Arriving at the NZMCA camp at Westport it was nice to be so close to the beach even if it was now a little cold to be dipping our toes in the water. The smell of the sea does wonders as a pick me up and the rugged scenery of the coast is so apparent from this point.
It was actually our intention to be here in February when we visited Golden Bay and Takaka but with the first cyclone that came through the country about then the West Coast was hit very hard with damage to the coastline road closures and worst of all the camp in Westport closed due to the large amount of debris washed up against the fence and over the access road.
The debris is still there in some places it’s metres deep up against the trees that also appear to have been killed off by the storm surge that would have swamped them. It is good to see though that the recycling process has started with people arriving with chainsaws and cutting logs to cart away for firewood although I would imagine it would need quite a bit of drying out.
As we wandered around the town we came across an area of housing close to the campsite that had been severely affected during the same storm with extensive flooding that was waist deep in some houses. It was sad to see that almost 3 months later the houses where sitting here empty with all carpet lifted and the gibboard cut from the walls above the flood level. In some of the streets there are multiple houses waiting to be repaired with no real sign of work starting. All rather sad.
Like almost every other town we have visited if the suns out then so are our bikes. The other day I was thinking about the places we have missed out on seeing because we cannot access them with the motorhome and realised that this pales into insignificance compared to the places we have visited with the bikes or on foot. Not to mention the kilos that have been lost with all this exercise.
So it was a huge milestone for me when my bike kicked over 1000kms since we had brought them late last year. Even though it’s an Ebike these days we almost never use the battery part of the bike but it’s great to have it there if needed.
Directly behind the NZMCA camp is a cycle trail that winds through the bushes towards the breakwater were on a wonderful West Coast day we were treated to blue skys flat water and some terrific views. This sort of day is one to be treasured in an area that gets over 200 days of rain a year.
Imagine our surprise when we saw these little pony carts heading along the road. What a great way to keep kids amused during the school holidays.
We have seen all sorts of things on fences along the roadside during our travels with shoes and bra’s seeming to be a common theme. But on a diversion down a quiet side street on the outskirts of town we came across the above fence containing mostly clocks but also various measuring devices. Maybe someones private collection that they have chosen a rather strange place to mount the stuff? who knows but it was great to see.
Also on the outskirts of town are not two but three cemeteries dating from various different time periods. I don’t know what it is about these places but both Sarah and I find it fascinating to wander around looking at various gravestones, maybe it helps give us a sense of the history of the area. Anyway these are two of the wonderful headstones we came across.
Back at the camp and after a short stroll along the beach it was time to put our feet up and enjoy such a gorgeous day. It’s a tough life sometimes but I guess someone has to be the one to suffer!
The following day with the sun still shining, maybe this is some sort of record for the coast we decided that we would visit Denniston an old coal mining area that has been extensively restored by DOC and the local preservation society. People we had talked to had all said this is a must view.
It’s not to far up the road from Westport to get to the turn off for Denniston then it’s just a matter of traversing 8 kms of winding steep road as you work your way towards the mine. It really is a bit of a slog and we were both glad that we weren’t doing this in the old Mitis camper, it would not have liked this hill.
The views once you arrive at the top are absolutely stunning especially on a day like this with almost no clouds in the sky. With a dedicated parking area just for motorhomes, where you can spend the night freedom camping if you wish, It was easy to find parking before setting out to explore the area.
Again it was one of those moments of were do I point the camera first there was just so much to see. They do however have it very well organised with the walk starting at what remains of one of the old buildings where there are multiple signboards that explain the history of the mine the people involved and the buildings both past and present. The walk then sets off with a one way path to follow that will ensure you get to see everything.
Walking down from the reception area (if you can call it that) we walked past this piece of winching equipment that certainly looked like it had the power to pull numerous coal buckets wherever they needed to go. Strangely there was nothing nearby to say what it was actually for but we assumed it might have been part of the aerial ropeway that moved the coal down the hillside later in the history of the mine.
It’s a short walk to the viewing platform that allow you to see the path the coal tenders used to take down the hill on the unmanned rope railway, so as one tender went down the hill it pulled an empty tender back up the hill, Quite an ingenious system.
Standing on the viewing platform however doesn’t seem to convey how steep the drop was until you walk over the edge. It’s really easy to imagine the tenders thundering over the edge as they then clatter their way down the hill. The restoration that has been done here by DOC and others is just fantastic I would suggest that this is also a must view if you are in this part of the West Coast.
The plateau area above the hill has a number of stations that where needed to run the rope railway, so called because the coal tenders were lashed to a rope that maintained a steady speed both up and down hill it also allowed the tenders to be brought back up the hill. All of this was powered by an enormous engine that drove this, you can only imagine the noise all of this would have created.
Interestingly the work day ran from 5am until 2.30pm with only one shift scheduled for the day but almost everyday they ran overtime till around 5pm (at least according to the sign board) so plenty of work for those employed here.
We took a walk along a ridge that runs below the main working area that was covered in old rusting pieces of equipment it’s like they just tipped the stuff of the edge and left it there to rot. Obviously they had never heard of recycling.
This same ridge was the home to 45 families in the earlier days of the mine this is because almost all of the flat land on top of the hill was used by the mine and given it was 8kms back to the flat land at the bottom of the hill it was to far to commute each day.
Following the path down from the ridge we got to see the remnants of the old arches that were used to help the railway access the more remote parts of the mine. Naturally given the collapsing state of this area you cannot walk along the top of this area.
After walking back up the path we went to see just how close we could get to the arches. To get close you need to walk past the old railway sheds where they repaired anything associated with the railway. However from here you cannot get any closer with the old railway line fenced off.
Sadly in early 2017 what was a major tourist experience here, a ride into the mine along the railway from this point closed due to changes to the health and safety laws. Although I am not sure I would have done the ride being somewhat claustrophobic it would have been interesting to get a professional tour of the area.
The whole area is one of those place no matter which way you turn there seems to be something new to see. So making a day out of the trip here would be a fairly easy thing to do.
Walking back to the motorhome both Sarah and I were surprised to see these cars parked in an area clearly marked for campervans only especially when the carpark just to the right was completely empty. We worked out that since there were picnic tables here overlooking the ridge with none at the next carpark that that’s probably why they had parked here. Just as well there weren’t a lot of motorhomes as the carpark was way to small for a vehicle our size.
Returning to the NZMCA camp for the night but with still plenty of daylight left we decided that we would follow the path into the town. A really nice walk developed along the sides of the river with boardwalks over the swampy areas. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours.
We had an interesting experience coming across this horse, saddled up but with no rider in sight. The horse was running backwards and forwards looking rather distressed at times, like where is my master/mistress in fact we both wondered if the rider had been thrown off somewhere.
Obvious there were a few concerned people as this was close to the boat ramp. Then Sarah spotted one of the local ladies who suggested that the horse probably belonged to the person who had walked past us with one of his ponies a few minutes before. However later as we walked back past the local racecourse we saw a number of horses here running round and wondered if it might have escaped from here as it was very close to the point we saw the horse.
Westport doesn’t appear to have a many historic places as some of the other towns we have visited on the Wet Coast (slip of the keyboard here but I thought it was a apt name) however this magnificent building looked so majestic with the late afternoon sun lighting up the building.
From here it’s on to the Heapy Track but that’s the next blog.