In Nelson NZ, we attended the wedding of a daughter of a SA expat family we'd known since our East London days.
Canterbury Plains were hot while I drove north from Christchurch, past Waipara vineyards, past Frog Rock on Weka Pass, then stopped for a pee and icecream at Culverden. In the Alps, beyond Hanmer Springs turnoff I drove up Lewis Pass, filled with roadside daisies, lush beech forests, roadkill possums and skull-and-crossbone signs warning about 1080 poison for killing possums near Maruia Springs.
We stopped for gas and lunch at Springs Junction and were stung by sandflies. We followed Maruia River past Maruia Forest to Murchison, where we stopped for another pee and icecream. The public loo was painted red, and a sign forbade overnight camping or stopping in the loo carpark. Parked by the loo was a bicycle with four panniers waiting for its owner. Over the years we'd seen many cyclists trekking NZ on their sturdy bikes.
At Nelson the wedding was in St Peters, an old wooden Anglican church in Nelson's Founders Heritage Park. After the wedding service, we ate snacks and drank punch below a white marquee. It was the first time I ate whitebait muffins.
2009. Founders Heritage Park, Nelson, NZ
Next day on our return trip in the rain, our Toyota Corolla was tailgated for miles by a speeding lilac truck. I couldn't pull over as the soggy roadside was too narrow and ditches were alongside. If I'd braked hard the truck would've flattened us. At Westport / Buller Gorge turnoff the truck hurtled past in a wave of spray. The trucker confirmed my belief that Kiwi truckers were the world's worst.
I drove down spectacular Buller Gorge through rain, past more beech forests and tree ferns. We didn't stay long at the suspension bridge over Buller River as the ripoff price was NZ$5 per adult and NZ$2 per child to walk across the wobbly suspension bridge. Sandflies stung too.
South of Westport on the road to Punakaiki I drove through squalls from the Tasman Sea, which obscured the sea stacks, flooded the road and misted up our car's windscreen. "Tornado country," I said. "Last year, roofs were blown off Greymouth houses." Later we heard about a simultaneous deluge flooding Christchurch streets and a waterspout swirling off Scarborough Head.
2009. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Stormy Tasman Sea, West Coast, NZ
2009. Punakaiki, West Coast, NZ
2009. Punakaiki, Tasman Sea, West Coast, NZ
2009. Punakaiki, West Coast, NZ
2009. Weka & Nikau Palms, Punakaiki, NZ
At Punakaiki, we walked tarred tracks past flax and nikau palms, while waves pounded Pancake Rocks forcing spray up Chimney Pot blowhole. The storm soaked us while we walked Punakaiki tracks, but weka birds loved it, lowering their heads and running across the main road in front of passing cars.
At Greymouth we looked at fishing boats, hired a cabin at Top 10 Holiday Park, and searched for jade pebbles on the beach. At Top 10 campsite, Pohutukawa trees were in full crimson bloom. SA Crocosmia fire lilies and Agapanthus blooms brightened the West Coast too.
2009. Fishing Boats, Greymouth, NZ
2009. Pohutukawa Tree, Top 10 Holiday Park, Greymouth, NZ
Next day I drove to Kumara Junction, then up Otira Gorge, up to the top on Otira Viaduct. I'd driven up and down Otira Gorge several times on the old road: 1994, while driving a hired 850cc Suzuki car on my Look-See-Decide trip; later in our Subaru 850cc two-stroke with Gillie; several times on the old and new roads driving our Toyota Corolla. Whatever cars we drove, Otira Gorge precipices, waterfalls and Otira River impressed us. Metrosideros umbellata red rata blossoms, which Aussie possums hadn't chomped, glowed red in Otira Gorge.
2009. Viaduct in Otira Gorge, near Arthurs Pass, Southern Alps, NZ
Arthurs Pass village had a new carpark and toilets by the train station. We stopped for tea and watched four busloads of tourists spew out with cameras, leg-stretchings, even a zimmer-frame dame, while waddling off to the toilets or Visitor Centre, before packaged thrills in Otira Gorge.
2009. Arthurs Pass Visitor Centre & Beech Forest, Southern Alps, NZ
We'd trekked Arthurs Pass - Porters Pass - Canterbury Plains - Christchurch route many times, past beech forests, roadside lupins and foxgloves, past farms, past braided rivers, past ski resorts, past lakes Grasmere, Pearson and Lyndon, past karst landscape near Castle Hill. After Porters Pass we passed Canterbury Plains towns: Rewi Alley's Springfield; Sheffield; Darfield where we stopped for dairy chips near Christchurch. Our 1000km round trip took us four days.
Content & pics Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.