Waking up in a Greymouth bed was pleasant… A good start to the day, albeit a slightly later start than planned as I wasn’t too keen to get out of my warm cocoon.
Hitting the road again, my plans today were slightly less ambitious than before- Just to see where I got to. Wanaka was still a massive distance away and there’s always so much cool stuff to see en route. It’s funny how plans change when you hit the road- My initial plan would have been to do Oxford to Wanaka in one day, completely ludicrous once you get out on the roads and realise how windy they are, and more to the point how much you would miss!
My first stop was at the “cool little town” of Hokitika. Whilst this folksy moniker has doubtless been imposed on the town by the powers-that-be, nonetheless I would agree that actually it’s a good place to spend a couple of days. Definitely a one-horse town in the style of Greymouth, but with a thriving cafe and restaurant scene and right on the coast.
Right from the start I found that the West Coast beaches aren’t really “take the kids to paddle” type affairs. Hokitika’s beach is half pebble, half volcanic sand, and the amount of HUGE driftwood washed up on the beach speaks volumes about the power of the waves. I found this to my cost later in the week after a traumatic paddle at Gillespies’ Beach!
I stayed long enough in Hokitika to grab a new wrist strap for my camera and to assess the relative merits of the several thousand Kiwi t-shirts, then moved on. Having bought copious supplies in Greymouth and determined to start saving a bit of cash, I wasn’t about to blow it on a pricey restaurant lunch 50km down the road!
I liked small town NZ, pretty little towns with quirky shops and genuinely friendly locals, I haven’t had as many random chats with strangers anywhere else in the world.
I decided to stop for lunch by a beautiful little lake, the carpark there was also designated as a campsite- A great spot. Only 7 bucks a night too, with long drop toilets and water from the lake.
I got chatting with a nice French couple in the campervan next to me, swapping tales and getting lots of hints about wild camping. They were there because Phillippe had, one month earlier, been at the same spot using a drone with his GoPro and had managed to ditch it in the lake. He’d met his girlfriend further up the country and then returned, armed with borrowed scuba gear, to find his stuff! I admired his tenacity but thought it a slightly lost cause. Once he had kitted up and returned to the lake to search, his girlfriend explained to me with an air of quiet resignation that he had been searching most of yesterday and had drifted so far off course he was nowhere near it! Today was the final day- The final chance!
Along with a small Chinese audience, I cooked up some beans and eggs on the stove and enjoyed the sun. I had planned to go further than 100km that day, however the French couple were insistent that I should spend the night down at Okatipo, about 50km down the coast. Well, far less distance then I wanted but a good tip’s a good tip, this is the nature of travel right?
I’m glad I did. Located 16km off the main West Coast highway, Okatipo is a calm, peaceful backwater with fantastic birdlife, a beautiful lagoon, beach and an absolutely ace campsite. And hot showers- Deep, deep joy! It was a bit of a bargain, charging NZ$12.50 for camping and then a dollar for 4 minutes of steaming hot shower, that’ll do.
I also enjoyed a couple of the short waypointed walks over the lagoon and up to a hill overlooking the bay, through the fascinating ancient forest. Okatipo is a Mecca for birdwatchers, especially in the midst of the lagoon. There are also kiwi living in the woods, however they are famously reclusive so the only sighting I had was of a warning sign coming out of the village!
Sadly though, what Okatipo does lack is a bloody shop! I definitely learnt from this mistake over the next few days, always making sure I bought supplies in the nearest big town. However, I wasn’t about to drive all the way back to the highway, so scrounging it was! There is one historic shop, which sadly is no longer a shop…
I went to the nearby house of the campsite managers, to get change for the honesty box, and gently enquired about the availability of food and beer… Sadly no, no food, we need to get to the supermarket. I have got a couple of cold beers you can have though. Five bucks… RESULT!
My begging mission at other properties suggested by the owner was in vain, no food to be had. The closest I came was a German woman selling just sourdough bread- This didn’t really help. To be fair, I had some supplies, just really boring ones. And I’d already eaten beans for lunch… However!
I had earlier gathered some driftwood from the beach in the hope I’d be able to buy something to fling on the barbie. This was my final play… The NZ couple in the van next to me. “Oh hi, thought you might as well have this for your fire as I’ve got nothing to cook on mine!”
Couple of minutes later, the lady comes over with a modest slab of cooked venison in some kitchen paper… Hunted by them on North Island. Thank you very much, a meal is born! Quite a decent one, in fact.
Well fed, watered and feeling clean for a change, I bedded down for the night. Tomorrow was another day, no plans as such, just to keep heading south and to see what interesting sights lay ahead. Maybe kayaking into the lagoon, if I managed to get up in time…