Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Welcome to Barry-No-Town

This morning we rolled out of Old Macdonald's Farm at 9am and headed south, down the wild west coast. Our ultimate destination: Barrytown, a (very) small settlement between Westport and Greymouth. We stopped in Murchison at a café for lunch: until the recent earthquake in Christchurch, Murchison held the record for the most severe earthquake on the South Island (7.8 in June 1929): there was so much property damage the small town's residents were relocated to Nelson while the area was rebuilt.

As we headed down Highway 6 toward Westport, I found things becoming eerily familiar as we entered territory I had traversed with Mainline Steam. It was a treat to see the Buller Gorge again, and to see it this time from the opposite bank, as the highway runs down one side, and the rail line up the other. The highway side has a unique feature called Hawks Crag, where one lane (one-way alternating traffic) has essentially been carved into a sheer cliff face. As Nat dryly remarked, "This is tons of fun in a big bus" (we're in a mini-coach, not much taller than your average van). As it was, we were a tight fit…

Yes, we had to go under there!

Our grocery stop in Westport was eerie… I knew I had been there before, but due to my food poisoning my memories were somewhat hazy. We did walk past Basil's Backpackers, where I stayed for that one miserable afternoon/evening.

In the mid afternoon we were able to traverse the Cape Foulwind Walkway, so named by Captian James Cook in 1770 due to the atrocious weather conditions he experienced in the area. The cape had been seen earlier by Abel Tasman, who called it Clyppygen Hoeck ("Rocky Point" in Dutch), but it was Cook's name that ultimately stuck. Over the 3.4km walk we saw the lighthouse (and the foundation for the previous kerosene-powered one), the remnants of the old limestone quarry site, and in the distance, the more recent active quarry site. We also saw a few Kekeno, the New Zealand fur seal, swimming and bathing on the rocks, but they were black and far away and had the light behind them, so they were quite hard to see.

The old lighthouse foundations
Quarry in the distance
Can you see the fur seals?

True to Captain Cook's observations, the Cape is indeed very, very windy! This part of New Zealand is situated in the "Roaring Forties", referring to the latitude of the land, and strong winds constantly blow across the ocean here ("Windy Welly" bears the brunt of a lot of this).

Our last stop of the afternoon was Paparoa National Park, were we visited Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes. Unfortunately, we couldn't get close to the blowholes, as the platform in front of them was being repaired.

Pancake rocks are made of limestone, but the process by which it has formed into layers is still not well understood. the process is called "stylobedding":

Limestone is made up of buried and compacted shell and skeleton subjected to pressure. It appears in the case of the pancake rocks some grains of shell and skeleton were put under such immense pressure that they became a solution, and some minerals merged with this to form layers of mudstone in between the limestone sections. As these limestone cliffs have been pushed upward and sculpted by the sea, erosion has worn away the mudstone faster than the limestone, enhancing the pancake effect.

The park is incredible; one walks over limestone caves while the sea water crashes and flows underneath, and there is a set of stairs carved directly into the pancake rock.

We are now in Barrytown, or "Barry-no-town", or "Bring-your-own-fun-town", a very small settlement that used to be called "Mile 17 Creek" and was primarily a stop for flax harvesting and rope making for ships. There is quite literally nothing here; a few houses, the bar/backpackers where we are staying, and a few scattered dairy farms. The ironic nickname (best illustrated by the costume parties in the bar) is "Barry-Vegas", although after our "Bea's Barrytown Birthday Bash" (a girl named Bea on our trip turned 25 today), in which we all had to dress up as something starting with "B", I think "Hill-Barry Town" would be a more appropriate name. Between the antics of the Scottish "Boy" Band (comprised entirely of girls) and the amount they are able to drink, we definitely weren't  very civilized. I went as a "Broadleaf Maple" (I wore red and a Canadian Flag), but made up for my not-so exciting costume by winning a "pick-up-the-ever-shrinking-in-height-box-off-the-floor-with-your-teeth-and-don't-let-your-hands-touch-the-floor" game. (Should I be proud of this? Likely not). I must admit, I was more excited by the prospect of eating my chicken burger dinner and having a shower. It's the simple things in life…


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