Aotearoa: Pancake Rocks and More Water

The drive from the glacier was quite pleasant. The road winds along through hills and along the coast, affording plenty of scenic views of mountain lakes and ocean coasts. We were heading toward Punakaiki, which takes its name from the odd rock formations found by the ocean there. They're layered, looking like stacks of pancakes; Pakeha (white) settlers named them "pancake rocks," and Punakaiki is simply the Maorization of the word "pancake."

A mountain lake close to the glacier.
This lake was favored by ducks, who were cavorting on it but managed to escape this picture - except for one guy right in the middle there.
Lake, woods, sky. I just can't come up with an imaginative caption here.
This is the ocean - and more significantly, this is the last picture I took on my digital camera before it crashed. (You'll notice the next pictures are slightly different in format - more narrow. That's the regular photo format.)

Aside from the funky rocks, Punakaiki offers a beautiful oceanside setting and a number of lovely beaches, one of which was a ten-minute walk from our hostel. We stayed at the Te Nikau hostel, which, aside from dorm rooms, also had detached two-person cottages about 100 meters' walk from the main building. The area was remote and beautiful - I've been in few places with a better view of the night sky. And the cabin was very romantic, set amongst the palms, with a little porch - er, veranda. It got even more romantic around 10 pm, when the lights and all the power suddenly cut out.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on our door, which rather startled us. After all, there we were, in the middle of nowhere, no phone, no one close by, and ... there was a knock on the door? Scenes from B-grade horror movies ran through my head as The One And Only cautiously opened the door.

Some of the pancake rocks and the ocean view.
Here you can see the layering. No one knows exactly why it happened.
Flax, rocks, and ocean. I'm just not in the captioning mood today, it seems!

"Power's out - I brought you some candles!" It was the hostel owner. He'd been at the local bar having a drink when the power went out, and had immediately thought of his guests. What a nice guy. We asked if he knew when the power would come on.

"Not sure. It's out all down the West Coast."

Well, at least the whole West Coast being out of power boded well for power companies paying attention and hopefully fixing the problem. He left us with the candles, and so we had a romantic evening by candlelight in the cabin.

Some bits of the rocks erode fairly readily, leaving the remaining bits in odd formations.
Here's a good clear view of the layers. Weird, huh?
This cliff is a testament to the staying power of plants - on a rock in the midst of water, there they are, growing.

We waited for a while that evening to see if the power would come back on, but no dice. The next morning, we were awakened at 8 am by all the lights in the place turning on. Turns out we'd forgotten to set the light switches to off the night before, when it didn't matter because there was no power. An interesting way to wake up. So we got up and wandered through the woods down to the beach, a lovely and empty beach of gravelly rocks. The surf was pounding on the beach, and with the ocean's power and the peace of the beach, it was a great place to do some Karate kata.

Trees shaped by the wind coming off the ocean (which is off the picture to the left)
Hobbiton-like hills in Puponga Farm Park.

After a lovely time in Punakaiki, we headed north. We stayed in Motueka, and during the day drove out toward the northernmost tip of the South Island, Farewell Spit, and the other sights in the area worth seeing. (This being New Zealand, there were always more sights worth seeing.)

We parked at Puponga Farm Park, one of the few farms on Department of Conservation land. Puponga featured a fully functional farm (including plenty of sheep), and walkways toward Wharariki Beach. There was no way of getting to the beach except through the farm, so we walked on the signposted path through sheep pastures and toward the ocean.

The sand dunes of Wharariki Beach.
Dunes and a tidal river
Cliffs - which sometimes serve as resting places for seals - at dusk.

Wharariki Beach had appealed to us because it was supposed to be beautiful, and occasionally featured seals. We didn't see any seals, but we did see the beautiful. Coming around the farm walkway, we found massive sand dunes that led toward the beach. Stark cliffs sat out to sea, and the ocean thrashed against them, sending up wave after wave of white spray. The sand on the beach was rippled by the water and the wind, and it felt as if nobody else had ever been there except us.

We stayed until it started to get dark, and then realized that if we wanted to see Farewell Spit, we'd need to hurry, and so we headed back to the car, and toward the Spit.

14. September 2003


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