Getting There: Abel Tasman to Greymouth

Imagine “Every day is a winding road…” by Sheryl Crow playing in your head whilst crossing what feels like the hundredth hill during an endless trip to the West Coast. Yep, that’s what it felt like to me.
Heidornmännchen discovering the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes of Punakaiki
The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes site in Punakaiki really is a very pretty scenic destination and also loads of fun thanks to the blowholes.

Alright, so for those of you who are not just following the blog but also keeping track of our whereabouts on our Instagram account, you may have noticed that we’ve built up some backlog over the past few days. You see, every now and then we give ourselves some down-time, just to recharge and catch up on some of the work that we still need to do during the trip.

And then there are some sections of our trip which are primarily made up of a whole lot of driving. Getting through New Zealand isn’t difficult, but the lack of major highway (or at least ones that have more than 1 lane in each direction) and the many hill or mountain crossings turn a relatively short distance into lengthy trips. We’ve got the time, so that’s fine. But it also means that you need to manage your journey a little more than we might be used to from back home.

I will keep this blog post relatively short, because there’s isn’t all too much to say. It was a long ride down from Abel Tasman to Greymouth. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It All Started With John

We were enjoying our breakfast on our camp site in Abel Tasman, when we struck up a conversation with John, a 70-year-old Aussie bus driver and seemingly the only non-European human in 5km radius. Thank goodness…a (sort of) local. Honestly, coolest dude around.

We had actually seen John before. We just didn’t know it at the time. You see, John drives the scenic tourist bus up and down the coast from Nelson to Abel Tasman. Whilst heading to Split Apple Rock we got stuck behind him on one of the hill crossings. We’ve got some serious respect for John because we saw what it looked like driving a huge bus up narrow serpentines and into hairpin curves. We wouldn’t want to do his job.

And indeed, John confirmed that it was him driving the bus. But clearly he enjoyed his side-job as pensioner. He gets to see beautiful landscapes, chats to many people and the job pays for all the Golf courses he plays on along the way. Sounds like a good deal.

John had lots to talk about since his ancestors were German (from Niedersachsen) and he himself was born in Germany as well. He moved to Australia when he was a wee little kid and later moved on to New Zealand.

Aside from listening to the many stories he had to tell about days when both Tina and I hadn’t even been born yet, we seized the opportunity to ask him where we should head next. West coast or east coast. He also insisted that it’s weather dependent, but recommended we should move to the west coast while it’s still warmer there.

Of course, he warned, it’s going to rain at some point. Simply because most of the coastal section is covered by rainforest. But he said it was a long, but such a beautiful ride.

John had us convinced. We decided to head westward, make a stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes and then stay in Greymouth for a couple of nights.

Everyday is a Winding Road

Alright, so I hope we don’t get in trouble for that headline but the more I drive here in New Zealand, the more I have to think of that song from the 90s by Sheryl Crow.

I swear to ____ (insert deity of your choice), driving on winding roads is much more fun and just driving in a straight line. However, it does get quite exhausting after a while. Particularly when there’s not much else going on. And no, there are NOT a lot of people in this part of New Zealand.

I have no clue how many sheep and cattle there are in New Zealand, but I’m starting to think that humans are outnumbered over here. I’m not kidding 😉

Curious what it sounds like here?
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Despite the very long ride to the coast, I must also admit that the views did not disappoint. There’s something truly strange about driving into a region with a completely different climate and vegetation than the place where you started the day. I guess you can get that in Europe as well to a certain extent, but the contrast is so striking down here in New Zealand.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

About an hour before Greymouth, our final destination for the day, we finally arrived at the first major site along the way. And boy, was it a sight. Most of the places we had visited so far had not felt extremely touristy. Very few souvenir shops, limited tourists (within reason) and no special 5-star accommodation options for wealthy people looking for the least strenuous way to travel and avoid the actual country and people.

Sing at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki
Sing at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki

John had even told us that Punakaiki wasn’t particularly well-known. Well, we beg to differ. This was literally the most touristy place we had seen during our trip so far. From the big visitor center, to the bus loads full of tourists. This place felt like a proper tourist destination that was about to be developed to death with all sorts of accommodation and other facilities around it.

I get it. There really isn’t much in the area. And Greymouth, almost an hour way, pretty much meets my definition of “sleepy town”. But still…I think I already know what Punakaiki will look like in 10 years. And I’m not sure I like it.

However, I must admit that the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are not just fun to look at, the blowholes are downright funny. I’m not sure whether the video really conveys what it’s like, but it’s all quite hilarious. And I also have to add that the whole scenic complex with the various pathways for visitors was incredibly well done. It’s a short visit, but it’s really worth it. The key thing is to make sure you’re there during high tide, which makes the interaction with the ocean and the waves so much more dramatic.

Volkswagen Bulli at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki
Volkswagen Bulli at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki

Off to Greymouth

After a long day full of driving, topped off by a quick visit in Punakaiki, it was time for us to settle in Greymouth for a couple of days. Most people seem to stay here only for one night and then quickly move on. But since it’s literally the biggest city along the entire West Coast, we figured this was the best place to stay for a few nights. And we needed the extra peace and quiet for a few days.

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