After packing up our site at the River Inn we made our way to the northernmost point of the South Island, Farewell Spit. The spit is 27km sandbank that is constantly extended and reshaped by the sea. You can’t actually access the far end without some sort of special permission so we just went for a stroll along the more accessible part. It isn’t exactly the prettiest place in the world but it does feel like you are standing in raw nature and we were glad we had stopped by.It also turned out to be the driest part of the day so we were glad that we had taken advantage of a leg stretch in the relative dry. The rain was just starting to come down as we got back to the car and we were both a little bit sceptical about our next planned stop, being a beach, but it was supposed to be spectacular so we decided to give it whirl. When we pulled in to the carpark the rain seemed to have eased off slightly and there were plenty of other crazy people making their way to the beach so we rooted around for our waterproof jackets and braved the rain.
We were at Wharariki Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen, accessed rather incongruously via a 1km track across lush green farmland.The sand at Wharariki is pale grey and rises and falls in a giant playground of sand dunes.We had an all too short 5 minutes to run about like children before the rain ramped up to epic downpour proportions. We lingered for just a bit longer, because this is one beach that can be enjoyed in any weather, before making our way back along the track, completely soaked to the bone. Once back in the carpark, a complete change of clothes was required and this led to a rather awkward and uncomfortable contortionist act in the front seat with only a small amount of flashing our neighbours.Whararaki Beach is extremely remote, just south of Cape Farewell, and the access road runs along the coast. As we made our way back south the road became increasingly flooded, at one point there were ducks swimming across the road.Just to the left of the photograph is a body of water, the road was being reclaimed by the sea and we weren’t entirely sure if the shit car would make it through safely. We managed however and made for Collingwood where our Lonely Planet promised us a must-visit chocolate shop. Sadly, it never materialised and we were one of about six different cars driving up and down the road peering out through the drizzle attempting to find this place but it certainly wasn’t there. So, James made some sandwiches under the shelter of the car boot and we ate them sat in the front seat.
The rain stopped for four and a half minutes so we took advantage of the lull and took a short stroll around Pupu (Te Waikoropupū) Springs, a sacred Maori site on the outskirts of Takaka. The water is supposedly the third clearest water in the world and you could well believe it when you stood gazing down in to it, completely unable to judge the depth because of the clarity.You aren’t allowed to touch the water, let alone fish or swim, which is possibly why the rainbow trout felt so comfortable swimming lazily just below the surface. Although popular with tourists, it was a calm spot to watch the water bubbling up from the spring. Again this calm place was deceptive as water actually gushes up from the spring at a rate of 14,000 litres per second.
We were back in Takaka, which we had now passed through twice and Caro, in particular, was keen to stop and take a look around. Takaka is possibly the hippiest town in New Zealand with shops offering everything from dream catchers to DIY henna kits. Shoes are decidedly optional, dreadlocks are encouraged and sitting in groups on the grassy spaces, apparently doing nothing at all, is compulsory.Caro restocked on woven bracelets and we enjoyed a very relaxed stroll around town before making our way to that evening’s camping site, Tapawera Settles Motels and Campground. When we arrived we were warned, rather ominously, that a storm may hit but with a bit of luck it would miss us. We pitched the tent, got the shelter up and relaxed in the slightly scruffy but well stocked and friendly feeling kitchen / living area. We really liked this campground, James had to battle to get the tent pegs in to the ground but it was an absolute bargain, with free wifi, free tea and coffee and free herbs. We would also come to appreciate the extensive indoor communal space the following day.
It was raining fairly steadily when we clambered in to our sleeping bags and this escalated throughout the night to an outright torrent of water thundering on the roof of our NZD79 tent. Unsurprisingly, we both woke up at regular intervals throughout the night, partly because of the noise and partly because we were fairly worried about the tent flooding. We both felt the odd drip in the night and did the only sensible thing, shifted slightly and ignored it entirely.
It was one of those nights where every time you wake up, you just hope that it’s time to get up because sleeping has become stressful. It was about 6am when we clambered out in to the still pouring rain. The shelter was still standing and the tent was largely dry on the inside, which was impressive, because we were standing in a swamp. We grabbed the makings of breakfast, the laptop and our ipads, and hid in the communal area. One of our neighbours joined us in the kitchen and commented, with a wry smile, that we were damping, rather than camping.
The relentless rain did not let up so we bit the bullet and collapsed the tent and soaking shelter in to bin bags in an attempt to keep the remainder of our belongings dry. Slightly damp ourselves, we hit the road again towards Murchinson, where we were promised an eccentric local museum. Our plan was thwarted by the erratic opening hours and so, instead of culture, we went Buller Gorge to cross New Zealand’s longest swing bridge.You would think that this is an attraction with limited entertainment value and, granted, it didn’t occupy much time, but it was actually quite cool and included a 15 minute tour around some clapped out rusty farm machinery, so that was a bonus.
As the tent was soaking and it was still raining we decided we were in need of a bed inside for a night. We pulled in to Reefton and found a room at a converted trainee nurses lodging, The Old Nurses Home Guesthouse. The extensive guest house was really rather empty with only 3 other people in residence that night, so we took over the place with laundry and damp camping equipment hanging everywhere.The rain abated to a light mist for an hour or so and we ventured out for supplies and to have a quick look around. The town was rather subdued in the poor weather but still very pretty and they had taken advantage of their mining heritage in their town decoration.On returning to our abode we indulged in hot showers followed by multiple cups of tea whilst chatting to two ladies who were visiting Reefton for the first time as they had just learned that their grandfather was one of the town’s founders. We continued to have the run of the place and took advantage of a fully stocked kitchen to make risotto before claiming the living room, spreading our maps and books all over the floor and putting the Ashes on television. To Caro’s delight, Harry Potter was on later and we had one of our latest nights on tour with tea, chocolate and the Goblet of Fire.