Andrea: Waking up in our 'Wolf Creek' campsite was much less scary than it had been the night before. And, we weren't dead so that was great. We drove through what the guide book described as 'Up-and-coming' Murchison, a town with a population of 850, and somehow resisted the urge to stop and party. We are very responsible. Just after Murchison is Buller Gorge, a base for white-water rafting and kayaking. We also resisted the urge to do those things, but we did stop at New Zealand's longest swingbridge over (110 meters) over Buller Gorge. We each paid the $5 fee to walk over the bridge (included the return trip, luckily) and shook each other through the whole harrowing 2 minutes. The swingbridge was very sturdy and supposedly built for up to 15 people, but we thought we would put it to the test. It passed and that marked the second time we had lived through something scary that day (surviving the campsite being the first). On the other side of the bridge was the faultline of the 1929 earthquake that shook the region. We also saw a 400 meter hill that was a direct result of that earthquake. Further on were some short walks through the diverse forests and information on the area when it was on its prime, during the gold rush of the late 19th century. There was even a replica gold miner's house and panning station for us to marvel at! The real star, though, was the stunning scenery around the gorge at the bridge. Turquoise water rushed over boulders below us with green, red and brown trees engulfing the hills around us as we walked back over the bridge--slightly cockier this time.
We stopped at the second-biggest city on the West Coast, Westport (population approx. 5000). The lovely woman at the always informative 'I-site' (information offices in most cities in NZ, ie. lifesavers for plan-less travellers like us) gave us ideas of things to do in the area. We jumped at the suggestion of going to the Oparara Basin, home to the Oparara Arch--a 200 meter long, 37 meter high and 49 meter wide limestone arch. The I-site woman assured us it was worth the detour. Karamea, the closest town to the Oparara Basin, has a population of approximately 700 people, but I think this probably shrinks down to about 300 in the wintertime because this town was empty. Don't count them out, though. As we approached, we saw signs for Karamea's own radio station, and, since no other stations were coming through anyway, we tuned in. The serene farm houses and coastal scenes were soon juxtaposed with British punk. Whoa, Karamea, you surprise us. Then we heard a very obscure B-side that we couldn't decipher that was about 20 minutes long and ended with the entire Abbott & Costello bit 'Who's on First'. Then, 'Riders on the Storm' by The Doors. We figured it was a quirky high school kid running the afternoon time slot as a part time job, but we were still shocked since it looked like a tiny coastal farm town that would sooner listen to The Dixie Chicks than The Doors.
We got to the parking lot for the Oparara Arch and other walks in the area. One car pulled out while we were driving in and after that we had the place to ourselves. We made sandwiches for lunch and ate like civilized people at a picnic table instead of in the back of the car. Vern spotted a Weka carrying a baby bird in its mouth and walking past our car. Looked like he found lunch too. A smaller bird (not sure of this one's name) landed on our table and I gave him a bit of salami and some bread. Then, we noticed a Weka coming pretty close to the table. The bird that I fed was about the size of a finch so I wasn't worried when he landed next to me. The Weka, however, is the size of a chicken so you wouldn't want it landing on the table next to you while you have food. I shooed him away and looked over to my other side and there was another one coming our way. They were circling. I went flailing around the picnic area, waving my arms, stomping my feet, screaming and taking bites of my sandwich in between the chaos. One Weka was slightly bigger than the other so I got the impression it was a male and female partnership. I (Vern was not much help laughing from his side of the table) kept them at bay long enough to finish our sandwiches, but when we were washing the dishes they would come at the car from two different sides. I would shoo them, they would retreat for two seconds and then come at me again! I had no idea what they were after since the food was gone. Plus, hadn't they just had lunch with that baby bird? As we walked away to start our walk they closed in on the car, jumping up in the undercarriage, pecking at the tires and walking around on the hood. Then it dawned on us. That baby bird might have been THEIR baby and we might have killed it with OUR car! Oh no! The whole war was to avenge the death of their baby at the hands (um, wheels) of The Green Eyed Monster (with Vern driving, let's get that clear!). I felt terrible. I felt worse when I saw the mommy actually disappear under our car and start rooting around as we walked further away. I was just picturing our return to four flat tires, a pecked-out windshield and a carborator lying next to the rubble and having to explain this to the AA as a 'mechanical error' so our plan would cover it.
Pushing the birds from my brain, we were free to appreciate the moss-covered forest walk and streams swirling ale-colored water around leading up to the arch. It was so peaceful and, like all the other sites we had seen up to this point, completely deserted from other tourists which is great because there's nothing a tourist hates more than other tourists. The walk was full of 'look at that' and 'over there!' and we took a few photos in front of a pretty waterfall or on a cute bridge. And then we saw the arch. 'Wow-wee' was Vern's first reaction. Mine too. We took several photos and then moved closer to get a closer look. As we moved closer we realized we had just been taking pictures of 10% of the entire arch. It towered above us so high that we battled to get it in one shot. Since it is almost 50 meters wide, it creates a huge cave underneath it. We stood there, staring at the massive white arch and cave with a 'living wall'--the sides were dripping water and covered in moss. It was impossible to capture on camera and it definitely made us feel small! We walked around admiring it from different angles and trying not to slip on the sweating rocks. When we felt like we had been sufficiently wowed, we started the trip back to the car. In the parking lot we spied a sign for 'Mirror Tarn' so we thought we would gave a look. Now, we had no idea what a 'tarn' was and New Zealand is full of Scottish immigrants who brought over their love of making up words so this wasn't the first mysterious 'English' word we had come across. But, we knew that nature in NZ doesn't disappoint so we made the short walk there (after checking that the car still started after the bird damage. It did). At the end of the walk we came across a black lake (lake=loch=tarn?) that was flat as glass and reflected the surrounding trees perfectly. The result was a double layer of red, orange and green trees and hardly a visible lake! It was perfect. So, naturally we had to disturb it by throwing in rocks. Perfect concentric circles filled the black lake, but the trees were still reflected in it. It was a really amazing sight!
On the drive back we passed through Karamea again and tuned into the radio. The songs had done a 180 and the song was 'Sugar Mountain' that sounded like it was from the 1940s. This was more fitting for the setting and we figured the earlier DJ's grandfather had taken over the reigns. That night we made it close to our next destination and freedom camped right next to the crashing waves of the Wild West Coast.