New Zealand- Chapter 16- Through the Buller Gorge to the North

As with so many of my mornings in New Zealand, I woke up on day sixteen to grey skies and foggy conditions, but I could tell, as it got lighter, that the skies were likely to clear. I was still running a couple days ahead of my intended schedule, so, for the second day in a row, I was able to explore some sights that I may have had to drive by had I been forced by inclement weather to wait in Franz Josef Glacier for my scenic flight over the mountains & glaciers. After about an hour of driving from Punakaiki, I puled off onto some side roads and parked in the southern lot for the Cape Foulwind walkway.

This point was first named Rocky Cape by Abel Tasman on his visit to New Zealand, but was renamed with it’s current descriptive name by James Cook almost 100 years later when he was blown far off course by a prevailing wind.

The seal breeding grounds at Tauranga Bay is Cape Foulwind’s most popular attraction. The well maintained boardwalk leads from the parking structure to a couple of spots that overlook the seals below. I was able to view a number of seal pups, which spent lots fo time flinting around and annoying the older seals, who were mostly trying to catch a nap in the early morning sunshine.

I thought for a while about hiking the whole trail through to the lighthouse a few kilometers to the north across some fields, but I didn’t want to have to take the time to hike it back.

Instead, I headed back to the parking lot to drive over to the parking lot for the lighthouse, a few kilometers to the north. Along the way I took the time to stop and take pictures of the many bird colonies that had gathered along the beaches to the south.

On the pathway out to the lighthouse, I was greeted by a curios Weka, one of New Zealand’s signature flightless birds.

The hike to the lighthouse was a short, uphill one, and after snapping off a few pictures, I decided it would be best to get back on the road, since I could see some darker clouds building in the distance, and I knew the road to the North Coast ahead of me was going to be a winding mountain road, and I figured it would be best to start northward.

True to form, the weather changed quickly as Highway 6 headed into the Buller Gorge. I stopped along the Buller River to make lunch, and by the time I’d finished eating twenty minutes later, it had started raining.

It wasn’t raining very hard, but the current precipitation, combined with the rain the previous few days led to a number of landslides along Highway Six as it headed east. No one these completely blocked the road, and there were road crews already out attempting to stabilize the weak points and clear the road of rocks and debris.

I’d expected to do this route during the late afternoon or early evening, with the possibility that it would have to be done in fading light or complete darkness. I was glad this wasn’t the case, not just because the slow, twisting road, but also because the gorge and it’s environs were absolutely gorgeous.

Rain & Sun (Typical New Zealand Weather)

As I drove, the weather alternated from heavy downpours to light drizzle, cloudy skies to mostly sunny skies. Due to this mixture, I was able to see a number of rainbows, something that I’d already seen on a number of days so far on my trip.

The open area around the small town of Murchison was especially pretty.

Two and a half hours into the drive, I reached the turnoff of Nelson Lakes National Park. The park encompasses two beautiful lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa, and also the surrounding valleys. I had read quite a but about the park, but since it is a largely a hiking and camping park with few roads, I knew the part I would see was bound to be only a sliver of the park.

Even knowing that, I turned onto Gowan Valley Road and drove to the shores of Lake Rotoroa. It was a remarkably peaceful setting, with swans, complete with adorable chicks in tow swimming in the lake’s waters. The lake also reflected the beautiful skies, creating a number of signature photos.

I didn’t get to spend very long in the park, but I could tell that this was a special place. This time of year (early winter) the park was almost abandoned.

Highway Six continued north for a while, the I turned on to the Motueka Valley Highway and headed north. I had entered one of the countries many wine producing regions. The highway passed alongside many vineyards and small wineries  most closed for the season, the others closed this late afternoon. The area was so beautiful I know, despite not being much of a wine drinker, that I will need to return to this region in my next trip to New Zealand to explore it better.

I finally arrived at my destination of Kaiteriteri, on the Bass Strait, as the last of the daylight drained from the sky. I checked in at the Kaiteriteri Motor Park across the street from the beach, and had a delightful conversation with the park’s proprietor.

I was treated to a beautiful sunset as I strolled the beach. I made dinner in the campground’s community kitchen, another in a string of excellent campground kitchens, while talking about my trip with an Australian couple who was just at the beginning of their month-long trip around the South Island.

NEXT: Chapter Seventeen- The Longest Short Walk in Abel Tasman NP

Day Sixteen photo gallery-   Facebook   Flickr

Other Links:
Cape Foulwind Seal Colony
Cape Foulwind Lighthouse
Nelson Lakes National Park
Kaiteriteri Beach Motor Camp 

The New Zealand 2012 Series:
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.2)
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.3)
Photo Essay- The Two Faces of Doubtful Sound
Chapter Nine- The Milford Sound Road
Chapter Ten- Milford Sound and The Hollyford Road
Photo Essay- Milford Sound Cruise
Chapter Eleven- Onward to Queenstown
Chapter Twelve- In, Above & Around Queenstown
Photo Essay- Sunrise over Queenstown
Chapter Thirteen- A Soggy Drive to the West Coast
Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.1)
Photo Essay- Glacier Scenic Flight
Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.2)
Chapter Fifteen- Meandering Up the West Coast

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