New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

Feeling myself dissolving into the sands of Maraharu, the endless blue horizon before me and the exotic delights of the Abel Tasman rainforest, I felt once more the pull of the road.

Dragging myself away, my heart full of a strange tranquility I had never known, I rejoined my odyssey…afterall, who knew what wonders might lie around the next corner?

I took the winding hill roads and said goodbye to the sun-kissed vineyards of the Nelson and Marlborough regions. Passing through the thick coastal rainforests I joined the main highway and turned south towards the wildness of the South Island’s craggy coastlines and mountain ranges. That is New Zealand’s beauty and its magic…the drama of its ever-changing landscapes. Nowhere on earth, do you have a country only the size of Britain and yet with such varied geology. White sandy beaches and deserted islands, tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountains, grasslands, fiordlands, moorland, temperate rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, giant sandhills…New Zealand has it all!

Leaving my rental car in Murchison, a small isolated town surrounded by towering hills in the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park, I took a cheap bus and followed the highway west towards the coast, feeling the temperature visibly cool. With so few roads, dictated by the mountainous landscape, so many places I passed through felt like frontier towns, places completely out of time.

I hit the coast just south of Westport. Here the State Highway hugged the shoreline like a ribboning snake, giving the most amazing views out to sea. Again, with nothing but the wild ocean for thousands of miles, you were instantly reminded of just how remote New Zealand is and just how beautiful.

With the impenetrable forests of the Paparoa National Park on my left and long stretches of wind-blown beaches on my right, the landscape grew evermore wild and evermore spectacular. Not being much of a coach passenger, I stopped off at the suitably named Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes of Punakaiki. A weird and wonderful natural geological formation of…well…pancake stacked rocks, perched right on the water’s edge!

After whiling away most of the day, scrabbling over the rocks and trying not to fall into one of the many gaping holes that opened up before you, I caught another bus and continued south, my eyes inextricably drawn to the far off snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

Trundling into Greymouth, the largest town I’d seen since leaving Nelson, I managed to find a lovely holiday cabin right on the beach, my base for the next few nights. Named after the mighty Grey River-Mawheranui, whose mouth Greymouth literally straddles, it was a strange sort of town. A mismatch somehow, of grey urban sprawl and border town with a dour kind of feel.

Nonetheless, my little beach hut was just the thing, going to sleep and waking with nothing but the sound of the waves! Utter bliss! Half the time I felt as if I had stumbled into Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or an Ingmar Bergman film, so hauntingly barren was the place!

Doing the touristy thing, I headed for the Kumara Junction and boarded a train on one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, the famous Arthur’s Pass. Linking Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch in the east, it bestrides the country and takes in the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. What a trip! Following the valley floors, with mountainous peaks rising either side, the train climbed and took us up to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, snaking its way through the lofty terrain, before plunging down to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.

I spent a few hours wandering the very civilised and surprisingly English feeling city of Christchurch, before boarding the train for the spectacular return journey. One incredible journey I’ll never forget…but the best was to come.

Spending a few lazy days beach combing and exploring the area I set off again and headed for Hokitika, famous for its greenstone or jade, determined to buy some locally carved jewelery. But always, the looming mountains of the Southern Alps were calling to me in a way I just couldn’t explain.

And so, hauling my backpack and picking up another rental car, I succumbed to the pull of the mountains and headed towards the Franz Josef glacier. Taking the state highway once more, as it left the coast and wound its way inland over rushing rivers, valley basins and beside beautiful lakes, I felt myself falling in love once more with the sheer unspoilt majesty of the landscape.

Reaching West Coast, the nearest settlement to the glacier, I found a cheap place to stay and started my next adventure…

It was a bright February morning. The sky was the kind of electric blue you never really believe is real somehow. A perfect day. Cold but full of sunshine and possibilities.

I took my car, a run-down automatic transmission thing, down to this little air field…and then I saw it. The tiniest aeroplane I had ever seen! My banged up jalopy looked bigger!

Without much regard, I climbed into the small seat beside the pilot and off we went! Soaring  above the lower slopes of the Southern Alps. Trying desperately not to vomit all over the cock-pit, I stared out of the window, nodding at the pilot’s remarks while I kept my mouth firmly shut! (doesn’t happen often)

Rivers snaked beneath us. As we flew over the snow-capped mountains, Mount Cook loomed in the distance – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. Utterly stunning in its grandeur. Nausea disappeared. I looked on in astonishment as we circled Mount Cook’s flanks. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. All I could think of was…”I’ve found it! I’ve found my White Mountain!”

We left Mount Cook, Aoraki in Maori, and landed on a pristine snow field just above the Franz Josef glacier. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

This was nature at its simplest and purest. Nothing but white and the startling blue above. The snow here had a covering of ice crystals which crunched beneath my feet as I left the plane and went walking. I followed the contours of the peaks around me and looked down to the glacier below with its gaping crevasses.

This was a once in a lifetime moment and the real stuff of magic.

With Mr. Agyk whispering in my head, the story of White Mountain began to unfold…

12 thoughts on “New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

  1. Kate Jack says:

    As usua, Sophie, I felt as if I was there. 😀

  2. Absolutely breathtaking!! 😀

  3. kimatsafkhet says:

    And I understand why you met Mr. Agyk there! Will and I keep meeting the most interesting and intriguing magical people in the vallaey we’re currently in! Ferries, pixies with mushroom hats, treants, giants,…

    • Lol! I’m not surprised. Whether it’s the clear air, the blue skies or simply the views…there’s just something very VERY magical about it and the people you meet are the same. Great to know you’re in White Mountain country though, watch out for Gralen’s low flying! 😀

  4. Kay Lynn says:

    Sophie, I love all these photos! They’re just breathtaking! And now I have another country to add to my already very long list of places to see before I die.
    In other news, I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Award! 🙂

    • Ha ha ha! I LOVE that, the Sunshine Award! Does that come with a badge or sash and crown type thing? Lol! Yes, I must say, I’ve travelled to a few places, I love Italy for instance and New York…but I’ve never been to a more magical place than New Zealand. Something about it just hits you in your soul, somehow. You MUST go one day and I’ll definitely return! ;D

      • Kay Lynn says:

        I’ve never been outside the US, and I haven’t even explored my own country as much as I’d like. Seymour and I have talked about pondhopping for our tenth anniversary and touring Ireland and the UK (he was in England when he was in college and naturally, I’d love to go and meet all you fine folks :D). I would love to see Europe and Asia and South America – well, I think you get the idea. 😉

  5. You will honey, you’ll make the trip and see all those places I have no doubt. When you visit the UK you must let us all know so we can have a mini AWB convention!
    The funny thing is, even though I’ve travelled a bit (and none of it recently), I too have never really travelled my own country…and it’s a lot smaller than yours so I have no excuse! I’ve been all over the south and the west country but I’ve never been to Scotland or over to the east, other than London. The problem is, we all have such busy hectic lives…but that doesn’t mean we won’t one day see all those dream places. For me (apart from New Zealand) I’d love to go to Tibet and Mongolia! 😀

  6. This was amazing! It would be hard not to be inspired by the images you created in this post. =) I can’t help but see Tolkien in the mountains, I have to admit. =P

    • Cheers Tamara! Yes, it was totally awe-inspiring. I remember at the time, thinking this would make a great Middle-Earth as well as my Fendellin. Little did I know, that a few years after my trip they did exactly that! How weird is that? 😀

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