Considerably further, our next stop along SH6 was Murchison, a gold rush town, badly damaged in the 1929 7.8 earthquake and mainly known today as a mecca for outdoor adventure activities with the many fast flowing, white water rivers in the area. We were more than ready for a coffee break and the Beechwood Cafe we chose had a wide covered forecourt where we could sit with Tammy, or so we thought. We had just placed and paid for our order and were starting to enjoy our coffees when a staff member came out and asked us to move away as we had Tammy with us. She wasn't unpleasant, but curt. Tammy as usual was sitting quietly at our feet, so this was astonishing and if we could have, we would have cancelled the order and left. They won't be seeing us again.
About 20kms past Murchison we came upon Lyell, a non existent 19th century gold mining town. Now only a campsite and original cemetery, at its height 2000 people lived there but after various mines closed, the Murchison earthquake, and several disasterous town fires, Lyell disappeared. Through Inangahua to Berlins where, if you look up to the left, heading towards the West coast there is a great lineup of antique, rusted Bedford trucks. SH6 runs alongside the Buller river now, making for a spectacular scenic drive, and just when we thought it couldn't get any better the road approached Hawks Crag where the highway contracts dramatically to 1 lane cut under the overhanging cliff face. A great engineering feat originally constructed in 1869, initially it was a narrow track with no safety railings protecting against a vertical drop into the Buller. Now there is a safety rail and in 30 seconds we were safely through. Another 15 minutes and we turned down Birds Ferry Rd to our cottage accomodation for the next 2 nights, Ferrymans Cottage. Not a cottage in the true pioneering sense but actually a small, modern 2 bedroom Lockwood - charming, very clean and well equipped. It was set in a private lawn with native plantings and a small lake inhabited by ducks, much to Tammy's consternation. She wouldn't approach them but spent some time sitting on the deck, looking. A grey duck, much more adventurous than the others, came over to investigate Tammy. This was the end for Tammy who scampered inside to hide with us. She treated the ducks with great respect for the rest of our stay.
Everything at Ferrymans worked perfectly and conveniently. The small log burner heated the space easily and there was plenty of wood as well as freshly chopped kindling for us to use. No need for us to be pioneers!
Sleep the first night was deep and peaceful with complete silence until just after first light when the ducks started. It was a good alarm call for us as the day was nice and Cape Foulwind, Westport itself and the small towns just to the north were our targets.
The walkway to Cape Foulwind is well maintained and an easy walk on a nice day. We were lucky. Wind and wet would make it quite unpleasant, to say nothing of not being able to see the views in those conditions. Foulwind got it's name when Cook's ship Endeavour was blown far off course at this position. Foulwind is not as scenically spectacular as Farewell but still worthy of the visit. Retracing our route we entered Westport town from it's west, Carters beach side. There is so much of scenic interest in the Westport environs which has the effect of making Westport itself seem uninteresting and drab. Maybe a little harsh but that is the impression gained. The main industries for Westport are coal and cement with adventure tourism - jet boats, rafting, caving and kayaking - proving popular. We stopped at the local, well stocked New World to fill the few gaps in our supplies.
Lunch was now calling and we planned to visit The Bayhouse at Tauranga Bay, back past Cape Foulwind, then onto the Tauranga Bay coast road. The Bayhouse is located on the southern point of Tauranga Bay in a unique spot looking straight out over the surf rolling into the bay and looking beyond out to the Tasman Sea. All around is natural flax and cabbage tree plantings. Being Sunday the Bayhouse was very busy and the parking very limited on the narrow road. Finally securing a spot we walked up to see about a table where we might be with Tammy. Absolutely no problem at all and the 3 of us were soon seated on the spacious deck. The Bayhouse lunch could not be faulted and we felt very spoilt to be able to eat in such a beautiful natural environment. We had a chat with the owner afterwards and discovered that he and his wife were considering providing some form of chalet accomodation in the future. We hope not too much in the future as this would be a great adjunct to the Bayhouse restaurant and sure to be popular in such an natural stunning spot. We wish them lots of luck. Time then to venture north into coal country. About a 40km coastal run up to Hector, just past the Stockton mine, where we about turned and started a slow backtrack, taking in various photographic opportunities on the way. A late coffee at the Granity Drifters cafe proved much better than appearances would have you believe. There was much more to see through this area but it was getting late and after the 80 odd kms there and back from Hector it was quite dark when we pulled into the Ferrymans carport, so a definite for a future return visit. Offloading our gear and settling down for the night I soon had the log burner ticking over nicely and the small house was comfortably warm. Going outside onto the verandah for more wood from time to time was a chilly experience but on one of these missions I became aware of a loud continuous roaring sound in the distance. Not something we had heard any other time and we eventually concluded it was surf on Nine Mile beach, a few kms to the west. The weather was not especially stormy that night but the roar was very strong, so in a real west coast storm it must be quite something. It didn't stop us having a good night's sleep, in fact like the sound all waves make on the beach it was more like a soothing lullaby.
The next day we had a solid drive to Hanmer Springs but had made the decision that prior to heading away from the west coast we would do the 100 kms south round trip to the Punakaiki pancake rocks. Thank goodness we did - they were absolutely spectacular. We were on SH 6 heading south along the west coast, the road mainly hugging the sea all the way and giving stunning coastal views of the Tasman rolling into wide rocky beaches and smaller bays. It was a reasonably easy driving road with a few twisty parts around the headlands between beaches. On arrival at Punakaiki there was plenty of parking, an information centre with a cafe and another cafe attached to a small shop next door. Our coffee at the shop cafe was OK and then it was across the road to the 'rocks' walkway entrance.
We were immediately impressed by the natural and sensitive way the walkway and native plantings had been developed and enhanced. The pancake rocks at Punakaiki are a spectacular, natural geological feature with unusual archways and caves where the sea surges and blows. Wherever we looked the view was different from the last and often we found it diffcult to drag ourselves away. We spent about 40 minutes enjoying the experience and we didn't stop at every lookout. Thank goodness we had made this detour from our day's main destination, Hanmer Springs via Lewis Pass. Although we now had to completely retrace our route on SH6, joining SH69 at Inangahua to Reefton, this was not actually a hardship as there was so much to see travelling to and from Inangahua as new vistas presented themselves at every turn. Inangahua to Reefton and on was new territory.
It was time for lunch and very soon after leaving Punakaiki we came to the Punakaiki Tavern. In we went, delighted we could sit with our pal on the sunny verandah. Our order of ham toasted sandwiches arrived shortly afterwards and were delicious. We enjoyed them with 2 glasses of Otago pinot followed by 2 very well made long blacks. Tammy loved the garden. A couple of stops for photography were the only breaks we took on the way to Reefton so on arrival there we were very keen to spot a likely cafe. Reefton is a gold town, like many through this part of New Zealand. A lot have disappeared but Reefton has lived on, even thrived since those mid 19th century years right up to the present day, with gold still being mined commercially. Reefton's fame spread far and wide when, in 1888 it switched on the first southern hemisphere street lighting system. We were trundling slowly up Broadway when the Broadway Tearoom caught our eye. It was perfect with great coffees and homemade caramel slice, the bonus being a packet of their famous 'Reefton' shortbread to take to Hanmer. Back on board the California we discovered that the Broadway Tearoom was already on our list of Reefton famous 'must do's', the excellent write up not at all exaggerated.
With around 150kms still to Hanmer, over the Lewis Pass, we only had time for a quick potter down one side of Broadway and up the other, but left Reefton favourably impressed. Onwards to Lewis Pass, a route across the island discovered by surveyor Henry Lewis in 1860, reaching an 864 metre elevation. Passing through Springs Junction, then Maruia on the western side then down the eastern side with the Lewis Pass road now running alongside the Hope river. Up in the pass itself rain, which would be sleet or snow in the very near future, was falling quite heavily but had cleared to a persistent mist on the eastern side. Headlights on all the way, vision limited by gathering twilight we were very pleased to finally arrive at the Hanmer Springs junction where SH7 meets 7A. Left onto 7A, across the Waiau bridge and 10kms to Hanmer Village. We have visited Hanmer on several previous occasions, always enjoying our stays in this pretty alpine village, not agreeing at all with a recent comment from a Westcoaster that Hanmer was 'all plastic and concrete'. Being a winter spa resort it is certainly more built up and sophisticated than some West coast towns, but this aspect of Hanmer presents a nice civilized change, very easily enjoyed for a few days. We were staying at the Greenacres Alpine Chalets situated to the rear of the village at the base of Conical Hill.
Not too bad, certainly not luxury being rather 70s decor, yet clean and functional. A great benefit was that each little 2 bed chalet is freestanding, meaning the dreaded noise transfer of some motels and hotels does not exist. Our welcome, from the new Chinese owner, was polite and helpful. We were quite late arriving and he had stayed on in the office especially to greet and settle us in. Tammy is not a cold weather person despite being born in Otorohanga, so it was a very brief outside comfort walk before we all retired for a sound night's sleep.
We were pleasantly surprised next morning to be greeted with bluish skies - definitely a promise of a good day ahead. Heading down to the village in the California in search of breakfast with the exterior temperature indicator hitting 1C, our possum fur garments came into their own. We had heard good reports about The Powerhouse Cafe in Jacks Pass Rd so this was our breakfast venue. So busy at 8:30am, we were lucky to get the 2nd to last table. The Powerhouse building is a solid, poured concrete, ex hydro electric station, the walls being nearly a foot thick and the stylish metal windows allowing plenty of morning light to flood in. A great cafe venue with in and out seating options. Some later arrivals only had the outdoor options and with the clear skies equalling low temperature we sympathised. Friendly, efficient staff was more than matched by perfect poached and scrambled eggs with crisp bacon and delicious full crema long blacks. Even the decaf had decent crema - not easy to achieve.
Across Jacks Pass Rd from The Powerhouse is the now disused Queen Mary hospital and nurses home, originally established in 1897 as a sanitorium where patients could stay while 'taking the waters' at the nearby hot springs. The 'Soldiers' block' was established in 1918 and treated 1st World War returned soldiers suffering shell shock and mental disorders. From 1921 into the 1940s the hospital operated under the Department of Health auspices with a separate womens' block opening in 1926. From the mid 40s the Queen Mary focused on the treatment of nervous disease and it became apparent that many of these patients were alcoholics so the hospital programmes reorientated to this specialty. In the following years these programmes continued and expanded until the early 90s when Health Service cutbacks took their toll. From this time until 2003 various drug and addiction programmes were privately run which then had to cease due to funding issues. Various sale proposals and petitions were discussed and presented until in 2008 the local council and the NZ Government made an agreement which secured the hospital and grounds in public ownership. The Queen Mary Reserve Trust Inc website is now asking us, the community at large, what beneficial uses could be made of these iconic buildings and beautiful grounds. Hopefully some worthwhile proposals will come forth to breath new life into this historic place. The garden layout is outstanding with mature orchards, rose gardens and chestnut groves - our walk through, showed up some areas in need of renovation but mostly holding their own. Mature plantings such as these are precious and cannot easily be recreated so preservation is not an option, but essential. There's a gracious tranquility attached to the virtually abandoned facility and the ghosts of Queen Mary, dominated our conversation as we sampled a cafe on the main street. Tammy was happy now the sun was warming us up, the day improving dramatically.
We knew Marble Point winery was not too far away on the Christchurch road so this was to be our lunch venue. About 13kms south of Hanmer on SH7, we reached Marble point, spectacularly set above the Waiau river which takes a wide right angle turn just in front of the floor to ceiling sliding cafe doors, leading to a view across the river to distant snow peaks. The winery restaurant buildings are quite new with polished concrete floors and wine barrells fashioned into hanging lightfittings. A relaxing place to be, with friendly, competant service, it offers a menu as well as counter food. We chose light dishes to share from the menu, accompanied by Marble Point's pinot. We can recommend the chicken pie which was more than enough for sharing and their long blacks were very good too.
The day had dried up nicely so the Hanmer Conical Hill walk we wanted to take was possible. The walk entrance was a short distance from our motel. We were sure Tammy had memories of the long Picton Tirohanga walk which had finished in darkness, because in place of the great enthusiasum she had shown then, today there was a distinct reluctance. The Conical Hill track is quite wide and an easy to steep uphill grade as it crisscrosses the hill. However, you'd need good footwear if it was wet as the path looked as if it could be very slippery. At the top there is a little concrete pagoda style structure with lookout spaces at the 4 points of the compass. The beautiful 360 views are worth the climb. We reached the main road again with darkness falling quickly along with the temperature, near to zero.
It was a comfortable stay at Greenacres and we had very much enjoyed returning to Hanmer after quite a few years.
First order of the new day was another excellent Powerhouse breakfast - simply the best. Our destination was Blenheim for 1 night before taking the Interislander at 10:30 from Picton next day. A Port Puponga local had advised us - if it was a good day, to take the inland road to Kaikoura and see plenty rather than the semi coastal route and see nothing. The day was looking good so we took his advice, running south to Mouse Point then easterly through Rotherham and Waiau. Magnificent views of snow covered Mt Lyford and the inland Kaikoura Range are the jewels of this drive. A stop for a California Alessi coffee on the banks of the Conway river was a highlight. The road itself, although classed as secondary, is generally a good stress free drive with just a few twists and turns. The scenery and lack of other traffic were the big pluses.
Arriving at Kaikoura late lunchtime our mind was set on seeking out an eclectic Kaikoura lunch and 'boy' did we find it at the Pier Hotel at 1 Avoca St on the Kaikoura waterfront. This historic pub was established in 1885 and still retains those colonial charms. Our lunch of prawns and whitebait was brought to us on the side terrace where we could be with Tammy, while soaking up some welcome autumn sun, enjoying a clear view across the harbour. An Otago pinot and 2 very good long blacks completed the picture.
Kaikoura is all about it's coastal position and peninsula environment with the seal colony and whale and dolphin encounters it's main attractions. The seals obliged for us, several lying sunning themselves on the rocks near our lunch stop, but with no time to whale watch, it was back to SH 1 and the pretty coastal drive north. Seals are fascinating creatures and we got another chance to observe them just before Rakautara where we could see a number of large mature animals draped over the rocks. Coffee further on at the Kekerengu Store was a very nice experience with the close seaside location, immaculate grounds and outside terraces conveying a Balinese ambience.
The highway cuts inland now through Ward and on to the solar saltworks at Grassmere, then only 25kms to Blenheim where we pulled into our last South Island night at the Middle Park motel Renwick just on 6pm. Not modern but comfortable and clean. Needing to be at the Interislander terminal by 9:30 in the morning we were away at 8:00am, with an easy 20km drive through to Picton where we had enough time for a Cortado breakfast. The weather was perfect and the breakfast just as good as the start of our trip here 2 weeks ago. This time, we were right on time at the Interislander, not like coming south when we nearly lost our place to standbys.
We had quite a boring wait on limited outside seating next to the marshalling area, as Tammy was not keen on a walk with all the noise from heavy vehicles and locomotives. We did eventually get her to a comfort stop at the furtherest and quietest point of the grassed area. Finally it was our turn to board - up the ramp, around the car deck to our spot which today was further removed from the exhaust fans and overall seemed quieter. The ferry was only about 60% full which meant Tammy was much less nervous and we were happier than last time to leave her comfortably in the California - CD playing, treats and water on hand. The crossing was calm until the Wellington Heads where a very strong gale arose making it difficult to stand on the upper deck. The sea hadn't risen much so the 'Aratere' remained quite stable and we were soon past this part of the voyage and well inside the harbour lee. However, we heard the next day that the ferry had to turn back on it's southbound voyage due to very high winds. Weren't we lucky ! This time, on our return to the California Tammy was asleep in her bed, treats eaten so she had had a better Interislander experience this crossing. For next time we would avoid crossing on a weekend or holiday as it was obviously the noise of a full vehicle deck which had been the main cause of her southbound nervousness.
An uneventful run up to Wanganui, our stop for the night. One break for coffee near Otaki at River Cottage was a very pleasant 1/2 hour then non stop to Wanganui's Acacia Lodge. We had booked here because Tammy was welcome. It wasn't expensive but it was badly in need of updating. Apart from the OK bedlinen it's drab and damp and the carpet is old and stained. There were ominous warnings posted on the wall about leaving a heater or your electric blanket on in the night, or when out of the unit - you may be charged extra for the power. We had never heard of such a thing and our advice is - don't stay here. After dinner we nearly decided not to return and instead drive north into the night but tiredness soon cancelled this notion. Our Wanganui dinner at Elements on Victoria was excellent and we could forget the awful Acacia for a couple of hours. Sleep mainly eluded us through the night and we were away bright and early happy to say 'goodbye Acacia Lodge'.
Wanganui otherwise is a very interesting heritage town with lots of early 20th century buildings mainly in Victoria Avenue and along the river. We had a mean breakfast at Halo - our toast and jam order was two very small thin baguette slices with little more than a teaspoon of jam, which was a disappointment as a few years ago this was a great cafe. On the last leg of our journey now, breaking at The Brown Sugar in Taihape and The French Cafe in Taupo - both excellent and home in Mt Eden by 6:30pm. Although sad that our South Island west coast journey had come to an end our New Zealand travels are far from over and the South will be calling us again before too long.