The scenery on the drive from Hanmer Springs to Greymouth on the South Island’s west coast is nothing short of spectacular.
The terrain alters between barren mountain ranges with rivers running over pale grey rock beds, to dense forests of dark timber trunks and feathered green foliage. There are lush pastures with fat cows, jagged rock faces, dramatic cliffs…one stunning post card after another. (You’ll have to wait for the GoPro video for all the footage!)
Then you come across the odd little town of Reefton. I’m not sure if I’d call it quaint or creepy. Little miners cottages painted in peeling pastels, lacy curtains at the windows. Apart from the bustling tea rooms, the whole town looked like it stopped all operations in around 1965, with everything the colour of a faded “Fun with Dick and Jane” reader.
On to Greymouth, and never before has a town been so aptly named. Once a hub of logging and mining (coal and gold), the residents we saw seemed trapped, with lonely old men wandering un-tucked and aimless, either trying to remember “the good old days”, or doing their best to forget.
But we weren’t there to do a sociological analysis…no, no. We were there to get into some cray cray adventure shenanigans!
When I booked the “Taniwha Blackwater Cave Rafting and Glow Worms” tour, and excitedly tapped the “Zipline in” option, I kind of forgot my hatred of the feeling of dropping. I’m not scared of something breaking, or the chance I could plummet to my death: it’s the physical feeling of losing my stomach. It’s the reason why I get anxious thinking about my bungy experience in 1998, and post kids, my stomach is even more sensitive; a high push on a swing is enough to set me off.
So as I was harnessed up, over a full wetsuit, thermals, and helmet, and clipped to a zipline 30 metres above a rainforest river with our guide Rangi putting his best diversionary psych techniques into practice “so, tell me about your job…”, all that was running through my head was “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”
The view was undeniably stunning. A deep ravine, rich forest and churning river WAY down below.
“I’m not doing it. Nope”
Rangi persisted. Cam and Milana yelled words of encouragement. Poor limping Avalon had to stay in the minibus for this part of the day. Scrambling over slippery rocks on crutches was out of the question.
And, finally, I did it. There was no falling sensation. It was a super fast glide, and all I could hear was the whiring of the zipline (and apparently my screams). Milana squealed all the way down too, thankfully in delight, and Cam, GoPro attached to his helmet, did it with ease.
Bailey, our other guide, unhooked us, and we got ready for phase 2 of our 5 hour adventure. I’ve got to mention too, we were incredibly lucky with this tour. We were the only 4 booked on it, and they usually get up to 12 people! Bailey showed us how to mount and alight from rubber inner-tubes. He did so with such elegance. I however, wrapped in 2 layers of too-long neoprene and underthings, had all the agility of a marshmallow puff. My mini T-Rex arms could barely reach the water to paddle, so I was at the mercy of the tannin-stained river’s flow.
I have never seen such a glorious spot. The ravine’s walls were painted with a carpet of moss, and as we floated down the river, cupping handfuls of crisp water into our mouths, droplets from the rocks and ferns fell down in slow motion onto our faces. It was magical.
We met up with Avalon and Rangi at the mouth of a cave, sliding down a slippery embankment on a “slid” (Bailey was too embarrassed to say it in his NZ accent), and with Avalon now on board, the four of us were guided into the cave in our inner tubes. Glow worms lit up the ceiling like the Milky Way, and Bailey gave us a bit of history about the cave (it used to be part of a gold mine), some info on the glow worms (they’re larvae with tiny webs that attract food…and they glow more when you make noise), and Maori legends (the cave used to house a taniwha, or supernatural serpent, that would steal women away and eat them…until he stole the WRONG woman, the chief’s wife, and he was a goner!). Hot chocolate and a spa back at base, and it was an afternoon well spent.
We picked up 2 kilos of fresh mussels from Countdown (a total of $12), cooked them up with tomato, garlic and wine and sat shelling them to the sound of the ocean as the sun set over Cobden Beach camp site.