Before we started our road trip down the West Coast, Jeff, Max and I took a mini road trip and drove up to Cape Farewell and Golden Bay for a weekend. Our friend Philip, a German backpacker we’d met in Mot., tagged along too and helped round out the number of people in the car. (Of course, his contribution to the rental costs wasn’t so bad either!)
One of our major reasons for visiting the northernmost end of the South Island was to see Harwood’s Hole, the deepest sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s basically a huge limestone cavern set deep in the woods of Canaan Downs Scenic Reserve (which is also the same place they used to film Chetwood Forest in Lord Of The Rings). The piles of limestone boulders reminded me poignantly of home, and the forest (like most places in New Zealand) was an almost unearthly shade of green. Every tree was covered in moss, and everything was wet and soft and silent with sunlight filtering down through the canopy. A natural cathedral all its own.
Our main reason for journeying north was to see Cape Farewell (or more specifically Farewell Spit), a huge finger of land stretching for more than 30 kms over the top of the South Island. It’s the longest natural sandbar in the world, and an important breeding ground for several species of endangered migratory birds, including the gannet (kind of a big Australasian seagull). It even has a lighthouse at the end of it! Although access to the Spit itself is restricted due its being a ‘Wetland of International Importance’ (seriously), but we went as far as we could. We drove straight up to the coast on a dirt road, and walked the rest of the way through sheep paddocks to stand on the cliffs overlooking the water. The sun was going down as we arrived, and it peeked through the giant natural limestone arches of the coastline as it set. Unwilling to pack four of us back into the car for what was sure to be an uncomfortable night, instead we slept just a few meters away from the beach in an abandoned wool shed. It might have been slightly illegal, but we had beds made of the purest natural organic wool that night!
The next morning when we awoke, we found ourselves in a substantially wetter environment: there had been a massive storm overnight, and we said a not-so-silent thank you that’d we’d had a roof over our heads. We drank our morning tea and coffee as the sun rose, and then headed down the coast another few kilometers to Wharariki Beach. The coastline was gray and misty and wild, but the best part was the colony of baby fur seals (kekenos) we found playing among the rocks! Mid-autumn is the perfect time to see baby seals, since they’re unadvisedly brave and even more curious; when we walked up to them they swam straight up to us, and climbed up on the rocks to say hello! We pet them (very briefly and carefully, of course) and marveled at their huge black eyes and amazingly soft fur. Probably the coolest experience I’ve ever had…
We spent a good part of the day enjoying the seals and exploring the caves along the shore, but on the way back to Motueka we still took the time to stop at Te Waikoropupu Springs and Labyrinth Rocks. Despite its somewhat hilarious name, ‘Pupu Springs’ is actually home to the purest water in the world – only sub-glacial water in the Antarctic can beat it! Touching the water is forbidden since the springs are spiritually significant to the Maori, but you can see it from a walkway that circumnavigates the entire area. There’s also a viewing platform that lets you see under the surface, which is amazing (despite its slightly overgrown, mossy appearance!). On our way home we also took a brief side trip to Labyrinth Rocks Park, which was probably one of the silliest, most whimsical places I’ve seen in New Zealand so far (next to The Waterworks in the Coromandel). The Labyrinth is actually just a natural limestone maze set into the hills around Golden Bay, and well-intentioned locals have provided maps and publicity so that visitors can spend a half hour or two exploring the maze. The rocks themselves were interesting, but the silly (and sometimes just plain creepy) inhabitants of the maze were what made it memorable. Not such bad a weekend after all!