After leaving Able Tasman we headed south west to start travelling down the west coast. It is a spectacular coast, with mile after mile of beach, flanked by bush covered mountains. Whilst this description is similar to that of Able Tasman, the west coast is dramatic where as Able Tasman is tropical. The appalling weather helped, with grey skies, angry seas and the odd shaft of sunlight bringing real life to the jagged rocks and cliffs.
To get to the coast we had to take State Highway 6, and after traveling in excess of 3000km to date I say is fairly typical of New Zealand's roads. The majority is a very well maintained, two-way road, with immaculately kept verges even in the remotest of places. Occasionally it is full of long easy straights, but as we passed over the mountains it is all low gears, concentration, and tight corners. Every now and then this major highway becomes a single track road as it crosses a narrow bridge or passes through a narrow gorge, but that's fine as traffic is rare. It would be a hell of a lot rarer if it wasn't for the hundreds of campervans on the roads. To ensure that the 50 or 60 vehicles a day stay safe there are literally hundreds of signs. Every bridge will have a sign each side giving the number of the bridge, maybe another giving the name of the bridge, but defiantly one giving the name of the river or creek it crosses (my favourite so far has been Buttock Creek - how the hell do you come up with that one. I can see that Smith Creak was named after a local family, and Kiwi Creek is named after the local birds, but Buttock? Maybe it was an old Maori cottaging site). Every corner is announced and advice given as to what speed is required to get round safely. Best of all are the general road safety signs, and whilst they really do have hard hitting road safety TV ads, they are slightly softer next to the road. 'Too fast? Slow down'; 'Slippery when frosty' (never); 'Caution needed when flooded' are fantastic understatements.
On the way over to the coast we stopped of at Swingbridge Adventures; the home of New Zealand's longest swing bridge (which is like a rope bridge), a old goldmine, and a fault line. It was a great example of a local family making the most out of a bit of land with a river in it and was utter crap. We did however take the Comitline back across to the car park, which was like a death slide, but in canvas seats; I was very glad that the 6 year old grand daughter decided to practice her 'strapping in the punters' drills on Jodie rather than me - I always feel more comfortable if it is a grown up that is responsible for ensuring my survival.
We ended the day staying in a campsite right on the beach in Punakaiki. It was still miserable, but the sound of the sea was like listening to a Wembley crowd after England had won the World Cup (hard to imagine I know). Of course I am referring to the general roar of the crowd and not the irritating people with fog horns or the chants of IN-GERR-LAND - that would be very odd.
We took shelter from the storm in the local pub, which boasted a log fire and a grumpily charming landlord that looked like Uncle Albert from only fools and horses, who kept telling us we where weak Europeans for not liking the rain and gave us as much abuse as possible. However, he did buy us a drink and introduce himself to his mates, one of whom we have arranged to meet at the Wanaka Festival, where, as a sales rep, he is giving away 'free piss'. I do hope that, as in Oz, this is slang for booze.
The reason to stop at Punakaiki is the Pancake Rocks, which are formations of layered rocks and a few blowholes. They were exactly that, and well worth a stop - see photos.