Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Morning at the camp site

Crossing the Hokitika Bridge

A street scene in Shantytown

The steam train in Shantytown

Gold panning area

A house of ill repute

A view over Shantytown

A pair of tourists caught short

The beach at Hokitika

In Te Waipounamu jade shop

Lake Kaniere

Lake Kaniere from Hans Bay

Where is Julie Andrews?

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge


We awoke to a beautiful morning and our dining room window looked out over the lake side houses towards the snow capped mountains at the far end of Lake Brunner. Odd shaped clouds were drifting from right to left and we kept a careful watch so that we could nip out of the van and get the best picture. From our vantage point the lake had a lovely sheen to it but unfortunately when we drove down to the edge of the lake the same beautiful quality of water was missing. It was time to leave and Sylvia drove us south down the lovely valley towards route 73 which would take us back to the coast highway.

Today's plan is to visit Shantytown which is a reconstructed gold mining town within easy drive south of Greymouth. Just before reaching route 73 we decided to turn right and take the secondary road which would drive past part of the west side of Lake Brunner. This road soon narrowed and the surface changed from tarmac to gravel. The winding, some time hilly road was lined with New Zealand bush and we were glad we did not meet any oncoming vehicles.

After taking photographs at the lake side, the road continued in the same manner until we were once again going down a valley and passing the spot where the old township of 'Greenstone' stood. Now there is only one relatively new house. It was hard to believe that this was once the site of a large mining community which was one of several similar towns in this valley. The fields now have dairy herds or large groups of young cows; very few of the fields in the valleys have sheep in them. It was a very nice drive.

Once on the main coast road we were soon at Shantytown, but not before the unusual experience of crossing a multipurpose bridge. Many of the bridges here are single track and the road signs dictate which direction of traffic gives way to oncoming vehicles. On this road bridge there was a railway track; no prizes for guessing who was going to get first go if a train arrived.

The reconstructed buildings in Shantytown were interesting and some had been rescued from other areas and re-built. They were all looking nice and a far cry from the grime that must have covered them in their original state in the mining towns. After the obligatory ride on the steam train we walked the old miners trail through the bush back to the town buildings. This could have been a mistake as the route was wet and difficult, and my 'track' record of late has not been good. It was quite strange to think we were treading in the footsteps of history. There was another walk which took us up and round a hill where miners of yesteryear had dug their holes and re-routed the streams to pan for gold. I tried to put myself in the mood and contact the ghosts of the past but with no success.

Shantytown was an interesting place to visit and the staff were very friendly. Some of the visitors paid extra and panned for gold in the sluice troughs with a guaranteed success. We settled for a picture of us both on the communal loo, taken by the bar maid.

Our destination for the night was Hokitika, a town about 18 miles south. The camp site information recommended a beach walk of about 1 ½ miles to the river mouth to watch the sunset. We walked south along the cold beach, dodged the driftwood and watched the sun nearly set; the last bit was hidden behind clouds. The walk home was through the small town centre and along a residential road.

For hundreds of years Hokitika and its surrounding area, especially the Arahura River, have been nationally important as a source of pounamu, otherwise known as greenstone, NZ jade or nephrite. Pounamu can take an edge as tough as steel, and has a beauty all of its own. We had learned that some jade is imported from other countries such as Canada and China, and is passed off as genuine NZ jade. Some of the larger manufacturers have their craftsmen begin the styling of the jade ornaments, and then send the product to China for finishing and polishing. Our task was to find the authentic article.

We shopped in Te Waipounamu Jade. Whilst Sylvia browsed and admired the beautiful products I spoke with one of the owners Bill Doland. He told me he was a member of the Maori Ngai Tahu tribe which has guardianship of the pounamu under its authority. The tribe members can take any stones from the mountains which they can carry as long as it is for their own use. During our talk Bill told me of a visit from a man who asked him if he would like to be in 'The Lonely Planet' book. Bill told him he could sell his products without paying for advertising. He and his partner find their own pounamu, cut, carve and design all of their own products, and rely on their artistry and authenticity.

Our Lonely Planet Book describes this shop very favourable and notes the proprietors as being fiercely independent. Whilst at the shop we were looked after very well and I learned some of the Maori history of the area; I must find out more. Bill took a note of our e-mail address and promised to send us interesting details and Maori history regarding the type of pounamu we had purchased.

A scenic drive took up the rest of the day. First we drove to Lake Kaniere and after lunch drove up the north side of the lake. Part of our route was again along a stretch of road that prompted silent prayers that no vehicle would travel the opposite way. Sylvia later read that large vehicles should not travel along this road. The walks we had planned did not take place as there was no suitable parking for a seven metre motorhome. However we did visit a very nice waterfall and take a short walk to the lake side.

The route then took a zig zag course south to Hokitika Gorge and a swingbridge. The weather had been very good which afforded views of the snow topped mountains. Now we were driving very close to the mountains. One man told us he had taken visitors round this route for 5 years and today was the first time he had seen the top of one of the mountains. After another difficult narrow road to the gorge car park, we walked down to the gorge and marvelled at the colour of the water. Our photographs turned out great and still did not do justice to this beautiful area.

The colour of the glacier rivers is due to glaciers creating a sand paper effect which grinds rocks into 'flour' - fine silt that stays suspended in water, causing the milky look. This effect along with the stillness of the water, and the sunshine on the suspended particles made the gorge a beautiful place to be. On our way back to Hokitika we realised that after 4.30pm the quality of the sunshine diminishes; we were glad we had missed out on our earlier planned walks as we would not have seen the gorge at its best.

When we arrived back at the camp site we took a walk to suss out the 'Glow Worm Dell' which is only a few hundred yards from our van. This proved to be an upwards curving cul-de-sac which was totally encompassed by vegetation, providing a roof over the path. At 9.30pm we left our van and walked to Glow Worm Dell, and there they were. As our eyes adjusted we saw some glow worm lights and this intensified as we got away from the main road and further into the dell.

It could have been really romantic, even if it was a bit cold. Sylvia had our torch shining down at her feet. When she heard people coming from the inner reaches of the dell she turned off our torch; and then decided to stop. When I trod on the back of her ankle she was not pleased. Her cry made me startle and spring back which badly jarred my very badly bruised shoulder. I don't know what the other people in the dell thought of this but I don't think one glow worm bothered to put its light out.

Back at the van we decided the evening had been a success. I am not sure if this was because of the treat of visiting the glow worms or because we were still speaking.

Every day is a beautiful day and this one had been more beautiful than most.

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