The WIld Wild West…Coast of New Zealand
We were bummed to leave Queenstown. We could imagine in just a few months how the scene would turn from boating and water sports on the lake to skiers and boarders carving down the snow-capped purple mountains. But it was only a vision. We didn’t have time to wait around; we had some quality sun to soak in before hurrying back for the first day of harvest.
We embarked up the left coast, excited to enjoy our last couple days, preferably on the beach, before the long harvest days started. The whole coast was ours! Bring on the sand and the sun!
Well, two hours into our drive, it started raining. Really. Really. Hard. And it didn’t stop.
But the west coast is beautiful. It’s part rainforest, part glacier, and tons of mystery. The islands of New Zealand are never 50km (~36 miles) wide, but driving the highway north, sometimes the forest was so dense, and the road so lonely, we could be anywhere from Central America to the Far East, until we remembered we were driving on the left. Turns out we were in the Paparoa National Park, 30,000 hectares of rainforest near the coast that extended through the drier areas more inland.
We had a break in the rain when we came to our stop at the Franz Josef Glacier. This moving ice block is 12 km long (7.5 miles) and almost meets the ocean at just 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level. We only walked up to the glacier, not onto it, but the guided hikes looked really fun, dress warm!
We continued on our drive back ‘home’ and stopped in Hokitika, near the Arahura River where a special kind of green jade is found and carved into beautiful art pieces and jewelry, pounamu. The Maori wear different shaped pendants as spiritual symbols. The twist shape for eternal emerging paths, the fish hook for traveling over water, the manaia design for protection from evil, and so on. As the pendants pass from each generation to the next, they gain prestige and respect.
Driving a little further through the Paparoa National Park, we stopped at the infamous Pancake Rocks, at Dolomite Point, just south of the main town, Punakaiki accessible by tourist friendly paths. These rock formations extended out into the sea creating several blowholes that when the waves crashed against them, water came through the eroded arches and splashed up several feet above. These ‘pancake’ rocks looked literally like stacks of pancakes, in all different sizes, shapes and heights. Heavy pressure pushed down on the rocks, which are composed of several layers of hard and soft limestone. As they compacted, a ‘pancake effect’ was created. We were so intrigued by this examining the formations far over the rail into the blowholes at several feet below we didn’t realize how powerful the waves could be…
Until we were smacked in the face with saltwater. Yum.
We continued on…