New Zealand – March 8, 2016

And it’s drizzling as we leave Westport.

Let’s find us some flat whites and kiss this one-horse town good-bye. The rain picks up and soon it’s coming down insistently, wipers at half speed. Route Six rolls out flat and level long enough for me to get used to the wet and then it’s twisty craziness time again. One-lane bridges, some half a kilometer long. One blind 25kph turn after another. Logging trucks. They throw everything they’ve got at me.

The two of us have been looking forward to seeing the Pancake Rocks, but most especially, the adjoining Blowholes. We get there and it’s fucking pouring. After umbrella-ing it to the restrooms, we umbrella back to the car for our weatherproof windbreakers. The rocks and holes are a fifteen-minute walk through the spiky, seven-foot New Zealand flax and Seussian-looking wheki (the NZ tree fern, Dicksonia squarrosa). The intermittent crashing and booming of the surf and the sizzle as it retreats grows louder. Suddenly, we stand at a precipice, looking at the tops of limestone towers, indeed like stacks of very large pancakes, and down into complicated pools where the ocean batters and seethes and explodes in great spumey glory. This is an aria that the earth sings. We’re dripping now and our pants get wetter and wetter. A crack of pale blue appears low in the western sky. By the time we walk back to the Corolla, the rain has given up. We are damp, but very happy.

Greymouth, the next big town as we head south on Six, passes in a sprawl. Our goal is Hokitika, an old town much deflated from its magnificent gold rush heyday, now considerably revived. Its streets are wide and intersect in the middle with a grand clock tower in the central roundabout. We’ve seen this layout in many NZ cities. We are ostensibly stopping for lunch, but this is reputedly a good place to find well-wrought greenstone. There’s a natural criss-cross shopping circuit, down one side of the street and up the other, wending our way along the cardinal points. We poke our heads into every store. Nothing.

Jocelyn seems to have caught sight of something and I find myself following blindly. She turn to me, “We’re going to see a kiwi.” “There’s a kiwi here?” “Yes, Dad. A kiwi.” We enter another little naturalist museum/aquarium/zoo. And I see the kiwi with my little eye. It’s about the size of a chicken and, once my eyes adjust to the fake night, kinda adorable with its preposterous posture and all. They’re nocturnal creatures, so we force them to reverse their natural cycle for our pleasure. Still, a kiwi sighting is a kiwi sighting.

More wonders can be seen in the eel tank. There must be about thirty of these critters in various attitudes of eel repose. A sleeping eel is gross and a pack of them is whoa. One eel, a female called Grandma, is estimated to be 130 years old. We are also repulsed by the Axolotl, a large, blind, unpigmented, water-breathing newt.

We step into the Hokitika PO in hopes of scoring more Gandalf stamps. All sold out, but they do have plate blocks of glow-in-the-dark glowworm stamps. This is a prelude to the last stop in our quest for greenstone items, Tectonic Jade. We have great success. Joss finds a five-inch long piece in the shape of a needle and I a beautiful flower jade rectangle, beveled in an adze shape.

Late in the afternoon we enter Franz Josef village, which makes a first impression of being a ski town. We hope to take a hike on the glacier tomorrow.

 

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