We’ll continue driving from the west coast to the east coast of the South Island.
Our route took us through the small town of Reefton. It is another former gold-rush town (where they found an extensive gold-bearing quartz reef, hence the name).
If it looks and feels like the ‘wild west’ then you’re not far wrong.
Probably because the first gold was found in 1866, just after the Australian gold rushes started and not long after the Californian gold rush that opened up the American ‘wild west’. They all probably employed the same architects.
Because of the riches of the gold mines, and also the power of the nearby Inangahua River, the town was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to be connected to the electricity grid, courtesy of the Reefton Hydro Power Station.
The last big drive of our South Island trip was from the West Coast town of Westport to the East Coast city of Christchurch. We took the most direct route, through Lewis Pass.
Because I did most of the driving on the day, Hubby decided to document the day by taking lots of photos. It was a good thing he did because I was concentrating so much that I probably wouldn’t be able to recall much of the drive if it wasn’t for these photos. It also shows to you readers who haven’t been to New Zealand as yet what typical Kiwi road conditions look like. Now that the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand is up, some of you might be thinking about having a holiday across the ditch. I say, go ahead, but be aware first and don’t take on too much. It’s not like driving from Sydney to Melbourne down the motorway.
How different is it? Let’s start our journey.
The first section of the journey follows the very pretty Buller River.
The road is a typical Kiwi road, one lane each way. This gets even tighter in one section of the road, where it’s one lane full-stop, as the road has been hewn out of the cliff.
Now, with a single lane, you hope that there isn’t anything large passing the other way, like a double tanker.
Luckily that didn’t happen to us, however it didn’t mean that it wasn’t nerve-wrecking…
Some more moody coastal scenery from Pancake Rocks and the West Coast of NZ before we head back east.
For those who want to find out more of what it was like on the West Coast in the ‘bad old days’ then having a read of Booker Prize novel, The Luminaries or watching Jane Campion’s classic film, The Piano, would probably give you an idea.
One day trip we did on the West Coast is to drive an hour south of Westport to the village of Punakaiki. The drive down required a lot of concentration as the west coast road was very windy (aren’t they all?) but despite the bleak weather, I think it was worth the drive to see Pancake Rocks.
The rocks were quite unique in that the do look like pancakes. There’s of course a scientific explanation to all of this, and like most things geological it’s not the work of an instant.
Let’s continue exploring Denniston. Being on a plateau, a good 600 meters above the township of Waimangaroa and where the railway line stood, it took a bit of work to get the coal down to the trains for transport.
They had a few ways of getting down. There was the road, but that was not very efficient, being winding, narrow, unpaved and so very dangerous. So they built a cable railway straight down the hill that was eventually called the Denniston Incline.
Gravity would move the filled wagons down the hill and also pull any empty wagons back up.
You can probably tell that it wasn’t the safest of ways to transport a fully-laden coal wagon, especially when the wagon derails, which was rather quite often apparently. Since no adult wanted to lose their life down the hill, the ‘drivers’ of these wagons were often young boys of 12 or 13 years old.
Well, that’s all from Denniston. Mining is still going on in the area, but on a hill some 20km further north. I hope today they’ve got a less dangerous method of transportation.
The West Coast of the South Island was once the site of a gold rush. People came between 1864 and 1867, just after the gold in the Victorian gold fields started to run out. This place was pretty different to Central Victoria though (ie. It’s cold, wet, and a jungle).
When the gold ran out, people looked to mine other things, and coal was one of those things. On top of the plateau behind the village of Waimangaroa is the former mining town of Denniston.
The mine was worked from 1880 all the way to the 1960s. Nowadays, Denniston has been listed as a heritage site. A lot of the site is in ruins, but you can still tell a lot from the ruins.
There’s also plenty of signage to show how things were once.
We explored a big West Coast town in the last post, but what about the tiny ones? There are plenty of them to choose from. Many towns were founded because of mining, timber or sealing/whaling. Not a lot of agriculture was established because the terrain was very mountainous with dense forests. Even the Maori found it hard going here and generally only came to find their precious greenstone (a form of jade).
17km north of Westport is the hamlet of Waimangaroa (long black river), which refers to the peaty river that flows through the town.
It might be small, but their war memorial is central to the town.
The bush and the hills that back the town is not very hospitable, but we’ll head up the top there in future posts when we’ll check out a historical mining site.
13km further up the road is the hamlet of Granity, another mining town. There’s also some steep, forested hills backing this town.
The town is not without its facilities though, as this former-church-turned-library testifies. Rather cute, I think.
We left Golden Bay and headed for the wild West Coast. Although it is generally less than 50km as the crow flies from Golden Bay to the West Coast, this area is so rugged that there aren’t any roads through the area, though it’s great for real outdoor types. A famous walking/hiking/tramping track, the Heaphy, passes through here and though beautiful, I heard it’s not a Sunday stroll by any means.
So who dares to live on the wild west coast? Only the hardiest of Kiwis – it’s wild and woolly most of the time in the west. There are towns scattered throughout, though it doesn’t get much larger than Westport, population a touch under 5,000.
Like a lot of Kiwi towns, it has its share of art deco public buildings, as the older buildings were all destroyed in an earthquake in 1929. Earthquakes are a common theme in New Zealand.
Close to Westport is Cape Foulwind, named by Captain Cook, who didn’t have very a good time on the West Coast.
At least now there’s a lighthouse to warn people away from the dangerous coast.