A Curious Land, New Zealand.

Text read by Mary Peters

Part 4: Hokitika/Greymouth/Punakaiki

After our exciting stay in Franz Josef, it was time to go to our next destination, Punakaiki. It is 217 km further north, and much of the road leading there is along the west coast. 

The weather had turned again, and the sea was rough. Rain and a violent storm had even destroyed the bridge just south of Franz Josef. 

On the road, you pass through the small town of Hokitika. Where it lacks in beauty, it makes up with its Greenstone Factory. This is the place to visit a Jade collection. Pounamu is the Māori jade. It is often carved in intricate shapes and is important in Māori culture. 

The first green stone was mined in 1864. Between Hokitika and Greymouth are many areas where natural Pounamu can be found. One can find it in rivers and beaches. Miners cut it out of the rock and then hand-carved it into jewellery. There are stores where you can learn about this craft and buy your souvenir. 

Forty kilometres further up the road is Greymouth. It is at the mouth of the Grey River that flows into the Tasman Sea. The town is at the heart of the West Coast Region. It gives an interesting insight into the population density of the South Island. Greymouth itself has a population of just over eight thousand people. It is located in the Grey District that has almost 14.000 inhabitants. These are 43% of the people living on the entire west coast of the South Island. The whole length of the South Island is 840 km. It is the larger of the two islands. However, it has only 23% of the population of the whole country.  

To the west of Greymouth are the Arnold River and also many lakes ideal for paddling, kayaking, and river trekking. When we heard stories about all the opportunities we could explore in the region, we were disappointed that we didn’t have more time to explore the area. Everything west of Greymouth is an Eldorado. The scenery, mine trails, mining experiences and, of course, breathtaking landscape. Also worth visiting is the Shantytown Heritage Park. Here you can learn about the history of gold mining in the area. 

It leads to an interesting problem. The available accommodation does not meet the number of opportunities on offer. Booking your accommodation in advance is essential, especially in summer. (November – February)”’

We didn’t linger in Greymouth but headed further north. We drove along the coastal road, which people consider one of the world’s top 10 coastal drives. Our destination was Punakaiki with its pancake rocks and blowholes. We stopped here for two days. 

We stayed in a house situated in the middle of the forest. Our host considered it normal to pick us up from the bus stop. Our B&B was 2 km from the Pancake Rocks Circuit. 

Punakaiki offers much for such a small area. A few meters from our B&B, was a small path that took us to these spectacular areas.  

On the first day, we explored the Poroi River Track. When we began to walk along this path, we quickly realised you have to stick to the relatively narrow paths. Immediately to your right and left is the rainforest. You were totally immersed in it, and there is no other option than to follow the path. It is so dense that in some places, people could actually feel claustrophobic. The solution is to just soak in the atmosphere and listen to the birds and the water. All five senses are awakened.

During our walk, we saw the New Zealand equivalent of the “Club Vosgien” in action. Different countries have different ways of solving problems. In fact, it is the only way to repair any destruction on the paths and surrounding area. The area is impassable for cars, trucks, and other vehicles. 

In the evening, we explored the coast.

Then we had dinner in the Punakaiki Tavern. At the top of the beams, you can see money, currency from all over the world and at the end of the room is a map where visitors can put in a pin to show where they are from. But there is also an amusing poster telling people how to be a typical Southern Islander. 

The next day, we hiked along the Inland Pack Track. 

However, our morning started with these visitors, who, like old friends, came up to the house. These were important visitors who demanded our attention.

Once allowed to depart, we started walking to the Inland Pack Track.

In the afternoon, we then explored the famous “pancake rocks” and the blowholes. The track is easy and comfortable to walk on. The Pancake rocks take their name from their formation. Flat surfaces on top of each other, like pancakes. The blowholes are areas where the wind and the water flow into a confined space and make noise. 

On the path, you have a fantastic view of the whole coastline. An unusual piece of vegetation is the cabbage tree. The tree, which can grow up to 20 meters high, has many uses. The fruits are edible, and the Māoris use them for medicine and fibres. But it takes a long time to cook them. The leaves are woven to make baskets but also used to make tea to cure diarrhoea and dysentery.  

After two days full of emotions and a good night, we left Punakaiki by bus. As we sat on our suitcases, waiting for the bus to arrive, we were surprised by the people offering to take us to our next destination. For us, it was an unusual offer. We obviously were tourists and were surprised that life can be so simple and sincere. This little episode gave us much to talk about during the first minutes on the bus back to Greymouth, where our train to Christchurch was waiting for us.