14 March 2012

Half a World Away [Hokitika, New Zealand]

Up early, Julia and I said goodbye to Robbie and set out to find a good spot to hitch. We didn't have to wait long before being picked up by a guy in a Merc. Which was a little strange... you get to know the type of vehicles, therefore the type of people, that pick you up. And a Mercedes is not on that list. But we weren't going to complain, so we jumped on in.

The driver was, uhhh, weird. First he started telling us about how he used to hitch-hike, and how he wanted to 'blow away' all the people who drove past and pick him up. Then he told us how you couldn't trust anyone, and that he could just pull out a knife at any time and stab me in the chest! With hand movements and all. WTF, dude? Needless to say we were pretty happy when he was only able to take us ten minutes down the road.

The bad thing was we were now in the middle of nowhere, on the open road. People often don't pick you up on the open road as they are already up to 100kms and it is a bit of a mission to stop. We waited for about 30 minutes and weren't moving. Then we saw a small car come from the opposite direction, slow down on the opposite side of the road, then turn around and park just ahead of us. They had driven past and felt sorry for us, so turned around and come back to pick us up! What awesome people!

But it gets better; the people in the car were a couple we had met in Vang Vieng, Laos. Valerio; and Italian guy, and Monica; his Chilean girlfriend. They didn't know it was us until they had turned the car around. So we had a crazy reunion on the side of a random small highway on the West Coast of New Zealand, half a world away from where we first met.

We spent the rest of the day with Valerio and Monica. First up we visited Punakaiki, the pancake rocks. This is a coastal area with these strange rock formations (that kind of look like pancakes stacked on-top of each other). There are some really cool blowholes in the area, as well as a cool sea-cave. Definitely worth stopping for an hour to check out. This stretch of coastline is spectacular.

Next quick stop was in Greymouth for some lunch, before heading through Arthurs Pass. This is one of the few roads through the Southern Alps, from the West Coast to the East. We didn't actually want to travel to the east coast, but we had been told Arthurs Pass is a spectacular area and worth the drive in, even if you are just going to turn around and drive back the same way. So that is what we did.

Arthurs Pass lived up to its reputation, with huge mountains and massive valleys, full of lush forest and cascading waterfalls. Unfortunately the weather was really bad, but we could still appreciate the indescribable beauty of the area. At the center of the pass there is a look out area which gives beautiful views over the alps, as well as being home to several cheeky Kea. These are an indigenous parrot to New Zealand who seem almost fearless and have a habit of destroying cars with their extremely strong beak.

We drove through the pass to the eastern side of the alps and were greeted by a wide open platua surrounded by towering mountains. The weather suddenly cleared and for the first time in a few days we were able to bask in glorious sunshine! We drove on to 'Castle Hill', an barren area of strange rock formations, which has been used in the filming of movies like the Lord of the Rings and Narnia (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

The journey back to Greymouth was fairly uneventful, other than when we entered the mountains it suddenly started pouring with rain again. Not cool. We drove down to Hokitika where Julia and I parted ways with Valerio and Monica. It was really cool to see them again and I'm really thankful for their help driving us around all day. I hope to see them again some day.

In Hokitika we met up with our Couch Surfing host for the next two days, Jason. He was a super nice guy, the first night making a huge dinner for us (including two other French girls who were also surfing with Jason). The following day was raining again, but we decided to get out and have a bit of a look in Hokitika... to be honest there is not a lot to it. Like most small west coast towns there is a small town center, a couple of souvenir shops and an information center. The west coast is more about enjoying the surroundings rather than 'tourist attractions'. That afternoon Jason took us all out for a bit of a drive around the local area; we checked out Lake Kaniere and a few waterfalls, as well as the Hokitika gorge.

So that was Hokitika. Again, nothing major going on, but this area of New Zealand is just nice to be there. It has a slow pace of life, the people are friendly, and the scenery; spectacular. I'm sure it would be even better the weather is nice.
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