Swing bridge fun

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Friday, November 18, 2005

We only had a 4 hour drive to our next destination, so there was no need to rush. We called off at a supermarket just outside of Blenheim to stock up on food, as I'd booked us into a backpackers that was in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm - I was providing Mum and Stu with plenty of variety!

The roads were completely deserted as we moved towards the west coast. We did pass a farmer whose dogs did a great job in getting a herd of sheep to move for us, but other than that it was really quiet.

We had a nice break in St Arnaud which was a quaint little town, situated at the end of Lake Rotoroa. It was pretty cloudy, but we bought a few pies from the local shop and took them down to the lake. It turned out to be the nicest pie I've ever eaten! Of course, the ducks all gathered round when they saw our food, and we took pity on them as there were quite a few ducklins in amongst them.

Further along the road, we passed the much hyped (and much commercialised) swingbridge over the Buller River. It is the longest one in New Zealand at over 100 metres, and I was keen to cross it...even if it did cost $5! Mum and Stu were less keen, but they went ahead and paid their admission fees.

I went across first, and even I was a little apprehensive as it was very high, and very long! Not only that, it also shook quite a lot and the rope rails were only about waist high. I took my camera out at one point to take a photo of my Mum, but I quickly put it away...especially as it started bucketing it down when we were halfway across! It was the worst possible point for this to happen, particularly as I was only wearing a t-shirt! Naturally, I didn't hang around and shot across to the other side to get shelter under a tree.

The tree didn't provide as much cover as I'd have liked, but I had more shelter than Mum and Stu, who were still tiptoeing across the bridge! Apparently Stu told Mum to imagine that little Ethan was at the other side, and it must have had some effect as she eventually emerged and joined me under the tree. They jokingly (I think) enquired if there was an alternative route back to the car, but unfortunately there wasn't...it was back the same way we came!

So, after getting eaten by mozzies, we crossed the bridge again, this time with less drama than before. In fact, we even stopped (briefly) in the middle and admired the view. What next? Bungy jumping? Skydives? Maybe not, but to be fair I was surprised that Mum had gone through with it...I was proud of her!

We arrived at our backpackers in Inangahua just minutes after our bridge experience, and I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously the hostel was more basic than the 5 star motel, but we had a 3 bed dorm to ourselves...and electric blankets!

Mum and Stu went for a stroll to the shop just after 5pm, only to find that it was closed...life is a little different in these parts! We had our food anyway, it just meant that we'd have to live without a glass of wine for the night. It would be a struggle, but I was confident that we could do it...

I spent the evening trying to get up to date with my journal, while Mum and Stu relaxed in the kitchen. Ruth, the lovely owner, made the fire up to provide some warmth, but we were all asleep before 10.30pm as we had a busy day ahead of us.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of birds singing...and rain! This annoyed me because I had hoped to do a few walks on the way to Hokitika, and the weather looked like scuppering my plans. Luckily, we emerged at Westport at the top of the west coast to find brighter conditions, so we drove to Tauranga Bay to see yet more seals and do a walk to the lighthouse at Cape Foulwind.

I knew that there would be plenty of baby seals at this particular colony because Charlotte and me saw them a month or so ago, and they were very cute as they climbed the rocks beneath us. While most people returned to their cars after seeing the seals, we continued along the cliff tops for 3-4 kilometres to get some fresh air, and to see the wild ocean that typifies this part of the country. It was a lovely walk with great views, although we were guilty of having our photos taken next to a signpost that showed the distances to the major cities in the world...we were in tourist mode!

We had a quick smoothie in a cafe overlooking the bay, before heading off down the coast to Punakaiki. Our fuel was running quite low at this point, and our hearts sank when we saw a sign saying "No fuel for 89km." We weren't far off being empty, but Stu said that he'd take it easy and we kept our fingers crossed...

Next up on my itinery was the 15 minute Truman Track just north of Punakaiki, which brought us out onto the wild beach where I nearly got washed away on my last visit there. We stuck to the boardwalked areas this time, looking on as the huge waves crashed against the rocks. It was my third visit there, but the ferocity of the ocean still fascinated me.

Just a few kilometres further on, we came across a mass of campervans at the Pancake Rocks carpark. This attraction is the most overhyped one in New Zealand, and I downplayed it so that Mum and Stu wouldn't be disappointed. However, it was a case of third time lucky for me as the blowhole was in action, making it much more enjoyable than on previous visits. It was difficult trying to get a picture as you never knew when the water was going to spurt out, but Stu did well and got a really good one.

We returned to the car knowing full well that the petrol light had just made its first appearance...and it was at least 20km to the next petrol station. Some entrepreneur at the cafe was selling 4 litres for $15, and I wanted to get it to be on the safe side, but Mum refused to pay the inflated price out of principle. As she rightly said, we could always send Stu out hitch hiking if we ran out!

There was an eerie silence in the car for the next 25 minutes, as we anxiously kept glancing at the petrol gauge (it still said that we were running on empty!). Then, all of a sudden, Stu let out a cry of "petrol station 400m" and we all breathed a sigh of relief...I've never been happier to see a petrol station, and we celebrated by buying some Moro bars! I never doubted that we'd be ok...

We called in at the supermarket in Greymouth, but it wasn't long before we arrived at another one of my favourite backpackers...Birdsong in Hokitika. I'd booked a few days in advance so that Mum and Stu could have the double room with a balcony, and I think that they were impressed. I feel right at home at Birdsong as the owners are a lovely couple...and of course there's Sid the dog!

After tea, I persuaded Mum and Stu to have a 'Bushman's Bath,' which involves taking a hot bath in seclusion underneath the stars. Neil duely filled the bath tubs up with water, and they had a soak for half an hour (although once again, Stu's legs turned pink because of the heat!). Mum said that it was an experience if nothing else!

We had a relaxing evening, watching the sun set out of the front windows and looking at our photographs on the computer. The hostel was busier than I'd ever seen it, but it still retained a warm, peaceful atmosphere that makes it what it is.

We had a browse around town the next morning as the sun had made an overdue appearance. As Hokitika is 'the greenstone capital of New Zealand,' I took Mum and Stu inside one of the greenstone factories. We spent ages looking at the different designs, and they kindly bought me a necklace as an early Christmas present...once I'd finally decided which one I wanted!

We then set off on a 2 hour drive to our next stop off, and I was excited because we were heading towards one of the most stunning regions on the South Island...glacier land!

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