Well the plan had been to shoot down the West Coast to get to Manapouri in time to catch a boat trip onto Doubtful Sound on Saturday afternoon. It meant several days of driving past places we would ordinarily have wished to explore, but there was only one date available and this was our one chance to take what everyone said would be an unforgettable trip. What we hadn’t reckoned with was the impact of the tail-end of Cyclone Fehi, downgraded to tropical storm status by the time it battered the West Coast of New Zealand, but still strong enough to throw up 100mph gusts at Cape Foulwind (and yes Duncan it IS a real place!).
For those of you who are a bit hazy about the geography of South Island, the Southern Alps run two thirds the length of the island on the left hand side (the west side for the more technical among you) and pretty close to the coast too, meaning there is a relatively narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea. To get to the West Coast there are three road passes across the mountains (Haast in the South, Arthur’s Pass 350km to the north of Haast, and Lewis Pass even further north). And there is just one road, Highway 6, which runs up the West Coast and joins everything together. That means that if anything happens to the road and you can’t get through (e.g. a bridge collapse or a swan decides to nest in the middle of the highway) you have a jolly long way to back track and go the ‘long way round’. In total it would require a round trip of about 1,300km.
We were roughly half way between Haast and Arthur’s Pass when the cyclone hit, in a small tourist village at the bottom of Fox Glacier (not the home of the eponymous mint, they are named after the pub just outside the factory in Leicester where the sweets were originally made). We were lucky in that we were in a town – there were a number of vehicles still out on the Highway and they found themselves trapped by fallen trees and landslides making it impossible to move North or South. Never mind going the long way round, the road was blocked in both directions.
And so we stayed for three days, unable to move, surviving on rumours and counter rumours as to exactly when we might get going again. The storm passed after about 24 hours but it had stirred up high seas (king tides is another new word we have learned) which deposited large boulders onto the road where it passed by the beach. The lack of solid information was a problem but generally there was a good spirit among the stranded travellers and the local authority did their best to find accommodation for people who needed it. We were snug in our van but wisely camped near the public loos so we didn’t need to worry about our toilet getting filled up … to much information Ian, move on.
Miraculously after three days it was suddenly announced that the road was open in BOTH directions (the authorities had worked wonders clearing away the landslides etc dotted the length of the route) and a grateful band of travellers were on the road again. Alas for us we were too late to catch our boat trip and have had to re-book with another provider for a later date, so hopefully will still bin get to take that ‘trip of a lifetime’. More importantly no one was hurt or injured in the storm although I felt particularly sorry for one young couple who are getting married at the end of February who had seen pictures of their wedding venue in Nelson literally washed away in the storm.
We are now having to adjust back to being travellers with no fixed timetable … but have decided to keep clear of the West Coast for the rest of the trip and the lottery that travelling SH6 entails. (In case you think I am being a little melodramatic I guess I am but the only other time we were in New Zealand five years ago SH6 was closed for five days following the collapse of a bridge. In that instance it didn’t affect us as the road re-opened the day we needed to travel but it has ‘form’ as they say).
After the last post there was some scurrilous talk that I had done away with Sally as she didn’t feature in the blog. Maybe it was the publication of this picture that started the rumour.
Well here is a more recent picture of us beside Lake Hawea (why are selfies so difficult to take?). Hopefully all fears on that score are allayed!
And for those of you curious to know what Manchester is, well I will leave that to the next post 😁