The Great Coast Road

7 February 2020

Martina mentioned in the last blog that we’d met a bloke who was trapping possums for a living, which apparently were introduced from Tasmania in the 1800s as a source of fur. Unfortunately possums can strip a tree of its leaves, starting with the newest, most succulent tips. This generally kills the tree, after which the possums move onto the next tree.  They start with their favourite tree type and once they’ve all been stripped and killed they then move onto their next favourite etc. As there are no natural predators here, except man, the possums have done very well to the point that they are now a pest and are stripping whole forests – hence why our guy was out trapping them. He sells their pelts, which are then mixed with merino wool to make clothes and we’ve seen loads of shops selling possum/merino garments.  In some areas we have seen signs for “1080” poison which apparently is for the possums and rats – but of course it’ll kill anything that eats it – including dogs and cats, or a dog which eats a poisoned rat etc.

Wednesday 29 January 20 – Hari Hari to Hokatika – 75km

Though the road today was undulating we were definitely coming out of the hills and the land gradually flattened out. The start was, once again, wet but we’re getting used to the rain now, so it doesn’t bother us too much. We stopped in the small town of Ross for a morning coffee and in my case a pie and Martina’s case a cake – as we’ll a sign a chat with a very interested Swiss couple who wanted to know all about our journey.

Our destination was Hokatika to stay with Kevin, a WarmShowers host we’d been in touch with.  We arrived at his house, sorted our kit out and within 10 minutes were having a cup of tea and a good chat – conversation flowed easily! Though Kevin cycles and kayak,  his main interests are hiking (tramping) and climbing, and it appears that he has climbed just about every peak in New Zealand as well as traveled to the U.K. where he’s climbed our three highest peaks. He was also part of the mountain rescue crew on North Island and showed us loads of pictures.  I could certainly relate to most of it as the old school attire of the day looked very familiar! The conversation certainly wasn’t confined to hills and rivers and we learned loads about life in this part of New Zealand.  Apparently they’d had some particularly bad storms back in December, which washed many of the roads and bridges away, hence why we have seen so many road works recently.

In the late afternoon we left Kevin to have a look around the town, which is a lovely place and we were lucky enough to be there at the start of the ‘Driftwood and Sand’ art exhibition and competition on the beach. When we were at Hunts Beach recently we saw so many trees and wood washed up on the shore,  and the beach at Hokatika is no different. So, the artists on the beach puts some of the wood to good use…

Note all the unused flotsam around the Phoenix.  There was certainly plenty of material to work with!

We had a lovely evening chewing the fat with Kevin – he has a very dry sense of humour which is always a winner with us, so there was loads of laughs along the way.

Thursday 30 January 20 – Hokatika to Greymouth – 42km

As we had a short cycling day we were in no hurry to leave Kevin’s this morning, but we still managed to be on the road by 9:00am…

As we left town we’d hoped to get a glimpse of Mount Cook to the east, New Zealand’s highest peak, but unfortunately the cloud was just a bit too low and we didn’t get to see it, which was a shame.

We positively whizzed along as for the first time in ages the terrain was flat and the wind was at our backs. With about 20km to go we got onto a gravel cycle path which took us off the main road and all the way into Greymouth…

We had a very chilled afternoon in our hostel and really did very little!

Friday 31 January 20 – Greymouth – 0km

Absolutely nothing happened!

Basically we conked out.  Martina, in particular, was very tired and so we had a proper day off. Greymouth isn’t a place to visit if you are looking for lots of excitement and things to do, but that suited us down to the ground. We find that if there is something to do in a town (it doesn’t matter what it is) then we feel guilty if we don’t make the most of the opportunity to do it. But because there was very little to do in Greymouth means we didn’t feel the urge to do much. And as we’ve been on the road in New Zealand for nearly a month and this was our first real day off we didn’t feel one bit guilty!

Travelling along the west coast of South Island we’ve discovered that there was a gold rush here in the mid-1800s, so it wasn’t just confined to Arrowtown outside Queenstown where we were recently. There’s evidence of the rush all up the coast and many of the present day towns were born out of it. And they’ve adapted post-gold to other industries, such as fishing and tourism and in the case of Greymouth it was coal. Recently the need for coal has declined and so Greymouth’s fortunes have declined and this is reflected in the town – parts of it do look a bit tired. Bizarrely we rather liked it and it’s reminiscent of Norseman or Port Augusta in Australia – both of which we really liked despite people having told us not bother with as they weren’t that interesting!

Saturday 1 February 20 – Greymouth – 0km

We have been on our journey for 22 months now and have just over 2 months left. Until very recently we were most definitely still living in the ‘here and now’, but as we approach the last stage we’re finding ourselves increasingly looking towards the future – perhaps because we have started to plan our route to Auckland, our final destination.  We have begun to question what we will do when we get home and how we will adapt to a stationary life – and we have no real answers yet!

Some things are certain though, one of which is that we are still adamant that we want to do more long-distance cycling; and our future plans have changed somewhat: we will still cycle from London to Donegal in Ireland (where Martina is from) and then take a roundabout route back to London starting in late-August 2020. We’ll be revisiting Bangladesh in spring 2021 to see Arif and the cycling gang there, plus do a bit more touring of our own. After that we’d initially planned some short(ish) trips, but we’re now looking towards a 6-month journey in South America potentially for 2022. As ever our plans are set in jelly, but it takes the sting out of thinking of returning to “normal” life – whatever that will be for us!

As for today there was still a certain amount of lethargy in the lifecyclers camp! It was nice to have a second lazy get-up and monster breakfast, but we knew that we had to get out and about.  So we made a packed lunch and set off for Point Elizabeth, north along the coast. We’d been told that it was a 15-minute walk to the start and then 45 minutes out to the point, so a 2 hour round trip, which sounded just right. However, unless you were sprinting it definitely wasn’t a 15-minute walk to the start…it took us at least 45 and we were walking quite fast!

We walked along the beach for part of it and found two guys who were sifting black sand so that they can extract gold. Not too sure how this works, but they were doing the sifting part when we saw them.  We believe that the next part of the process then involves some (not so nice) chemicals to extract the gold…

Once on the path to Elizabeth Point we climbed up onto a headland which gave some spectacular views south along the beach…

We then walked through rain forest up over some cliffs with the sound of waves crashing down below. The rain forest was very lush and really nice to walk through…

…and this time we remembered to put on insect repellent!  And at the end Point there were some great views along the coast…

We saw a few fur seals in the surf trying to get ashore, but we couldn’t see them well so didn’t hang around too long – but long enough to have lunch number one!

On our way back into town our legs were getting pretty tired so I stuck out my thumb and a very nice guy stopped and gave us a lift home! Talking of hitching a lift, we’ve seen quite a few hitchhikers recently – it seems quite unusual nowadays, so thought it was worth a mention.

Sunday 2 February 20 – Greymouth to Charleston – 75km

The break from cycling had done us good and we were keen to get going so were up and on the road before 8am. This section of the coast is called the Great Coast Road, so we had high hopes that it would be pretty. It didn’t disappoint.  The rainforest covered mountains come right down to the sea so that for much of the ride the road hugged the coast right next to the sea. Though the weather wasn’t too kind it didn’t detract from the fantastic views and made the whole place feel a bit moody.  The crashing waves appeared almost angry!

It was probably 100% humidity today so there was a lot of cloud and fog, which went right down to the sea – all very eerie. We had a fairly stiff headwind and the cloud turned into drizzle and rain every now and then, but we still really enjoyed the ride.  We both commented that this was probably the best piece of coast that we’ve been on since arriving in New Zealand.

At about 45km we stopped at Punaiki – famous for its ‘pancake rocks’, which are limestone rock formations on the cliffs. This piece of land was once the seabed, which is why it’s limestone rather than granite like the hills and mountains around it. No one really knows why the rock has formed or why there are lines in it, but they look slightly like pancakes, hence the name…

Our final destination was Charleston, a very small hamlet with just a few houses, a campsite and not much else.

Back to humidity and one thing that is a bit annoying about it is that anything that gets wet, for example our towels after a shower, never seems to dry!

Monday 4 February 20 – Charleston to Westport – 50km

Another damp start to the day with 100% humidity, drizzle and rain throughout the morning. We could have gone straight into Westport, but decided to go via Cape Foulwind along the coast, which wasn’t really living up to its name even though we’d had quite a lot of beans recently! There’s a lighthouse there and some nice views and after a look around we continued on to Westport itself…

We’d been in touch with Janet and Terry, WarmShowers hosts there, who’d agreed to look after us. They wouldn’t be home until 6pm and even with our diversion we arrived in Westport at midday, which meant we had some hanging around to do.  We did a tour of the town, which is another gold/coal town that reminded us of Hokatika and Greymouth. We had a long coffee chill out and went down to the river bank, but by 3pm we’d exhausted what there is to do in the town, especially as it was a local holiday and most things were closed. Janet had said that if we arrived early we could chill out on her front deck, so we made the short hop to her house and got comfortable….so comfortable in fact that we fell asleep until Terry turned up! Janet arrived from Christchurch shortly after 6pm and we then had a lovely evening of great food, much of which was straight from the garden, and great conversation…

They have cycled round Ireland on a tandem so Martina was thrilled to meet people who had been to Donegal! Once again we found two kindred spirits, so the conversation flowed freely and we really had to tear ourselves away to go to bed.

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