Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Zealand - South Island's West Coast (Day 10)

This day was all about taking it easy. We were coming off several long days with lots of activity and heading into several more of the same, so we wanted this day to feel relaxing. We had about 150 km (2 hours or so) to drive from Westport to Lake Mahinapua (outside of Hokitika) and a whole day to do it. Allyson was promised she could sleep in a little bit and we had to do some grocery shopping, so we didn't leave Westport until a little after 10am.

First stop was Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, a short walk through the most interesting limestone rock formations that began forming 30 million years ago. There is also a magnificent blowhole here, but you have to get here at high tide to really appreciate it. We ended up here at low tide, so we only saw a little bit of what it could be like with the largest waves of the morning. 

The Maori people have long used flax to weave baskets and mats, along with many other uses. It grows abundantly in New Zealand. We came across many random flax plants that had been weaved into art while still growing strong. Loved the little mohawk guy above!

We saw many signs we'd never seen before. I wasn't very good at capturing them. Penguin crossing is the one I wish I'd gotten. But I enjoyed the train exempt sign a lot. Basically, you should know that a huge train has the right of way. 

After Punakaiki, we were getting hungry and decided to find a beach for our picnic lunch. Who knew we'd find a beach that absolutely no one else was at! Very different from the beaches we are used to in So Cal and the Carolinas. Beware of the killer seagulls though. These guys were way more aggressive than the ones in the States (if you can even believe it!)

We went through the town of Greymouth, and I had read in a guidebook about Monteith's Brewing Company - the leader in New Zealand's craft beer market. We couldn't resist stopping to check it out. Unfortunately, our GPS took us to a closed down brewery and we were super bummed. We took off for the next stop on the road, and on our way out of town Allyson happened to see a sign pointing to Monteith's. We followed the sign to a beautiful, huge, brand new brewery!

We ordered the beer tasting menu, which included 6 rather larger tastes of the following beers: Crushed Apple Cider, Original Ale, Radler Bier, Pilsner Beer, Golden Lager, and their IPA (we replaced the black beer with this one). They were all great, but my favorite was the Radler Bier (which surprised me because I'm an IPA girl!) We each picked one to finish and then proceeded down to Hokitika.

Barrels for seats and pallets piled up for tables. Dig it!

Talk about a messy roundabout! There are about 5 stoplights in all of New Zealand it seems. Mostly, you have to navigate roundabouts. 

We stopped in Hokitika because we'd heard that is where we had to buy jade (Pounamu in Maori). Pounamu is very important in the Maori culture. We had heard that you are not supposed to buy it for yourself but give it as a gift to others. Many people in New Zealand, Maori and otherwise, wear pounamu necklaces. The different symbols bring the wearer different strengths. For example, the spiral (koru) represents peace, personal growth, positive change, and tranquility. 

Other than jade shopping, I didn't feel like Hokitika had that much to offer. We had planned on going to Hokitika Gorge, but decided it was taking on too much for the day. Instead, we just went to Lake Mahinapua, where we enjoyed a relaxing evening by the lake. 

Some guys fishing at Lake Mahinapua. 

Enjoying a easy, short walk to Swimmer's Beach. New Zealand was full of foxglove. 

View from Swimmer's Beach

I highly recommend camping at Lake Mahinapua. Quiet campground with plenty of space for $6 a person. It's only an hour and a half drive to the glaciers, so easy to get there for any booked trips the following day (this was our plan but the weather screwed us up!) Overall, this was a very pleasant day and I felt very rested for our helicopter glacier hike the next day!

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