Thursday 16 April 2015

Punakaiki- Pancakes & Blowholes

Continuing on with our journey down the Coast-

We left Westport just as the rain started to fall and it really hasn’t stopped much since. As the locals say- ‘you can’t have a rainforest without the rain’. But then I’ve also heard them complaining too!

I spotted this poem on a cafe wall which just about sums it up-
It rained and rained and rained
The average fall was well maintained
And when the tracks were simple bogs
It started raining cats and dogs
After a drought of half an hour
We had a most refreshing shower
And the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall
Next day but one was fairly dry
Save for one deluge from the sky
Which wetted the party to the skin
And then at last the rain set in
We’ve cursed it the odd day, but mostly we’ve just got on with it. Because we have no time frame it’s just a matter of sitting out the rainy days (great for catching up on blogs) and venturing out in between showers. One bonus is that we’ve had plenty of rain water to top up our drinking water containers and our house water tanks have been full to overflowing many times.

We made our way down the coast passing through some amazing coastal scenery- the bits we could see between downpours.

I kept reminding myself that we’ll be back this way someday before we bring this journey to an end. But there will be one beach that I’ll return to very soon- a very special beach that not too many people know about. I’m hoping I’ll visit it when we return to Greymouth after we’re finished with Hokitika (which, for those that are directionally challenged is south of Greymouth so we’ll be doubling back to Greymouth for a few days and then crossing over the Divide via Arthurs Pass).

Hokitika will be as far south as we’ll travel the West Coast this time- we'll come up from the bottom of the island to complete it later in the year. We need to get to Christchurch to have some servicing done before the onset of winter…..although I think we missed the memo that says it’s already started! There’s snow on them thar hills.

I’ve passed through Punakaiki twice in my lifetime stopping for a short visit both times, one I can’t remember and the second time was when David and I caught the TransAlpine train across to Greymouth from Christchurch about 17 years ago and then we headed north and over Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs for a short break. I can hardly remember that visit to Punakaiki either- just a few snippets here and there but one of them was the amount of Nikau Palms that lined the road- Punakaiki didn’t disappoint this time either.

There wasn't too much traffic on the road and when we did pass a vehicle it was mainly hire campervans, so it was a surprise to suddenly round a corner and find a lot of activity in the carparks and on the roadside as we passed the entrance to Punakaiki Rocks.  We’re definitely in tourist country now. We also had our first foreign tourist driver episode (which for my overseas readers has been a major issue in NZ over the summer) where a driver had stopped in the his tracks on a narrow winding section of the road and was backing up. Not pulling over to the left and waiting to do a U turn, just backing up, up a winding hill. Luckily we saw his reverse lights and were able to pull up well in advance. I gave him a polite smile as we passed.....yeah right!

We planned to stop at a CAP (costs apply parking), a NZMCA park over property in Punakaiki for a few nights and we found it just south of the Rocks and right beside the Punakaiki Resort. We were familiar with the resort, we stayed there not long after it opened and when it was known as the Punakaiki Eco Resort, now we were sharing the same beach. The CAP was a great place to stay, a large raised gravel area that had obviously been prepared for subdivision, very close to the blowhole & local walks, and with a wild west coast beach just through the flax bushes. It was just a pity it rained solid for 2 out of the 3 days we stayed, and rained on and off on the 3rd day. But we did get to witness a very impressive thunder storm and light show out over the ocean one night.

Of course our first visit had to be to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowhole at Dolomite Point, which are located just off the main highway at Punakaiki. The 20 minute loop walk starts out in native rainforest with many Nikau Palms before passing through dense flax and coastal vegetation as it nears the rugged coastline.

There are numerous formations and smaller blowholes in amongst the rocks before you get to the main iconic blowhole, Putai. This surge pool is called the Devil’s Cauldron and at high tide it lives up to its name as the waves gush in from the sea channel and break against the rock sides getting bigger and higher as the tide rises.

 From the information panel-
Looking like giant pancakes the unusual limestone formations were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.

The main attraction, is of course, Putai – the largest blowhole – where on stormy days the seawater swells upwards from the rocks in a giant wall of spray. Coinciding high tide with a westerly wind is the best time to visit the blowholes as then the water is forced through underneath the rocks and up into the blowholes producing huge plumes of sea water.

Today, it wasn’t quite high tide and there was no wind but the sea was still a little rough (from the storm overnight), so we managed to see a few reasonable blows.

The Chimney Pot Blowhole-

The walkways, railings, platforms and information panels have been very well done and I’m sure the many hundreds of visitors that walk the track every day, leave feeling they’ve seen an impressive and unique landscape and also learnt a little about how it was formed. Of course a good show by Putai would be the icing on the cake but I don’t think it’s totally necessary to be impressed by this spectacular coastline.

If you look closely, you can see our van parked up near the beach in the background of the photo on the top right. That’s how close we were to the Pancake Rocks.

After the blowholes the track carries on around the edge of the rocks and at one point disappears down through a narrow rocky gap before climbing up the other side….

…to a lookout point, looking north up the coast. It’s late afternoon and the sun makes a brief appearance….along with a rainbow over the top of the rainforest.

There is another well known walking track just up the road from the Pancake Rocks that is also well worth a visit. The Truman Track begins again in a beautiful sub-tropical rainforest of ferns, nikau palms & rimu trees with this coastal tarn (is there such a thing?) right beside the carpark.

As the track nears the coast it passes through dense coastal flax again before emerging onto a headland with stunning views up and down the coast. At this point my memory is jogged; I knew David & I had visited an area before, where we’d climbed down onto a beach underneath a cliff overhang- I thought it was back at the Rocks but that was clearly impossible when I saw how rugged that area was. This was the spot!

A stairway leads down the north side of the headland to a gravel beach with cliffs, caves, a waterfall, more amazing rock formations and what looks like an extinct blowhole. The beach is accessible only at low tide and even then it’s quite scary with the rough seas and crashing waves. I leave David in the cold wind, scanning the ocean for seabirds while I climb down over the boulders and under the tiny waterfalls that are dripping off the rocks above.

I want to take a photo of the waterfall that looks like it’s flowing out of the rock wall at the far end of the beach.

I take a few slow shutter shots to get a silky ribbon of water, but the wind is blowing hard and most of the shots have the water flow at a weird angle.

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