Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Zealand Day 17: To Punakaiki

We woke in Nelson, where the first order of the morning was to take down all the clothes hanging haphazardly around the van. Well, B's first order of the morning was to find whatever adult was available and could be cajoled into coming to supervise her on the trampoline. 

We've tried to avoid morning driving, as these are Brynna's most cheerful hours, much better put to use with hiking and such than sitting in the car. But today we had no choice, and headed off southwesterly towards Punakaiki on the West Coast. 

I looked for a good place to stretch our legs and came upon the Buller Gorge Swingbridge around lunchtime. As it is supposed to be the longest swingbridge in NZ, I thought it might impress Brynna more than the one at Pelorus Bridge! On the other hand, we had to pay $5 to walk across this one. 

It was pretty nifty!

And sufficiently swingy to please Brynna.

On the other side there was a short loop walk that we coaxed her into taking. This was also our first introduction to the dreaded West Coast sandfly, so none of us enjoyed the hike as much as we anticipated.

There is also a big zipline that runs across the river next to the swingbridge. Maybe when B is a little older...

We had a lengthy drive ahead of us down the length of the Buller Gorge.  Here in late summer, the water was plentiful enough, but occupied only a slim channel in a much broader streambed covered with rounded stones and driftwood.  Goodness only knows what it must look like in full flood.  At such times, they told us, its flow is second only to the Amazon.

Our next break came in Westport, where I'd identified a brewery for a tasting. The plan was for Alex and my parents, who all actually enjoy beer, to do that, and for B and I to find a playground.

I'm going to let him tell you about the brewery, of course:

The West Coast Brewery has been around for about 30 years, making it one of the oldest craft breweries in NZ. They pride themselves on their authenticity to the craft, and the results are very encouraging. We had arrived too late in the day (5:00) for a proper tour.  One bloke, though, sat Mark and I down for a lengthy tasting and nearly an hour's worth of explanation, history, commentary, brewery politics and rivalries, and all around good stuff. Our host works in the brewery only occassionally, he actually is a heavy machinery operator (backhoes and dumptrucks) originally from Kent in the UK, who emigrated here with his wife.

By regulation they can't just take our money and give us beer like any old bar. They need to give us a tour, followed by a modest complementary sampling. As we were sitting round the table and our host told us of this regulation, he then gave a general wave of the hand and said: "There it is."

There was more to it than that - he gave us a thorough explanation of their process and equipment, even if we didn't get around to seeing it all up close. The sampling turned out to be five 10-oz glasses apiece - about three pints, which is more beer than I've had in a single sitting for a long while. Good stuff, too. I enjoyed their International pale ale. Mark enjoyed their Green Fern lager - their first certified organic brew. We took away a six pack each.  s we sat and talked, many locals came in and casually filled a glass or 2-L take-away bottle (a rigger as they call it here; a growler in the States). The casual atmosphere at the end of a work day was a nice touch.

I'm back! B and I were very successful in our search for a playground, but less so in our search for coffee/hot chocolate as everything in Westport (except the brewery) apparently closes at 5:00 on the dot. My mom joined us at the playground pretty soon while the guys enjoyed the rest of the brewery sampling.

Eventually we all re-gathered and pushed on (with the ladies driving!) about an hour down the coast to Punakaiki. This drive is supposed to be one of the prettiest in the world and we would agree—it was stunning! We ended up at the beautiful Punakaiki Beach Camp:

The big draw of Punakaiki is something called the Pancake Rocks and blowholes, where the waves come in and hit these cliffs and caves and sometimes come booming out the top. This is only really active at high tide, which was about 9:30 PM. We headed up the road a kilometer or so around sunset to try to catch a glimpse before bed. The waves looked pretty busy, so we were excited!

And the walk was lovely.

It was almost dark by the time we got onto the trails, but we made our way along and eventually found a small group of folks on the farthest viewpoint. There was just enough light to make out one feature that was spurting water out of a point at least forty feet above the water's surface. Called the Chimney Pot, it is a sort of soda-straw channel, forty feet high, cut into the cliff wall of a long and deep inlet. When a large wave hits just right, a column of water and air gets forced out the top of the "straw" as a jet of fine mist.  In one of the pools, there were a few wave bursts so large that the noise we heard in between was like really heavy rain as all of the drops fell back into the ocean. There was one cave/blowhole that you couldn't see, but every few minutes with just the right wave would emit this giant deep BOOM. That one was called, most appropriately, Sudden Sound, and is the opening at the back of a long low tunnel. The whole thing was glorious! But too dark for photos, sorry.

The only downsides was that we somehow lost my parents, and that Brynna was running on empty and therefore wouldn't stop talking/complaining long enough for us to just gaze at and listen to the amazing features! (Most of this is our fault, it was awfully late.)

On the walk on the way back to the campsite, we ran into a Brit who was also visiting, and he pointed out a couple of satellites crossing the sky. We are really enjoying our NZ stargazing, especially after our mini-education at the observatory in Welly.

All in all, today was a wonderful introduction to the West Coast. Except for the sandflies.

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