Thursday 17 January 2019

West Coast Trip – Part 4: Greymouth, Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura and back to Wellington

I have written up this trip in four parts, and here is where you will find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Day 9 – Thursday 6 December – Greymouth to Hanmer Springs

We drove out of Greymouth and took the scenic route to Reefton, stopping at Blackball. We wanted to have coffee at “Formerly” The Blackball Hilton, but the place didn’t open till midday. That was disappointing, as I had heard that it was quite quirky inside.

This hotel famously had to change its name in 1990 when the global chain of Hilton Hotels objected to this small hotel, in a tiny community of 300 inhabitants, being called “The Blackball Hilton”, which was obviously tongue in cheek. As if anyone would confuse it with the big Hilton chain! Pathetic, corporate greed on the part of the “big boys” with their American lawyers! 

"Formerly" The Blackball Hilton was closed – quite disappointing (photo by John)

We walked around for bit – the place looked pretty forlorn, there was nobody around. The most exciting thing was an encounter with a friendly black cat!

John loves to make friends with cats

We looked over some displays about the history of Blackball which is quite interesting:  Gold and coal mining, the 1908 Miners’ strike, the beginnings of the NZ socialism and the Labour Party. There was also a display about the Pike River Mine disaster, a mine explosion in 2010, which cost the lives of 29 men. Pike River was the next valley over from there. 

Back on the road, and we stopped in Reefton for coffee, followed by a walk around. Reefton is quite an interesting small town. It is reputed to have been the first town in the Southern hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity in 1888. It is also a former mining town in the 1870s, and its main shopping street, The Broadway, is full of charming, quirky old buildings.

Everyone will need one, some time … (photo by John)

The main shopping street in Reefton (photo by John)

The Fairlie R28 Engine, 1878 (photo by John)

While John walked around taking photos, I looked over the museum display in the i-Site. It was very well done – displays about the mines, flora (especially the southern beech, of which there are four varieties, I learnt) and fauna, pest animals, pioneers, and personal stories.

Back on the road, and after some time we started looking for a place to have our picnic lunch. We stopped at a lay-by but there was nowhere to sit. It was a lovely spot, with a stream and beautiful bush. But an empty carton printed with a beer brand and other rubbish made us wonder if the place had been used for other purposes, and thought we should be careful where we put our feet …

A pretty stream … (photo by John)

… and beautiful bush on the other side …

… but we wondered what sort of other uses the spot had been put to

So on we went, and a bit further along, we pulled in at Marble Hill Picnic area. John was intrigued by a long, low concrete wall in a paddock, when suddenly he realised that this must be Frank Evison’s wall. In this spot, one can see the Alpine Fault, and geophysicist Frank Evison designed this wall across the fault line, in order to see whether it was moving very gradually. It was intended to show that if there was any displacement, it would be sudden, not gradual. 

John walked quite a way through the paddock to take a photo of the wall

Evison’s Wall (photo by John)

Information panel about the wall (click to enlarge) (photo by John)

Apart from a huge truck and trailer playing “silly buggers” by tailgating us and overtaking with its horn blaring, giving us a big fright, the rest of the journey to Hanmer Springs was uneventful, arriving there in the late afternoon.

John zonked out on the bed and fell asleep for a while, then later we went into the village to find somewhere to have dinner. Being after 5pm, everything was shut, and it was pretty boring. The only place that seemed to be open was the Thermal Pools and Spa complex, but we weren’t interested in that. We ended up at the Roasted Bean, where we enjoyed our dinner with a glass of Riesling and a shared dessert.

After dinner, we went for a walk around a largish block, and thought we should have biked around the village, as it was actually quite pretty, so we decided we would do that the next morning before leaving Hanmer.

Day 10 – Friday 7 December – Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

At about 8:30 we set off to bike around Hanmer, going to the other side from where we walked the previous evening, but that was soon done, so we also biked where we had walked. We had checked out the map of cycle trails around Hanmer, but they were all mountain bike trails – not our style of biking. But we rode 8 km around the township which was quite enjoyable.

Ready for a short ride around Hanmer Springs (photo by John)

Hanmer streets are quiet and very pretty (photo by John)

Back to the unit for a cup of coffee and we left Hanmer at about 9:30, heading for Kaikoura. I had wanted to go via the Waipara Valley, so that we could have lunch at a winery, but upon checking the various winery websites, I figured that most of their menus looked rather “pretentious” (and eye-wateringly expensive), so we decided to flag the idea.

We drove to Culverden, then Waipara, to join SH1 from there to Kaikoura. There were several places where roadworks were in progress (no doubt still left-overs from the Kaikoura quake), and the road was single lane, with either traffic lights or Stop/Go people in place.

One such roadwork area allowed us to stop briefly by an interesting limestone formation, which, as I found out later, was called Frog Rock. Using one’s imagination, one can see the frog crouching on the side of the road.

Frog Rock, near Weka Pass (photo by John)

A little while later we stopped at Fossil Point, a very nice café. A really pleasant, cheerful and modern-looking place – nice big carpark, pretty garden, seating inside and out. We had coffee and scones. We got talking to the woman who owned the café, and she mentioned that her passion was potting. I asked what her name was ­– Kim Henderson – and I mentioned my potter sister, Aimée McLeod, asking if she knew her. “Of course I know Aimée, she organised several of the conventions!”, at one of which (2013) she apparently won a main prize for her large vase. She showed us the folder that chronicled how they bought and did up the building, and made it into a café, and she also showed us the folder of her pots, and of the drawings (cartoon-style) she resorted to doing when the traffic bypassed their place for 13 months while the Kaikoura earthquake-hit roads were unusable.

Fossil Point (photo by John)

Kim Henderson’s folder (photo by John)

When we got to Domett, I could see on the map that there was a road to the “Cathedral Cliffs”, which eventually looped back to SH1 at Cheviot. I suggested going there to check it out. It was probably a winding road, but we were in no hurry, and we were there now, so why not do it?

The road was winding, but very pretty, and well worth it when we got to the Cathedral Cliffs, which were quite impressive.

Cathedral Cliffs (photo by John)

A close-up of the Cathedral Cliffs is reminiscent of
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Basilica (photo by John)

When we got down to the coast, at Gore Bay, it was the most beautiful view, and a beautiful surf beach (apparently one of NZ’s safest surfing beaches, according to the information board near the public loos in Cheviot).

Gore Bay (photo by John)

Gore Bay, a lovely wide surf beach (photo by John)

We reached SH1, the coast road to Kaikoura, and in various places there is still road building – or fixing – going on.

In November 2016 – at two minutes after midnight on 14 November to be precise – a magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook the Kaikoura region, bringing down huge landslides onto SH1 and the railway line both to the north and to the south of Kaikoura. With both the road and the rail line devastated, the tourist town was effectively cut off from the outside world. 

There were big celebrations in December 2017, when the SH1 was re-opened, although some sections were still being worked on.

It took a huge effort from vast numbers of workers over two years to restore the road and rail and to get traffic flowing through Kaikoura again. Just a few weeks before our trip (11 Nov 2018) we saw a documentary on TV One’s Sunday programme about the re-build and re-opening of the road and railway, so of course we were interested in seeing the progress for ourselves. The documentary is well worth a look, on TVNZ On Demand.

There were several places where work was still ongoing, and the road was reduced to a single lane, with lights or Stop/Go people managing the traffic. I was able to take several photos from the car as we couldn’t stop. The rail tunnels are being extended – i.e. concrete tunnels are being built to continue from where the original tunnels leave off – presumably to protect the track from further rock falls.

Road works were still going on

The road was reduced to a single lane in places

Huge concrete blocks and netting walls protect the road from rock falls

Existing tunnels were being extended

We arrived in Kaikoura in the mid-afternoon, and checked in at the Bay Cottages Motel, at South Bay, across the road from the beach ­– well, the seashore, as it was a fair distance to the beach itself. We got some information from the motel owners about cycling in the area and started biking almost right away.

First we went to the end of South Bay, where there is a marina for the whale watch launches. Though it seems that the harbour is back into full operation, we saw no tourist activity there. 

There were some amazing rocks all around the area, where the seabed had been lifted by more than a metre by the earthquake.

Looking from South Bay towards the end of the Kaikoura Peninsula. Most of the rocks you can see here have been pushed up by the earthquake (photo by John)

These amazingly jagged rocks are the raised seabed, pushed up by the quake (photo by John)

Looking towards the Seaward Kaikoura Range (photo by John)

Then we biked around the racecourse at the other end of South Bay, up a very steep path that got us to a track beside the State Highway, leading into Kaikoura.

We biked around the racecourse at South Bay (photo by John)

We biked right into the town centre, and stopped at The Craypot for coffee and Devonshire scones, with cream and jam. Yum! We sat outside on the deck across the footpath so we could keep an eye on the bikes. The town was busy and bristling with tourists, in cars and on bikes. Kaikoura was definitely back on the tourist map!

We went into the i-Site, where we picked up more info about cycling, then biked along the foreshore all the way to the end of the Peninsula, at Point Kean. At Fyffe Point we saw more amazing rock formations on the shore, all raised by the earthquake uplift.
On the Esplanade (photo by John)

Pushed-up rocks at Fyffe Point (photo by John)

Spectacular! (photo by John)

All this white rock was raised by the earthquake

A close-up of the shattered, uplifted rocks

After dinner in town, we headed back to the motel, but we diverted to the look-out from where we had a great view over both sides of the peninsula.

From the top of the look-out … (photo by John)

… we could see South Bay on one side … (photo by John)

… and the Kaikoura township on the other (photo by John)

Later, at around 8:45, we went down to the beach to look at the sunset. Beautiful, with interesting clouds and a vapour trail all lit up in orange and gold.

The sunset at South Bay (photo by John)

Day 11 – Saturday 8 December – Kaikoura and the Kowhai Trail

Having found out about cycling in the region from the i-Site, we set off at about 10 am to ride the Kowhai Trail. We rode to the reserve at the end of South Bay, near the highway, and found the track (it was a bit hard to find, as its entrance was hidden by shrubbery). It ran between the highway and the sea, but we couldn’t see either of them, because of vegetation beside the track. After some distance, the track ducked under a bridge and the highway, and we were into a wooded area – rather nice amongst the pine trees. The track was soft underfoot for a while, and I thought it would be nice to ride a horse there. But later it became very narrow and lumpy-bumpy with either stones or roots to negotiate.

The track ducked under the highway bridge (photo by John)

This bit of the track was lovely … (photo by John)

… but this is where the track started to be rather narrow and bumpy (photo by John)

At one stage we had to walk about 50 metres on the, by now dried-out, riverbed edge where the track had been washed out in recent rains. We had heard at the i-Site that there had been flooding on the track the week before.

Walking the bikes along the riverbed where the track had been washed out a week earlier
 (photo by John)

The ‘track’ on the riverbed

After that, the track was quite challenging − narrow, very winding, and lumpy − and went on for about 10 km. It was a mountain bike track really, not our style of biking at all.

The track became very narrow, bumpy and overgrown (photo by John)

By now I was having grave misgivings about this track, and was starting to feel
 more than a little brassed off … (photo by John)

But we persevered, and eventually we came out on a rural road, which took us back into town. There was a topdressing plane doing passes over land to the left of us, and of course John had to stop and take pictures of it. He is very partial to topdressing planes, as his father was an aircraft engineer for a topdressing firm in New Plymouth.

The topdressing plane makes its approach (photo by John)

A nice photo of the plane as it flew over the paddock next to us (photo by John)

Camera ready to go back into the bag

It was nice easy riding on the road after that punishing track. It was about another 10 km back into town, but much easier riding on the quiet sealed road.

After lunch in town, we did a bit of a wander around the main shopping street, and I was pleased to see that the public toilet block had survived the earthquake unscathed. I like the mural on both sides of the block. On a previous visit, I had seen the artists in the process of painting the final part of it.

I really like the mural on the Public Toilets block …

… so I was pleased it had not been damaged by the earthquake

In fact, though there were just a few sites where buildings had been pulled down, there did not seem to be a lot of earthquake damage in the town itself. Most of the damage had been up on the hills on either side of the town.

We returned to the motel, and as it was hot and we were tired, we both dozed off on the couch for a while …

Later, at 8:15 in the evening, we drove down to the far end of South Bay, where the whale watch boats were, to watch the sunset. It was such a lovely evening − calm and warm. We were in an area where the rocks were amazing − all sharp, white, up-ended layers, beautiful. And at last we got a good sunset − on the east coast, while we'd had no luck on the west coast − and everyone knows that the sun sets in the west!

A dramatic sunset (photo by John)

The newly exposed rocks, and beyond, the boulders enclosing the new marina
 for the whale watch boats (photo by John)

The setting sun and the uplifted rocks (photo by John)

After the sun had sunk behind the hills (photo by John)

Day 12 – Sunday 9 December – Kaikoura and back to Wellington

We left Kaikoura at about 9:40. It was a smooth drive, though there were several lots of road works to negotiate. I took photos from the car, as one couldn’t stop anywhere. I’m not exactly sure where along the road north these photos were taken, but they show what a huge job was still to be completed.

Unfinished roadworks

A new raised platform on the left for the train track

Thousands of tonnes of rock had to be removed to leave this hillside safe enough
 to build a road and railway at its base

This bit is nowhere near finished yet

The first place where we were able to stop was at Okiwi Bay (I think). Here too, the shore had been raised by the earthquake, and there was a large sign prohibiting the taking of shellfish or seaweed as a measure to allow the marine life to recover from the devastation wrought by the quake.

The beach is wider than it used to be. The remains of a large landslip is in the background

No gathering of shellfish or seaweed (click to enlarge)

We stopped briefly for coffee at The Store at Kekerengu, a nice café overlooking the shore. I asked the woman at the counter whether they had suffered any damage from the earthquake, and she said that a bit of the foreshore had been raised by about a metre, but they had sustained no other damage. The only thing that hurt the business was the lack of traffic coming through. But they were able to stay open for business as they were catering for the road construction crews.

If you look at the Kekerengu blog and scroll down past the first few items, you’ll find a blog called “Introducing the Coastal Trail – the best silver lining”. Click on the title and there is a short video, which tells of plans to build a Picton to Kaikoura cycleway alongside the new road. More cycling options, yay! I do hope it comes off.

We had originally booked to cross back to Wellington on the 6:45 pm ferry, allowing time for a leisurely winery lunch and a visit Peter Jackson’s WWI aircraft museum in Blenheim, but we decided that we would rather try to get to Picton in time to catch the earlier ferry.

We were in luck – we were able to get on the 2 pm sailing. It was a smooth crossing, and we were home by 6:30 pm.

It was good to be home. It had been a great holiday, but as always, it's nice to get home again, to my own shower and my own bed. Bliss!