Onto the West

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Day 27   Nelson Lakes – Westport      

After a rainy cold night, I wake up to a bit of blue sky trying to peek out from behind the clouds, today is going to be another hot summery day at the Nelson Lakes. After packing up and leaving the freedom camp down by the river on SH6, I head to St Arnaud at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti. First stop is to have a look around the information centre there. The Lakes area is full of walks and Mountain bike trails, so after finding out where they all are I headed down to the local café to full myself up on a big breakfast and decide on what to do. After polishing off my large BLT I decide to take the bike for another ride and I head off to the Teetotal Trails Mountain bike park.

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The park has several different tracks and difficulty’s, from easy to expert. I take the easy Skating pond loop track to start off with. The scenery around here is amazing as well, the track is pretty flat with long brown grass, a few trees scattered around, with the towering mountains of the Nelson Lakes National Park in the back ground. After a while I turn on to the Sidewinder track, this is graded as an advanced track, and it shortly shows why. The track heads up into the hills and bush. With the rain last night it has made it very slippery, there’s tree roots everywhere and a number of stream crossings to contend with. With the number of near misses, I don’t know how I didn’t hurt myself along the way, it was good fun but think I might leave the advance track to the more experienced.

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Halfway along the track is where I was going to take the Intermediate, Flying Moa track and head up to the top of the hill, but once I get there the signs said no entry, exit only and I could see why, the track went pretty much straight up the hill. Would have been a technical decent, zigzagging your way down but cause I didn’t read the map properly I have to carry along the Sidewinder track. Once at the end of the track and back on flat ground I head along the Ratter Rim track back to the carpark.

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West Coast

After a bit of a late lunch and strapping the bike back on to the van I head down to Lake Rotoiti for a look, the wind had started to pick up so it wasn’t that flat but with the mountains surrounding the lake and a little jetty it was a great place for a few pictures. By now its mid-afternoon and I start making my way to Westport, my destination for the night, 2 hours away. The road is long with lots of twists and turns, following the Buller river all the way into Westport. Watching it grow in size as you get closer to the coast. I had planned to stay at a freedom camp just outside Westport, but when I get there I find its quite full so I carry on into town to the Top 10 Camp ground and park up there for the night. After a short ride, watching the sun go down by the beach it was bed time.

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Day 28   Westport – Denniston – Punakaiki

After a good night sleep, I rise nice and early for a day exploring the West coast. After talking to a couple of locals, I’m going to head up to Denniston and have a look around the old Coal mine. Winding my way up the steep road to the top of the hill, I come to a carpark with a little shed next to it. The little shed contained boards full of Information, photos and the History of the mine and the Denniston Incline.

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Top of the Incline

These guys were Tough, hardy West Coasters, reading about the weather and the rough terrain they had to deal with and not having our modern day equipment. Digging out the coal and then sending it down the Incline to the waiting trains then down to the port for shipping. The company started in 1880 by the Westport Colliery Company, extending the local train tracks and then building the Denniston Incline. The Incline transported the coal in waggons, from on top of the Mt Rochfort Plateau, down the slopes, nearly 600m to the trains below. Using wires on drums and the help of gravity to get the full loaded 12.5 ton waggons down the tracks.

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Walking down to the where they use to full the waggons and send them over the edge of the incline, there isn’t much left, just a few stone blocks, a couple of the old waggons and some rust steel but you can just imagine what it must have been like. In 1910 they had 464 men underground producing 348,400 tons of Coal, 12-18 wagons an hour up and down the Incline in freezing cold and wet conditions. In 1967 the Incline was closed after the demand for coal had declined and the road down to the port had improved. Another place you should put on your to see list, with the history and the fantastic views down to Westport and of the Westcoast.

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Next site for the day is some rocks further down the Coast. Situated in Punakaiki, on the Dolomite Point, they are called the Pancake rocks and when you see the pictures you’ll see why, formed over millions of years, the lime stone has many hard and soft layers, which with the help of the environment conditions, help to form a pancake like shape. Only a short walk down a path from the Information centre on the SH6, you get views down the West Coast, around a bit further to the Pancake rocks and blow hole, then to the view of the northern part of the West Coast where we spot a few Dolphins playing in the surf.

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Perfect sun set for the end of the fourth week.

Tomorrows activity is only a few minutes further down the road, so I find a campsite close by. The Rapahoe Beach campground is the spot for tonight. Right on the beach and after the perfect sunset it was time to call it a day. Tomorrows activity is quite different to the usual touristy things to do but it’s something I’ve always wanted to give a go.

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