The New Zealand Chronicles – Part 2

Part 1 of the New Zealand Chronicles can be accessed here.
Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, seasons here are inverted as compared to most other nations in the world. January is the season of peak summer. Temperatures are usually in the high thirties during this month. Back in India and Australia, summer mornings are balmy – hot even. Which is why, the next morning around 9 AM, when we wake up to a slight chill in the air, it confuses us momentarily but does nothing to hamper our plans. The next few days on our itinerary are about touring the west coast. Having checked out of our motel (more on motels soon!), off we go driving from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. 240 odd kilometers.

Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, New Zealand
Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast
Pamphlets picked up from the motel tell us that the drive through Arthur’s Pass is spectacular. Sure, we think, a tad skeptically. It’s their way of promoting tourism. Everything’s got to be spectacular.

A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth

But then, when we drive through it, we’re left spellbound. Driving on sinewy roads, magnificent scenic beauty creeps up on us every now and then, from behind mountains and beyond plains. Every few kilometers, there are detours – special trails for walking, hiking, biking and driving. Along the way, we take a detour and drive in to the riverfront – a section of the Waimakairi River – where there’s absolute solitude. Peace, calm and quiet.

A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth

I wonder aloud if the roads have been built that way intentionally – to keep paradise veiled until the last moment and then to spring it on us in such a way that we’re rendered speechless by the resplendence. It’s a powerful feeling – the serenity.

A dried up lake, along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
Once upon a time, glaciers ruled the earth.
There’s one more car there and no passengers. A biker on his bike, soaks in the view. You’ll find many similar locations in NZ – where there are no humans. Putting it in perspective – the population of the entire country – North AND South Islands put together is 4.4 million. The population of Mumbai alone is 20+ million. 
A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation – a detour along Arthur’s Pass.
About 300 meters away, a rope bridge calls out to us. On the other end of the bridge built over the river, are hiking trails which lead into the mountains. We see an elderly couple walk into the woods. And then our mistakes flaunt themselves in our faces! No walking shoes. No running shoes. What good are a pair of flip flops or formal shoes if you set out on a hiking trail! Dejected, we stroll along on the foot bridge. The scenery on both sides of the bridge are remarkably different. To the west, the river opens out in full splendor – a yawning gaping water body with no end in sight – shaping itself to the contours of the land masses around it. To the east, it reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Kerala backwaters – constrained water bodies with greenery on both sides. I almost imagine a house boat moored to the side. I love the west view, my husband loves the east! As usual. Some photography sessions later, we make our way back to the car and get on with the drive. 
The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
The east view – at a detour stop along Arthur’s pass
The first stop at Greymouth is for lunch and this time we stop at an Indian restaurant. Indian? Yes. The reason I need to pen this down here, is for a friend, who had recently written about her troubles finding good Indian vegetarian food abroad. Jaish, no food worries here! We find it surprising that every decently sized town seems to have an Indian restaurant. Strangely, New Zealand doesn’t seem to have enough Indians to warrant the number of Indian restaurants we find in NZ. We’re told Indian cuisine is a tourist favourite in that part of the world – liked and appreciated by Asians and non-Asians both. The fact thrills me! NZ vegetarian food has a lot of ‘Kumaras’ in it. Even road junctions are called Kumara. In Maori, it essentially means a sweet potato, which is a local delicacy. But there’s the usual menu too. Our plan is to drive south from here but the restaurateur suggests Punakaiki instead, about 50 kilometers in the north instead. 
Parked outside an Indian restaurant at Greymouth, New Zealand
Stopover for lunch – Greymouth
Ours is not a strict follow-a-checklist touristy plan, we do not have points to cover in a day and rush through everything. We have a fair idea of where we want to go, but we have time to be flexible as well. And so, taking his suggestion, we drive off to Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. 
Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki
As the name suggests, vertically compressed layers of huge rock formations formed over millions of years give the appearance of giant stacks of pancakes. And midst these rock formations, exist blowholes – huge holes through which the raw, powerful ocean is seen beneath. With high tide, the ocean rushes into the rock formations and with tremendous pressure comes gushing out of the blowholes almost like a volcano erupting. Waves continuously crash along the rocks, water and mist splashing at you every now and then and it is always windy. If you plan to visit, do carry a light spring jacket with you at all times. With the wind and tides playing games, weather shifts here can be quite unpredictable. The sides of the cliffs can be slippery and with constant erosion, quite risky too. But stick to the path, and this is not an experience you want to miss. 
Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki
The cold water and the mist make me crave for a cup of hot coffee. Resting at a nearby cafeteria, we chat for a while with the girl at the counter. She tells us that NZ, except for the four most populated cities, essentially shuts down once summers are over. Tourism drives most of these smaller towns and with no tourists, people here shift focus to other businesses – like farming, or international visits. She tells us NZ folks travel a lot – because NZ is a small nation and most people having grown in farming families quite content in themselves, they have this insane urge to travel and see the rest of the world. NZ youth take off for six months or more at a time, touring different nations as backpackers, getting odd jobs and soaking in the local flavor of the city they live in. I wonder what NZ people, with their pristine natural beauty, think of other cities and nations. And then I remind myself the grass is always greener on the other side. But as a friend had recently shared – If the grass is always greener on the other side, the water bill has got to be higher. 
The next destination on our itinerary is another 240 kilometers down south along the west coast. And so, after spending some more time along the rocks, we take off again, this time towards Fox Glacier. A real glacier? Yes. Not one, but two of them! Ice Age meets New Zealand. Click here for Part 3.  

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests – If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there’s no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 

I would love to hear your views!