South Island meanderings…June 2017 … St Arnaud-Murchison-Westport-Greymouth-Lake Brunner-Arthurs Pass-Rangiora

01 June – Leaving the Nelson Lakes area today and heading to the West Coast again.  No hurry though…we didn’t even get out of bed till 0900!  Too cold and frosty…that was our excuse anyway.

Continued up the road away from St Arnaud and followed the Buller River to rejoin SH6 again at Kawatiri.  Turned left towards Gowanbridge with the intention of stopping the night alongside the main road, at the large gravel pit area there.  But that didn’t pan out because there were large gravel piles and trucks everywhere, servicing the many roadworks in the area.  (After leaving St Arnaud we’d crossed three temporary bridges, in use while the old one-lane bridges are being replaced, seeing as it’s currently the ‘main road’ from Blenheim to Christchurch).

We drove on to Murchison instead, to stay at the NZMCA Park.  We spent three nights there and one evening walked over to the Beechwood Café again – we’d had a nice meal there back in Dec 2014.  The food was just as good (even if they didn’t have fresh whitebait butties on the menu this time).

04 June – set off again to stop at the DOC Camp at Lyell. Weather deteriorated as the day wore on and by evening it was raining.  Quite a few vehicles stopped there overnight…but we didn’t see any of them go near the ‘pay station’.  Because it’s beside the main highway they must think that it’s a freebie!

Next morning we carried on through the Buller Gorge to Westport.  For lunch we bought fish’n’chips at the Black Shark Takeaways (we’d tested them out on our two previous visits to Westport).  Found a public parking area beside a boatramp overlooking the wharfs to eat them.   Then decided that it was OK to stop there overnight, so didn’t bother going to the Club Park where we usually stay.  Besides, the view was much better and it was at the start of a Walkway we wanted to explore.

By nightfall we had the place to ourselves

Talleys Wharf

Set out along the boardwalk/walkway during the afternoon.

On the other side of the Boardwalk we came across this Sculpture called “Germination” “from small beginnings grow great things” by Artist Barbara Green.  Certainly looked like a seed just starting to sprout.

From there we took a small detour loop to look at an old wharf overlooking the river.  Looks like the birds have overtaken it as a perching post.

The loop then took us back towards the town overlooking the Talley’s Wharf and Processing Building.

Back at the sculpture we headed along the ‘Lost Lagoon’ track which followed the river downstream to the end of the channel wall that boats follow as they head into the wharfs.

View up the Buller River
A bit of snow on the hills

At the end of the groyne we looked towards the harbour entrance, where the Buller River meets the sea (photo looks dark as it was taken facing the full sun).

Turning back we got a view of Shingle Beach between the groyne and the southern breakwater.

We continued around the loop around the lost lagoon and back to the starting point.  It was an enjoyable walk on a lovely day and we were away about and hour.

View back across the Lagoon

Next day we moved out of the carpark so we wouldn’t annoy ‘the natives’ by hogging space during the day and went to do some exploring.  Drove out to the Club Park to have a look as they are extending the camping area there.  A work in progress but it will about double the space when finished.  The Council have also been working on the public overnight spaces in the same area – have flattened and metalled a larger space for vehicles but there are now “no camping” signs along the beachfront.  The roadway in has also been improved, the large potholes that people have complained about have now been filled in.

Back through town we crossed the river bridge to look around the other side of the river mouth.  The Westport Airport is out this way (brought back memories of my days flying in here on F27’s with NAC and Air NZ).

Northern Breakwater wall
South Beach from Breakwater & the Airport

That night we were also treated to a lovely sunset.

We spent 3 nights in Westport and then ‘hit the road’ again, continuing southward on SH6.  Our first stop was at Charleston for lunch at Constant Bay.  Onward…it was a nice sunny day and we again enjoyed the views along the coast road.

We were aiming for Tiromoana where the Fox River empties into the sea.  Have camped there before beside the river stopbank – had the place to ourselves this time around.

Waves rolling up the river past the historic bridge

Went for a walk to stretch our legs later in the afternoon – across the old trestle bridge up to the old road tunnel entrance.  We spied a caravan on the other side of the main road that looks like it’s semi-permanent.  Walked back that way and the private camping area adjacent has also upgraded its ‘long drop’ so it’s probably getting more campers there over the summer months now.

Late afternoon sun view

09 June – Drove to Punakaiki and browsed in the Visitor Centre then continued on to Fishing Beach just south of the township, to stop the night.  This carpark is looked after by the Grey District Council and looks like they have been trying to do some up-grading here too.  Have bulldozed some of the scrub back to extend the carpark but the job has stopped part-way through and was an absolute muddy mess.  The only flat spot was OK thank goodness, so we claimed that and settled in.  Carparks by the beach entrance are now signposted as a “Boat Ramp” so those parking spots are closed…not that it stopped two rental motorhomes occupying them.  Oh well…very unlikely that anyone was going to launch a boat today with large waves pounding the beach.

11 June – Continuing on to Greymouth. Stopped in Runanga about 5kms north of Greymouth so we could go and see the Coal Creek Falls that we missed last time through.  An hours walk (return) and a really nice forested area. The wet ground home to many toadstools.

The track had a good surface most of the way – just a bit wet near the end. Coal Creek was not very big, however, there was still a good amount of water going over the falls.  It cascades over a rock ridge and is quite pretty…certainly worth seeing.  On the way out we passed a large group of photographers going in…glad we got there and took our photos before they arrived.

View from the Lookout
Coal Creek Falls

On arrival at Greymouth we drove straight to the Free Camp area beside Jellyman Park on North Beach.  More up-grading… the old gravel potholed parking area has now been levelled and tar-sealed with bumper strips along the frontage.  Very flash!

North Beach – looking toward the Breakwater
Fishing boat entering the harbour entrance

Stayed there another night enjoying the sea view, however, the sky was overcast all day… not good for solar charging.  More bad weather was forecast over the next few days so we decided to move back to town and checked into Central Park Camping where we could plug into power.  Also a laundry there and a loo/shower block. It’s on an elevated carpark behind the Challenge Service Station and within walking distance to town.  Owner gave us a good deal…paid $40 for two nights, then he said if we’d like to pay another $40 we can stay for a week!  That was three nights for ‘free’.  He told us that he likes to have a couple of m/homes stay for a longer period as it acts as an advertisement to other campers passing by that it must be a good place to stop.  Seemed to work as there were always around 6-8 other vehicles coming in each night.

Whilst there we booked into VTNZ to have our 6 monthly COF done on the truck.  It’s beside the riverside walkway in town, so whilst it was being ‘put through its paces’ I went for a wander around, looking at the coal mining exhibit and read up on some of the history of the area.

Back to VTNZ and the Inspectors were just completing the paperwork.  The truck passed…no problems found…woo hoo!  They did tell us that the treads on our rear tyres will not pass next time around…so at least we know to replace them before then.  We got our last COF done here too and found the Inspectors thorough and friendly (despite reports from other people to the contrary).

One day we walked into town for a look around the shops and bought lunch at one of the Pubs.  A good meal and not too expensive.  On our last day (Sunday) we decided to go to the movies as we hadn’t seen the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Don’t Tell Tales”.  Enjoyed it and Johnny Depp’s outrageous antics.  A first for us though…we were the only ones in the theatre…our own private viewing!  Maybe the staff were cursing us, if we hadn’t turned up, they probably would have been able to go home early.

20 June – Checked out of the camp and buzzed around town getting chores done – water fill, dump station, fuel, grocery shopping etc. etc.  It was after lunchtme by then so reckoned we’d stay in Greymouth another night.  Headed back to Jellyman Park at North Beach again.

Morning Sea View

Went for a walk and discovered a new camping area opposite the Speedway Track on the road to the northern breakwater.  Last time here it was a rough paddock for cars going to the Speedway.  Now it is developed, sealed, landscaped with a brand new toilet block.  The site is elevated and actually overlooks Jellyman Park.

Next day we drove back into town to get our gas bottle refilled at BP.  On our way back we decided we’d try out the new camp area for a change.  Not so crowded there and the elevated view back over the town and out to sea was better.  It’s not so sheltered, however, and we got buffeted when the wind picked up during the evening, being funnelled through the gap in the hills by the town bridge.  It was hitting us on the rear of the van and we were rocking around a bit but we fared better than one of the doors on the new loo block which was being blown open and crashing against a restraining post.  There was no way to lock the door from the outside and there was nothing to tether it to the post.  When we looked the door was already buckled so there wasn’t anything we could do.  In the morning Contractors and a Council Rep arrived to survey the damage.  Unfortunately their vandal-proof loo was no match for the local wind strength.  The other loo beside it had its door hinge on the other side so the wind actually held it shut…we are wondering if they moved the hinges to the other side when they replaced the broken door??

That morning we experienced the weather condition the locals call “The Barber”.  It was quite eerie, the mist was moving over the hill like a big wave but as it neared the ground it just disappeared.

A katabatic wind funnels a cold wet fog down the Grey River and into parts of the town. The fog forms overnight around the lakes and swamps inland and an easterly wind blows it toward the coast. When it meets a range of hills near Greymouth it is stopped so the fog becomes condensed and flows over the hills and through the gap that is formed by the Grey River. It's very damp and bitterly cold – said to be sharp enough to cut the hair off one’s head hence the name ‘The Barber’.

Cloud formation off shore was also unusual at the time

23 June – Farewelled Greymouth and headed eastward along SH7 to Reefton but turned south again at Stillwater along the Arnold Valley Road, towards our next destination Lake Brunner.  Along the way we stopped at Kaimata to have a look at the Power Station and Dam on the Arnold River.

Power Station
Walkway over top of the pipeline
Pipeline spillway (under the walkway)
Site plan
Pipeline section
Arnold River upstream from pipeline

Found a sign pointing to a 1 hour loop walk so on the spur of the moment decided to do it.

A nice walk through native forest, uphill quite steeply in one place and along a ridge to arrive at a Lookout over the Dam area.


Overview of the Dam and Lake
Lake backwaters

Then it was downhill to follow the river back to the Power Station.  Not a well advertised place to visit – we just saw it marked on the map and went for a nosey!  It was certainly a surprise find – the Dam was ‘different’ than the norm and the bush walk to see it from the high spot through the trees picturesque.  There is a side road that goes to the Dam itself but that road was temporarily closed while some construction work was being done there.

Arrived at Lake Brunner and headed for Iveagh Bay and the free overnight parking area there.  Stopped for three nights enjoying the lake view and its changing moods.

Stretched our legs along the bush walk but only going as far as the point where the track heads steeply uphill.  From then on it becomes a muddy scramble, the recent rains making it even worse than usual.

Glad too that we had good Internet coverage there, being glued to watching the Americas Cup yacht racing in its final stages.

25 June – time to head east and back over Arthurs Pass as the weather forecast was not good for the next few days with snow predicted over all the high passes.  We woke up to see the lake covered in fog, jumped outside to take a few photos, the trees looked quite ‘spooky’ through the mist, but within a few minutes the sun had chased it all away.

We rejoined SH73 and drove straight through to Arthurs Pass Village.  A frigid wind blowing and not very pleasant, so decided to carry on down the other side…we didn’t want to get snowed in, seeing as we don’t have any snow chains for the truck.

View up the Waimakariri River Valley

We got a far as Lake Pearson for lunch.  It was sunny and more sheltered so we decided to stop for the night at the lakeshore DOC camp.  Went for a walk around the shore a short way till we got stopped by a fence and boggy ground.

Lake end

We were also entertained by a helicopter buzzing around the hill on the opposite side of the lake.  It was doing low approaches into the hillside as though they were searching for something…then after 20 mins or so, it took off back down the valley and didn’t come back.

Lake Pearson (helicopter working on hillside across the lake)
Lake Pearson

Afternoon views…

Only problem was next morning when we wanted to watch the final Americas Cup Race we didn’t have Internet Service to watch it ‘live’, so had to settle for the delayed coverage using our Sat Dish on the TV. Woo hoo…Team NZ blitzed it and is bringing ‘the old mug’ home again!

Morning views…

Drove onward, passing the Castle Rocks area and on down to Lake Lyndon.  Weather had taken a turn for the worse by then and it was bitterly cold again.  Interesting that the snow on the hills was a lot thicker on this side of the ranges and we heard on the radio that Mt Hutt Skifield had opened up early for the season.

Rejoined the Canterbury Plains at Springfield and then stopped at Sheffield’s ‘famous’ bakery for pies and cakes for lunch.  Was just a quick run then, to the Waimakariri Gorge Rest Area for the night.

28 June – Moved on to Rangiora to stock up on supplies and then headed to our usual parking spot by the Ashley River Bridge Domain for a few nights.   One morning we were woken early by a Fire Engine arriving and parking on the roadway leading down to the river.  Curiosity killed the cat…but we eventually found out that a stolen car had been found in the river further upstream.  They were searching for people (read that as bodies), however, no-one was found so the police concluded that it had just been dumped by the ‘perps’ involved.  We went for a walk later but nothing to be seen…the car had been recovered by then.

On the morning of the 30th woke to a 0° frost…the coldest morning we have had so far this winter.  We settled for the day, overcast and drizzly again, so no solar charging…batteries down to 40% so Neville started up the truck engine for a while to top them up.  Have had to do this a few times of late, however, we got an unwelcome surprise when our diesel heater suddenly stopped about 3:00pm.  Warning light indicated that the fuel was too low to run it. bugger…we had to ‘up-sticks’ and drive into town to fill up with some more diesel.   This is the first time it’s happened, but at least we now know that the low-fuel cut-out on the heater does actually work as it’s supposed to.  The heater draws the diesel directly from the truck fuel tank and the cut-out ensures enough fuel is left to start and run the truck still.  Neville did suggest that I could just sit with a rug around me for the evening to keep warm…(been there, done that, when the heater broke down last winter).  One look at my horrified face convinced him that was not an option this time around!!  (Not if he wanted to continue living anyway…lol).

A quiet night…thankfully we did not hear any snoring from the motorhome that decided to park too close for comfort beside us for the night.  Rest of the carpark was empty so they could have parked a little further away from us.   Must admit we do like a bit of ‘personal’ space around us and always respect that ideal when we park next to other people.  Not always possible nowadays as Councils allocate side-by-side single parking spots for their Certified Freedom Camping areas and ‘herd’ us into one small section.  But there is also the safety side of things…if one motorhome has an accident with their gas bottle/heater/fridge/cooker and catches on fire, it puts all the other motorhomes parked alongside in danger too.  Plenty of examples of this on the Internet, so it does happen.   Recommended space is 3 metres between rigs but unfortunately, it’s not enforceable.

And so ended the month of June…tomorrow we head to Kaiapoi and plan to spend a couple of months at the Riverlands Holiday Park (where we stayed and ‘wintered over’ this time last year).

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