Waking around 5am, the sun was rising on a great, clear morning. It’s a great feeling being parked in the middle of the wilderness and hearing and smelling the vitality of the morning unfolding.
Seizing the initiative I put my boots on before I could decide otherwise and hit the trail towards Ryde Falls, a 10km walk signposted from the car park. The more adventurous routes could wait for another day. Besides, getting up and on the trails so early was an achievement in itself.
Ryde Falls is very picturesque. The giant rockpool beneath would have been very inviting on a hot day rather than a freezing morning, and preferably with someone else there to alert the authorities if I managed to drown. There’s also a camping spot there which looked like an ace place to spend the night. Wilderness camping sites and bunk barns are dotted everywhere on walking routes, which if you’d planned accordingly would be a great extra element to the longer walks.
Back to the van, my makeshift foil tin frying pan failed spectacularly, so it was a freshly brewed proper coffee, tin of beans and back on the road, resolving to find a kitchen supplies shop ASAP.
More faffing upped the kilometre count in a similar fashion to last night, finding numerous dirt track dead ends on my quest for the main road, however I eventually found my way back to Route 73, the Alpine Highway. Restocked at a friendly local convenience store and got up to Arthur’s Pass.
Arthur’s Pass is a spectacular road leading to a town of the same name nestled in the centre of the mountain pass dividing the South Island. Even with very low cloud during my crossing you could see the peaks of nearby mountains.
The town by the same name is a bit of a tourist ghetto with various shops, cafes and voracious local Kea, the wild parrots who plague tourists by begging/mugging them for food. Unlike the possum, which is hunted with vigour and Government backing, they are a protected species so there’s no extermination allowed, but plenty of signs up telling people NOT to feed them!
Descending from Arthur’s Pass towards Greymouth, the weather was on a swift decline but I stopped in at the mine museum, the scene of a huge disaster in the 19th Century after a methane explosion killed many local miners. There’s an interesting open air display now with lots of information boards telling their story.
It turned out that my leaving the van during the ‘short’ rain storm was a grave misjudgement- As I crossed the bridge the rain became heavier, and heavier, and showed no signs of abating. I weighed the odds and made the run over the river for the van. The rather long run, at the end of which I was half drowned. Firing up the engine and pulling out on the road, the rain promptly stopped. The king of bad timing!
My principal target in Greymouth was the Monteith’s Brewery. When I’d stopped in Oxford I had bought a bottle of Velvet Stout and thoroughly enjoyed it, therefore when I flicked through the tourist brochure and found that, not only was the brewery my next stop anyway, but also that they offered tours. Ideal!
Greymouth is a big, bold name on the map but really is a bit of a one-horse town, with a couple of streets-worth of small town shops (Incidentally closed for the next 3 days as it was a holiday weekend) and very little else.
I decided to stay at Duke Backpackers in town because camping in towns is a bit dodgy authority-wise and also because I really fancied a shower! This was a decent backpackers with a more interesting crowd than the endless mong gap year-ers glued to Skype.
The Monteith’s Brewery tour is well worth doing, not for the tour part obviously as nobody is really interested in what a mash tun looks like, or how long the fermentation process takes, rather for the copious free beer that it entails: 4 halves to try during and after the tour, and a free pint at a pub in town. Monteith’s beer is bloody brilliant, particularly the “white label” stuff that they brew themselves in Greymouth. The advertising did its job as a 6-pack of Monteiths was a constant van companion for the rest of the week.
I found a local Indian takeaway where I met a Scandinavian woman who had booked a room for 2 nights. She was dismayed to hear about the holiday weekend malarkey and the fact therefore that nothing would be open for 3 days.
I, however took the sensible option and after a good night’s sleep in a proper bed, hit the road south promptly!