Sunday, January 29, 2012

Punakaiki and Hokitika (I love Maori names!)

January 18th to 22nd
There are relatively few roads in NZ, so when we drive to out of the way places like Karamea and Farewell Spit, we need to backtrack on the same roads. We almost didn’t drive to some limestone arches because of the one-lane winding gravel road to get there and back, but the lure of seeing the arches overcame the fear of meeting another campervan on a narrow spot on the road!

Darrell under one of the limestone arches
After our two hikes to the arches, we backtracked all the way to the library at Westport again where we got a strong enough wifi signal to work in the van in the parking lot. Then we bought some groceries and headed down the road to a free campsite by the Fox River.

The next morning I went for a hike with a woman who was camped alone just behind us. Maria has been traveling for the past two and a half years! She began from her home in Spain and spent a lot of time in the Middle East before going to India and eventually to New Zealand.  She will continue to travel until she runs out of money.

Maria by our tree "cave"
Maria and I were trying to reach a cave and ended up on the wrong trail. We kept following orange flagging, but after an hour of bush whacking we figured this wasn’t the route! So we took a picture of a tree "cave" we found in case we never found the real cave.

We backtracked to the correct trail, and went into the cave with a young Swiss and French couple that had much better headlamps than we did. The cave has been a popular tourist destination for over a hundred years so it isn’t in any kind of pristine condition, but it was still fun to go into.

Fox River Cave
After that adventure, Darrell and I continued down the road to Punakaiki, where the “Pancake Rocks” are accessed by a walkway that gets a lot of tourists. After the quiet places we have been, it was strange to be among busloads of tourists! These limestone rocks have an interesting erosional pattern that gives them their name.

There are also blowholes and surge pools when the tide comes in. At low tide the kelp hangs on the sides of the pool. And then at high tide, the entire wall and rock get inundated with waves and somehow the kelp hang on for the ride!

The kelp hang like a row of ties at low tide
Larger view of this same pool at high tide with the waves crashing over the kelp and rocks
The next day we spent some time looking for more glacial marine deposits and then took a walk by the glacially fed river at Hokitika Gorge. We camped in the parking area for the Whitcombe Track but I couldn’t find any information on this track in my tramping book, and when we followed the trail we ended up in a pastured area with cows and sheep!

Darrell enjoying the gorgeous glacial blue Hokitika Gorge
The next morning we drove into Hokitika and worked at the very pleasant library. I can’t say enough good things about the libraries! Besides using the wifi, I almost always end up buying one of their $2 paperbacks as well. Then the next library down the road gets the old book and I buy a new one.

Hokitika is most known as the pounamu (jade) capital of New Zealand. We spent some time admiring both the traditional and modern jade carvings in town. The picture below shows the clocktower (common in many towns here) with the Maori carving studio and jade store behind it.

Hokitika Clocktower
For lunch, I bought a Whitebait sandwich. The West is mad for Whitebait. This is basically a tiny (1 inch) fish that gets caught in nets. So it isn’t like yummy fish and chips.  Instead, they take a handful of whitebait and mix it with an egg and fry it up. It looks like an egg sandwich with a bunch of fish eyes staring up at you. Hmmm. I am NOT mad for Whitebait but I am glad I tried it!

We continued south to Ross, where Darrell was trying to find a Pliocene marine deposit with shells in it. Ross is still being actively mined for gold, so much of the area was off limits for exploration. But we happened upon a man who owned a limestone quarry and he gave Darrell permission to have a look around. We actually found the deposit there and Darrell collected some of the shells.

Darrell and the almost hidden Pliocene marine deposit
Ross was the furthest south we ventured for now. We headed back north and camped at a pretty little lake that had a DOC campground. It would almost remind me of Minnesota except for the Southern Alps in the background!

Mindy at Lake Mahinepua

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