The Subritzkys were wide awake at 3am as the wind rose and showers of acorns hit the tin roof of the cabin from the oak tree beside it.
Anthems were played and we rolled out to the wonderful drawl of Kenny the Trail Officer as he gave us courteous instructions over the radio.
The convoy lumbered gently over the 135-year-old swing bridge high above the Waiau River. Hanging a hard right at the intersection we headed west towards the Lewis Pass.
Traffic filtered past us as we rose and fell through the hills following the river. An articulated truck had ploughed into a bank and its load was being transferred to another unit.
We started climbing into beech forest in the Lewis Reserve and it was a beautiful, mystical scene with mist in the forest.
Cresting the summit, we went down through some tight turns and narrow bridges to eventually make it to the rest stop at Springs Junction. Peter Haigh shouted us all coffees before we headed off towards Reefton. Pretty much the entire stretch to Reefton was through primordial beech rainforest. Mile after mile of Peter Jackson movie set landscapes.
Advance directed us into a carpark in Reefton adjacent to an old steam engine which the local kids had decorated with graffiti, boasting about their enhancements. This despite the loco being housed in a fenced off cage.
It was time for lunch and pies seemed like the perfect choice. However, the bakery was not prepared for the volume of people who descended on them, so after the first few convoy teams converged on it they sold out, so most had to find lunch elsewhere. We dispersed around the town to take in the sights. The Bearded Miners are the main attraction and do a great job of bringing the hut on the corner alive.
We pushed on towards Greymouth through the darkening clouds. The meandering back roads took us past the entry to the Pike River Mine. The clouds exploded into heavy downpours to further test the mettle of the Jeep drivers and passengers. Gary continued the windscreen-down-no-top policy supported by Lyn Eades in the passenger seat. They are fully experiencing the NZ environment in a tactile way.
The convoy turned off the highway and ground up the hill to Blackball in the deluge. The “Formerly the Blackball Hilton” beckoned to us through the rain so we headed over to have a pint.
Inside is a huge display of historical documents and photos as well as a painting of a naked lady over the bar. The articles are all about strikes and people getting killed in mining catastrophes, interspersed with people getting killed in a couple of world wars. The patrons probably needed to focus on the naked lady after all that depressing news. Blackball is the birthplace of the Labour Party. It’s easy to see why Labour started there and is still popular when mine bosses a hundred years ago objected to a 30-minute paid lunch break down in the mine.
The Austin Champ inexplicably needed a tow start around the streets of Blackball before we headed down the hill in the rain and near gale force winds towards Greymouth – the Met Service rain radar showed a bright blue rain cloud precisely targeted at our location while the rest of NZ basked in sunshine – you can thank us later.
The Greymouth Top 10 offered a range of accommodation options to suit everyone including Jeep garaging for a lucky few. We gratefully went into our warm, dry lodgings for respite. It had been a big day.