From Snow to Blowholes: On the Road in the Wild West Coast

Our final morning in wonderful Karamea involves breakfast with organic kiwifruit grown on the Rongo Backpackers’ farm and one last chat with the amazing WWOOFers who have made us feel so at home. We have quite a drive ahead of us today – the largest distance we will cover in a day so far on this trip – so we leave Rongo Backpackers bright and early.

Unlike yesterday where it rained so much we locked ourselves in a radio booth, it is super sunny today! But then, again, this is New Zealand and the four-seasons-in-a-day thing really starts to prove itself.

It’s snowing!

As we climb the winding mountain roads to get out of Karamea and over to Westport, rain really starts to look a lot thicker than usual. The higher we go, the more that rain turns into solid snow. Oh my God, it’s snowwwwing!!!!

As fun and crazy as snow makes us feel, especially when it’s actually now spring in New Zealand, we do start to bite our nails in anxiousness because we don’t have any snow chains and we don’t really feel like getting stuck on a mountain in our campervan.

The snow doesn’t seem to be laying, but man, it’s coming down hard! With that, we’re coming down hard off the mountain and back along the coast where it’s a bright and sunny day again. Wurrrttt?!

The snowy drive The snowy drive
Walking into Coaltown Walking into Coaltown
Laura is confused by retro cameras Laura is confused by retro cameras
Rainbow blowholes! Rainbow blowholes!

A trip down memory lane

We pass signs on the road for the Charming Creek Walkway, which reminds us of the wild weather times we had just on that railway walk. Then we take a pit stop down memory lane back at Westport. Yes, we stayed here for three days before Karamea, surfing with Bazil’s Surf Schoolspotting seals at Cape Foulwind, and mountain biking at the Kawatiri Beach Reserve, but, we missed going to the Coaltown Museum!

The Coaltown Museum

We won’t make the same mistake twice! Since visiting Charming Creek and all its mining remains and learning more about the history of the West Coast from locals, we realised there were some brave but perhaps slightly crazy people who mined in the mountains along the West Coast who lived a dangerous lifestyle. The Coaltown Museum in Westport is a good place to elaborate on that.

Leaning coal wagons

First of all, we have never seen such an extensive collection of artifacts on just one subject. Obviously, the huge machines used to transport coal onto ships and lift loads out of the mines take our eyes first. Then there’s a huge coal wagon in mid-lean in the middle of the room looking like it is about to dump coal all over the place.

From what coal is exactly to how the pioneers risked their lives to extract it from the most dangerous environments, there is everything we could possibly think of to do with coal mining here told with artifacts, information boards and videos.

Surrounded by coaltown relics

Going into a coal mine

Right through the middle of the room is a railway line with a few coal bins that lead into a doorway covered up by coal bags. We lift up the coal bags to reveal a makeshift coal mine – dimly lit and covered in coal! Weird! It’s an interesting room with coal mining tools and a video explaining the evolution of machinery used in the mines, as well as the workers who relied on each other to not do something stupid and stop the mines from falling on their heads!

Our time in the Coaltown Museum is short-lived, as we have to hit the road to Punakaiki, but we are glad we took the time to see it before we leave Westport.

Constant & Joyce Bays

The coastal road between Westport and Punakaiki is famous for its scenery (which is a given in New Zealand) and its wild waves! Something we are about to discover further when we make a stop at Constant & Joyce Bays. A 15-minute loop walk turns into an hour when we are captured by the sight of the magnificent force of the sea!

Huge waves roll in relentlessly crashing and engulfing any rocks in their way. We can barely hear each other talking over the noise. Robin clambers over rocks to get the best views, just asking for the expected to happen…

Waves 1, Robin 0

Laura turns a corner to look for him and, he is stripping his clothes off!

“I got absolutely soaked!”

Yep, the waves got him, as they have got countless others out at sea (Arghhh *insert appropriate pirate noise here*).

We have a whole lot of fun doing a bunch of nothing but watch the sea. But eventually, we break the spell and hit the road once again.

Look at those layers! Look at those layers!
Pancake Rock buddies Pancake Rock buddies
Robin, King of the Pancakes Robin, King of the Pancakes

The Wild West Coast Road

Even from the road high up on a coastal cliff, we can see those powerful waves rolling in, carving up some rugged islands and cliffs. Erosion is working hard over here on the Wild West Coast!

Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

The best examples of this erosion are at our final destination today, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes! This place might just be the most visited spot on the West Coast. It’s only a 10-15 minute walk among the natural wonder of the Pancake Rocks. These layers of rock have been compressed on the sea bed over millions of years. Then, when the seabed rose out of the water, waves have bashed the soft rock away to leave these layers of rocks that look like pancakes. Yum!

And with all good pancakes comes a blowhole, right? We have arrived at the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes during the high tide – the perfect time to see some blowhole action.

Blasting blowholes and rainbows

As we are walking around the loop track among the flax bushes, a constant atmosphere of sea spray tells us we are going to see some specifically big water displays.

With the sun shining and the wind blowing a gale, the waves surge into the narrow chutes below us and up a narrower blowhole, blasting water into the sky and blowing the droplets right into us! But, a rainbow is formed every time, making us forget anything happened… (Those sneaky blowholes).

Ending the day at Punakaiki Beach Camp

Once we’re all blowholed-out, we park up at the Punakaiki Beach Camp, which will be our base for the next two nights as we explore some of the Paparoa National Park. Plus, tomorrow, we’re treating ourselves to some bone carving. See you then!

Laura and Robin

Watch out for the blowholes!
Watch out for the blowholes! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow, travel team!

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