Every weather forecast service predicted sunshine this morning. Including (according to our helicopter pilot) the official satellite picture from Milford. However, as always seem to happen is that the best weather forecast is to stick your hand out of the window and see if its gets wet. This morning it did indeed get wet. That and the distinct lack of “tocotocotoco” helicopter noises confirmed that there would be no heli-hike today. On the bright side I am now around $800 richer and it’s something to add back to the list of things not ticked off.
It struck me as we travel around NZ that the majority of things that that are worth seeing are free (you only pay when you are being thrown off ;-)) which includes pretty much all the national parks / scenic reserves etc. There are occasional donation boxes but there is no cost for parking a car and no cost for visiting an attraction. I am sure that if they stuck a booth up at the entry to the Franz Josef glacier that punters would gladly pay. I am putting in the occasional donation (yes, I really am) but wondering why a country with the population the size of NZ can do that when any visit to the UK’s Lake District means bringing a bag of one pound coin to pay for the parking meters?
Our next stop after Franz Josef is Punakaiki which is a three hour drive up the west coast with no stops. One tip I am learning is to make sure you buy petrol in the major towns or population centers as there’s a significant price premium if you are buying at the only service station in town e.g. In Franz Josef the petrol was $2.26 a liter compared to $2.06 up the road in Hokitika. Driving up the west coast reminds you about how few people there are. We drove through a couple of minor towns (no shop, no petrol) but it’s easy to drive 100 km between towns.
The first place we came to was Hokitika which actually looked quite lively with lots of cafes and axctaul real people on the streets. We didn’t have time other than for a quick pie and petrol stop but it looked like somewhere we would like to come back to and spend a day or so.
Ploughing on, the next major town is Greymouth. Its funny how some towns seem to have been aptly named and whilst Hokitika and Punakaiki sound very exotic, Greymouth sounds a bit like what it is, a place to pass through very quickly. The only notable thing was a bridge with a shared train and vehicle access…and a give way sign! i.e. you give way to the train (and you DO give way to the train, it’s not reversing).
Blink and you will miss Punakaiki as the guidebook says most people make a quick pitstop to see the Pancake Rocks but actually there’s a lot more to it. That’s not to say we are loitering but rather we are using it as a midway point between Franz Josef and Kaiteriteri. We checked into our B&B early (The Rocks) and then headed out for a view of the Pancake Rocks. They are very impressive and the Department of Conservation has done a great job of setting up a walkway that makes the most of the incredible views.
We then headed for a more substantial hike (or is it a tramp?) on the Punakaiki River track which follows the Pororari river inland before looping back across country and meeting up with the Punakaki river. The local tourist office has it rated at around 3 and a half hours but with a bit of enthusiasm it was possible to do that in two. It’s a great short hike and the surroundings have a rain forest feeling which combined with the sunshine is a million miles away from where we were yesterday.
Going on a tip from our B&B host we had dinner at a beach hut just at the end of the track which is literally a husband and wife team who cook amazing fresh fish with freshly prepared salad at a great price. Incredible and (if you can put up with being eaten alive by sand flies) well worth a visit.