Today was a long driving day. We woke to sunny nice weather with clouds on the horizon, and relaxed in the sun before packing up for the road. We headed through Richmond and continued on south through the middle of the island, angling towards the west coast. It started to rain, and then pour, which made it easier to sit in the car for most of the day. After passing dozens and dozens of farm fields and mountains, driving along a deep river valley, we stopped for lunch at a nice rest area right on the emerald green flowing river. After another hour or two, we reached the dramatic west coast of the South Island.
The drive was certainly comparable to driving up the 1 in California around Big Sur. Huge jagged boulders and small islands dotted the coastline. The mountains were covered with tall fern trees, palms and other Dr Seuss looking plants. From the car, it looked like it should be hot and humid, like the landscape of the Big Island of Hawaii. However, once we did stop for a break, the wind was crisp and it felt more like it was in the high 50s instead of a tropical paradise. The surf was huge and messy, windy and sharky (from what we read). There were signs for penguin crossings since the rare blue penguin nests along this stretch of coast. We never were able to see one, no matter how many time Erich called almost every bird we saw a Blue Penguin.
As we headed down the coast, we came to Paparoa National Park and the Pancake Rocks. We were not expecting much at this extremely touristy stop, but were pleasantly surprised by how cool the rock formations looked. The short path winds along the windy ocean cliff with overlooks down into blowholes, surge pools where the ocean splashes in under a rock arch, and views of the famous pancake rocks. The rocks look just as they sound, with layer upon layer of thin blackish limestone rock piled up out of the sea. The vegetation was once again lush and tropical looking full of palms and ferns. Hundreds of sea bird circle the rock and made their homes on the rocks and and boulders out in over the water.
We did not get to stop for too long as we hoped to make it close to Westland National Park for the next day. Continuing through Greymouth, which was actually very gray and drizzling even thought their city tagline is "full of color," we found a
store called the Warehouse, which is similar to a Wal-Mart with a Costco look, and finally got the Lord of the Rings DVDs which I have still not seen. We figured since we've been passing so many filming locations (all noted on the map) that I should actually watch the movie!
Moving on to Hokutika, an old gold mining town on the water, we went out to Sunset Point to watch the sunset of course and to make some dinner. The beach was empty aside from a few fisherman, with big wind waves, and strewn with driftwood. We had decided to wait until dark so we would be able to go to the GlowWorm Grotto, a free dell where all of the glow worms light up after dusk. We had headlamps to walk the short trail up, and then we were surrounded by tiny blue lights on three sides. It looked almost as if someone had hung up light blue Christmas lights all over the walls. Some would move a bit, but they pretty much just stayed in place and lit up the walls of the cave.
It was worth the wait till dark to see them, but then we did have about a half hour drive down to a rest area where we stayed the night in Ferguson Bush Scenic Reserve.