After the exhilaration of the whale watching we were heading for Westport. This was a 350 km drive from the east coast across to the west coast. The width of the island in a day. We had been told it was a superb drive. It would take us through Lewis pass at 907mtrs. The road is flanked by mountains, hills and fields. It was a long hot drive but the scenery made up for it.
Our plan was to stay 2 nights in Westport. The first evening was to be restful and then on Friday we had been hoping to go Jet boating in Buller gorge in the morning and dark water rafting in the afternoon. We arrived in Westport in good time. There are 2 main camp sites. We went first to the Kiwi site as it was close to the town. Unfortunately it looked like an illegal encampment. First time we've gone on to a site and thought nope, not staying there.
The other site was a Top 10. We've stayed on a few and they are very good. This was about 6 kms out of Westport but absolutely lovely. The site is fronted by Carters beach and at the rear is a mountain range. We pitched up spoke nicely to the receptionist and got the best pitch, right in the corner with no near neighbours.
On the drive we had phoned the Jet boating company. They needed 4 people to make it worth running the boat. As I've said at this time of year it is quiet which has advantages. The disadvantage is that they only had us wanting to go so it was cancelled. Not a huge issue as we can try again later on at a different location.
That evening we walked along Carters beach. It was gorgeous. It is a long sandy beach with the waves crashing on it. There was only us and a chap with 3 beagles which were playing in the surf like little kids, barking at the waves.
Missing out on the jet boat meant we had a free morning. We crawled out of bed at 9.30 and had coffee and breakfast al fresco. We had booked the dark water rafting for 1.45pm so we took a drive out to the seal colony at Foul Wind bay. A short walk on to the headland and you can look down on to the rocks and see the seals in the sea and on the rocks.
The dark water rafting was at Charleston which is about 6 kms south of Westport. This was Jills idea and I wasn't really sure what to expect. When we had been at Waitamo caves we had seen people in the river below us. 'I want to do that'said Jill.
First things first we needed lunch. We took a chance in Charleston and drove down a side road. We found the most idyllic little cove. We parked the camper side on to the sea and sat to eat lunch. It was so lovely i said when we came off the rafting we would come back for a bottle of beer.
We arrived at the rafting centre and were met by Ray. Lovely chap sat out the front shooting the breeze. Pop in and pay Dave then go round the back and Doug will kit you out.
We did as we were told and met Doug our guide. It turns out Ray used to be Dougs school teacher. Ray had set up the adventure centre and Doug had gone travelling for 18 years. Now we are back to the advantage of coming at this time of year. Its a lovely day and its only us two on the trip with Doug.
He kitted us out with full wet suits including boots, flipper mittens and a miners hat and torch. He had a waterproof camera to snap us during the trip.
We jumped in a mini bus and off we went to an area in the gorge. The next bit is a little surreal. Ray and his partner have built a small railway track to take us into the bush. It is a tiny diesel engine powered by a Morris minor engine linked to a marine gearbox. It pulls a couple of open carriages. So off we went with Ray driving and doing a commentary. It was really fun.
At the end of the track we got changed into our kit and left our own clothes in a bag under a tarpaulin in the middle of a jungle clearing.
Next we had to walk dressed like a scuba diver and climb some steps for about 20 minutes. On the pathway was a pile of about 30 lorry tyre inner tubes. Fortunately already inflated.
We collected one each and headed off into the caves. We walked through the caves. No lighting just the head torch. No prepared walkways. This was proper caving. The place is full of stalagtites and stalagmites. In places we had to bend right down to squeeze through as the roof was so low.
Water was dripping from above and our breath was forming clouds in the cold air. Brilliant.
We clambered , squeezed and ducked our way through two descending layers of the caves. The we arrived at the underground river. The tubes were to be our transport back out. Having carried them through the caves they would now carry us out through the pitch dark to the Nile river outside.
We put the tubes in the water and sat back into them. Wow the water was cold was your bum went in to it.
We linked together in a line each holding the person behinds legs and set off. Doug got us to switch off our torches and we laid back in the darkness and let the water drift us through the caves. Now the gloworms at Waitamo were amazing but this was so different. We were laying in the water looking up at the cave roof and it was covered with light. It was like a night sky but with a million times more stars.
We seemed to drift for ages along tight channels with high ceilings watching the light show. Eventually a shaft of light entered the darkness. The river emerged into the day light. We picked up our tubes and left the dark to climb into the river which would take us back to the start. The river was not running very deep so it wasn't the rapids of Peru. Nor were we in a big raft. We were sat in rubber inner tubes and being carried along by the river flow. It was great fun.
At the end we were met by Ray and returned in his 'worlds biggest train set'. It was a 3 hour adventure underground and on the river. A brilliant trip.
Tomorrow we are heading south. We have booked an all day hike on the Franz Josef glacier. We are swapping tubes for crampons and ice picks.