Memories of New Zealand…and Julia
By Doug Barry-Martin
Once upon a time in a land far away there was a Pōwhiri…
and a tall man turned to a beautiful stranger.
I met Julia at the Waitangi Day Pōwhiri (greeting) at the local Maori Marae (meeting-house) in Nelson, New Zealand on
Waitangi Day. This commemorates a significant day in the history of New Zealand. It is a public holiday held each year on 6 February to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, on that date in 1840.
The crowd was waiting outside and were asked to turn to the nearest stranger and to give them (or share with them) a Hongi (nose to nose Maori greeting). I turned and saw an attractive women and thought ‘yes’ and so it went. We spent a half day together and continued to see each other over the next few days. Julia is a German woman in her thirties on a return visit to New Zealand in order to see if she would relocate here. Anyway she continued her travels a little but we arranged to go in a camping holiday on the West Coast of the South Island together about two months ago. I took my trusty Canon 5D MK1 and 24-105mm f4 lens and my ever-present companion the Fuji X100 I bought new 3 years ago when it first burst onto the scene.
The first stop was actually in Nelson at Tahunanui beach where we had a nice kebab. “We are not going to get far at this rate” we thought. Next stop an hour or so south was the beautiful Nelson Lakes. A popular scenic spot but noted for its sandflies. After a lovely walk on the shores of Lake Rotoiti we drove to the adjacent Lake Rotoroa in order to set up camp. Having chosen a spot near some bush, and as we were setting up at dusk, we were over run by hungry sandfles. Fortunately Julia was clever enough to buy some really good sandfly repellent from the Nelson markets the day before. Thank God for that!
So we discovered that camping in early Autumn in the South Island is cold but was rewarded the next morning with beautiful scenery as the sunrise caused the lake to steam off it’s water as vapors.
The Pōwhiri – X100
Julia – X100
Point and Shoot – easy Scenic shots at Nelson lakes (Lake Rotoiti) – X100
A clear evening at the lake (Lake Rotoroa) -5D
A cold but moody morning at Nelson lakes (Lake Rotoroa). – 5D
A cold start but a sublime view at Nelson lakes (Lake Rotoroa). – 5D
So after camping at the Nelson Lakes we aimed to make it to Karamea at the top of the West Coast (as we had the day before too!).
It was not to be as we both seem to be ‘side track’ artists.
We had hardly driven 50km when we stopped at the Buller Gorge Swing bridge and spent a few hours there.
Julia was drawn to the water – and to the derelict machines and we even created a bit of rock art and saw a jet boat.
At the time it appeared Julia had the 5D (how trusting am I??) and I grabbed it of her and just managed to get a shot. They are damn fast!
The Buller Gorge really is a lovely drive and the swing bridge (New Zealand’s longest) is worth a visit.
Swing… – 5D
Don’t look down! – 5D
She started it!! The rock art. I went for gold with the third smallest and the smallest piece. Buller gorge. – 5D
We did have to abandon the idea of camping a) because we, as was becoming our pattern, arrived in Westport late (6pm) and b) it was obviously going to be a typically wet West Coast night. We got a cabin in a holiday park which was hardly our idea of camping but it was OK and there were some interesting folks. Not least the old fellow without a leg who was touring the South Island.
A friendly local (and there were a few of those in Westport) recommended a walk for us the next day. About 45 min north of Westport there is a small mining operation and beside it runs a creek along a disused coal mining railway. Charming Creek certainly lived up to its name – especially after so much rain. The hours walk to the booming waterfall was well worth it and all the better for being so wet and green. It was more raging river than creek and a great dose of the West coast environment. Of course the wild beaches really define the coast as much as the damp green hills. I recently read New Zealander Elanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize winner The Luminaries set in Hokitka. Recommend as a masterclass in writing and a damn good yarn although maybe slightly too clever for its own good and at 800 pages requiring a good deal of dedcation from the reader.
After this we again heading towards our destination of Karamea – as far as you can go almost over the ranges via a long winding road to the semi-tropical north. Hangout of eccentrics and dropouts, entrepreneurs and lovers of nature. And near the beginning of the Heaphy track – a popular 4-5 day walk in Kahurangi National Park
A walk along a disused coal mine railway – a green tunnel – X100
A walk along a disused coal mine railway – a rock tunnel- X100
The Bridge to …..??- X100
The thundering falls of Charming Creek after the rain – I needed a person for scale. They would be about as tall as the smallest rock in the middle! – X100
Charming Creek froths after the rain (still raining as you can see) – X100
After a night in Westport and a fantastic walk up Charming Creek we finally set our sights on the far north over the ranges.
A beautiful winding road through super lush native forest eventually drops us into the plains not far from Karamea. On the way we deviate to a small idyllic lake and just generally soak in all the greenery.
We blow right through Karamea after fortuitously making it to the store 2 minutes before it closes. God we nearly missed out on buying beer and wine!! What sort of camping would that be? About 16km north of the small sleepy hamlet of Karamea is the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite at the beginning of the Heaphy track. We set up camp just before dark (as usual) trying not to get too much of the view-blocking white camper van in our sights and cook our dinner. Usually we take turns each night and the fare is not too bad.
We awake to a lovely morning and I arise first in time to get some of that magic early morning light. It’s a bit nippy though folks! The sun soon warms us up and after driving back into town to check things out we finally set off on the track for a walk up to Scotts beach. We had thought of going to a DOC hut on the track but you have to book and pay online beforehand. Too much bother so we enjoyed what we did anyway.
The Scotts Beach/Heaphy track climbs steadily through beautiful bush studded with nikau palms, karaka and rata.
After a stunning sunset we have yet another cool night in the tent and the next morning we set of early (for us – 9am!). Prior to setting off I bump into Courtney and Brian whom I was sharing a house/community dwelling with recently in Nelson. A lovely young American couple they had descended from a hut during the night and were rewarded with several Kiwi sightings but had the misfortune to have their tent nearly taken out at full tide by a big wave as they were camped on the beach. They were shaken but not stirred and their usual chipper selves the next day when I encountered them.
After this we called in at the famous Rongo backpackers – mainly to see Paul. I was lucky to meet with him and he was his usual affable, larger than life self. The place itself is well worth a look with lots of eccentric artworks and a graffiti wall in the hall. Nowadays backpackers seem overrun with quiet iPad scrolling young people making them seem somewhat like a digital library.
A mans work is never done…gidday mate!! – X100
Alone in paradise (almost!). Scotts beach. – X100
The beautiful wild West Coast – 5D All 5D from here on except the very last.
Morning has broken…
And evening falls golden upon us…
See how small we are…
And the fire of the sun’s last gasp lights the land…
As the poetic moon rises in the sky…
So we departed Karamea and headed south towards the popular Punakaiki (or pancake ) Rocks about 40 min south of Westport.
The lookout walkway forms a circle and was populated with asian tourists prompting Julia to comment that it looked like the great wall of China!
As usual we had no real plans for where to stay. However fortuitously I had asked a local in the car park of a supermarket a few days previously where we could camp up north of Westport etc. When we arrived at Punakaiki we went to the tourist information office to see about potential camping spots. The fellow I approached recognised me and declared ” I know you, you are looking for freedom camping!”. I was rather perplexed by this. He, it turned out, was the fellow I had talked to in that car park! He (ahem) quietly recommended an ‘unofficial’ spot to camp not too far from Punakaiki. Other than that he said the local camp grounds were good (we soon ascertained that they were not to our taste but were a good source of clean water (ahem).
So we proceeded up a long and twisty and somewhat rough gravel road with the most beautiful scenery. It was a lush gorge lined with sheer rock cliffs and covered in greenery.
At the end we found a lone tree and a beautiful mountain range vista painted by the setting sun. We quickly found a flat spot to set up camp in the long grass. However the car was parked some distance from where we wanted to erect the tent and couldn’t be driven closer due to some rough ground. We needed to use the car to pump up the king sized mattress with the electric charger. Julia had the bright idea of assembling the tent with the mattress inside near the car and then carrying the whole thing with inflated mattress to the site. Brilliant!! As usual we just managed to have beers and scrape together a meal and soak up the scene before it got dark and spent another cool night ‘roughing it ‘ on a comfy mattress! What was wonderful was we had the whole place to ourselves which was a lovely change from the white camper van posse of the Heaphy track’s DOC campground.
The power of the West Coast lies as much in its rugged beauty as its rugged weather…
Even the well-known is still sublime… Punakaiki.
But there are still secret spots…
Idyllic camp site
We set off the next day to head back to Nelson. After a couple of nights in Nelson I drove Julia to Picton to catch the Ferry to the North Island.
After we said our goodbyes that was the last time I saw her in person. She would like to return soon but doesn’t know when she can.
All I know is that my holiday with Julia was special and I have some wonderful memories (and photos) of it.
Many more images from this holiday can be seen on my Flickr stream
Regards from New Zealand