New Zealand 2011 - Across the Southern Alps to Hamner Springs.

Wednesday, Apr 06, 2011 at 00:00


Wednesday 6th April
Hamner Springs.

Nestled beneath the Hamner range and Mount Isobel, Hamner Springs is one of those adventure type tourist towns that has the twofold advantage of being situated on magnificent thermal springs and only an hour and a half drive from Christchurch. Like so many other towns throughout NZ it thrives on providing everything for the adrenalin junky from cave rafting (WT???) through to Quad biking, jet boating and of course, bungy jumping. It also boasts New Zealand's premier thermal springs. It’s were we have chosen to spend the night and to inject a bit of our hard earned into the local economy tomorrow in the form of a spa visit.

Our day began some 300 kilometres to the west by the mist shrouded shores of Lake Mapourika. We had realised that one of the knobs on the oven had gone astray and we were unable to find it on the floor of the van. This meant it may have fallen out of the camper without being noticed. Hence we backtracked 12 km to Franz Joseph and checked out the car park and service station where we had last opened the vehicle doors. No luck. It remains a mystery although we believe it’s under the passengers seat and we can’t get access to look.

With that mission out of the way, we were headed north again on Highway 7 by 8.30 a.m. Skirting the coast our first destination of the day was to be Hokatika. The blacktop wound its way through picturesque forests interspaced with flat farming hinterland and green pastoral valleys. Gold and Coal were the staple of the top west coast as old towns like Ross attest. One of the small hamlets along the way had a bit of an Australian connection. Hari Hari's main claim to fame occurred on 7 January 1931 when Australian aviator Guy Menzies landed upside down in a swamp near the town, completing the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea.Menzies, who had left Sydney 11 hours and 45 minutes earlier, was aiming for Blenheim but had been blown off course and mistook a swamp for flat pasture suitable for landing. Despite the accident, he was unharmed. There is a monument to his feat and a replica plane in the main street of town.

The back drop to all of this are the snow capped ridges of the Southern Alps or “Ka Tiritiri o Te Moana” in the native tongue. Again, one had to control the urge to photograph the next best vista which occurred around every corner. Hokatika lies on a flat coastal strip and serves the local farming communities. The shopping centre is predominantly jewellery and souvenir stores specialising in jade, jade and...jade (or greenstone) oh and did I mention Paua and ruby rock? I was brave, stood tall and managed to retain my manhood despite being dragged through every bloody jewellery and souvenir shop in the town. As one of Vik’s work colleagues was born and raised here, we were under instructions to try the local delicacy, the Whitebait Pattie! Attending the local fish and chip shop, the aforementioned patty was ordered, and at $9.00 we were expecting something special. What we got was a largely egg and flour based ‘pancake’ mixed with a lot of little milky coloured whitebait. A strange sensation indeed to see all the little buggers staring at you out of the patty. Rather off-putting but delicious never the less. $9.00 was a bit rich though.

Forty kilometres further north along the coast is Greymouth, a larger metropolis spanning the Grey river and whose principal role is to support the local coal mining industry. Here we left the north bound Highway 6 for an easterly track on Highway 7. We followed the broad Grey River valley for 70 kilometres to Reefton, another historic mining town where we veered sharply to the south east and into the southern alps. Like most routes through the mountains, the engineers took advantage of the natural topography by following broad valleys where they could and narrow ones when circumstance dictated. From Reefton Hwy 7 follows the course of the Inanguliua River to the base of Mount Haast. The road is an excellent stretch of bitumen running through the Victoria Forest Park, a huge tract of pristine rainforest. About 18 km out of Reefton we pulled into the Rahu Scenic Reserve for lunch. Here a swing bridge crossed the river to provide the start of the walking track up to Big River. A very picturesque spot and a great place to camp if so inclined. Unfortunately for us we had to keep moving and contented ourselves with a short walk across the river and up the boardwalk on the other side.

Climbing around the edge of Mount Haast, the highway drops steeply into a broad glacial valley and the hamlet of Springs Junction. We continued past Maruia Springs thermal resort and into the Lewis Pass. The tree shrouded drive was magnificent and ended all too quickly as we entered the wide pastoral Hope and Waiau Valleys. These valley’s have been carved by erosion more than past glacial activity. The grey soil and sedimentary layers of loose stone are easily visible in huge worn cliffs where erosion and collapse is ever present. Sheep and cattle roamed the neatly fenced paddocks. Homesteads and fantastic old shearing sheds looked magnificent with their poplar clad driveways. The deciduous trees were changing colour to russet and gold. There was one fantastic view of an old red shearing shed with horses in the front paddock and russet and auburn coloured trees behind preparing for the winter drop.

We arrived at Hamner late in the afternoon and checked out the town, booking into the spa and then the Top 10 Tourist Park (NZ$38 per site). A load of washing and then the journal. It was somewhat ironic that after being charged $38 for the use of the facilities, we were expected to feed $1 coins into the BBQ. Best to go and fill the camp kitchen with smoke and sausage fat rather than use the’s included in the $38...but then kitchen utensils aren’t, strewth! After dinner we wandered up to the local hotel to sit in front of the fire, enjoy a dessert and chat to the locals before retiring for the night.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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