Day 3: Crossing the mountains

Day 3: Crossing the mountains
Greymouth, New Zealand

Greymouth, New Zealand


Today was the first of our long drives, from Christchurch right across to the other side of the island to Greymouth. We had breakfast and then set off across the Canterbury plains on the Great Alpine Highway (Highway 73), where we saw our first sheep of the trip. And cows. Lots of cows.

The Southern Alps appear ahead of us on the road, shimmering in the bright sunlight like an apparition. At first we aren’t sure that this is real. There is blue sky, some cloud and some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I can’t quite believe they’re really there. As we draw closer, the mountains appear bigger and more clearly, and becomes obvious that yes, these are real mountains with real snow and we’re heading right for them. I can’t stop taking pictures.

To the people who have said South Island is like Tasmania, you’re right but also so very wrong. There are things that are similar, but you don’t get awesome mountains like this everywhere you look. The roads are a lot better signposted where there are tricky curves and dodgy winding sections. The vegetation is also very different.

For some reason we’d assumed we’d be driving up into the mountains, but the road passes through the foothills up to about 900 metres, so we got nowhere near the snow. We missed stopping at Castle Hill to see the limestone rock formations because someone was too busy taking photos to be reading about what was coming up next. I’ve head they’re spectacular.

The highway winds its way into the Arthur’s Pass National Park (photo stop), and we stopped in the village to get directions for a short walk. We went on the Bealey Valley Track, which was about 10 minutes drive from the village. This was one of those places we thought was similar to Tassie until we looked up and saw another massive mountain. In Australia we joke about how we have all these snakes, spiders and sharks that will kill you; on New Zealand’s alpine walking tracks you get avalanche warnings.

We walked down to the river, which was refreshingly cold and clear, took some photos and walked back to the car. We decided to go back to Arthur’s Pass for lunch rather than wait until we got to Greymouth, which was still about an hour away,

The transition from mountain to coastal was quick, and it wasn’t long before we were at Kumara Junction (Kumara, being a sweet potato, which is pronounced “KOO-ma-rah” in New Zealand, and seems to be predominantly the white version rather than the orange ones we mostly get in Tasmania.)

Turn right for the final run into Greymouth (with the -mouth bit pronounced as “mouth” not “mth” like we’d thought). Our motel was located just out of the town, and our very informative host suggested that we take a short drive further up the coast along the Great Coast Road to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) He said it was like the Great Ocean Road condensed into 40 km.

It was a stunning drive, well worth a bit more time in the car. The coastline was absolutely breathtaking and we had several photo stops along the way. Pancake Rocks are so named because they look like huge stacks of pancakes. According to the sign, the rocks are limestone, formed under the sea 35 million years ago by fragments of marine organisms, but they can’t work out how they came to be in layers like this. No matter, they are fascinating.

There’s a great path around the area with some fantastic viewing spots. We didn’t get to see the blow hole in its full fury, but even so, it was a great experience. A couple of ladies became quite fascinated by Kramstable and wanted to have their picture taken with him. He was very obliging, and took photos of them taking pictures of him. Who knows what they’ll make of it all when they download their photos.

We headed back to our motel via Monteith’s Brewery. Slabs and I shared a tasting paddle, and the good thing about this is that our tastes are so vastly different we basically ended up with three tasting glasses each. Our overall verdict was “not very interesting”.

We took the recommendation of our motel host for dinner, which was within walking distance and was pretty good.

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