Everything ends up looking just that little bit better at sunset (I am sure sunrise is quite nice too, but the morning can be a difficult time of day). So, as we zipped along the West-Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we were thrilled as we arrived at Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks right as the sun was setting we felt extremely blessed. The dim light perfectly highlighted the limestone rocks, which have been eroded by the surf over time to form what looks like stacks of pancakes. Something about the way the rocks stood in the ocean reminded us of the 12 Apostles we had seen on The Great Ocean Road. However, this place was far less touristy. Yet, no less majestic under the rich light of dusk. As the evening tide swelled, caverns beneath and around the pancake rocks created “blow holes,” or water spouts, spewing up water through the holes in the rock, giving us a slight misting as we walked along.
That evening, we arranged to stay at an inexpensive holiday park where we enjoyed the “luxury” of cooking indoors as well as warm running water at our disposal. To this day, Raphael insists this was his favorite night of camping! The next morning we woke up in our camper van, only to be surrounded in an absolute land of lush, green, tropical forrest. Although we had planned to drive south down the coast that day, we simply needed to continue discovering north of Punakaiki. Driving along the road, we drove through dense rainforest encompassing profound cliff sides whose crevasses ran deep with fresh water, which flowed into the sea. Yet again, we got the impression we were driving on a more rustic Great Ocean Road. However, we were surrounded by no one, it was just us, Jor-el the camper van, and nature. Further, when we saw the chance to go kayaking in a local river we seized the chance to take our fist dose of adrenalin.
Upon arriving to the shack-like rental facilities, a man who was sitting, listening to audio books handed us a string. Apparently, it was supposed to be tied around our sunglasses to keep them on our face. Of course Raphael and I poo-pood his suggestion, forcing him to tie the string on himself. Apparently the river was running slightly more fast than usual. The man proceeded to give us full-body wetsuits and buckets to protect our valuables. Overall, I felt as if he was just coving his bases so he would not be getting sued by any travelers. Walking down to the river, it flowed by at a nice, steady calm pace. Yet, upon getting into our kayak we got a sense of the stakes–the water was freezing. I had rather not planned on falling into the water from such a steady river, but I intended to be especially careful now knowing the temperature of the water.
Slowly, but surely, we headed upstream (not an easy task)! The views were absolutely spectacular! Again, it was us alone in complete and utter nature. Small birds danced above our heads, and the water was crystal clear. A dense collection of rainforest palm trees, ferns and moss jetted directly into the water, creating a steep shoreline along the river. At every curve, bunches of rocks had been collected and made for nice stopping points to take a sip of water.
Everything was floating (pun intended) along absolutely swimmingly (hint), until we hit rapids. All of sudden, the nice little rock collections had turned into a breeding ground for rushing currents, and small white caps. Try as I may, on several occasions it was necessary to hop out of the kayak and accept pulling my boat along. I will let you note that Raphael also had to do this, I am not just weak. Getting frustrated with walking in such cold water, I gave another wing at paddling, only to completely flip my kayak over. Now I understood why the man had given us a wetsuit. Despite the utter freezing shock that my body was put through, the safety bucket with the camera (!!) and my wallet (!!!) and my passport (!!!!) started floating quickly away. Raphael quickly came to my aid, but the two of us holding the kayak only made it fill up with water, making it almost unbearable to lift. I went running (more of a run-swim-fall-spash mix) after the bucket, and managed to rescue it, and Raphael managed to reorganize my kayak. In the end, we managed to collect everything except for a few water bottles, which we would find again on our return. More determined than ever to get upstream, we continued to walk/paddle through the river. That is, until Raphael too managed to flip his kayak resulting in a similar disaster to my own.
At this point, we surveyed the number of rapids ahead of us, and decided to turn back. We let our kayaks dry out a bit while relaxing and enjoying the view before turning back. To say the least, the way back was smooth sailing, and we fully enjoyed riding through the small rapids we had earlier so hated. Well, we had wished for adrenalin, and we got it!
Next stop, Fox & Franz Joseph Glacier!