Or, Cape Foulwind, Paparoa Park, the Pancake Rocks and eventually, Monteith’s Brewery
Monday morning, we left for Greymouth, which we were warned wasn’t terribly exciting (despite being the biggest west coast town in the south island), because it was a mining town. (In fact, our driver strongly advised everyone to sign up for the brewery tour that night, because “there’s fuck all else to do in town, unless you’re going to sit in the hostel talking to yourself all night.” Ah, Nick. I miss him already.)
Long before we got to Greymouth, however, we had plenty of stops in pretty places along the coast. Before hitting the ocean, we stopped at a stretch of road following a river to see where the space for the road had been blasted out of the rock.
This kind of thing doesn’t normally interest me, but having followed the crazy curviness of New Zealand roads for a couple weeks now, it does seem to me pretty amazing, the network of roads they have (in better repair than Quebec’s!) given their terrain. Their roads tend to curve to follow rivers, and zig zag up steep mountains and hug around hillsides. The amount of work to develop them all boggles my mind. Apparently, a big part of the south island’s road system (particularly further south, around Queenstown) were built during the Depression in the 30s as a sort of make-work initiative by the government. It was probably crazy hard work for the fellows who signed up, but boy did it pay off. New Zealand’s infrastructure, both for cars (and cyclists, since we passed quite a few of them; power to them to be pedaling up and down those crazy slopes!) and pedestrian walkways into the pretty forest and beach paths continues to impress me.
There are a lot of things in New Zealand that aren’t cheap (The Boy would like to put in a special mention for $5 coffee, WTF?!) but so many of the really beautiful places (all the ones in this entry, for example) are totally free. And they all have displays explaining where you are, the historical significance, local wildlife, and there are often little tags in front of native trees and bushes explaining about them as you hike along, Also, all the boardwalks across forest streams and down to the coast are well-maintained and covered in rubber grippy things for when it rains, too. This country makes it easy for tourists to visit and ogle, and it’s really nice to see that they value their scenic spots.
Anyway, speaking of scenic spots, we stopped in at Cape Foulwind, as named by Captain Cook because the winds drove one of his ships up on the rocks in the cove.
We had a good time walking around, but were a little surprised that it never smelled like the sea. Not until I got down on the strangely grey-sanded beach, that is. There, amid many a dead jellyfish, we were hit by the sea smell. It amused me to see the same little blue jellyfish I’d had stuck to my feet on Bondi beach; memories of The Boy’s proposal!
This was one of only a few sand beaches we saw; a lot of them are pebble beaches round here, probably because there are so many fjords, so a lot of their coastlines are littered with glacial debris? I don’t really know, but I did notice that sand beaches were a bit of a rarity in the south.
Bobbing along near the parking, we also saw some weka up close. These flightless birds look a little like big chickens, with extra-big feet. They are cousins to the endangered kiwi and aren’t shy. Actually very few of the birds here seem to be frightened by humans; I guess they’re used to the tourists too. The Boy and I have been buzzed by more than a few flights of birds (gulls, sparrows, ducks) while walking around. It freaks us out way more than the birds, it seems!
After that, we drove a little further, to walk down to the (pebble) beach via Truman track in Paparoa park. Much like all the ocean we’ve seen around the south island, here the Tasman sea appeared glorious teal, like the way the Caribbean always looks. (As a note, however, the water is colder. Much colder.)
The tide must have been coming in while we were there because shortly after this picture, a big wave washed up. I clambered like a panicky mountain goat (despite being in shorts; I didn’t want my shoes to get soaked!) onto those rocks behind The Boy. He was a little slower (or maybe just very chivalrous) and got drenched to the knees. He definitely wasn’t the only one. More than a couple people in our group needed a change of socks when we got back! The sea was very dramatic for us!
I felt bad that the walk back up the Truman track was so squelchy for The Boy. His pants mostly dried out in the sun at the top while we waited for the slowpokes, but he did have wet feet.
I found this particular walk to be fun, because they had a great example of Rata (among other plants). Rata is a native parasite that grows around large trees in a sort of frame, eventually starving them of nutrients. There isn’t much scale in the photo, but the left “stalk” of the Rata around that tree is bigger (like, in girth) than I am!
A little more driving down the coast, and we got to Pancake Rock. Here I felt sorry for The Boy, as he did this walk without socks, and it’s a shame because it was so beautiful, but I think a little spoiled for him. Ah well.
Crazy rock formations (I think they’re limestone?) and watching the sea nibble away at the coves and caverns, and leave “floating” overhangs of cliffs (that we walked on) make a very awesome coastline. There was even a mini Great Wall (of Pancake)!
This walk wended backwards and forwards, seeming to loop back in on itself, and ended with this view of some rocks, before leading back up through the flax to the road.
What do you see?
Just a little more driving later, we arrived into Greymouth. We were sad to learn that just a few days short of a year previously, there had been an explosion in one of the mines, killing 29 miners. In a town of this size, that basically meant that every person was either related to, or good friends with, one of the victims. Worse still, most of the bodies were never recovered because it was too dangerous to go back into the mine for them afterwards.
It felt more than a little inappropriate to follow that story up with a brewery tour, but the brewery IS the town’s other main industry. Although it was originally built a little inland, Monteith’s (who stopped being affiliated with the Monteith family ages ago, shortly after one of the younger sons moved it to Greymouth) is now the most significant south island brewery.
After a video explaining the brewing process for their premium ale (the brewery itself was under renovations — all their beers for the year are being brewed at a sister brewery inland), we got to do a beer tasting: one apple cider, and seven beers.
If you’re picturing an orderly tasting where a brief description of the process and flavours is given before everyone delicately sips at their sample, think again. Each of us was handed a tasting glass (roughly a half pint), and invited to come up to the bar for the current sample (starting with the cider, then the pilsner, etc. through to the dark). It was a very chatty sort of high-traffic affair. At the end of it, we were invited to go pour ourselves whichever one we liked best. Most people had fun with this, as they’ve never pulled their own beers before — apparently having your own bar has side perks! The Boy was one of few without four inches of head in his glass, since, as our guide warned the group, the secret to pouring from the tap is to give ‘er when you pull the handle (don’t try to pour slowly!) and make sure the beer hits the glass, not the beer.
After the tasting, we wobbled over to the Railway Hotel for what, among many delicious meals, was probably the best dinner we’d had in New Zealand, and certainly the best lamb I’ve ever tasted.
What next? An early morning start for Franz Joseph, where The Boy and I faced down a glacier!