed.

Natural Arch
Natural Arch

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Then clambered down a bank to walk along the beach and past a tall cliff face to the river mouth around the corner.

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We’d seen a sea cave from the other side of the main road bridge and Neville perched precariously on a sloping rock to see if he could get a photo. Thankfully he didn’t slip and fall into the river that was quite deep at that point.

River cave
River cave

We then realised the tide was coming in fast and we got back around the bluff about one wave before we’d have had wet feet…that was close!

Beach sculptures
Beach sculptures
Are we in the wrong country?
Are we in the wrong country?

Next morning a regular Sunday Market was happening under a big permanent marquee on the property beside us. We walked over to have a look – the usual craft things, plants, food stalls. We ended up with some nice big free-range eggs and a couple of pieces of yummy ginger crunch to go with our morning tea. The market was busy all day and the carpark around us likewise very busy.

We set off before lunch to do the Walkway up the Fox River – track goes to a Cave that you can freedom walk (be prepared to get wet feet) and further up is the Ballroom Overhang.

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We walked for about an hour then came across a barrier across the track advising that the Cave Track was closed due to slips and track washouts!  Darn we should have read the notices more carefully at the start of the walk.

Keep Out!!
Keep Out!!
Weka inspection
Weka inspection

We thought (briefly) about heading up the other branch of the track to The Ballroom Overhang, however, the normally shallow river crossing was currently a fast flowing expanse!

Diagonal river crossing
Diagonal river crossing
Track marker across the river
Track marker across the river

And it wasn’t just straight across the river but the track entrance on the other side was diagonally upstream in the distance, so the crossing was about 3-4 times longer!

We figured we would be up to our bums in places in the deeper parts…so needless to say we headed back to camp.

Swampy area
Swampy area

09 Jan – Heading to Westport today. Rained overnight and most of the day as we traveled. First stop along the way was at Charleston, an old gold town of the late 1860’s. Now more famous for the Nile River Rafting Tours, Rainforest Train and ‘serious’ Caving Tours. The ‘tubing’ down the river appeals…but not today.

We stopped at the beach here and did a short walk around the Point – nice rocky views. Got chatting to a DOC employee who was doing track maintenance – he has to cover an amazingly wide area up and down the coast.

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We arrived at Westport late morning. Still raining. Did the usual grocery shopping and walked up and down the main street to check out the local shops. Shouted ourselves fish’n’chips for lunch, then headed to the NZMCA Park for the night. Lots more rain overnight.

Rain cleared up by morning – so headed off to do some sightseeing. Drove along the breakwater on the north side of the Buller River for a view out the mouth – it’s flooded at the moment making it ‘one huge river’. People were surfing the waves forming on the beach side of the embankment.

Westport Harbour Entrance
Westport Harbour Entrance

There is an Anchor Memorial at the end for the men who left Westport and never returned when the Union Steam Ship M.V. Waikawa foundered and sunk off the Pandora Reef near Cape Reinga in 1966.

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There are other plaques dotted around the rocks in the area, memorials for more seamen who have lost their lives at sea locally.

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Then headed back through town, crossed over the town bridge to drive around Carters Beach then on to Cape Foulwind. Parked there and started up the walkway to the Lighthouse.

View from the lighthouse
View from the lighthouse

101-lighthouse-at-cape-foulwind 102-cape-foulwind-history

103-lighthouse-signThe walkway continues on for 1½ hours to a Seal Colony at the southern end and Tauranga Bay. But you can drive there too, so we ate our lunch at the local Domain and decided to take the lazy way out.

The seal colony wasn’t that large, but there were lots of seal pups with their mums and it’s the first time we’ve actually seen them ‘suckling’…very cute!

Seal pup suckling
Seal pup suckling
Relaxed Mum!
Relaxed Mum!
Pups playing in rock pool
Pups playing in rock pool

The Walkway to the colony started at Tauranga Bay and skirted the rocky coastline with views down the coast and Wall Island just offshore.

Wall Island near seal colony
Wall Island near seal colony
Working on the roof (had to settle on a 'rear' shot)
Working on the roof (had to settle on a ‘rear’ shot)

As it was a nice day we stopped again at the local Domain, set up the ladder and Neville climbed onto the roof to renew the sealant around the rear hatch. A job he’s been meaning to do for some time – a precaution seeing as the rain falls often and heavy here on the West Coast.

There was a nice view from the Domain over a small bay across to Cape Foulwind. A pathway led to the beach and as the tide was receding people were walking down to explore around the rocks.

View of Cape Foulwind from the Domain
View of Cape Foulwind from the Domain

Drove back to Westport past the huge Holcim Cement Processing plant along the way. This time we decided not to go into the Club Park but parked in a public ‘free’ area alongside (not that we didn’t want to pay club fees, but the view of the beach area was much nicer).

The next day was dull and it drizzled most of the day so we sat there enjoying our view and observing the comings and goings of locals walking their dogs, picking up firewood (tons of driftwood along the shore) and testing their 4WD vehicles down the beach.

Later, just on tea-time a man knocked on the door – his Motorhome (very similar to ours) was stuck in the soft sand down a side track. Neville took our wheel blocks to see if that would help while I kept my eyes peeled for a local 4WD coming past. A 4WD was flagged down and thankfully it managed to pull them out. The owner was a relieved man! New to motorhoming he‘d made the fatal mistake of trying to do multiple turns in the sand till the back wheels disappeared! (must admit that we’ve ‘been there/done that’…not in this country but a few times when we were travelling around Australia).

The sun was shining the next day so we left Westport and headed north again…(January – Part 2 to follow).

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