Andrea: We woke up beachside with the waves of the "Wild West Coast" crashing below the car. It was great to wake up there, which is what I thought until it was time to boil the kettle. We have a bit of trouble with our morning coffee on the tiny gas stove when it's windy and it doesn't get much windier than next to a crashing beach in the winter. After 45 minutes of us dancing around the kettle trying to figure out where the wind was coming from and block it, moving inside the van with the door open for ventilation and checking the burner to make sure the flame was still going, I might have started crashing around the van and cursing and making even more noise than the rambunctious waves below. Hey, I've never claimed to be human before my morning coffee. We did get the coffee in the end and it is just one of the joys of camping that we've gotten used to.
We continued on to the nearby town of Punakaiki, home of the "Pancake Rocks". Never one to pass up anything with the word "pancake" in it, I insisted we go have a look. The rocks aren't actually edible (blast!), but they are called that because they resemble stacks of pancakes. Through a layering-weathering process called stylobedding, the coastal limestone has formed into what I think looks like the cover of the Dr. Seuss classic, "Oh the Places You'll Go", only less colorful. Or, stacks of pancakes. I suppose "Pancake Rocks" will attract more vistors than "The Stacks of Rocks That Kind of Look Like the Cover of the Book 'Oh the Places You'll Go' By Dr. Seuss, Only Less Colorful." This is why I work in Marketing.
When the tide is right the waves crash into rock caverns and boom out violently through blowholes. Unfortunately, the tide wasn't right when we were there, but 5 years ago we went to a town in Mexico, Ensenada, where its only tourist attraction was a blowhole and we spent 2 hours there so it wasn't necessary to see it this time. Tide aside, the rocks were fantastic. They were formed in all different shapes and sizes, but they were all thinly stacked like pancakes. The rocks were created by the skeletons of marine life because they were located under water many many years ago. Then, as the water level receded the rocks began eroding and took the shape they did today. I won't pretend to know more because even the signs said that geologists don't know much more (I don't mean in general, just about this particular topic) and it's a bit of a mystery. We walked around admiring the massive rock formations and the way the powerful gray waves ran in and out of them, wearing them down little by little. The pancake rocks are in such unique shapes that they had a section for kids identifying the different faces and animals that one could see with a bit of imagination. Vern and I stood there for awhile but could only see a rat and lots of stacks of pancakes. There were delicious smells wafting from a nearby cafe and we wondered if they sold pancakes and what a gimmick they were missing if not. But, we didn't stick around to find out and after lots of photos we jumped back in the Monster and kept heading south.
Not being online for over a week had been fine for us, but we knew the world needed more blog entries so we set off to find Internet. Another great tourist-friendly feature of New Zealand is that some of the libraries have free Internet and wifi. We got to the biggest city on the West Coast, Greymouth (population approx. 13,500), and found the library. We nabbed computers and started catching up on a week and a half of emails and uploading some photos. We couldn't upload photos to the blog because we couldn't download Flash so we aren't sure of everything yet! We got a lot done until the time limit of an hour for "Non-Residents" was up and we sat on our iPods for another 2 hours. The libraries are great in New Zealand. Vern thought so too until an employee yelled at him for charging our camera battery. It can't satisfy all of our life-on-the-road (read: gypsy) needs. Admin finished we did some grocery shopping and were off again.
The next stop was Franz Josef to camp and see the glaciers the next day. We needed to make it to the I-site before they closed so they could book our glacier tour and so we could find out where to camp for free. We really needed them to book the tour because we couldn't plan our day until that was sorted. Franz Josef was about 180km from Greymouth and we had about 2 hours to get there before the I-site closed so the race was on. The speed limit is generally 100km per hour, but it drops down to 50 in cities and the roads are also very windy and 100 would mean heading over a cliff and seeing no glaciers the next day. Vern was driving and I was holding the map and counting down each kilometer. The book said the information center closed at 4:45 instead of 5:00 so we were even trying to make that. We both stole frequent glances at the clock, read each sign with apprehensive optimism and turned down the music when it was time to concentrate. We skidded into the parking lot at 4:50 and the "Open" sign was still out front. Victory! Our hearts stopped when we saw a woman leave with a laptop bag, but we jumped out anyway and raced for the door. The helpful woman at the counter booked us on a glacier walk on Fox Glacier for the next day and gave us tips on where to camp. We stood at the counter discussing with each other how many more days we could go without a shower when she kindly reminded us that they closed at 5:00 (read: get your smelly butts out of my clean office so I can leave!). We left the I-Site and filled up all of our water bottles in their water fountain and ventured off to find our home for the evening.
Our campsite was basic but nice and we got there early enough to cook before it got dark. Vern made a delicious steak with red wine sauce (so good!) and we had that with carrot and beetroot salad. A very civilized finish to the end of a typical traveller's day!