Punakaiki, Blackball and Lake Brunner

Trip Start Dec 18, 2007
Trip End Jan 07, 2008

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Day 5 - Christmas - Punakaiki, Blackball and Lake Brunner - ~200 kms

Formerly the Blackball Hilton - $180, including Christmas dinner, a few ales, and breakfast for 2.

I'm looking for the weather on Channel One, but I get the Three Tenors instead. A festive beginning to our Christmas on the West Coast. We decide to take advantage of the spa, as there is no one lined up to use it. Sitting in a bubbling hot tub on Christmas morning - sheer decadence! All the minor aches and pains of hiking these past few days disappear.

We drive out to the mouth of the Buller River to see what's doing on Christmas morning. There are dogs running on the beach, and a surfer in a wetsuit is trying his luck. It's partly cloudy and windy enough to dry our swimsuits while we check out the action. Another lovely day in paradise.

Mouth of the Buller, Blackball, New Zealand

As we head down the coast, the sun comes out full and the clouds mostly burn off. We pull off the road at just about every opportunity, so as to take photos of the beaches, the bluffs and the flora.

The tide is coming in, which we planned on, so as to better appreciate the rocky coast as the waves broke over it. The sun is an added bonus. We walk the Truman Track into the bush and come out on a long walkway lined with flowering flax. There are huge red and black pines here, which takes us back to the redwoods of our own West Coast. The nikau palms are becoming more common, too. We climb down to the beach and marvel at the power of these waves to scour everything down to tiny grains of sand.

End of Truman Track, Blackball, New Zealand

We arrive at Punakaiki to find a good-sized crowd in the parking lots. Three tour busses, even on Christmas! But almost everyone is hanging around the cafe. The wekas are busy sucking up anything that drops to the ground. We head for the path to the rocks, which is surprisingly sparsely populated, given that it's high tide. I guess I'll never understand the tour bus rider mentality.

Pancake Alley, Blackball, New Zealand

I take a group photo for a Japanese family, and then wait for the right moment to snap the water surging through the narrow channels. It's not as spectacular as the postcards today, but it is booming and the spray comes up quite high. The only stop for breath catching on the Dolomite Walk is at the stairs in the middle of it. There is a wheelchair alternative, if you want to bypass that stretch.

Dolomite Stairs, Blackball, New Zealand

We have a picnic in front of the closed ISite and watch the tour guides try to corral all the bus riders so they can move on. Down the coast we go to the gemstone beach at Rapaho. I load up on rock specimens, including one with greenstone in it. The white quartz is almost translucent! Others have the orange tint of iron-rich water. This is a nice interlude - the bar we drove past to get to the beach is closed, and there's only one other person in sight on the entire beach.

The turn for Blackball is just north of Greymouth. We travel along the Grey River up through the foothills. Blackball is an old coal mining town, made famous by a strike in the 30s. The company wanted to reduce the workforce, and the miners put up a fight. More of that indomitable Kiwi spirit that we appreciated whenever we ran into it. Much better than current American complacency!

Welcome!, Blackball, New Zealand

Christmas dinner is just ending as we arrive. It's a mid-afternoon affair, and the whole town seems to be here. This is an old hotel, and some of the miners used to sleep here. The rooms have very high ceilings, but are not very large. Pat and Jane have a sense of history AND a sense of humor, so the interior decorating is a delight! We're not hungry yet, so we decide to go check out Lake Brunner.

We had our first glimpses of the Southern Alps on the way up from Greymouth, but here, they are magnified. The reflections in the lake are beautiful, and the highest peaks still have snow on them. We walk part of the Rakaitane Track, including the wide and very pleasant swing bridge over the Arnold River.

(see picture above - click on it to blow it up....)

Families are lounging on the sand and using a rope swing to jump into the water. It is blowing up a gale, and the mountains are getting clouded over. We reluctantly head back to the Hilton.

(see picture above - click on it to blow it up....)

Things have quieted down. We tell Jane we'd be happy to eat leftovers from the earlier dinner, and we soon receive HUGE plates covered with roast lamb with mint vinagrette, real ham with mustard sauce, a pumpkin-based cold salad, and freshly-made cole slaw. The boiled potatoes have been finished in the deep fryer, which gives them a crunchy coating. We try Miner's Lager, and I switch to the Black, which is creamy and smooth. It goes down well with the roasts.

Of course, we MUST have the pavlova for desssert. We have had options earlier on, but held out for Jane's, which I was sure would be extraordinary. The meringue was easily 6 inches thick and topped with shaved chocolate and raspberries. The fruit mix is made up of kiwi, strawberries and peaches. Dreamy and delicious.

(see picture above - click on it to blow it up....)

We're told that we can pay for everything in the morning, so off we go to bed. The thunder rumbles, the lightning flashes, and the rain beats down. Another great day comes to a close.
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