Te Araroa NOBO (Days 30-32)
Disclaimer: I’ve titled this Te Araroa NOBO to help keep my blogging consistent, but this post is entirely off-trail. I’m blogging from the West Coast of the South Island. I’ll continue my Te Araroa NOBO tramp after some relaxation on the coast.
After spending two days in Greymouth I had seen all that I set out to see, and I was ready to continue north. There’s a track called Point Elizabeth that connects Greymouth/Cobden to Rapahoe. It’s a nice 7-8 mile walk from my accommodation, and that seemed like a great plan for the day! I loaded up my pack and began my walk.
After stocking up on food in Greymouth, my pack was heavy! I have five days worth of food for the next TA section along with four days worth of food for the holiday parks I’ll be staying at. With nine days worth of food, I think my pack was the heaviest it’s been on the trail so far. I probably added in 10-12 pounds just with food! Luckily, I had a shorter day of walking.
The walk from Greymouth to the trail was road walking for about 4 miles, and the last part of the road turned to gravel. It ran right along the beachfront, and I couldn’t help myself – I stopped five different times to look at the Tasman Sea. The waves crashed on the rocky seashore, and driftwood layered the rocks. Twice I saw dolphins surface and continue their swim. It was a gorgeous day, and I couldn’t help but smile. The salty, cool air greeted me as I searched the coastline for the dolphins a third time – but to no avail.
As I made my way to the start of the Point Elizabeth track, I walked by manukau bushes on the right and dolphins on the left until I saw the green sign indicating the trail. After a quick breather, I began the ascent. It was quite an easy trail – most trails seem easy after the steep ascents of the TA – and in 30 minutes I was to the lookout point. There was an older Kiwi gentleman there along with a younger Slovakian guy.
The three of us ended up walking the second half of the trail together to Rapahoe. We chatted about our travels so far and what we’re hoping to see and experience next. Adrian, the Slovakian adventurer, was headed to Punakaiki. When we got to the end of the trail, I asked if I could join him. He said yes, and I tossed my backpack in the back of his van, hopped in the passenger seat (I’ve been here a month, and it still confuses me to get in on the left side!), and we made our way north.
Adrian brought a drone with him, and we stopped a few times on the way to get pictures of the landscape around. His pictures were AMAZING! The picture at the top of this post is one that he took. It’s of the Paparoa Great Walk Trailhead. Adrian had wanted to do the Paparoa Great Walk, but it required advanced booking of three different huts. He said the first two huts were available, but the third hut was completely booked. The Great Walks are so popular, and I’ve read how they often book up quite far in advance.
Adrian parked at Pancake Rocks, and we spent the next 20 minutes or so walking the tourist loop and taking pictures of the massive rock formations. There were quite a few people there, but the way the loop is set up made it easy to get the pictures that we wanted. It was absolutely mind boggling to see such massive layers of rocks. I posted about them on my instagram – check it out @samfrancart if you’d like to see what I saw!
After Pancake Rocks, we walked a short way down to the Punakaiki Cavern. It was a bit larger than the Cobden Cave, but not by much. As we were walking together, I was thinking what a difference it made to be with someone in the cavern versus alone. When I walked alone yesterday in Cobden Cave, I wasn’t as daring or curious as I was at the Punakaiki Cavern. We walked pretty far into the cavern, but since neither of us had been prepared with a torch or headlamp, we didn’t stay long.
After the cavern exploration, Adrian dropped me off at Punakaiki Beach Camp. This is where I’ll set up my tent and call home for three nights. It’ll be the longest time that I’ve spent in one place since arriving to New Zealand. I wonder what’s in store!
It’s just something about being back in my tent – I slept SO well!! Just like when I’m on the trail, it’s down with the sun and up with the first light. As soon as the first light came through, I was ready for the day to begin. It was going to be another beautiful, sunny day, and I was continuing to be thankful for my decision to come to the west coast! After breakfast, I made my way to the start of the Paparoa Track.
I walked along the Poporari River, and it was incredibly beautiful. The west coast is SO different from the rest of New Zealand that I’ve experienced. The hills that ran alongside the trail are covered in massive ferns, palm trees, and cabbage trees. I agree with the girl I met from Canada: it’s seems like a prehistoric rainforest-jungle. Everything is massive and seems other-worldly and unreal. The walk winded around the river for 5 kilometers or so before there was a sign for the swing bridge. It was only 500m off the trail, so I made a quick detour, and I was glad that I did. The bridge was so high up, wobbly, and narrow. What a fun adventure!
I followed the track back to a different car park and finished my walk in 2 hours. The car park was quite close to Pancake Rocks, but instead of walking the loop again, I decided to check out the visitor’s center and the cafe. I was so glad that I did! The vegetable scone was incredible! It’s odd – I had never had vegetable pastries in America like they have here. This is the third one I’ve had. It’s savory with chopped onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and sometimes spinach. Then, cheese is melted on top. I’m so familiar with sweet, fruity muffins and pastries, but the savory ones have become a new favorite of mine in New Zealand!
After relaxing at the cafe for a while, I walked back towards the beach camp. I decided to go for a swim in the Tasman Sea, which was both fun and difficult. The waves weren’t so big, but they were mighty. Every fourth wave had such power that I didn’t feel comfortable staying out for very long. It was a fun swim nonetheless! After laying out and napping at the beach for a while, I went back to camp and called it a day. What a lovely day it was!
The rain throughout the night made it difficult to get up early today, and the beauty of it was that I didn’t have to! It sure has been nice to take a few days off the trail! As I’ve been reflecting on the trail, I’ve come to this conclusion (for now!):
I’ve appreciated the Te Araroa, because it’s provided direction and a purpose greater than simply being here on holiday. As much as I’ve appreciated it, my favorite moments so far have been off the trail.
It’s the meandering walkways that I find by mistake.
It’s the unexpected road-trips and huggable trees.
It’s the sunshine in which I can simply bask.
It’s the freedom of being on my own time schedule.
It’s the ease of which towns provide.
A friend of mine put it nicely: “Variety is the spice of life!” Being off-trail provides a variety that I wouldn’t experience on trail. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be heading back, but for now, I’m soaking in every moment of the west coast.
Even though it rained overnight, the day eventually turned out to be sunny and beautiful! The morning was grey, so I spent it blogging (yay for WiFi at holiday parks!), reading, and updating pictures on social media. After lunch, I walked the Truman Track, which is located just a little north of Punakaiki. It was an easy walk down to the water and massive rock formations. I spent the afternoon at the beach. There’s a lagoon near the sea, and it was perfect for swimming and tanning. Plus, I was the only person there. My own personal beach! What a find! I’m so grateful!
After showering and dinner, I went to watch the sunset. I met up with Hugo, a French adventurer who I had met through hitching a week or so prior. He had been driving all over the South Island, and we had kept in contact over instagram. Super cool that he made it to Punakaiki while I was here! He went to Pancake Rocks earlier today, and was at the Truman Track a few hours after me today! We watched the sunset and talked as the stars emerged. Right after the sunset, there were two stars that were prominent and directly in front of us. I got out my star app and discovered that they were Venus and Saturn – almost in alignment. Amazing! We watched more stars come into view: the Milky Way, Orion’s belt, and we even saw a shooting star! Magical!
One of my favorite things about travel has been all the new friends! I’ve met so many incredible people from all over the world. I’ve loved hearing life stories and sharing travel inspiration. Hugo told me about his travels in Jordan, and Petra just made it to the top of my travel list! I was super encouraged by our conversation and super grateful for such a beautiful night sky! What a day! What a journey!
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