We are going to the West Coast for 2 nights and decide to have an extra night on the way there.
1. Maruia Springs.
Ali is driving us there and the closer we get the worse the weather becomes, it starts off rain, then heavier rain, then snow, on a windy road that climbs higher. We end up driving at less than 50 kmh as the road looks icier too. We arrive slowly in fading light.
Natural hot springs arise in the Lewis Pass between the two coasts. Historically on the site there has been several incarnations of a “spa”. The first time I went there it was a big rundown concrete pool and a rundown beery old pub. It is now owned by a Japanese family who have turned it into a Japanese style resort. A strange mix of the old place and a new place.
The old concrete pool got converted into a Japanese Bath House
I have booked a room that costs $179 per night but get an off-season rate of $159. When we check in we are told that we can have the room for $119 and get that lovely Japanese smile. We also book the private hot pool for $27 and are asked what time we would like dinner. In the room we find a sheet with recommended instructions on how long between soaking in the pool and eating dinner and how much water to drink and how often. I nip up to reception and get a basket that contains a pair of kimonos and 2 sets of those clunky sandals.
It is bloody cold outside now and we toddle across to the private pool. We settle in the hot water and open the sliding window and can immediately hear the river rushing past. Sheer Bliss. Between us and the freezing outside world is a just screen to keep the sandflies out and it was too cold for them.
We get out and go up for dinner in the Japanese dining room. It is very red and black, big and almost empty and a little cold, it feels like it is normally packed but not right now. It would be easy to imagine that we have been snowed in for days. There are red blankets on the back of each chair. In the corner, where you can’t quite see it, is one of those pianos that play themselves. The keys go up and down on their own. Weird and not exactly the first thing that springs to mind for a Japanese restaurant but it adds to the odd atmosphere of the place.
At the next table are two men, one aged in his 50’s and the other in his 20’s. They both sit there playing with their iPhones even though there is no signal here. In fact, in our room is a notice saying that Police, Fire Brigade and Ambulance are 2 hours away “and so to ensure stay safe and well”! Eventually they realise there is no signal and ask for the wireless internet code. The Japanese waitress comes back with a piece of paper and the younger one spends several minutes fiddling until he eventually picks up both phones and leaves the restaurant. He returns shortly and they resume fiddling with their phones.
I read a thing recently that said that a mobile phone is like a penis, what you do on your own is your affair but you really shouldn’t play with it at the dining table. Obviously these guys hadn’t come across this. We were trying to work out the relationship between them, as you do. We figured that they weren’t father and son but couldn’t get beyond that. Eventually their meals arrived and they did actually say a few words to each other but once the food was gone it was phone time again.
We had the Japanese Hot Pot which was a gas ring with a bloogy great metal pot of boiling chilli miso soup on top which was filled with huge chunks of salmon, white fish, prawns, scallops and vegetables. Simply beautiful elegant food.
We get up in the morning to clear blue skies and sunshine. We drive to Greymouth.
But on the way we stop to look at the concrete wall on the great Alpine Fault. The Alpine Fault has slipped on 4 occasions in the last 1000 years and we are now long overdue for the next one. Make no mistake, when the Alpine Fault goes it will make the all Christchurch Quakes look like slight tremors. In 1964 there ewas some debate as to whether the fault gradually slipped or just let go in one humungous event. To find out one Frank Evison built a sectional concrete wall right across the Alpine Fault.
The idea being that if the fault slipped you would see that the sections on one side no longer lined up the secctions on the other side. Since 1964 that wall has remained absolutely straight.
We also stop along the way to take in some of the sights that the West Coast is renown for. Note the camo shirt!
2. 2 Dinners in Greymouth.
The Union Hotel
Coasters (as they are called) are a race unto themselves. They are proud, difficult, argumentative, independent and sometimes welcoming. We book into our motel to find a welcome. It is clean, large and very good. We offload our gear then go for a drive up the coast as we have a plan for the next day but more on that later. At the end of the day we are looking for somewhere to eat. I check the online reviews and find one for a place that offers remarkably cheap meals and has a few good reviews. It says don’t be put off by the appearance of the place. And so we go to the Union Hotel.
It is like we just went back in time to the 1940’s and the decor was old even then. It is filled with people who are variations of old, fat, badly dressed, missing teeth, simple and by and large happy. It feels good even though it looks anything but. Everyone is eating from plates heaped with food. Behind the counter are some pretty tough looking women who smile and help us choose dinner. These women are what you could respectfully call “the salt of the earth” but you would NOT want to upset them. They are warm, welcoming and cheerful in a way that reminds me of some of my long dead aunties.
We eat 2 huge dinners and then I see the Dessert Menu. First of all it has 14 items which is really 12 items but 2 have a small and large option. Then at the bottom it says “Desserts will vary from day to day” so I ask one of the ladies if that means that some days there isn’t sticky date pudding? or does it mean that there is sticky date pudding every day but some days it is better than others? She say that today is a good day for sticky date pudding and just looks at me….then she smiles a toothy smile and asks “cream or ice cream?” and I say both.
The Railway Hotel.
Once again the reviews say do not be put off by the appearance, “just walk through the betting shop, past the pokies and into the carvery”. They only thing they missed was the bit about walking past the bar full of leery old men.
So we did and there was this very modern minimalisticly syled restaurant. Surprised! you could say that. Ali had the Seafood Platter which consisted of half a Crayfish (fresh from Bluff), Snapper, Oysters, Mussels and Tempura Vegetables in an “Asian” sauce. I had the Fish and Chips, it came in a bucket. The fish was so light you’d think they’d been snatched from the very air. I kid you not. I could probably find something to moan about but not after food like this.
3. The Ballroom Overhang.
I’d heard about this for many years but never knew where it was. I told the people at work that we were going to the West Coast for a few days and Tony (who has probably only been in the office for 4 days in the last 4 years) said to me, “Are you going to the Ballroom Overhang?”. He then told me that that was its name and to look it up. And so I did and that was the plan.
It is about 6km from the coast up the Fox River. Rated as a 5 hour return walk. That first day in Greymouth we went up to Punakaiki and asked at the tourist office about this walk. We were told that it involved crossing the river and that you should not do it if the river was miscoloured or running fast or rain was expected as the river could rise very quickly. They said that it was an easy walk and there were 4 river crossings and that the water was only knee deep.
So we went up to the Fox River and looked at it. There had been several days of rain just before we got there so it sounded iffy. The Fox River was as clear as glass and what was “running fast?” we had nothing to compare it to. The forecast was for sunny days so we decided to come back the next day prepared to do the walk but only after looking at the river again.
The next morning we left the car park at 10:45am and walked along the track. Bear in mind that neither of us normally do stuff like this and we were both apprehensive about the whole venture. We had brought spare shoes for walking across the river so we could keep a dry pair for the bulk of the walking. The first river crossing was the worst in that we were both very unsure about it but we hung on to each other and worked our way across the this fast flowing river. The second crossing was immediately after the first but this time it was much wider and faster and deeper. When they said knee deep I should have asked what knees? human?, horse? or giraffe?.
Basically were were going up a limestone gorge with very high steep sides.
The track switched from one side of the river to the other. The walk after the second crossing was up and down over a muddy track that climbed then dropped rather frequently. By the time we had made the third crossing we were pretty wet and the water was so bloody cold that our legs and feet were completely numb. I decided to just keep the wet shoes on. The walk between the third and fourth river crossing was different. It went up and down over the same muddy stuff but it was interspersed with stretches of moss covered limestone that made ice seem like glue, it was also much longer than the other stretches.
The thing was, the further we got into the walk, we had put so much energy into it and were so wet, that it seemed better to just continue and get it over with rather that turn back. If that sounds defeatist it was certainly how we felt at that point in time. Even though I was very wary that one slip could break a leg while being miles up a shitty track. What was worse, was that after the 7th river crossing we still weren’t there and by now we really were very wet. If my knees came up to my balls you could call it knee deep.
Finally after 11 crossings we actually see it but what you cannot see from this pic is that there is yet another crossing to go and just how big the overhang is, the small trees underneath it at the front are about 8 or 9 feet tall.
By the time we actually got there we had made 12 crossings. I had rubbed the skin off my heels but couldn’t feel anything from my knees downwards. Ali looked like she had showered in her clothes then jumped into the river. The upside was that we were in this huge sculpted limestone valley that was simply stunning and we actually made it to the Ballroom Overhang!
It was rather impressive after all. We checked the watch and it had taken us almost exactly 2.5 hours. We sat down to wash the sand and gravel out of our shoes then we turned round for the walk back. I put the socks back on so that my rubbed red heels never got any worse.
The worse crossing was where the Fox River meets the Dilemma Creek Gorge, that was where the water was both the deepest and most difficult to cross.
It doesn’t look like much but there were 4 river crossings within 50 metres of this place.
We were cold and tired and very, very wet. I was also aware, when we got to the long slippery stretch, that the sun had slipped away from the gorge and the temperature was dropping fast, we were tired and we really did not want to be up this creek when it started to get dark.
In theory we had plenty of time but we were tired and very, very, wet now. But we hurried up and counted the crossings on the way back and by the time we got to 22 we had got pretty good at crossing this particular river.
We got back to the car park, the car was still there and we felt bloody shattered but elated, we had made it! We both said that it was an amazing achievement for first timers like ourselves and that we never wanted to do anything like that ever again.