We hit the road early today. The drive out is that same way as the drive in, back to Motueka. The cloud was low over the mountains but the road was clear. I really wasn’t looking forward to driving that road in fog, but it wasn’t an issue at all.
From Motueka we headed along the beautiful Motueka Valley Highway to Murchison. After a quick break for a bite to eat and a drink we drove on towards the west coast through Buller Gorge with its spectacular scenery. It might get a bit boring reading about the scenery on the south island if it continues on the way it is, but ‘spectacular’ really is the best way to describe it.
We stopped at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge, NZ’s longest swingbridge at 110m, across the Buller River. Even though it was a long, bouncy bridge and the view of the river was great, the experience was nowhere near as pleasant as the much shorter swingbridge we crossed yesterday. There were way too many people today and it’s not even high season. This bridge has a small entry fee ($5 each) and they try to get you to pay for a flying fox ride back (much more expensive at $30 each). After crossing over we did a short loop walk and then crossed back. They weren’t regulating the crossing so if you chose to cross the bridge back, which we did, you had to try to fit in between those people crossing from the entrance. We waited a while, but there was a steady enough stream of incoming people so we had to just head back and squeeze past the incomers. I’m sure that some people would choose the take the flying fox back just to avoid the inconvenience.
On through Buller Gorge with its winding, narrow roads, high steep-sided mountains (did I mention the spectacular scenery?) and single lane bridges; we stopped at the Hope Saddle lookout. The lookout itself was poorly signposted from the carpark, but after taking a look at the picnic area with no view, we noticed the track at the back of the carpark and wandered along to the lookout area for great 360 degree views. If it hadn’t been already, the devastation to the natural NZ bush was obvious here. Most of the view of the mountains was of Radiata Pine in various stages of growth, or of sections of mountainside stripped completely bare. I lost count of the number of logging trucks we passed today.
The Buller River at the bottom of the gorge appears to be pretty popular with white-water rafters and jet-boats. There are lots of rapids and lots of river gravels; it’s a very pretty river.
We arrived in Westport early in the afternoon, checked into our motel and then drove out to Cape Foulwind (named by Captain Cook) to see the fur seal colony there. We saw several Weka (a flightless hen similar to a rail) in the carpark. They are obviously used to being fed and the ones we saw could definitely give the seagulls a run for their money.
At first it was hard to see the seals lying on the rocks below the walking track, but once we saw a couple, we soon started seeing lots. They kind of blend into the colour of the rocks and you need to get your eyes attuned to seeing them. Apparently there can often be a lot more, but we got lots of photos, there were even a few seal pups.
We were going to have tea at the restaurant out at the cape, near the seal colony. It’s won the ‘best restaurant on the west coast’ for the past 10 years. We rocked up at 6pm only to find that it’s not open on Tuesdays! Our motel room is a self-contained studio to it was back to our room to make our own tea.