So far the South Island has been good to us. While the West Coast is famous for its rain, we were treated to perfectly sunny, crisp autumn days. In our three days exploring the area around Karamea, I saw more primary growth rainforest than anywhere else in the country so far. I loved being afforded a glimpse of what the entire country used to look like, and I was just about ready to pick one of the gnarled, mossy trees, build myself a little treehouse, and stay forever.
Aside from the giant granddaddy trees in Karamea, I loved the quirky town of just over 500 people, and how easy it was to find areas to freedom camp. Since it’s a little off the well-tread tourist path, most of the time we had the trails leading to limestone caves and arches all to ourselves. Because nothing can be perfect, the sand flies were next level. If I left the van door open for 30 seconds, I’d spend the next 30 minutes murdering a swarm of them, and the rest of the night itching.
From Karamea we continued south to Punakaiki. The area’s famous Pancake Rocks were just okay, but the climbing offered some killer views, plus a whole easy wall for me to remember how to lead. One of our nights there we reunited with friends from Christchurch for a beach bonfire. After so much time with just Gary, having other people to talk to was both weird and wonderful. The stars here have consistently amazed me, and that night was particularly breathtaking, without a cloud in sight.
After two days climbing around Punakaiki, my forearms were so sore I couldn’t even unscrew the lid on my water bottle without whimpering in pain. That night we camped in the tiny goldrush town of Ross, seemingly unchanged since its heyday. I soothed my sorrows with a couple pints at the only bar in town, before joining some of the locals for a Sunday roast. I’m a big fan, turns out I’m actually a meat and potatoes kind of gal.
On the food front otherwise, my love for flat whites is only growing stronger. I still haven’t found a soft spot for the ubiquitous meat pies, which is a shame because they’re probably the most economical meal we could buy. The highlight out here for me has been the sweets- I continue eating pavlovas every chance I get, each one somehow better than the last. A friend introduced me to ginger crunches, and now I can’t stop myself from buying one every time we pass a bakery. Gary has cut me off from buying anymore chocolatey delicious TimTams cookies at the grocery store, but even he can’t resist nabbing a bar of Whittaker’s, truly the best chocolate either one of us has ever eaten.
As we left the coast and cut inland, the streams began to turn a distinct, milky-blue from glacial runoff, and we began to see flashes of distant snow-capped peaks through the forest. Eventually we rounded a bend to find an impressive view of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. Unfortunately most of the roads around the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers had been washed away by recent rains, so we weren’t able to get up close and personal with the glaciers, but I still enjoyed them from a distance.
We spent our final night in the area out at the Welcome Flat Hut. The first half of the hike meanders along a wide expanse of river, and across several intimidating one person only suspension bridges. I got a little too confident with how quickly the first part of the hike went, wondering aloud why people had told us it was challenging, and had to eat my words as we slogged uphill for the last two hours, fueled by squares of Whittaker’s for morale. Luckily the hut’s main draw is some natural hot pools for resting your weary bones at the end of the 11 mile day. After an early dinner, we spent the evening soaking while watching the stars come out, totally relaxed. The next morning I almost ignored my alarm, but it was worth an early wake up to have the pools all to ourselves, watching as the first light slid like honey down the mountain tops.
From here we veer east up into the mountains for more of the same. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather gods keep being kind!