"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Denniston Mines, Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, Pancake Rocks

Friday, December 20, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Denniston Mines, Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, Pancake Rocks

Friday, November 1, 2013

There is nothing like opening your door to go out and find the motel manager standing right there. He has his laptop in hand checking out the signal of the WiFi. He asks Bob if he’s getting any signal and explains that something has gone haywire with the repeater. He apologizes profusely. He even offered to let Bob use his personal account. Bob graciously declined. We sit in the car by the office for a minute to check email and discover that we have won the auction for an upgrade on our return New Zealand Air tickets! Whoohoo! High fives as we are on our way out of Greymouth.

We get a little rain at the start but soon the sun is shining brightly and we are excited as we arrive at our first site, the Punakari Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. I had watched a video on the TV in our room of the rocks and blowhole and couldn’t understand where they’d earned their pancake name until we got there. The rocks look like giant stacks of stone pancakes!

It is high tide and when we near the blowhole called the Chimney Pot, we can hear the boom as the water rushes through from the surf. It’s picture time. The sun is at the right angle to create rainbows every time the blowhole spouts salty spray. By the time we are ready to move on, we can taste the salty sea water on our lips.

We check out several other places where the surf dramatically meets the rocks but as I take a close up picture of the rocks, I notice the dark cloud in the background. I tell Bob we’d better pick it up and finish. Not long after, the rain starts in earnest. We are farther away from the car than I thought and we are huffing and puffing by the time we get there. My sweater is wet but the camera tucked under it seems to have survived all right.

By the time we have removed our wet outer layers, the sun has poked through again. It looks to be one of those days. We move on to Cape Foulwind. I’m not fond of the name especially after getting drenched once already. But the sun is with us all the way for the hour long trip. Just as we arrive however, the rain begins to spit. It’s not bad but we don our all weather coats and Bob grabs an umbrella.

About 50 feet up the walk, we meet a Weka (woodhen). We saw them at Shantytown just a day ago. It isn’t afraid of us at all and in fact appears to be begging for a handout. The rain starts in a little harder and we would put up the umbrella but it is awfully windy. As we round the bend to the big lookout area to see the seal colony that is there, it pours. Not only does it pour it hails—little pebbles of ice. Bob puts up the umbrella and we hope for the best as we start back to the car.

It isn’t more than five minutes later that the rain stops and the sun promises to peek out again. I look at Bob and tell him we need to turn around. We’ve come this far, let’s go back and take our pictures. It’s hard to pick out the seals from the wet rocks but I get a couple of shots and we decide to chance walking a little further on the track for a glimpse of the lighthouse.

We meet several more Wekas along the way. When they decide they are not getting a handout, they run from us. They resemble chickens when they run.

On a rise, we can see just the tip of the lighthouse that is on the other side of another outcropping of rock and too far away for us to want to walk any farther. We turn back, greet the Wekas again and go back to the car park where Bob feeds the Weka there by hand. A couple of gulls enjoy catching some bread pieces in the air.

On our way again, we are looking for the Information Center in Westport to try to find out what is about 20 minutes north of there that our host at the motel said we needed to see. We can’t read his writing on the map and neither of us can remember exactly what it was. At the IC we spot a brochure for The Denniston Mine Experience and realize that is it.

Lady Garmon has no idea of where we want to go but I finally get her to lead us to the little town on the map where we would need to turn to get to Denniston. It turns out Denniston was a town way on top of a small mountain that was established when they began mining coal from the mountain. Only two houses still exist in the town that used to have a population of 1500.

From here it's all down hill!
Before we explore though, we find a picnic table and enjoy a couple of sandwiches I made from my leftover pork dinner last night. I added a little cheese and sliced tomato on some buns we had left from another meal. We have a beautiful view of the Tasman Ocean and valley below us as we eat.

It is an amazing story of how they did all of the mining. The mine was at the top of a mountain plateau more than 1500 feet up from where the coal needed to go to be shipped. The men rigged a railway called the Incline. With cables, counterweights, huge hydraulic brakes, etc., they were able to raise and lower rail cars full of coal from the Rochfort Plateau to the Conns Creek Yards below. From there it could be transported by locomotive to the shipping harbor. The Incline operated from 1879 to 1967. There are great pictures at the Denniston Experience website that show the Incline.

We have to backtrack a bit to get on the route that will take us to New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. I’m not so keen on doing this one but I’ll try it. It takes us a while to find the signs to point the way but they begin to appear as we near the area. When we pull in, we realize it is going to cost us to cross over. Not bad though. Only $5 NZD for a thrilling walk across a 300 foot long bridge that is see-through and hangs over the Buller Gorge. Am I really going through with this?

I take a picture at the start then put the camera around my neck so I can hold the sides as I walk across. Below my feet I can see the Buller River swollen with all the rain that we’ve had here lately rushing by. I am surprised that this bridge is actually easier to walk that some of the smaller ones we have done. I think it’s because it’s not so wide. Maybe that makes it a little more stable. It’s a bit of a rush but I’m glad to be across.

There is a 20 minute loop walk that takes us past some places that are marked as the fault line for the earthquake that happened there in the early 1900s. Then we pass some signs on a tree that show how high the water got in a couple of floods of years past, the most recent being 2012. We pass by the zip line return option (for an extra cost) and follow the bridge signs to go back across the river. I prefer the bridge to the zip line.

It was a neat experience but I’m ready to get to our motel and rest a bit. We are about forty-five minutes away when we find a little town with a couple of tearooms and cafes none of which have any coffee for us to purchase. We think they might be closing up for the day since it is after four. Many places in New Zealand close early.

I promise to make coffee when we arrive in St. Arnaud and we travel on. There is a little spot of rain here and there but mostly sun that actually makes for steamy roads where the rain has fallen. The road takes us through a beautiful river valley and finally up a little to a small mountainside village. There are only a couple of motels, some chalets, and what look to be some summer or maybe winter ski homes. There are two ski areas close by.

The Alpine Lodge is busy when we arrive. This is the starting point for a bike marathon that we saw advertised a while back as we started out this morning. We had wondered if we would run into any of it as we drove. Apparently it doesn’t start until tomorrow and they will be going the opposite direction we are so we won’t have to dodge cyclists around curves and bends in the road.

The dining room at the Lodge has a special menu tonight, a BBQ, because of so many marathoners staying here. The lady at the desk goes over the menu which sounds okay but she also tells us of a cafĂ©/restaurant around the corner a bit. We check it out and decide that after a walk down to the lake here, we’ll opt for their menu.

The lake is an easy walk from the Lodge. Birds are singing and the wind has stopped blowing so hard making it a bit warmer. I am learning that 9°C can be a bit chilly when there’s a cool wind blowing. While Bob walks around checking out all the signage from the park, I sit and just absorb the calm water, the sleeping ducks, the surrounding mountains, and listen to the birds sing. It is so peaceful. I just want to soak up the peace. Wish I could bottle it but it will have to reside somewhere in my memory where I can pull it out when needed.

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