Day 5: Ice Hiking & Rubbernecking
Day 4: Keep Rubbing!
Day 3: Glowworms, Hydroslides and Dragons
Day 2: Gas for the Pass and Passing Gas
Day 2: Thar She Blows!
Day 1: The Adventure Begins
A Dash of Preparation
September 28, 2003
Day 2: Gas for the Pass and Passing Gas
On the edge of town, I gave the last scraps of my lunch ("Italian Pizza Made by an Ausssie in New Zealand": $9 NZ for a small 3 topping) to waiting magpies. No wonder these birds are so huge here. On now to the winding roads, slithering along the mountainsides, brushing against hills and valleys, one-lane-ing across rain-swollen streams, and boring through the heart of the South Island. I flew along at a pretty good pace for the earliest part of the drive, excepting the occasional slow down for sheep and dogs herding along the road. Somewhere in that first half hour of driving, 311's "I'll Be Here Awhile" played - and it struck an instant chord with me, seeming to echo my own feelings about this trip, which was largely a spiritual venture for me. I sang along merrily at a 3 percent downgrade, switching back left and right, slowing for most of the scenery, and often stopping to hop out and take pictures. Rainbows followed me as I broke from the Kaikoura range and rushed toward the Spenser Mountains, which are in the northern center of the South Island. The flat expanse lasted all of 20 minutes before I was snaking through the passes again, heading up to Lewis Pass, one of four South Island high altitude crossings.
Since I was fighting jet lag, I had been drinking quite a bit of water (which was really good there, but more on that later), but hadn't seen any roadside toilets or conveniences in quite some time. When I came to a scenic outlook just beyond an overbridge, my bladder could hold it no longer, and I relieved myself well away from both the waterfall that the bridge crossed and the dead sheep that appeared to have gotten very lost about 3 months previously. The bridge was caked in graffiti boasting about minor accomplishments and small people long forgotten in this region. When I headed back to the car, a gentleman who had pulled in with his family told me I was lucky. "Why's that?" I asked. "Ya left your keys in and ya car runnin' mate," he retorted. And while it was a glaring oversight on my part, my only reply was "That's just coz I trust you Kiwis". We shared a brief laugh, then I hit the road again.
On and on I drove, stuck between racing the remaining daylight to the West Coast and dying for a break. Shortly after the snow-caked Lewis Pass, I flew by a 'Waterfall Trail' entrance and slammed on my brakes. Well, OK, not "slammed", but I stopped pretty quickly, and turned around, heading back to the trail. It promised a round-trip of twenty minutes, so I threw on my rain jacket and plunged into the thick damp of the temperate rainforest. I skirted around some thick mud, circling round the pulpy puddle before continuing on the soggy sod-and-gravel path. It soon sliced through the rainforest and danced along the edge of a raging stream. The gradient continued to increase as the path's width shrunk considerably.
At this point, the going slowed somewhat as I began to capture the cool damp air in my lungs and really take heed of the extreme variety of plant life that surrounded me. It was about this point that a patch of white caught my eye - could it be...nah... Wait - it is! A patch of snow here in the middle of a rainforest. You don't see that everyday, now do you? After clambering over some rocks, I arrived at a wooden landing that overhung the creek and framed a nice but small waterfall that didn't look impressive enough to title an entire trail after it. It wasn't until I snapped a photo that I noticed the path continuing to wind up the hill. Twenty minutes into a 'ten minute' trail, I continued on, following the rocky path over a few more inclines and listening to the stream grow louder and louder. I rounded a bend and there it was - The Waterfall.
It's kind of hard to miss, isn't it? While there was no way to get closer to it, I got as close as I could and meditated on my fortune, before inhaling and truly appreciating the waterfall. Reluctantly, yet quickly, I bounded back down the path to my car - it was rapidly getting darker and I still had a ways to go.
Back on the highway, I descended through the rest of Lewis Pass and into a flatter (but still twisting) road. My wipers remained on fairly constantly, though there was no real 'rain' to speak of. At about four in the afternoon, I came across a historic coalmine on the outskirts of Greymouth, where I had been planning to stay the night. As I stepped out of the car into frigid windy air, I made a spot decision to continue the extra 45 clicks down to Hokitika - a smaller West Coast town. There wasn't much to see at the coal mine anyway - unless you're into that sort of thing, and I'm certainly not.
The road down to Hokitika, conversely, was a downright challenge. I was now skimming the Western Coast of the South Island - hanging right next to a howling Tasman Sea that was trying to infect the area with an evil black squall. Rain beat fiercely against my windshield and roaring westerlies buffeted my car from side to side. It was about this time, with headlights on full and eyes straining through the slashing wipers that I noticed I was approaching another one lane bridge. Something was a little different about this one, but I couldn't tell what it was... wait a minute... Ah - interesting - a pair of railroad tracks run straight though - and I'm guessing the trains will have the right of way. Three of us came to a stop to await oncoming traffic before scurrying across the suicidal bridge, all of us sharing the hope that an out-of-control locomotive wasn't steaming around the blind corner. The best part? There are actually two of these combination one-lane-railroad bridges on the South Island…within five minutes drive on the same road.
It was now around six in the evening, and as I searched through the dimly lit streets of Hokitika, I found the house I was looking for: Just Jade Experience Backpackers, on the residential end of the Revell street. I got out of the car and stretched my legs before knocking on the door. A buoyant, balding man, a cut shorter than me answered. "Howdy mate," says he with a big grin "what can I do for you?"
"Well, I emailed you about staying here tomorrow night - but I'm here earlier and wondering if you have a place to stay?" say I.
"Oh yeah" [sounds like "awer yeahr"] - "sure thing mate," he says, holding the door open and walking inside in that 'you can come inside' kind of way. I step into the 'foyer' as he tells me that I'll be staying in a double since there's a family occupying the only other room. We agreed upon the original price, and I settled in. Soon, I met the other residents: Michiko, Gordon's wife, and the South African family that had occupied the other room. Well, ok they weren't actually South African, they were Danish I think, or he was French Canadian and she was Swedish, but they had married in France and moved to South Africa before working as doctors in some country or another, and now, vacationing in New Zealand. I know, I was confused too, but since I was already being handed a hot cup of coffee and feeling very at home, I wasn't worried.
A hot shower later, I was on my toes and ready to check out the "Nightlife of Hokitika". There really was only one place to go, according to Gordon: the Southland Hotel. All the other backpackers in town (if there were any) would be across the street or in their own hostels. I apparently was staying at the smallest one in town.
At the bar, I humbled up and ordered a pint of the first tap I saw - Speights. Everyone in the place was fixated on the gigantic TV located at the front. The pub was good size and looked recently remodeled. I hit my second pint by trying a foul-tasting brew called Macs' Gold - the New Zealand equivalent of Bud I guess - while chatting up the waitstaff behind the bar trying to figure out exactly what the Rugby game was all about, or even what the score was. I'll be the first to admit I was somewhat apprehensive about approaching any customers in this place, but that problem fixed itself when the blokes next to me hit their fourth shot. These guys were drinking a shot of every liquor the bar offered. When they hit the Jim Beam, their tenth bottle, I shouted, and quickly became a hit.
As it turns out, in New Zealand, offering to buy a round or "shouting" is the best way to make friends in a bar, or anywhere really. Steve and Andrew insisted they would only accept if I had a shot with them. Well, that's my kind of offer, so of course I accepted. Soon after, I met the rest of a group of well-acquainted people, including a slender, pretty, blonde bank teller by the name of Jocelyn. In my drunken revelry I tried to hook up with her and figured it was going pretty smoothly until I said goodbye to my bar full of friends and offered to take her home. After her initial acceptance, she declined.
Now it was late, and in the early morning I stumbled out of the car and into my room. I was out before I even knew I had set down - purely and utterly exhausted. Somewhere in my dreams, the image of a jade dragon formed in my head.
Posted by Mike on September 28, 2003 01:57 PM
Category: Hokitika / Fox Glacier / West Coast