This morning we say goodbye to our hosts at the Grasmere, and continue our journey with the Tranz Alpine Express to the West Coast. At arrival in Greymouth, we pick-up our rental car, and first drive north, towards Dolomite Point at Punakaiki. Here we can see the unusual rockfomation known as the pancake rocks and witness the forces of the sea (blowholes). We then drive south again, where we'll make a short stop in the historic goldmining town of Hokitika, also the centre of the Maori greenstone mining and cutting industry ("pounamu" holds great spiritual significance for the Maori people). Then we'll be driving on to the famous Glaciers, where we will be staying in the beautiful Westwood Lodge near Franz Josef, hosted by Bill and Janet Gawn. If we have enough time, we might make a short walk in the surrounding area.
The next morning we were up around 08:30 am, enjoyed our deliscious breakfast at the lodge said our goodbyes. It was tough leaving this magical place. Tom drove us to the train tracks at 10:15 (no station, just a little red shed), and made sure we were safely on our way to Greymouth on the Tranz Alpine.
The trainís next stop was rainy Arthurís Pass, just before we went into the 8 km tunnel through the mountains. Once we had passed through the tunnel, we were on the ëwetí side of the mountains it seemed. Misty and wet, lush green landscapes. Very beautiful from our dry seat.
The train was running about 45 minutes late by the time we arrived in Greymouth (13:30). Luckily the staff member of the rental car company managed to wait for us at the platform. Went to office for the paperwork (shabby office and car). After we had picked up our car, JJ quickly adjusted to driving on the other side, and we decided to have a look around Greymouth.
We were looking for a solution to our internet access problem and for a quick lunch to go.
I had read an advertisement on the train about a local photographer, Stewart Nimmo, and was interested in seeing his work. We quickly found the store, which sold all sorts of high quality New Zealand souvenirs, and had the opportunity to meet the man himself. The photoís are really beautifull and capture the beauty of the West Coast.
We headed off northbound towards Punakaiki, for a visit to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This coastal route north from Greymouth is truely stunning. The wild seas, rugged coastline on one side, and the dense, primevil rainforests with it's sculpted trees, on the other. The Oscar winning movie 'The Piano' was filmed around here, by the way.
Saw bumper sticker on car at Punakaiki: "Aotearoa is not an American suburb!". Ha.
At Dolomite Point, you can follow neatly plotted out, sealed walkways along the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. They are dotted with signs explaining how the rocks and blowholes are formed and also tell you a bit about the surrounding rainforest (the nearby Paparoa National Park). Sadly, the seas were not rough enough to show off the blowholes and make the ground rumble, and again we did not have enough time to have a walk in Paparoa.
We had a long road ahead of us, along the West Coast, towards Frans Jozef, glacier country.
The weather was fine. Spells of sunshine and some cloud and so we were able to enjoy the views.
The West Coast is really magnificant! Next time we certainly want to spend more time here.(music of the movie 'The Piano' of Jane Campion playing in my head...)
By the time we reached Hokitika, the greenstone workshops were closed and it was late, so we ended up just passing through.
The main roads have 2 lanes, one in each direction. The maximum speed is 100 kms/h, but you will hardly get to that speed, considering the windy roads.
Something typical for New Zealand are the ëone-lane bridgesí. When you come to a bridge, 2 lanes become 1, and you either give of have way. The scariest one is on the West Coast, where you not only have to give way to the driver from the other direction,... but you also have to ëbeware of trainsí. Yep,... a death trap.
We passed wide alpine rivers, more dense rainforest, vast lakes... Amazing country.
Sun is going down already and need to reach Franz Josef before nightfall.
When we reached the Westwood Lodge in Franz Josef, the weather had changed from open blue skies to closed off by dark clouds and rain, gloomy ... no sight of the mountains (Southern Alps, Mt Cook/Mt Tasman) nor of the glaciers...
Checked in at the Westwood Lodge (Janet & Bill proprietors, new managers Joe & Di) and stayed in the ëRed roomí. Janet is an artist (makes beautiful quilts like draped in rooms) and Bill a photographer.
Bill prepared dinner (simple but tasty hot cooked meal), chatted about all sorts ëtil about 23:00. Also relationship between Moari and Pakeha (white Nzlanders), seems to be touchy subject. Relations were better 10 years ago, now things have gone sour because of Maori's reclaiming land and fishing ground according to Waitangi Treaty.
Jean-Jacques Halans ©2003