The South Island of New Zealand is not any wider than that state of Ohio. That said, the east and west coasts are very different in many ways, kinda like Cincinnati and Cleveland. After leaving the fiords and glaciers of the southwest of the island we headed up the west coast. The coastline is rugged and different from the east, rocky, cliffs and narrow beaches. The mountains are much closer, often crowding the coastline and creating some pretty amazing vistas and views.
We made a stop in Hokitika, a cute beach town around the mouth of a wide river that flows down from a beautiful gorge not far inland from town. The river is a lovely blue gray thanks to the glacial silt that fills the riverbed. They made very creative use of driftwood for several signs in town and the beach was well decorated with driftwood sculptures.
From Hokitika we moved on to the larger city of Greymouth, large being relative as there are less than 50,000 people in the whole region. Greymouth, sitting at the mouth of the Grey river, was a town created to cater to the mining industry in the area, gold and more significantly coal. It is also home to Montieths, one of the larger breweries in New Zealand so of course we made a visit to their tap room! We explored the area and came across the remains of various mines and an abandoned gold mining town. There were also many monuments to miners lost in a number of mining tragedies dating from the late 1800s to the most recent in 2009. The memorials, especially the most recent, were moving and in the case of the older ones, often a glaring reminder of how little worker safety and security was available before labor organized and sought protections and regulations to balance economic drivers that would exploit everything.
Proceeding up the west coast we continued to enjoy great coastal views and some amazing rock formations like the Pancake rocks at Punakaki. These rocks really do look like stacks of pancakes and are very thick. The are also includes a blow hole, but alas the weather was way too good that day and even close to high tide we did not have enough oomph to get a good effect. The walkway through the rock formation and the views of the ocean were amazing and well worth it!
Westport ended up being a pleasant surprise when we stayed there, mostly because Dan had checked out some reviews and most said “no reason to stay here.” But we had a nice overnight. We checkout out a lighthouse and seal colony nearby and took a very nice walk along the coast. One thing about New Zealand we have learned is that there is always another amazing view. The next morning we took a walk along the river in town and the tide was coming in and it was a tidal river. We were looking at some ducks and realized there was a clear line of water just easing it’s way upstream. In the 30 minutes or so it took us to loop back around to that part of the river the tide had changed it from a low water river with mud flats to a pretty wide river.
We headed further up the coast to check out an area with some cool limestone caves and natural bridges. It was a very small community and the road to the trail was pretty much a one lane dirt road that wound up some pretty steep terrain. Of course, people were coming and going on the road so there were some pretty nifty driving maneuvers needed, but everyone was up to the task. There was a produce stand with an honor box selling some apples and a few bags of passionfruit. Dan decided we needed to try passion fruit, so he bought a bag, making change from the honor box. Since neither of us had seen a passionfruit before we had to look up how to eat them. The next day, when we stopped in a town for lunch we came across another fruit stand and honor box right in the middle of town. This one had Feijoa available, so why not, right? Another web search on how to eat them and we had snacks for several days! That night we ate a delicious dinner in a pub that was full of actual lumberjacks as we had progressed into a region with lots of logging. They were pretty well behaved though, so no real story, just wanted to report that we were hanging with a bunch of lumberjacks.