The Third Pass

Our Greymouth morning dawned sunny and bright. I’d awoken once or twice during the night and lay there listening the soothing crashing of the Tasman Sea surf on the nearby shore. It soon lulled me back to sleep again.

We had an appointment in Christchurch on Saturday evening – Francine wants Sunday looking at Christchurch before the first leg of our flight home on Monday – so we had to make tracks back to the east. We’d take the third and final pass of the three in South Island, New Zealand, the Lewis Pass. I topped up Busby’s fuel tank for what will hopefully be the final time. [Sniff]

Our first stop in search of coffee was intended to be Reefton but we passed a beautiful looking spot of habitat just before getting there, a spot with the delightfully attractive name of Slab Hut Creek. Busby stopped to let us go odo-hunting. It was teeming, the star attraction being Aeshna brevistyla, New Zealand’s Hawker. It was only our second encounter and made a refreshing change from the usual three (Redcoats, Blue Dams and yellow-spotted Dragonfly).

_17C0171Coffee at last in Reefton, which calls itself the Town of Light. It looked like something out of the old west again and we sat on the street in the shade enjoying coffee and a salmon bagel. Call it breakfast. Town of Light seemed like a puzzling tag line until we discovered that this was an old gold mining town and was the first in New Zealand to offer electric lighting to customers, inhabitants of the town, in 1888.

The road out of Reefton is the road into the Lewis Pass. We began climbing gently through a wooded valley. The woodland continued all the way up to the top, lower than Arthur’s Pass but higher than the Haast Pass. The whole trip seemed to be through woodland so we tagged this the Wooded Pass. Although Arthur’s Pass may be the highest and most iconic/touristic, for us it was the least interesting. We prefer both the Haast and Lewis passes.

We paused for lunch at Marble Hill, which is actually a DOC campsite, and very pleasant it looked, too. Why do you find these places at the wrong time of day? No matter, there was some wetland and, yes, some odos. As we were just pulling out of our parking place a dragonfly came sniffing around Busby, first at Francine’s side window, then at her side of the windscreen. It was huge; it just had to be one the so-called Giants, New Zealand endemics. There are two very similar species, the Mountain Giant and the Bush Giant. Given the habitat, meadowland on the way to the summit of the Lewis Pass, I’d wondered if this could’ve been either. However, I’ve made e-friends with the author of the book on NZ Dragonflies who seems to think that the Lewis Pass habitat is that of the Bush Giant (Uropetala carovei). Who am I to argue? We stopped and search but, alas, our celebrity had disappeared. I was, of course, partly disappointed that there was no chance of a photo but I hadn’t been expecting to see one (very early in their flight season) and I had. Sad camper that I am, it was quite a thrill.

_17C0205J17_4771 Vertical sundewLiterally just over the un-dramatic summit of the Lewis Pass is the top section of the Saint James Walkway, a long distance footpath. This top area boasted an Alpine Nature Walk which naturally appealed to us nature lovers. Yes, there were some odos but perhaps most intriguing were what appeared to be some species of sundew plants. Actually, there were two but I was particularly intrigued by a vertical one. The scenery was pretty neat, too.

Our final descent into Hanmer Springs seemed bouncier and bumpier than the rest of the day. This is often the case, so perhaps it is actually that for a certain length of time one can cope with the shaking, rattling and rolling of Busby, but then a tipping point is reached and ones mind screams “enough”. it wasn’t a terribly long day at 220kms but it felt like it; we both felt drained and were ready to stop. A second factor was that the road seemed very busy (for New Zealand), particularly with heavies, most of which tow equally heavy trailers. The heavy traffic could well be because the Lewis Pass is the only remaining route north from Christchurch to places such as Nelson and the ferry at Picton.The normally more direct east coast road through Kaikura is unserviceable due to earthquake damage. In any event, feeling like a hot shower, we checked into the Top 10 site at Hanmer Springs.

It’s hot. Busby’s thermometer hit 28°C coming down out of the Lewis Pass today. Now we’re sitting in a shadeless, though pleasantly grassy and remote pitch, in Hanmer Springs with all Busby’s doors flung wide and the sunny-side curtains closed. We never expected New Zealand to be this hot at this time of year.

There are rumbles – maybe we’ll get cooled down yet.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes
2 comments on “The Third Pass
  1. BlasR says:

    Franco, you are definitely becoming a closet botanist.

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