July 2 - Punakaiki Rocks/Nelson Lakes
New Zealand - There and Back Again
We woke up pretty early this morning. It was around 6:45 AM. We had a long drive and had lots of things to see and do. Sleeping last night was ok. I got pretty cold a few times and had to end up covering my head with my jacket on the inside of my sleeping bag. It felt like it had gotten wet a little. It was probably from opening the tent and frost falling on it and in it. My jacket helped a lot though and after I did that it was fine.
We took down the tent even though it was covered in frost and shoved it in the car. On the drive out of the park we stopped in the TV lounge area to get my battery. I walked in the room and three boys, probably 11 or 12 years old, were standing by the door. I assume they were waiting for a bus to school. I looked across the room where my battery was supposed to be and it wasn’t there. I walked closer and I saw it on the ground. It had fallen down in the middle of the night. I was hoping it had at least charged all the way before that. I thought it might fall because the outlet was about 5 feet off the ground and I had to rest the cord on the top of the couch.
We wanted to get up early to see the sunrise over the ocean. The sun doesn’t come up until about 7:30 AM in this area of New Zealand. We drove over to the parking lot we were near last night with the boat. A few other cars were driving in that direction too. It was weird because they just made a circle in the parking lot and then left. It didn’t even look like tourists either. Both cars were just one guy. It made no sense for why they would do that.
We parked the car and got out to have a look. It was freezing cold and kind of windy. I was immediately ready to get back in the car. Andy wanted to take some pictures so we walked over to a tall wooden staircase that had a lookout platform at the top. I ran up to as fast as I could and took a few pictures and ran back down to the car.
The sunrise wasn’t as good as we were hoping. The skies were a little cloudy, but it was clear enough to see. The problem was that the sun was on the opposite end of the beach from where we were parked so we didn’t have much of a view.
Somehow Andy stayed out there for about 5 minutes more than I did. The cold weather must not bother him as much as it does me. He eventually came back to the car and we ate some breakfast in the parking lot. We had some of our banana bread and a banana. The banana bread wasn’t as good as the kind we had at the church breakfast. There’s must have been homemade because the store one tasted dried out. It was kind of expensive and not that great really.
While we were eating we thought about driving to the other end to see the sun come up. By the time we were done eating we figured it wasn’t worth it since the sun was up too high and we had other things to see and do.
Our goal for the day was to see Pancake Rocks, do a scenic drive, and end up in Nelson Lakes National Park. It didn’t sound like much, but due to the distances it kind of was. The Pancake Rocks were something we had both read about and other people recommended to go see. It was slightly out of the way of the original plan, but it worked out fine. The scenic drive was on our new route to Nelson Lakes so it wasn’t a problem. At Nelson Lakes there are two lakes, Rotoiti and Rotorua, that we wanted to see.
We left Hokitika heading north around 8 AM. We had about an hour and a half drive until we got to Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks. When we arrived around 9:30 AM the parking lot looked just about empty. The stop was just randomly on the side of the road. There was a visitor center, a café, and a souvenir shop that sold ice cream on one side of the street, and the entrance to the hike was on the other side.
The Punakaiki Rocks are rocks that have eroded from wind and water to the point that they look like pancakes stacked on top of one another. There is also a section where the water enters into caverns that creates a blowhole as the water surges. Water shoots out like steam. It was an important stopping point for Maori that were traveling the coast trading jade and other items in the past. Today it is a tourist trap.
We began hiking shortly after 9:40 AM. The trail is a loop and is supposed to take 15 minutes to do. I was thinking this was going to be a quick stop and then we would move on. The trail is paved the entire way, and the majority with boardwalks or pavement. It is very flat and really easy. It is wheel chair accessible except for a few parts.
As we started the trail goes through a small forest and then opens up with ocean down to our left and plants and grasses to our right. We saw lots of palm trees along the trail. We stopped to take pictures of them from time to time. I noticed a strange bird with no wings ahead and told Andy it was a Kiwi. It looked similar to one, but it had a much shorter beak.
We decided it wasn’t a Kiwi, but we still took lots of pictures of it. It didn’t seem that scared of us and wanted to remain on or near the trail. Nobody else was on the trail at this point so it was fine to spend some time looking at it.
We eventually scared it off and continued on. There were a few lookouts over the water along the way. We stopped at all of them and took pictures even though it was just the ocean and not the main attraction. A group of Chinese tourists showed up. I think it was just a family and not a tour bus like usual. They were stopping a lot to take pictures too.
I got tired of waiting for Andy after awhile and just went ahead by myself. I filmed myself walking by just putting my camera down in random spots along the trail. By the time we made it to the Pancake Rock area a lot more people were on the trail, maybe 25-30 or so. A few were lined up along the fence on a bridge. I took a few pictures of the water below, but continued on.
A few minutes later the waves were crashing and steam started blowing up. Everyone on the trail in that vicinity went running over. The entire bridge was lined with people watching to see if it would happen again. The steam continued coming out off and on for the next few minutes. When it seemed like it was done the people dispersed. The best time to go is during high tide since the water can actually come into this area. We weren’t sure when high tide was, but it must have been around the time we were there. I was expecting it to look more like something you would see on a Survivor promo or intro, but it wasn’t like that at all.
I walked along the boardwalk and took pictures of the Pancake shaped rocks. They looked like rocks I had seen in other parts of the world. I think either in Utah or Arizona. They were neat, but the lighting wasn’t that good on most of them at this time of day. I kept going and saw a colony of birds on some rocks. There was supposed to be a rare sea bird that lived in this area, so it may have been those, but I’m not really sure.
I was way ahead of Andy and just kept walking. I don’t even know what he was doing at this time. I made it to what was basically the end of the trail before it started going back into the forest to the start. Rather than go on I just went back and took more pictures of the area, including the ocean below and the rocks. It seemed like most of the people were gone by this point. They spent their 20 minutes and were ready to go. We were getting close to 2 hours.
The best part of the trail to me was a narrow staircase that seemed like it was cut out of the rock. I was waiting a lot for Andy so I just set my camera down and tried to take pictures of myself on the staircase. People kept coming down as it was getting a lot more crowded so I had to wait at times. Andy saw what I was doing and wanted a picture too. I just took his for him, but when he was done I went back to trying to get my own picture. I kept a few, but in the end I just had him take my picture also.
We went ahead a little further and I climbed up onto the railing that over looked a cavern below. I took a few pictures and then jumped down. Up a little ways on the trail was an overlook of the ocean. There was a large rock in the water that stood out because there was a sign that showed a drawing that suggested there were creatures and human features in it. I could maybe see a face on one part, but the rest just looked made up completely. I got some pictures and went on.
Andy thought we should walk back the way we came rather than take the loop since there was more to see on the other side than there was on the end of the trail. I agreed and we headed back. I wanted him to do a video of me crossing a bridge from a distance so I went ahead while he stayed behind.
After completing that task I went back to the first section of the Pancake Rocks. The lighting was much better so I got a few more pictures. Andy was making his way towards me while I started going back in the direction we had just come from. Since I had to walk ahead quickly I wasn’t able to get pictures with the new lighting.
For all the people that came early and left quickly they missed the changes that were taking place. We were able to see more than they were I thought. I think I walked up and down that trail at least 4 times, so I saw a lot more. On my final pass I used my zoom lens to try and get better pictures. Andy was still taking a long time so I walked on without him.
The trail came to a fork in the road. I could go left or right. To the right was the way we came in, and to the left was the quicker way out. I chose to go left. I didn’t feel it was necessary to go to the right again since it was just overlooking the ocean.
When I went to the left I saw a different part of the trail I hadn’t seen before. It led back to the ocean views. Andy saw me and came over. We both climbed up on the railing and took pictures. It seemed a little unsafe since it was close to the edge and skinny. I got down after a few minutes.
We hiked back up the trail. I don’t know what Andy was doing, but he got left way behind. He must have seen something he wanted to take 200 pictures of. I went into the visitor center and looked around for a few minutes and then went back outside and waited. I didn’t see him coming so I walked over to the souvenir shop next door. Everything was way over priced like always so I went back outside.
Andy finally came walking up. He went inside the souvenir shop with me and we saw that they had ice cream. We read that ice cream was a popular thing to get after the trail and I had been wanting some for awhile. There were a lot of different flavors to choose from, and prices were based on the amount and the flavor. The cheap kind was $3 for one scoop on a cone. Rip off. The next was $5 and then up to $7 or something. Rip off also.
The lady working there saw us looking at them and asked if we wanted to try a few flavors. Of course if it was free I wanted to test a few. For the midrange priced one she suggested a magenta colored flavor and butternut ginger. She said those were the two most popular. I tried the magenta one and Andy had the other. I don’t remember the name, but it tasted like sherbert. Andy said his did too, but a little tangier.
She said we could try another flavor too since I said those were too much. She suggested chocobanana from the cheap section. It tasted just like chocolate with banana mixed in. They were good and tempting to buy, but we didn’t know. She said we could think about it and if we decided to let her know. She walked off to another part of the store so we made a run for it. We got our free samples and didn’t feel the need to spend that much on ice cream. I could get a carton for $3.99 at New World so why would I want to pay $3 for one scoop?
We were hungry though so back at the car we had lunch. It was around 11:45 AM, but because we had an early breakfast we were pretty hungry. Andy had to go pee so he went in the woods since nobody was around. I just made my sandwich. We had ham sandwiches with chips and finished off the chocolate chip cookies. During lunch the crazy Kiwi looking birds were surrounding our car looking for food. There were three of them and I had to kick rocks at them to scare them off. They were dumb and didn’t get the message and kept coming back.
After lunch I had to go pee, but the parking lot was full of construction workers. They were dumping gravel from a large truck in the area Andy had gone to the bathroom just a little while before. I walked down to the visitor center about 100 yards away and a sign said it was closed. There were temporary ones down the street another 50 yards, but I didn’t want to walk that far. I went back to the car and just ended up going in the trees.
The next thing we wanted to do was drive north towards Westport and then turn east towards Nelson Lakes. From Westport to Murchison was considered one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand and included the most photographed road in the country, which was a part of road that was under an overhang carved out of the rock with the Buller River below. The majority of the road follows the Buller River from the ocean to it’s origins.
Along the way there are a few points of interest which include a small town that was completely destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1970s, an old bridge, the road under the overhang, the Buller River, and the longest swing bridge in New Zealand.
As we drove we stopped to take pictures of the river a few different times. The river seemed perfect to take a canoe or raft down. It was pretty wide in most parts and very calm. There weren’t any rapids that I remembered seeing and it was really scenic. We also stopped at the portion of road cut through the rock. It was cool, but not that great. We saw a few cars pass under it, but it was no more spectacular than anything else I had seen in New Zealand. They seem to like making roads with the most impossible and improbable routes they can, so this fits with that I guess.
From a distance it was hard to see anything neat about it, but looking at it straight on we could see the road, a railing on one side, and the rock hanging over from above. It was one lane of course so if there was traffic cars would need to stop and wait. It was also in a portion of road that would make it difficult to know if another car was coming until turning right in line with oncoming traffic it seemed.
The drive was through valleys and hills the entire way. As we got near Murchison the road went higher into mountainous areas. Many of them still had snow on them. The swing bridge was near the end of the more scenic part of road. We parked to check it out, but realized what was happening. It was a tourist trap. There was a zoo of some kind, a trail, and the bridge. I think there was other stuff too, maybe gold panning or something.
The swing bridge didn’t look that much longer than others we had seen and it was on a trail to nowhere. It was obviously not worth the time or money. We drove back about half a mile to a part of the road that had a pull off and just took pictures from a distance. We had to hike a little bit along the side of the road on a narrow piece of land with a steep drop off to our side. We were able to make it though.
We got back in the car and continued driving to Nelson Lakes. I had wanted to see one lake tonight, and the other the next day. I actually had two days planned for Nelson Lakes, but we decided it may not be necessary depending on the hikes we wanted to do and the weather.
The first lake we came to was Lake Rotorua. It is the larger of the two and less visited. The road to the lake was gravel, but it wasn’t that bad. It was about 11 kilometers off the main road. According to the itinerary we were supposed to camp at this lake. It was really cheap, which meant there would be no facilities. It also meant no hot water to put in our sleeping bags to keep us warm.
The drive to the lake was easy enough. When we got there we saw a sign that mentioned camping area so we followed the road. It looked like we were just driving past small houses and couldn’t tell which was the reception building. We also saw a sign that said 4-wheel drive vehicles only. We decided at that point we should turn around and go back closer to the lake.
At the lake there was a van parked with 3 or 4 people having a picnic lunch. It was about 3:30 PM, so I don’t know what they would call it. It smelled like they were grilling hot dogs though. We parked by the lake and walked out onto the dock. There was a family of swans swimming by. There was a large black swan with 4 or 5 baby swans. They were diving down eating something. It was funny to watch. They would stick the top half of their body under water with their buts sticking straight up.
The dock and shoreline were icy with a little snow on the shore in parts. We were able to get some good pictures of the lake with the snow covered mountains in the back. We stayed there for about 20 minutes. As we were going back to the car two other people pulled up. It was a Chinese lady and some white guy. They walked out to the dock and took a few pictures.
I found a good angle for a picture, but they were in the way. I wanted a shot of me on the dock, and Andy standing on the shoreline. The picture would be of me, the lake, the dock, and the mountains behind. The girl went running back to their car so I figured she was cold and they were leaving soon. Instead she came running back with her camera.
They took pictures of each other while we waited in the car. They finished, and then walked up to the edge of the dock and sat down. It was maybe 35 degrees. It was too cold to sit on the edge of a dock. They needed to go home. We waited a few minutes and decided we didn’t have time for this. I had already gotten pictures of myself on the dock so I didn’t need another one that badly.
We drove down the gravel road back to the main highway. The next lake, Lake Rotoiti, was just a few more kilometers down the road. It was now close to 4:30 so we needed to hurry before it got too dark. We didn’t really know where we were going to stay for the night.
The drive was fine, but there was snow everywhere. As we pulled off on the side road to Lake Rotoiti to the campground area called West Bay everything was covered in snow and ice, including the road. We started to skid a few times. We pulled up to the lake parking lot and got out. Nobody else was around. They were probably smart enough to not drive down that road in those conditions.
The lake looked really nice with the mountains in the back, similar to the other lake, but these mountains were closer and bigger. I got a few pictures and then spent the next 20 minutes trying to take pictures of myself in various spots along the water’s edge and on the dock. A few times I had to run across rocks to get in place and didn’t make it in time. Either the rocks were too far that I wanted to get to, were out in the water, or I just didn’t have the right pose. It took a few chances, but I finally made it work.
Andy did the same. He put his camera down on a sign for support and the picture looked good so I tried the same. It worked fine. We spent about 25 minutes in the cold snowy area and thought we should go look for the campground or somewhere to stay. We had planned to maybe stay in the campground there, but there were no facilities to cook and it was freezing and snowy on the ground.
We drove back to the main road pretty slowly as we continued to slide around. The main highway was fine, but we still drove a little slower than the speed limit. A truck was following us and wanted to go faster. We were looking for another entrance to the lake called Kerr Bay. There was camping there with facilities so we thought it might work.
We missed the turn and had to drive about two miles past the town before we found a turn off. We turned around and drove back towards the town and found the right turn. The road to this campground wasn’t snowy at all. It must be more heavily traveled. It was getting dark so we didn’t look at the lake from this point. We just drove to see the camping area. There was a kitchen facility right when we drove in so I jumped out of the car to check it out.
As we pulled up some Asians also parked. They were about to have dinner. Whatever they were eating it involved drinks from McDonald’s or somewhere. I walked inside and there was only three walls. The stoves required matches, and there wasn’t much lighting if any at all. I told Andy, but we went ahead and drove around the campground to look at the sites.
The ground was covered in snow all over the place. The only campsite that was covered by trees and somewhat clear was taken by a camper. The only reason we knew was because there was a red bucket laying on the ground. We were told earlier on the trip that this meant a camper was staying in the site.
We didn’t think this was going to work. If we could have had hot water to heat our bottles than maybe, but without that it would be way too cold to even think of sleeping there. We had passed a few places to stay in town so we thought we would see how much those cost.
The most ideal place was Travers-Sabine Lodge. It was a hostel I had read about in Lonely Planet. The prices were reasonable and it was open. A few of the other lodges were closed. We stopped and I went to the reception desk. Nobody was there. It said if nobody was there to push the intercom button and wait for a response. If nobody answered that to call some number.
I pushed the button and nobody answered. I pushed it again, but still no response. I kept pushing it and saying hello, but still no one. I waited for about 10 minutes. I went back to the car and told Andy the deal. We decided to drive down to the gas station and ask if they knew of anywhere to stay in town. It was about 5:50 PM at this time and pretty dark. There were no towns for miles so if we couldn’t find something at a good price we would be freezing our butts off in the tent or sleeping in the car or paying a lot more than we wanted to for a bed.
I went inside to ask if there was anywhere in town they could recommend. There was a man and a woman working there. The lady was cleaning a coffee maker and the guy was sweeping in the back. When I walked in the lady looked startled. I asked what she could recommend and her first response was the Travers-Sabine Lodge. I told her that nobody was there and asked if she could call them for me.
It was a small town and she knew the number off the top of her head. She must know the people that own it. She called over and asked if they had space and how much it was. It was $26 a person for the night. That sounded reasonable to me. I told them that we had wanted to camp, but that the campground didn’t look very comfortable. The guy told me it was going to get down to -6 Celsius tonight. My sleeping bag goes down to -9 Celsius so technically I would be fine, but it would be cutting it close.
The lady said that the people would be there when we went over. It was just down the street so it shouldn’t take a minute for us to get there. I noticed as I left the gas station that it closed at 5:30 PM, which is probably why the lady was surprised to see me come in.
We got back to the hostel and still nobody was there. I rang the intercom again, but no answer. I went back to the car and told Andy. He came over and tried it too, but nothing. He took off his glove and pushed the button. It rang. We had been wearing our gloves before so it couldn’t feel the touch I guess. Piece of junk! All that trouble for nothing.
A girl answered and I asked about a room. She came over from a house next door immediately. She asked if we wanted a dorm or private room. The price was only a few dollars difference, but I was fine with a dorm. I asked if there was anyone already staying in the dorm and she said no. So technically we were going to have a private room that was bigger for less money than the private room. So it worked out.
She said someone could come and the room wouldn’t be private anymore, but in the middle of nowhere at this time of night it didn’t seem likely. We got the key and brought our things in. The place was pretty nice. There was a TV room and two bedrooms on the bottom floor with a kitchen and dining area. There was another floor with a small lounge area and dining room plus bathrooms and more rooms. I think there might have been a third floor as well.
We were ready to eat so we started making dinner. We had bought lamb stew the night before and decided to cook that. We also made some mashed potatoes and salad. There was an albino looking guy there that came in and out of the kitchen, but seemed to spend his time in the TV room. There were two Chinese people as well. They had a huge pot of ramen noodles mixed with fresh vegetables. It looked like enough food to feed 4 or 5 people.
We ate our dinner and it was really good. The mashed potatoes had too much milk, but after stirring them around they turned out fine. We had bought a new brand of hot chocolate as well so we tried that. It required heating milk and since we had a microwave and access to real cups we decided to try it. It was really good. We plan to buy some more and bring it home as a souvenir.
After dinner we went to the TV lounge to type in our journals and watch TV. There was a fireplace in there so it was pretty warm. The weird albino kid was in there watching some Australian version of Cops. There were three stories they were following. One was of a guy that was in the ocean on a small boat that refused to come ashore. He was intoxicated so the coast guard had to go get him. They brought him ashore and he was trying to fight with the police.
The only reason I remembered this particular story was because the cops got tired of him so they brought in a medical team and they all held him down and gave him a shot to sedate him. I thought it was strange that they would do that. They acted like it was a common thing to do to unruly people. I could just imagine people in the U.S. going nuts about that kind of treatment.
After that show ended another Australian show came on. This time it was about immigration. There were a few stories they followed about people trying to come into Australia with illegal goods or work illegally. One of the stories was about a Chinese girl trying to bring an entire suitcase full of fresh meat for her family. In Australia they are really picky about what you bring in and beef is a definite no. They were going to fine her thousands of dollars, but the immigration worker decided on just a small fine. It reminded me of the time we went to Chile with a few oranges. The immigration people went nuts and wanted to fine us $10,000 at first, but let us off in the end.
One of the other stories was about a Japanese tattoo artist that claimed he needed a working visa. That is a pretty common thing for foreigners to do in Australia and they normally openly accept people. It turned out the Japanese guy had been working for 2 years in Australia previously as a tattoo artist and was doing so illegally. He claimed he was just an apprentice, but when they called his former boss he told them he was one of the best in Australia and could make up to $1,000 a day. Pretty good money. They denied his visa and sent him back.
That show ended and the other kid went to his room. His room was connected to the TV lounge. He seemed to be alone. After that dumb show ended I turned on Transformers. I think it’s a pretty good movie. At about 9 PM a huge group of teenage guys came in from outside and went upstairs. I don’t know where they were that late at night in the cold. I also don’t know why they were staying there.
We went back to our room around 10:30 PM. I was tired and ready to go to bed. The room had two bunk beds and another single bed in front of those. There was a TV in the room also on a cart, but it needed to be rolled around and plugged in. We never bothered to do that. I fell asleep pretty quick after laying down.