Preparing for our departure from Abel Tasman the next morning was not an issue for Fika and I as we had plenty of room to pack etc in our executive sized accomodation. The same could not be said of those sharing the 3 bunk "sheds" who appear, universally, to have suffered a bad night, the earthquake notwithstanding.
Leaving Momma Bev, Mark and his special bottle of vin blanc to enjoy their outdoor pursuits in the improving weather we headed towards Punakaiki, home to the Paparoa National Park, the Pancake Rocks and a large limestone cavern, and a massive american inspired group dinner to celebrate US of A Independence Day.
After stops in the Buller Gorge and a whistlestop view of the Pancake Rocks at dusk we arrived fairly late and checked into a couple of big lodges set deep within the bush, no mean feat in the complete darkness I must say.
Once settled in Justin led the catering crew and produced a fantastic burger, hot dog, chicken wing and salad supper - shout out to Ailish and Bronagh for their Irish take on potato salad, Sam and Justin for generally frying the flesh and Rasmus for entertaining us with his Daytime/Nighttime impressions and generaly just being himself. . . . . . . . and so to bed.
Next morning saw the bulk of the bus head to Franz Joseph via Greymouth whilst Fika, John and I started our extended stay initially with short walk down the Truman Track to a beautiful little bay followed by a fine walk along the Pororari River trail.
Following the riverbank we reached the swingbridge where we stopped for lunch before taking the tougher, inland path back. It still perplexes this Fool that a track can climb for such a long way only for the descent to be very brief and yet still you are brought back to sea level! This particular path re-emerged the far side of both Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks but, given that it was almost low tide, we decided to trek homewards along the beach - at this point we encountered the dreaded sand flies whose bites remained on our skin long after they had been squashed. After such a long tramp we decided that we deserved a beer so we ploughed on to the Punakaiki Tavern where we each spent the best $7 dollars of the day on a cool ale.
The next morning revealed sore joints and tired muscles, just the right excuse for a big breakfast, a date with the washing machine and a leisurely stroll up to the blowholes in time for high tide and that killer photo opportunity. Sadly whilst our timing was right the amazing photo eluded each of us - further proof that you cannot trust the ocean!
Final morning found me packed up early and ready to be picked up at 8.00am to try my hand at bone carving. Karen, our carving instructor, picked up Momma Bev and I and headed back to her self built home in the bush around Barrytown. We were greeted by Karen's daughter, Dana, various of their extended family (geese, chickens, a goat etc) and then introduced to Digby, their crazy dog who plays with boulders the size of basketballs as well as various pieces of tennis balls (apparently he likes the rubber but hates the fluff). Whilst both Momma Bev and I amazed ourselves with our ability to convert a piece of bovine shin bone into a masterpiece of creative and symbolic art, Dana stoked up the brazier and we enjoyed barbequing gluten free cheesy sausages and marshmallows. We were also offered hot beverages and both of us decided upon fruit based teas - I'm sure that this had nothing to with the fact that the only milk available was freshly squeezed from beneath the family goat and it was still both warm and frothy!
Carving completed and our bones freshly buffed we headed back to the main road to await the bright orange bus to collect us on its merry way to Franz Josef and my first encounter with a glacier.
Postscript to Punakaiki: this is a lovely spot, the hostel was first class jungle based acommodation and the walks and beaches are fantastic. If you get the chance to visit this place you really ought to give it at least 3 days, it really is "sweet as".