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canoeing, kayaking and other adventures

canoeing and kayaking adventures born in the Southeastern U.S. and now centered in Scotland...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Arthur’s Pass and Greymouth – 28/10/2007

My weekend holiday in New Zealand became drivers education as I kept chasing the bad weather. I drove across to the West Coast to check out Greymouth and perhaps head south through “Edoras” to the glaciers. Greymouth is a useful staging area, but not a very exciting place to be on a Sunday. Catholic region? Everything was shut save a few restaurants and the train station. After a beautiful, bordering on warm drive through Arthur’s Pass, rain, fog and wind greeted me in Greymouth. I had found the bad weather again. I changed my mind about the glaciers, figuring visibility wouldn’t be great and the hikes wouldn’t be as nice as they could be. I headed back to Arthur’s Pass to explore the hiking trails. The visitor centre had some really great maps and route information. I decided to attempt two easy walks on the western side of the village, Punchbowl Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. The signs called for the two to be 2.5hours return, 1 hr for Punchbowl and 1.5hrs for Bridal Veil, so I would be flirting with sunset toward the end of the walk.

After crossing over the river, the trail crosses a creek, the top of which is the “bowl” where Punchbowl Falls lands. The trail was fairly built up even after the creek crossing. It had many wooden staircases built up along the steeper bits, perhaps to improve accessibility. I passed a few people on the return journey and at one point, found the old trail to the bowl. A “10mins to falls” sign was stashed up there. Up and down some more stairs and the trail reached a viewing platform at the base of the falls. The falls were quite spectacular, even at a trickle relative to what snowmelt might bring. Most of the height of the falls was a sheer drop and then a cascade into the bowl.

I followed the tourist route back to the trailhead and set off to Bridal Veil Falls. I think every English-speaking part of the world with waterfalls has a Bridal Veil Falls. Some are quite spectacular runs in a kayak. This one was not. The trail to get there was much less built than Punchbowl. It wound through forest and across bridges of dubious quality past several fake falls before reaching the Bridal Veil overlook. A sign beside the overlook said “1min to falls” which for a moment I thought meant 1min down the trail to the base of the falls. Retrospect suggests that they meant to the overlook it was just beside, because it would have been only a minute if I threw myself down the hill to get there. It took me about five cautious minutes to reach the base. Unlike Punchbowl Falls, there was too much vegetation, earth and rocks in the way to see to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. I followed the trail across the bridge and up the other side before remembering that the trail went to the road about a mile too far from where I meant to be. The walk back along that road wasn’t enticing, so I turned back and followed the trail back to the carpark in Arthur’s Pass village.

I must confess to being a little disappointed with my second free day in New Zealand. My parents sort of complained about their Scottish Highlands trip as being a little boring. The Scottish Highlands are pretty empty, so if you’re not into doing something active (hillwalking, cycling, canoeing, climbing, etc), you have to appreciate the history, the village way of life and/or the scenery and accept that there isn’t much else to do. Northern Scotland is pretty empty. Inland New Zealand, at least on the South Island, is emptier. Emptiness doesn’t really bother me. The Kiwis are a people of extremes – they don’t do anything lightly. As a consequence, with most activities, you’re either in or out. At Akaroa yesterday, I wasn’t up for mountain biking down from the big (extinct?) volcano, so I wasn’t up for cycling. With only one road in and out of the village, there wasn’t much road cycling to unless I wanted to commit to a hard core climb up from the village. At Arthur’s Pass, I found a similar feeling. I wasn’t up for the 1600+m hike up one of the surrounding peaks, so my choices were limited to the tourist trails at the base, complete with stairs and handrails. Both hikes were very pretty, but I was hoping for a little bit more. A little bit didn’t exist. All or nothing. For that reason, rather than stay overnight at Arthur’s Pass, I chose to make Sunday more of an epic driving day and headed north to Kaikoura.

The scenery was amazing, and when I arrived in Kaikoura, I was very grateful I made the drive. It was the right balance of town and nature crammed into the tiny amount of Pacific coast available before the mountains took over.

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