Cheryll's Writing Journal

Musings, rants and ravings, plus gems of insight nobody wants to hear now that I've finally got them. Also neat stuff I found on the 'Net when I should have been updating this blog....

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Zealand - West Coast

Even on a rainy day, the West Coast is amazing, and reminds me of many spots along the Pacific Northwest coast of the US.  Same brush-clad cliffs plunging down to broken rocky coast lines and gravelly coves. There is both limestone/sandstone type rock strata carved by wind and water into fantastic shapes, and granite and basalt and other igneous layers and lumps scattered about.

This is the area where I first began to see just how strange NZ is. Up till now I could see so much that reminded me of other places I had lived or visited, but the West is the largest area of native flora and fauna remaining, and this place is truly weird!
Think of every dinosaur movie you've ever seen. Think jungle so thick that you can't walk through it in any kind of straight line. Think tree ferns.  Think DARK at night, especially on an overcast night.
That palm tree is about 60' tall, and those fern fronds about 8-10' long. The canopy wants to be up around 100'+, so you can't even see the sky through it. And even though this is a cool rain forest, and doesn't have a single native animal larger than a mosquito that's likely to bother us, it feels seriously different from anywhere else I've ever been.

Unlike the rain forests of Central America, or the swamps of Louisiana, where it seems like every living thing is out to have you for lunch, this place doesn't feel threatening so much as, well, indifferent. NZ has had humans living there only about 700 years, so my theory is that its native flora and fauna did not co-evolve with us.  There is no place for us in that eco-system.  No food, no shelter, no welcome. Even the Maoris brought their own edible plants and animals when they decided to stay.

We stayed at Te Nikau Resort, which is a couple miles down the ravines from the bus stop at Wild Coast Cafe
and is not exactly what might be called a resort in, say, Key West. It is a collection of idiosyncratic cabins scattered about in jungle so impenetrable that you can't see from one to another. Accommodations vary from dormitory that sleeps 9, to bunks, to the main lodge, where there are four bedrooms, a kitchen, dining, living room, laundry and little office space with a pair of computers for checking one's email.
This is, in fact, the loveliest honeymoon spot I can think of! There is a small pantry in the kitchen with a cup for cash purchases of things like eggs, tinned fruits and meats, cereal and juices (It's a looooooong walk back up to the Cafe and its mini grocery store). There is also bread or muffins available freshly made upon demand if you order a day in advance.  Whole grain, of course.

We decided this was actually a favorite spot for those who were weary of camping out or backpacking, but did not want to spend the big money that Punakaiki Resort would charge for hot tubs and sea views. It was not as inexpensive as the many hostels and homes that rent rooms, but it did have hot water and washing machines and very comfortable beds.
This is the view looking back up towards the road that led to the highway. It is also where I saw my first Weka.
These are a native flightless bird about the size of a small chicken, utterly fearless of humans, or anything else, and not inclined to move fast. Those two characteristics, we were to discover, mean they make up most road kill we saw. :(
  We explored as much of the area around Te Nikau as we could, always expecting to get rained on and not wanting to go too far afield.  The pathways to the various cabins and sheds were more like trails made by children: narrow, meandering and fun! Definitely not handicapped accessible. If you followed them far enough, they came out on one of the access tracks and had signs that pointed to the beach nearly a mile farther and almost 1000' below. We didn't know that, of course, so we went happily along till we hit the National Park Service trails, which were much wider and almost paved, especially out towards the water.
Some of the non-native fauna...
Park service used barks and limestone fines to try and keep the jungle out of the trails...
There are often borders sunk in the ground to hold in the fines, and ditches outside of those to handle runoff.  It rains here.
About two thirds of the way to the beach, the landscape becomes salt tolerant and the rain forest disappears. Not that we could see the water, though, because New Zealand flax is the native sea coast ecosystem...about 6 or 7 feet tall! And so packed together that even the Weka's can't walk through it. I did notice that some of the rain forest underbrush would squish in among the flax bowls, but it never rose above where the coastal breeze would prune it. And as we neared the ocean, it was only flax and assorted mosses.
Here's view is from the highway, looking down about 1500 feet. It is from an aborted hike towards Pancake Rocks trailhead, which the signs did not mention was actually about 4 miles away, by the time you added in all the twists and turns and hills in the road. And then it would be another long walk down from the trailhead to the water (and then back up again!). After a mile and a half (in addition to the two miles we had already walked to and from the beach) of puffing we gave up and went back to Te Nikau. Husband got some great pix, however. Check them out on his Flickr! site. Scroll through his galleries to the one's he has labeled New Zealand Trip.

This whole area is just stunningly beautiful, even on an overcast day. And the park paths are well maintained, but unmarked. You need to do your homework and are obviously expected to use good sense and know where you are. For instance, the last 50 yards to the water in the cove is of steps cut into the sandstone -- with no handrails. There is one small sign warning that when the tide is in and the mossy rocks are wet, it can be dangerously slippery. The fall from those rocks is about 20 feet into surf and there is a sharp undertow. But other than that, Kiwis apparently figure people can take care of themselves. And it might be true, since you have to be in pretty good physical shape just to walk down to those rocks in the first place!

I wanted to stay on the West Coast much longer! The lodge was so comfortable and the young people traveling through on their various Gap Year adventures all had great stories to tell. There were so many interesting looking trails to explore, and it would have been fun to take a picnic down to the coves. And we didn't get to see the pancake rocks (3 miles walk up and down about 2500 feet of elevation) although we did have a small blowhole right beside the slippery rocks...

And besides, the pukekos were flashing their white bums at us, daring us to play tag...



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