Monday, 26 October 2015

The West Coast

Arriving at the West Coast, Punakaiki quickly became one of my favourite places in New Zealand. Punakaiki is smaller than a village, without even a supermarket or a convenience store. In fact, there really isn't much there. But as we reached the coast, I couldn't help but marvel at what an incredible force of nature the sea really is.

My guidebook described the West Coast as "rugged". The word I am left with is "wild". The sea rolls in in unstoppable waves, relentlessly pressing against the massive rock formations. Its effect is obvious everywhere you look, no rock left untouched.

And it felt so right to have my first experience of this place alone (I would later join forces with some other people staying at my hostel). Because I didn't feel like a spectator of something, but as a part of my surroundings. And I can't describe this feeling in words that aren't cheesy or corny, in words used a thousand times before, but I did really feel at one with nature. And so I walked around with a red nose and wet hair, because in this place where everything is uncontrollable, the weather likes to make its own decisions too, feeling more at peace than I have in a long time.

Punakaiki is known for its Pancake Rocks, so called because they look like stacks of pancakes, or at least that's the popular explanation. Tourists pour out of buses to gaze at this natural wonder. In this place, that humans obviously can't control, we build walkways. To construct some sense of order, to create a safe distance between us and the incredible force that is the sea. So that we have a place to look at it, without actually having to be affected. So that we remain in some sort of control.

At the end of the day the light changes, the landscape looks softer, but the sea still keeps going. I don't know if it ever calms down. I don't think it does.

On a lighter note, as the main attraction here is the Pancake Rocks, the café's speciality is, of course, pancakes. I treated myself to a ridiculously expensive stack the morning before I left, and it was just as amazing as I thought everything else in Punakaiki was.

And one last thought before I go. I've touched on this before, but it is incredibly fascinating to observe tourists in New Zealand. Absolutely every tour bus stops to look at the Pancake Rocks. People get out for half an hour, have a look around, then they move on. I went on a bush walk* when I was in Punakaiki, a beautiful 10km through the rainforest, and I only met three other people in two hours. I went to another lookout by the coast, and there were no one else there. And I get it, I do. If you have limited time in New Zealand, you want to make sure you don't miss the important things. After all, they are sights for a reason, and I'm ticking off all the attractions myself. But it's interesting how very little you have to stray from the tourist paths before you have these beautiful beaches and forests all to yourself.

*"bush" is what the New Zealanders call the forest. Can you tell how much Kiwi culture I'm picking up? Though I guess "walk" really should be "tramp". So I went on a bush tramp...

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