RAIN, ECOLOOS AND MARLBOROUGH SOUND (1 DEC 2013)
We left our somewhat basic hostel in Fox Glacier to drive up the wild West Coast as far as our next hostel near Westport, which promised to be interesting at the very least. The drive took us once again through some areas of stunning scenery, and we stopped at Hokitika, capital of the West Coast and erstwhile gold rush centre, Greymouth and the “Pancake Rocks” on the way. However, our first stop was at the Bushman’s Centre, which is one man’s statement of eccentricity, bush life and anti-establishmentarianism. The reason we had stopped here was the promise of a possum pie at his wild food cafe (from the Roadkill Menu), made from fresh, hand-trapped possum. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the Ministry of Silly Rules had caught up with him, and possum was off the menu until he could source the meat from a “reputable supplier”. We had instead to make do with a wild pig bacon sandwich. Harrumph.
On then to Hokitika, home to a concrete schooner, a very good local museum and the capital of the greenstone carving industry, as well as the region. It was a working port up until the 1950s, with an extremely scary river bar at the entrance, upon which ships used to pile with monotonous regularity when entering or leaving. So much so, that the locals developed a method of winching ships over the shingle into the river if they did fail to negotiate the entrance!
We then moved on to wholly unremarkable Greymouth, which has little to recommend it other than the road through. It rained. In fact it continue to rain after we left, and until we reached the interesting Pancake rocks a bit further up the coast (after more winding roads and fantastic scenery – all this in gold- and coal-mining country). Pancake Rocks are an interesting feature of coastal erosion, where the rocks appear to form stacks of pancake-like plates. Here, also, we were assured by the signage and the guidebooks, were blowholes which could be exciting at high water. However, having started the walk round the little park, the rain, which had stopped, started again with some enthusiasm, and our stroll turned into a jog, and we returned to the car a trifle soggy. This was nothing that a quick change behind steamy car windows couldn’t deal with, however, and we continued with dampened spirits but at least dry clothes to our stop for the night. This was advertised as an ecohostel, having been built along green lines. It was in a beautiful setting in the bush, with a view out towards the ocean, and a couple of its own walking paths to the nearby river and its swimming holes. We were unable to enjoy the outdoor bits more than cursorily, as it was still raining, but I have to say that it is the most delightful place we have stayed so far, with a comfortable room (we were the only guests that night, but it would still have been pleasant with all 10 beds filled), pleasant, homely lounge, and an inside bathroom for those who were afraid to brave the composting toilets and outside showers, which were in their own 2-storey structure just outside. I can confirm, ecosceptics, that composting loos do not smell at all unpleasant- just the slight aroma of the sawdust that you scatter over your own offerings after use. We had a barbecued steak and sauté potatoes on the covered deck (with the rain still falling outside, drowning most of the sandflies), then retired indoors to enjoy Dark and Stormies, write up journals and read about alternative building methods from the hostel’s library. After a visit from the owner, and a good chat, we retired and slept the sleep of the just and Eco-conscious. For anyone who is interested, the hostel, owner’s house and two separate huts, set in 15 hectares of land, are for sale for a mere NZ$750K. All donations welcome, as I quite fancy it myself!
We left the following morning, after a short detour to Westport to get some cash to pay for the hostel (whoops!), then continued up towards Nelson and then Picton. Other than one stop for a bite at lunchtime, this was almost a non-stop drive to Nelson, through monotonously beautiful countryside. We stopped in Nelson for a short stroll, but not a lot was happening on a Saturday afternoon, so after a quick look around the cathedral (20th century gothic), and outdoor shops, we carried on to Picton on another breathtakingly beautiful and windy road along Queen Charlotte Sound. We arrived at around 6, checked into our hostel (friendly, well-run, full of Germans (again)) and went for a meal before bed.
Today we remained in and around Picton, first seeing the preserved hulk of the sailing ship Edwin Fox, which was very interesting, then in the afternoon we hired a sea kayak and went paddling for a few hours in the beautiful sounds, stopping at a secluded beach where I went for a swim (Stu declined, claiming it was too cold). It was a bit of a nature paddle, with Stu in full marine biologist mode, and we did a rocky shore survey on our way out to the beach, as well as chasing stingrays around a shallow bay trying to get a decent underwater photo of one, then landed for my swim (more naturist than nature) whilst Stu seemed very interested in the life on the rocks over in the other direction…
Swim / nature survey completed, we headed back to base, a hard paddle at times against the wind, and when we arrived had a hard-earned ice cream before heading back to the hostel. Dinner was a bowl of green-lipped mussels, our appetites having been sharpened by the copious numbers of them clinging to the shore of the sound.
Tomorrow we catch the ferry to Wellington, where we are being hosted by the Gibsons (Phillips family friends) before setting off to explore North Island for 10 days.