The West Coast

March 31, 2011 Comments Off on The West Coast

374 km

It was much easier to appreciate the balconies in the chilly, clear morning with a mug of coffee/chocolate (my trick for enduring instant). It was one of those good hotels you (or maybe just me) feel guilty for staying at for just one night. But nonetheless we were on our way to the West Coast. We found the roads suddenly deserted, which was good because it gave us time to get used to one-lane bridges (there are a lot). They’re signed telling you whether you have right-of-way or not. It works perfectly.

The big thing to do along this route was Nelson Lakes National Park, which is one place where they’re trying to reintroduce wild kiwis—there were a lot of grim signs about not bringing your dog. We stopped to do a hike—it turned out to be a pretty long loop path that went along the shore of Lake Rotoiti and then up into upland forest, very wet with thin trunks and sprays of tiny leaves. At the beginning was a lot of fuss about bellbirds, but we didn’t pay attention until we started hearing them. WOW. Bellbirds have the most beautiful call I’ve ever heard—a singing sort of whistle that echoes over itself like water over rocks, interspersed with adorable little wirrk noises. And their wings buzz when they fly. Simon managed to take a video of them singing. You don’t need to see them (it’s not a great video—they’re too far away), but here’s the audio:

Bellbird.

We didn’t finish our hike until after 1, which was to become a major theme of the trip. Lunch was gas station sandwiches, but fortunately I found another bottle of my new liquid crack: e2 blackcurrant-apple juice drink, which is not only amazingly delicious but comes in convenient squeeze bottles that are nice to refill with water and use when driving. We booked it for the coast along a twisty road that followed the Buller River through the hills. It looked like nice swimming, but we couldn’t find anywhere it was plausible to swim from.

The coast was far too cold to think of swimming, but it was also too beautiful. The road down from Westport to Greymouth, although twisty and a little nerve-wracking, has got to be one of the most gorgeous drives in the world. The waves were lashing angular pieces of rock strewn down the coast and out to sea, kind of like the Oregon sea stacks except cooler. I can’t do it justice, but my mouth was open for most of that drive. Partway down are the Pancake Rocks, which look like stacks of pancakes and also have blowholes and sea caves and whatnot. The guidebook said they were “stylobedded,” but was vague on what exactly that meant. As we walked from the car park down to the rocks, I held forth to Simon about stylolites, which are obviously not the same but which I thought might be similar, and lo and behold, when we reached the walkway, there was a big sign explaining that stylobedding is basically a large-scale form of stylolites.

So what are stylolites, you ask? (You knew I was going to have to tell you about it.) When limestone or dolomite is compressed, the grains are forced into pressure solution; that is, the pressure of grain against grain is so great that the parts of the grains that touch are dissolved. This allows the rock to compress, because the grains can flow into what was previously pore space. But a lot of limestone contains materials that are not as soluble as the calcium carbonate that makes up the bulk of the rock, like iron and clay minerals. These insoluble bits end up concentrated at the line where the calcium carbonate grains have come together, which frequently forms a zigzag line in the rock perpendicular to the direction of stress (usually horizontal). Stylobedding is stylolite formation on such a scale that the clay minerals left behind actually create a bed of mudstone, which is easily eroded out, leaving blobs of limestone that look like discrete pancakes.

Blowholes are pretty cool, too, I guess.

At some point prior to Greymouth, we were reading about the glaciers coming up not far south of us, and Simon decided we should do a heli-hike. We picked up a brochure from the motel in Greymouth that said you could wear anything on your legs except jeans. And of course jeans were all I brought. I had no sunglasses, either, which I anticipated would be a problem. Fortunately, we found another Warehouse, where I tried on sport pants and none of them worked, although I did get sunglasses, so it was a success after all.

[back-posted]

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