Blenheim, New Zealand
Day 18, Blenheim to Westport
After a day of showers we wake to a bright sunny day as we say good bye to NZ’s sunniest region (Marlborough) and drive the Queen Charlotte route to Havelock. This road is winding and very narrow and Debi is not impressed, it does however offer some spectacular views of the many sounds along the way. On arriving in Havelock the Green Shell Mussel capital of the world, we drive down to the wharf where there are plenty of restaurants offering this local delicacy and also a mail run cruise that will take you along many of the sounds we just viewed, however we keep driving as Debi is queasy from the drive we have just completed.
Soon we pass Canvastown a gold mining area where thousands tried to get rich in the 1860’s and not much later reach Nelson. This city is much larger than we expected and as we drive around in many traffic jams we wonder why everybody likes this place, it is not pretty and it is very industrial along the seafront. We find a couple of seafood restaurants perched on the edge of the water and try to park the car where there are very limited spaces. On trying to cross the road it takes us about 5 minutes just to get a break in the traffic. The lunch ended up being very nice sitting in the sun on a cold day, however the sound of traffic was somewhat off putting.
After lunch we decided to look for some accommodation but once again we sat in very busy traffic and frustratingly found nothing that took our fancy so we decide to move on. After driving through suburb after suburb we finally hit some open country and our stress levels subside, however there was very little in terms of big towns between the start of the Buller Gorge and Westport so we decided that this would probably end up being a big trip today (short in distance but long in the time to navigate the windy roads).
The drive was magnificent as it followed the Buller River all the way to Murchison, where we scoured this small sleepy town for accommodation but once again decided to keep motoring. Next was Whites Creek which boasts NZ’s longest swing bridge and an adventures paradise with white water rafting, kayaking, 4WD trips and some great trout fishing (no thanks were driving).
As we approached Westport we hit a part of the road that sat right on the edge of the river and was carved into the rock with a large overhang, a bit like a tunnel with one side missing. Unfortunately there was nowhere to take a picture and we were past it before we could snap a shot through the windscreen so I will have to steal one from the Internet. When we finally hit the West Coast and rolled into the sea port town of Westport with a history of gold mining, logging and coal mining it was approaching 6.00 pm and starting to get dark. So yes it was a long day having hit the road at 9.00am this morning and I was so weary that when we got out of the car to grab a drink in one of the many local pubs, I left the engine running (just as well we didn’t stay for dinner). This is one mistake I will never live down…………… ******* those push button ignitions!
At dinner tonight I tried my first White Bait Sandwich, a West Coast delicacy. It was a patty between fresh bread that tasted much like an omelet. While I could see the White Bait inside the patty, dam if I could taste them. I might have to try another in Greymouth.
Day 19, Westport to Greymouth
Another fine day (what’s the go, we are on the West Coast) as we hit the road late this morning, we are well ahead of schedule having made some miles up yesterday so we decide to take a small detour to Cape Foulwind, named by Captain Cook for the difficult sailing conditions and not the smell of the seals we are about to visit. On this stop over we spotted half a dozen pups playing on the rocks and Debi made the general comment that most of the wildlife attractions we have visited have come a poor second to those in Australia (we think the Aussies definitely have the bragging rights when it comes to wild life diversity and numbers).
The drive from Westport to Greymouth is billed one of the top 10 drives in the world as it hugs the mighty Tasman Sea, passes dense rain forest and offers views similar to that of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. It definitely was an excellent drive with a stop at Punakaiki to see the Pancake rocks being the highlight, these suckers certainly give the 12 or is it 11 Apostles a run for their money. We checked out some accommodation on the beach at Punakaiki but decided to keep going as they wanted NZ $350 for the night and heavy rain was expected.
As we rolled into Greymouth it was nothing like the poor reports other travelers had given it and Debi found a hotel in the middle of town called the Kingsgate which had recently been renovated but still kept a lot of its old world charm, something we both agreed the town had plenty of. We asked for their premier suite with an instant walk in discount of NZ $50 per night to boot, so we took it off their hands. We had an afternoon to kill so we headed to Shanty-Town a replica Gold Town some 20 km south of Greymouth. We expected something like the gold fields experience in Victoria but it was very different and very ‘West Coast’ and gave us a good experience of what it would have been like to live and work in a very wet and cold climate during the gold mining days.
Back in town I refueled the car for the fourth time, ready for its return tomorrow. I have weaved a figure eight from the top to the bottom of the south island on a total of NZ $360 of fuel (not bad). As we parked the car heavy rain and strong winds began to settle in………..arrr, true West Coast weather at last, (we would have been disappointed if it had stayed fine).
Debi and I had dinner in the Kingsgate Hotel restaurant tonight, and had the best meal we have had during our whole holiday. white bait fritters for an entrée and lamb racks cooked to perfection…….good on you Greymouth, it just goes to show that not all tourists get it right about this town.