New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 365 (175)

Hokitika

Tuesday 8th March (2005)

If we combine the total number of days travelled since we first set off to South Africa on the initial leg of this overall trip, today would mark exactly one year of travel. That’s quite a milestone I think.

We bid everybody in Murchison farewell this morning and set off Westwards towards the coast, where we will start our slow decent South through the country. We left shortly before that Dutch man that has been tailing us for the past few months. I daresay we may yet see him again since he is travelling roughly in the same direction as us and with the same plans in mind. Just a few hundred yards past the swing bridge, we drove past the spot where the woman drove her car into the river the other day. We still don’t know what caused the accident as it looked like a pretty unlikely place to drive over the edge. There were plenty of police and rescue vehicles there and they had still not yet recovered the vehicle. Once again, we were sobered by the whole situation. On our way through the Buller Gorge, we past some more stunning scenery with winding roads and hairpin turns with sheer drop-offs into the raging river below. I paid extra attention to the road conditions, which were becoming wetter by the hour. When we reached the coast and started our turn south, the spectacular valley scenery made way for equally spectacular coastal scenery and we stopped numerous times to enjoy the vistas.

One of the places that we intended to stop at along the way was a small town called Punakaiki. Its one claim to fame is a series of layered rocky escarpments that rivals the Great Ocean Road for sheer rugged coastline beauty. We walked along the manmade walkways that traversed the section of coastal cliffs and marvelled at the awesome beauty of the Pancake Rocks, as they are known. It’s supposed to be even more breath-taking at high tide but we were nevertheless still treated to archways and blowholes with crashing waves creating some spectacular eruptions of surf as they piled into all the nooks and crevices.

With all the driving that we did thus far, the fuel tank was now less than a quarter full and the staff at the information office assured me that there was a petrol station just thirty-five Kilometres down the road. I would have filled up at that petrol station if it weren’t for the NZ$1,30 (€0,75) per litre price tag. I decided to put NZ$10 (€5,80) in – just enough in to get us to the next major town. The fuel at this petrol station seemed rather expensive. Over on the East coast, the going rate was just NZ$1,12 (€0,65) per litre, but remote locations do tend to get away with charging an arm and a leg. After all, where else are you going to fill up? As it turned out, the next petrol station was but a few minutes farther down the road in Greymouth which turned out to be not nearly as far away as I had first thought. We stopped there to completely fill the tank and to grab some lunch. The petrol was still relatively expensive at NZ$1,27 (€0,74) per litre but each and every petrol station in Greymouth was advertising that same price so what can you do?

We took to the road again but this time only got as far as the small, recreated, historic village of Shantytown. It’s a tourist village that has be created to look like a typical, old, New Zealand, mining village from the eighteen hundreds. For the princely sum of just NZ13,50 (€7,83) each, after student discount, we were able to explore the village, go on a brief steam train ride and try our luck again at panning for gold. We did all of the above and when it came time to pan for gold, this time we made sure to pay close attention to how the technique was supposed to work. Sure enough, with the right technique, we were able to filter away all the non-gold debris in our pan in record time, leaving just a few slithers of gold left in the bottom of our bowls. Now, if only we can find a place where there is likely to still be some gold left in the river, we should be laughing.

Shantytown was a lot of fun and an interesting diversion from the arduous travelling on the road all morning. It was just about half an hour from there to our final destination for the day, being Hokitika, where jade mining is the name of the game. We tried to check into the hostel but immediately noticed a problem. By the time we reached Hokitika, the steadily increasing rain that we had been driving through all day had reached torrential levels. Unfortunately, the hostel cleaners had left all the windows open in the unoccupied rooms and our bedding and mattress had become quite damp. We asked to be put into one of the other unoccupied rooms but for some baffling reason, this didn’t seem to be possible. Instead, they insisted that they would change the bedding. We walked over to the information office in the meantime and spoke to the very helpful staff there about what Hokitika has to offer and, more importantly for the immediate future, where to get a good bite to eat. On the way over to a nearby restaurant, we stopped in at a gold jewellery shop and marvelled at all the wonderful things they did with gold nuggets. We’re contemplating buying a small pocket-watch looking glass container in which to display our meagre but steadily increasing pile of gold flakes. This would make a nice keepsake and memento of our time here in New Zealand. We’re also thinking of buying a gold panning bowl too to take back home with us.

We arrived back at the hostel after dinner and found that the hostel’s remedy for the wet bedding was to change not only the bedding but also the mattress. Unfortunately, however, the only mattress they could exchange our double with was a spare single. Naturally, I queried this and they told me that they would refund NZ$20 (€11,60) of our NZ$45 (€26,10) room rate for the inconvenience. I was all happy to go ahead with this but Sandy didn’t feel much like sleeping alone, and thus with nobody to cuddle up to for warmth, and sent me back out to renegotiate. The new staff member now on duty didn’t have any problems with our switching to a dry room so this is what we did.

We were able to enjoy a couple of relaxing hours of simply chilling out in the common room for the rest of the evening. Sandy eventually slipped off to bed and I spent another hour or so chatting with other travellers and showing off some of our now very impressive photo collection. Sandy is now hogging the entire bed and I’ve got to somehow crawl in without annoying her by waking her up – which is about as likely as me finding a half Kilogram solid gold nugget when we go out panning again tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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