Day 156: On The Road Again

Wed. 16th January 2013

It could all go badly wrong!Some people might say that it is a sign that not much happened today if I have to lead with a two day old photo (that Janet had initially rejected) of Kiwis spelling out the bad things that could happen to you. I couldn’t possibly comment. As we’ve previously said, they seem to tell it like it is here. (You can just about make out Franz Josef Glacier in the background).

Single track road carved out of rockToday we are leaving the west coast (Westland) and heading for the north coast (of South Island). Hopefully, when we get north of the Southern Alps the weather will improve. We have been told that the rain is due to the hot air from Australia picking up moisture  as it crosses the Tasman Sea and then dropping it as rain as it cools because it is forced up over the Southern Alps. Whatever, we keep hoping that the weather tomorrow will be better. However, once again we were woken by the patter of rain on the van roof.

Didn't go on this eitherOur route takes us up alongside the Buller River up to the Buller Gorge. We are on State Highway SH6 – i.e. one of the main roads and again it is all single carriageway road with a surprising number of single lane bridges. In one case, there is a single lane carved (blasted) out of the rock that forms a sheer cliff face falling into the river. We can understand the need for single lane on that one.

The longest swingbridge in New Zealand - confirmed to be swingy!At Buller Gorge, there is a tourist site – New Zealand’s longest swingbridge (they mean suspension bridge) and canyon jet boat rides. The latter has a testimonial quote saying that it is ‘three times better than Shotover’. It turns out that that is immaterial as it isn’t running this morning as the river is too flooded (where have I heard that before?) We do take the time to cross on the swingbridge and to take the short walk on the far side. Good views of the canyon and the river interspersed with some signs explaining some of the local history.

Water channel used by the gold minersThis is old gold mining country and also the epicentre of an earthquake that struck in 1929 – the two are connected as the ground shifted (vertically) by up to 4.5m along the fault line exposing new seams that renewed interest in mining. The last commercial mine closed down as late as the 1980s. We, however, turn down the opportunity to try our hands at panning for gold. We’ll have to find some other way of paying for our trip!

The end of the Southern AlpsWe must be getting better at driving as we have covered something close to 550km over the last couple of days – we are still stopping at frequent intervals to see the sights and the views from the signposted lookout points. Its encouraging that we not jaded and not (too) put off by the weather. The viewpoint on the top of the pass as we cross out of the Southern Alps is typical – though it takes us a minute to spot that we have left the snow-capped mountains behind us. On this occasion it is a 360 degree view for miles in every direction.

Watercourse leading to the original dam for NelsonAs we get close to Nelson, we have a bit of a the WiFi dilemma. One of the possible campsites advertises free WiFi. This is attractive, initially, because we want to make a few Skype calls and I’m not sure about whether it would work (or consume too much of my data allowance) using the 3G internet over the phone. However, one of the things that we have found is that free WiFi tends to be poor WiFi – you can’t really complain about the quality of something that is free.

Fantail birdIn the end we opt for a site on the outskirts of Nelson with chargeable WiFi (NZ$10 for a day) as it is situated in a nature reserve and has some walks and cycle paths nearby. The varied selection of insect bites I have accumulated over the last couple of days are a reminder that we need to spray up before we head out. It turns out that the sand flies aren’t the only pests. As we walk along the path that follows the watercourse up to the site of the original weir put in to provide the township of Nelson with water, we pass many animal traps (along with signs warning us not to touch them). We assume that they are for Possums – protected in Australia (from where they were introduced) but regarded as malevolent pests here in NZ.

So, today was quite an uneventful day – a lot of driving, not always being able to do the activities that we want and having to keep an eye on the weather. However, it was still a great day – seeing the fantastic countryside and learning a little more about the history of the country. We know we are very lucky to be doing this trip and even on the quiet days, we love every minute.

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