October 24th, 2006


Coast to mountains to coast - no grey skies in Greymouth

As usual we stayed up late with Seth's parents discussing improbable schemes to put the world to rights and had a leisurely breakfast gazing at the amazing view. The house is on the Kaikoura peninsula, looking a little towards North Bay and the seaward range, with blue water and mountains set off by the gardens. Then back down through the hills to Christchurch. We stopped at Pegasus Bay winery for luch: the wine is nice and the seared beef with truffle oil crostini in the platter are just superb, and dipping ciabatta in red pepper aoli and then in sea salt is too nice to be wholly legal.

In to Christchurch to drop Seth back off (sniff, but he has to work: there will be An Announcement soon (or else)) and to say a lighting hello-have a bottle of wine-goodbye to Gary and we set off into the mountains in increasing drizzle and rain. Good news for us as rain om the east coast means sun on the west.

The run into the alps starts with road and rail together, running through fields and pastures, past sheep and cows and alpaca and vines: guess which there are most of in new zealand now? Hint; it's either 3,000 or 30,000 vines per hectare. The land Is soft and green and wide and flat. We stopped the night at Springfield (woo-hoo!) in the hostel: spent the evening reading by the wood-fired stove and slept in the pink attic room, with high sloping ceilings at every angle. This morning we grabbed coffee and apricot dates scones for the road and drove into the alps proper, still in the rain, which turned into sleet and light snow as we went. The cloud was low over the alps, showing only a few snowy slopes in a wilderness of twisty roads, lakes and articulated lorries chugging through the back of beyond... As with so many roads in New Zealand you can often see where the road is going to go (across the valley, going in the opposite direction, hundreds of yards above you) without any idea of how it's going to get there. The wind scours over the mountains and down the path so its scenic and bloody cold even when it isn't raining (5 metres of rain a year). Still, the kea add a splash of bright colour to the green and grey...

After Arthurs Pass village is Death's Corner, a lookout over the Otira viaduct - the road grows legs to leap across the gorge, then runs under a roof that keeps off the worst of the rain, snow and debris, with a stepped runoff to take a waterfall over the road and let it plummet down the other side.

Through the mountains we drove around lakes and through the hills, with blue peaks notching the sky and the odd snowy peak like Ben Claddach standing atmospherically over the water. We didn't stop to find out what the historic miniature cottage was - straight up the coast to the pancake rocks at Punakaiki (with a quick look in the craft gallery where I was Very Restrained...). The waves were surging in, pale grey onto the dark grey beaches, with the wind whipping streams of spray off into the air as the crests curled and broke into spume, with green bush inland and the southern alps clear in the distance beyond the curved beaches. The waves surged into the caves and blowholes, nibbling away at the stacks of pancakes and spraying into the air with a deep sustained booming noise.

Then back to Greymouth to work out the route for the next few days over coffee, find a hotel and back to the Cafe 124 for pumpkin and chicken cakes, burger and very sticky short ribs, bishops self saucing banana pudding (they say the name is for the shape, I say we all know about bishops and sauce) and apple rhubarb stack. Moderate amounts of Monteiths were drunk - and I tried a glass of the Northrow sauv blanc we saw at Villa Maria which is really rather nice. Northrow has an odd iconography - honey bee for purity and sweetness, three leaves that aren't a shamrock, oh no, for the luck you need to make to make good wine, a butterfly for the transformation that chardonnay undergoes in the barrel and an aeroplane for the freedom that exporting sauv blanc successfully has given New Zealand to expand overseas. Mmm. Still, it makes a nice Tshirt and good wine.

Tonight the moon is the thinnest crescent and we looked out to see the whole of the moon. Tomorrow, I buy jade for my mum and we do the Monteith's brewery tour.