Day 15: JUST IN TIME FOR SUNSET
Julie and I got up at around 7am. We knew we had to make the nearly two-hour drive north to get to the Auckland Airport in time for our 12pm flight. So with our loaded up car, we checked out of the Boundary Court Motor Inn, Hamilton and were on our way.
At 10am, we were at the Maui Rental car facility. When it came time to return the keys (after another seemingly long wait), the clerk dropped a bomb…
“You owe us 120 New Zealand Dollars for your speeding ticket,” she said.
At first, I thought it had to do with that cop that pulled us over on SH12 as we headed towards Opononi. Maybe we did get ticketed after all even though he didn’t hand me one. But when I read the ticket, it said it took place at Waipu Gorge.
This was baffling. We were at Waipu Gorge the very first day we were in New Zealand. I got pulled over the next day in a totally different spot. How did I get pulled over for something that happened on a different day and several hours away? So I inquired about this with the clerk.
Of course, they gave me the usual run around as they didn’t want any drama and insisted that I pay. They even offered to contact the cop who wrote me up and have him provide the photograph and speed camera data. Knowing that we had to catch a flight, this issue didn’t need to drag out any further. So with an unsatisfactory explanation and still no clue where this ticket came from, I grudgingly paid the fine.
It was only in hindsight that maybe a cop going the other way might have gunned me when I had to speed up to get in front of a truck about to merge from his passing lane. If that was the case, then I thought that was hardly a fair way to get a speeding fine. But anyhow, that’s the way things roll sometimes…
Our flight occurred without incident. We arrived in Christchurch roughly around 1pm. Shortly thereafter, we picked up the Maui car hire, which thankfully was just a few blocks of walking distance from the terminal. This would be critical when I would have to do an early drop off at the end of our stay in the South Island.
None of that waiting for a shuttle during their trading hours like in the Auckland office.
What even surprised us more was that it didn’t take long to get the rental car. It really did seem like the Christchurch office for Maui Rental Car had their act together. Neither of us could say the same for the Auckland one.
Anyhow, the nice female German employee got us the keys and we were on our way to the West Coast.
It was 3pm when Julie made me take a detour to Hanmer Springs. She really wanted to do the thermal spas here, but it was getting late in the day and we still had a couple hours of driving to go. We probably spent 45 minutes here when we shouldn’t have. But anyhow, I was determined to come back here and maybe spend a night so she could enjoy the area on a return visit to New Zealand – whenever that would be.
The drive continued on the Lewis Pass Highway as we were doing our best to zoom westwards knowing that I wanted to catch a sunset at the Pancake Rocks on this day but we were running out of time and we had a long ways to go.
It was 5pm when we arrived at a signed pullout for the “Waterfall Walk.” I did the short uphill walk to the base of the waterfall at the end of the track and took photos. Julie wasn’t in a good mood (after the Hanmer Springs fiasco) and stayed in the car. I basically ran this trail so it only took me 20 minutes.
The weather so far had been mostly sunny. We did see some dark clouds trapped in the mountains to the west and we hoped they wouldn’t be where Greymouth was.
It was 6:30pm when we finally made it to the Charles Court Motel on the outskirts of Greymouth. Fortunately, the weather was fine. We picked up the keys and engaged in some friendly conversation with the lady at the front desk. When she learned we wanted to catch the sunset at the Pancake Rocks today, she ended the conversation abruptly and said, “GO! You’re going to miss it!”
So go we did. We were on the road at 7pm. The sun was supposed to set at some time around 8-ish. The drive was twisty and took about 45 minutes. The road hugging the sea cliffs really reminded me of Big Sur on the Central Coast of California. But this place had a more small town and wild feel to it.
Finally, it was 8pm when we found parking along the highway and immediately did our impression of a run-walk as we headed straight for Punakaiki and its Pancake Rocks.
It was literally a few minutes before the actual sunset when we arrived at the incredible sea-side scenery. The Pancake Rocks were aptly named because they had striations on them that gave the illusion that flat layers of rocks were stacked on top of each other. They were quite cool to say the least. The long rays of the setting sun also painting the coastlines an amazing orange. Furthermore, the turbulent oceans set off the blowholes here – namely the Putai Blowhole and the Chimney Pot.
Despite the fine weather, it felt really cold here. Every once in a while, the Putai Blowhole would splash up a wad of water that might get onto the lookout area.
And so Julie and I looked at the sun setting into some scattered clouds on the horizon. I had read on some New Zealand Backpacker Boards that this was the place to catch the sunset – and boy were they spot on!
As the landscape gave way to twilight, we could even see a bright moon giving off its light onto the dark paved trail. We were glad the lady sent us off because we literally made it just in time for sunset at the Pancake Rocks.
It was 9pm when we drove southwards to Greymouth in the dark. We ended up having to eat pizza since everyone else was closed. Still, it was quite a start to our South Island touring and we hoped we can keep it going…