I am once again in paradise — the west coast has been plagued by several weeks of gray weather, heavy rain, and storms, but I arrived to find it bathed in sunshine. After spending midday in Westport, walking around the town, resupplying (and checking out the Miner’s Brewery), I caught the Atomic Shuttle bus down the coast to a spot in the coastal jungle just 3 k north of Punakaiki park… and walked down the road to my hostel:
Te Nikau Retreat
What a magical place! My backpacker dorm, the Weka Lodge, is a red cottage perched on a ledge in the jungle, very simple, comprised of futon beds on platforms in a colorful, minimal space. Attached at the lower level is a sort of “greenhouse” — a glass-covered room with vines and herbs growing inside, with cement floors and a picnic table and benches, and a complete kitchen, with grapevines growing overhead in the rafters. Everything perfect and tidy! The dorm (and other cottages on the property) are reached by a winding path through a dense profusion of trees and vine, which make it quite cool, private, and mysterious. The rocky shoreline is an 8 minute walk away, via more winding paths which lead out to join the Truman Track, a short walk from the road to the coast which has been ranked by NZ tourists as one of the top scenic day hikes. It really is spectacular, dropping from jungle to manuka bush and then to NZ flax (the plant with sharp spear-like leaves that reminded me of agave). The shoreline is steeply carved limestone cliffs complete with waterfalls that drop down to a pocket beach below. The sea slams into the shoreline, booming and crashing in a way that lulled me to sleep last night (even with all the windows closed against sand flies). Today I hiked down to a cavern with glow-worms, and up to the visitor center, as I would like to see the rocks at low tide, by comparison.
Outside the visitor center cafe, giant tour buses pull up, disgorging dozens of stiff and vaguely carsick-looking travelers. Most are foreign tourists of my parent’s generation or older, and they sign up for package tours because it is nice to have someone else handle all the details of travel. Nevertheless, they become frustrated by the tight schedules. They have only about 15 minutes to look at the rocks if they also want to eat lunch — never mind that the buses don’t time their visits to the high tide, when the blowholes are visible. Sigh. “I wanted to hire a car” whispered the British woman I met in the line, as I waited to pay for my access to the computer. ” I don’t like looking sideways all the time, you know, but *he* (she points behind me to her husband who’s busy reading the menu) — *he* wouldn’t hear of it.”
Last night I walked along a short track that leads through the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track. I timed my visit for high tide — the best time to see the park, as the high tide and westerly swells and waves smash their volume of water up into the carved grottos and under-cut caves in the rock — which sends it inland further, ricocheting into caverns and sloshing up the eroded rock walls, or steaming skyward through blowhole faults in the rock. Later, back at Te Nikau, I walked down to the coast again, to watch the sunset as that great ball of fire that illuminates and sustains us dropped into the Tasman Sea.