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Greenstone and kiwi on the West Coast

NEW ZEALAND | Tuesday, 10 March 2009 | Views [1243]

The drive was hot and uneventful back over steep Takaka Hill especially as we managed to avoid getting stuck behind a 2 trailer road train of powdered milk, Golden bay's biggest export. A quick pitstop in Richmond for more supplies, then down a picturesque windy road. Destination, wherever we could get to before Claire got sick of driving.

Deftly passing NZ's longest swing bridge by, having already witnessed the majesty of its most remote, we managed to get to DOC's Slab Hut campsite. It was a basic but pretty affair where you were encouraged by the brochure to fossick for gold. Now I'm still not sure what exactly that is, something akin to panning I suspect, but we didn't try our luck. It was getting cold so the priority was collecting wood and making dinner. The wood was all soggy and during the cooking dinner a NZ Robin, similar to its European cousin but lacking a red breast and a Weka, a curious hen sized native flightless bird both made friends with me. Scuse the pun but it was very evident that they ruled the roost and I was a mere blow-in. Both tucked into anything I hadn't kept a watchful eye over – even a candle. The weka even gave my arse a peck to see if was tasty.

It took about an hour of huffing and puffing to get the fire going but it worked out in the end, keeping the now surprising cold at bay until the rain made us retire to the tent, putting the fire out in seconds. Claire was desperately cold all night, vowing never to go to sleep unprepared again (e.g. being fully dressed and wrapping every blanket we owned around her).

We waited for a gap in the rain to break camp and made our way down to aptly named Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast for coffee. Greymouth is a grey town although it does possess 2 things worth mentioning. One is an absolutely vicious wind that cuts straight across the Tasman Sea from Oz. It's called the Barber for very good reason. The other is a history of greenstone (jade) display attached to a commercial shop. It's a little cheesy and all geared to ensure you part with your hard earned in the large shop outside, but it does combine the geological reasons for the creation of this precious stone with the Maori legends concerning it. I won't go into either here but if you've an hour to spare in Greymouth it's worth a look.

Further down the coast we stopped at Hokitika for sandwiches (made in the passenger seat) and a look around. After our unsuccessful attempts to see a wild kiwi on the North Island (where they a more populous), we plumped for the next best in the grandly named National Kiwi Centre. It was actually much better than I expected, containing a lot of unusual fish such as Giant Eels which really are enormous at about 3 or 4 metres and mexican walking fish which have little legs. Unfortunately the daily feeding was cancelled as the feeder had had to rush off to look after her husband who had had an accident with a chainsaw. You couldn't make it up! After much anticipation we walked into the dimmed Kiwi enclosure and caught our first glimpse. It was bigger than I thought and incredibly skittish. A rustle of a waterproof jacket and he interrupted his plodding deep beak pecking to run off into his shadowy safe corner. Quite mesmerising I thought and with hindsight I completely understand why we didn't see them in Northland. We could barely see them in captivity!

We had parked the car outisde a place called Bones and Stones where those so inclined can spend 5 hours with the owner Steve making their own piece of greenstone or bone jewellery. We went for the here's one I made earlier option and picked up some ready made souvenirs he had made. On finding out I was Irish he started to bargain himself down on his own prices and I found myself in the strange position of keeping them up so it was fair.

Tags: camping, jade, kiwi


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