Punakaiki, New Zealand (5th Mar 2008)
Christchurch to Punakaiki via Arthurs Pass
Driver: MarkDistance Travelled: 332.5 Km / 206.6 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 332.5 Km / 206.6 Miles
Kia Ora, were out on the open road at last...
The very first leg of our adventures around New Zealand will probably remain one of our favourite days, mainly because it was the first time we got to experience how spectacular New Zealand's landscape really is, that and we were still both really excited about our campervan and our new found independence.
We finally set off at 9 am for the shops to get stocked up and then by 11 am we were headed west off along highway 63, also known as Arthurs Pass as its one of the most beautiful journey's in New Zealand. Driving straight out of Christchurch we had our first experience of the beautiful landscape as we drove towards snow tipped mountains, green grassy hills and rocky streams. We hadn't really planned any stops on the way between any of the places we were driving, but soon we found out that in NZ they have signs for attractions all over, whether they be the most well know big ones or the smallest little walk which we thought was really good because you didn't really have to think too much what to do and see. Our very first stop of the journey was after about 100Km's at a place called Castle Rock (which we had planned) where there were amazing rock formations jutting out from the hillsides, it was also the first time we made use of our limited kitchen facilities and had cheese sandwiches for lunch. After a half hour enjoying the landscape and trying to comprehend what a beautiful country we were in we set off back on the road at which point Mark began to worry about the car as it didn't seem as powerful anymore but a mile down the road he realised he still had the handbrake on!
We ploughed through the landscape along Arthur's Pass, one of New Zealand's most stunning drives, until we reached Otira Viaduct Lookout Point where we climbed a short steep gravel path in the van and took a short break from the road. The lookout point is designed to give you a view of where the old road used to exist and to show how it was wiped out by an avalanche as the route the avalanche took is still clearly visible. Not long after the viaduct we encountered an unusual section of road where firstly a waterfall had been directed over the road and so flowed down the side of us and then we entered a rock shelter which was a most unusual sight, especially with its proximity to the waterfall. It all made for quite an eventful section of road!
Our next stop was probably the funniest of the day as it was completely spontaneous but resulted in fits of giggles and lots of fun. We were mesmerized by how beautiful all of the rivers where and just how blue they were and so when we spotted an opportunity to stop and have a look at one of them we jumped at the chance. We pulled the van up on the side of the road just after one of the many one lane bridge we encountered and clambered down a few rocks and then under the bridge itself (which you probably shouldn't do), all to get us to the beautiful crystal aqua blue waters. It was beautiful, almost like it should be out of a film set and when we dipped our toes in we realised that the water is as beautiful as it is because it's really just melting snow and ice and as it doesn't run over any mud, just down the rock face and into a rocky river, so it stays wonderfully clean. Anyway the fun began when Mark began trying to set the camera up on timer to get a photo of us both and in all the commotion and changing of positions Kara managed to drop her glasses between the rocks in the water that we were sat on. Mark was secretly delighted as he didn't think the glasses were all that flattering but as he knew they were essential to driving and navigating he reluctantly joined the search for them. At this point they could have easily have been washed down the river as the current was quite strong but we persisted in the hunt, moving all of the small rocks around in the hope they had become trapped under one of them. After twenty minutes of searching Mark took things one step further and after pushing a big rock into the river he ripped his top off and plunged his whole arm into the freezing river, at first only retrieving a brown twig but on his second attempt his hand came back out clutching the glasses, success at last!
Finally in the early afternoon we reached our destination of Punakaiki, after exactly 299.9 kilometres! For the last section of the drive there had been mainly coastal roads and this made a nice change from the inland route that we had been on for most of the day. Our main reason for visiting Punakaiki was to visit the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes and as soon as we arrived we made these our first stop. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the blowholes as these were best viewed at particular times of the day, in this instance 10am and 10pm when the sea is at its roughest, neither of which we could have made but we did get to see the Pancake Rocks with the help of a walkway that weaved around the cliff tops. The rock formations were really something else, it seemed like there were just huge slabs of rocks piled high on top of each other and that coupled with the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks below really was an experience to be remember, it brought home how powerful the sea really is to be able to manipulate the shape of the rocks over time.
As we didn't want to get stranded without anywhere to sleep for the night we set out on our search for a campsite relatively early, it was a good job as we encountered another spot that was worth a visit before bed. Just out of town we saw Punakaiki Cavern which is primarily used for cavers but we thought we would go and check it out. We didn't get too far however as it was really dark and extremely hard to navigate your way around and if you weren't careful you could end up ten feet down a caving hole.
Our search for a spot to spend the night was starting to prove quite difficult until we spotted another campervan pulled over in a lay-by just off the road and a stone's throw from the beach in a place called Harrytown, perfect! We began our evening cooking ourselves some tea on the camping stove that came with the van, which after a fight with the cheap tin opener we had bought, proved to be quite a challenge as well; once we finished our tinned goods we felt it only right to go and enjoy the beach for a while. After a bit of a walk on the sand and a climb on the rocks Mark wanted to play games and so the next hour was spent collecting perfectly flat pebbles and rocks and finding the best way to stack them to make the tallest tower possible, it was strange how time really did fly when we were having fun and pretty soon the sun was close to setting.
We set the van up ready for bed and it was only when it got pitch black did we notice how incredibly beautiful the night sky was. It's impossible to describe how many stars there were and it seemed the longer we looked at them more appeared until our eyes count take anymore in Kara even spotted a shooting star. It was truly amazing and a sight that neither of us will ever forget nor probably see again for a long while. The view was so good we fell asleep with the "moon roof" (sun roof?) open, mesmerized by the sight above us and we felt blessed to be spending the night in such a great spot.