Today we planned to drive down the west coast road from Carters Beach (nr. Westport) to Franz Josef Glacier Township. There was an initially threateningly black cloud bank above us but this cleared to sunny intervals as the morning progressed. [I’m auditioning for a job as a weather forecaster.]
This coast road is breath-taking. Much is made (by Americans) of the California coast road south of San Francisco (California 101?) but let me tell you that this New Zealand equivalent knocks it into a cocked hat.
Our first tourist stop was at Punakaiki – Pancake Rocks. There’re blowholes here given the right tide conditions, which we didn’t have, but the interesting thing for those who find rocks interesting [not me – no heart beat] is that the rocks look like a stacks of pancakes. Maple syrup sir? I think this is to do with multiple sedimentary layers and erosion but don’t quote me. They do look fascinating in an inanimate sort of way, though. Francine clicked away while I followed along.
‘T was time for a coffee. Outside the Department of Conservation Reserve of Pancake Rocks is what looks like the inevitable tourist trap conglomeration of businesses; gift shops and the like. One of the likes was a café. I was prepared to pay top tourist dollar for a reviving cappuccino but, to my surprise in this captive market of swarming tourists, our coffees were what, it seems, is the standard price for a cappuccino, NZ$4.50. the coffee is both good – cappuccinos are often a double shot by default – and good value.
The lack of captive market mark-up does not apply to fuel, we had read. We were advised to fill up in Greymouth, our next landmark, because fuel prices rose to rip-off levels in the more remote points further south. We complied. Greymouth also marked a change in scenery. Francine described the hedges beyond here, seemingly sculpted by the on shore wind, as cloud hedges, poetic old thing that she is.
We made a late lunchtime stop at Hokitika [pronounced Hoe-ki-tikka], largely because it is the centre of a whitebait industry and, like the green-lipped mussels, it would be rude not to try some. The standard method of preparation is as a “patty”. We picked a cafe and ordered a “whitebait sammy” (white bread sandwich) each which, when they turned up, consisted of a whitebait fritter – lots of small fish in beaten egg. This, I assume, is the patty. Whatever it was, frankly all I could really taste was the egg and not the fish. Pleasant enough but, rather like the mussels, a little disappointing.
Now to the most interesting part of our day’s journey for me. In New Zealand many of the road bridges are one lane bridges where it is sometimes necessary to wait for opposing traffic already on the bridge to clear it before proceeding. We joined a small queue waiting to gain access to a single lane bridge. The wrinkle here was that the one lane bridge was a shared road and rail bridge; both cars and trains ran across the same bridge. Eventually oncoming traffic cleared and we were able to proceed, sans train.
Further on, an even more interesting arrangement was encountered. A convoluted road sign showed a line drawing of a roundabout with a rail line running right through the middle of it. We were in luck. As we approached behind a handful of cars who, happily, seemed to know what they were doing, lights began flashing and bells began ringing. The cars stopped half way around the roundabout as a goods train clattered by. Weird!
Traffic excitement over, we arrived in Franz Josef Glacier Township and checked in to what has been one of the better campsites so far.
Back to those fuel prices. On North Island, I had paid as little as NZ$1.11. Some stations, notably the BP stations, were more but NZ$1.15 was not unusual if one was careful. Having crossed to South Island, the basic fuel price seemed to have risen to NZ$1.45. In the more remote Franz Josef, the price rose to a whopping NZ$1.75. To be fair, the fuel does have to be shipped quite a distance along the more remote roads but that’ll be in tanker loads. 30c a litre seems like a steep mark-up.
We both much preferred today’s improvement in the weather.