World Trip Home Post Fourteen

Post Fourteen - Adventureland


Karl took this fabulous picture of my sister Debra on the coast near Punakaiki. There were caves eroded into limestone cliffs and we spent an afternoon exploring. The tide pools were filled with colorful starfish. Coming around one corner, we startled a sea lion basking on a rock. It was a great day to be alive. -- Scott

Pancake RocksPancake Rocks

These limestone cliffs jut out of the central west coast of the South Island just south of Punakaiki. After an almost sleepless night in a bedbug-infested hostel (each couple had to share one bunk, because two of four were infested; disgusting, but it makes a great story later!), it was a relief to stretch our legs, walk the paths along the cliff tops, and admire the view.

The rocks themselves are an interesting piece of geology, but their spectacular blowholes make them a rarity not to be missed. The relentless assault of the tide has bored tunnels where the rock meets the ocean, then worked away weaker rock from underneath, creating shafts that reach up to the cliff tops. When the water rushes in with particular force and speed, towering geysers shoot up through the holes, soaking anyone above who is too close or too slow. -- Karen


Further inland, the limestone bedrock has eroded over time into deep caverns. People come from all over the world to go spelunking in these caves. We did something called "black-water rafting," essentially spelunking with wetsuits and inner tubes.

After fording an armpit-deep stream, we scrambled through the main entrance of the cave and worked our way underground. Eventually we got to the water table and the underground river that is still eroding out the cavern. Lying in our inner tubes, we floated lazily downstream with our headlamps off in utter darkness. You could hear the sound of water lapping on the cavern walls and, off in the distance, the unmistakable sound of rapids.

The darkness was absolute until we rounded a corner. Suddenly, the ceiling was covered with countless dots of blue-green light, like a summer night full of green stars. Millions of glow-worm larvae were suspended from the cave ceiling on threads, attracting insects for food with their chemical light. There were so many, you could faintly make out the walls of the cave from their combined light. I can close my eyes and picture it now, months later. It's a sight I'll never forget.

Later, near our bed-bug infested backpacker hotel at Punakaiki (never stay at the Punakaiki Beach Hostel), Karl and I did some spelunking in a small cave near the road. I pretty much blinded him here when my flash went off. -- Scott


I found this jellyfish on the beach near Punakaiki. This beautiful blue creature on the colorful sand was the subject of probably 10 shots from different angles. This is the one I feel turned out the best. -- Scott

Tide PoolsTide Pools

The limestone of the region erodes in interesting patterns. These tide pools were on the beach at Punakaiki. You could almost imagine these as the pools where the first life was formed - except that it's limestone, and limestone is formed from the bodies of living organisms, so you have to have life before you can have limestone. But you can still pretend. -- Scott

Days of RainDays of Rain

Driving up over Arthur's Pass on our way toward Christchurch, we were eager to see the South Island's famous Southern Alps. Unfortunately all we saw were grey clouds and rain. As a treat from the surprisingly grotty backpacker places we had been staying at, we booked into the "Chalet" at the pass. We had warm spacious rooms, big comfy (bedbug-free) beds and beautiful views of the cloud-shrouded mountains. We spent that day relaxing in our luxurious digs, watching the rain come down sideways and reading our guidebooks to plan our time in Christchurch. We decided we needed to at least try taking a hike, so we trekked up to a nearby waterfall. That evening we had a fabulous dinner in the cozy dining room. I remember eating venison and drinking red wine, with a crackling fire in the fireplace. -- Scott

Days of SunDays of Sun

The skies in New Zealand are an ever-present reminder that you are standing on an island. Those of us who have lived near a coastline know how quickly the weather changes. We also know how spectacular the heavens can be, whether we're sizing up an ominous, black cloudbank on the edge of a hazy sky, standing in whipping wind and rain that chill to the bone, or pondering the puffs and swirls of white against brilliant blue.

This is a skyline near Wanaka, a lovely little town with the best theater I've ever been to (fresh-baked cookies at intermission, and couches and armchairs for seats). -- Karen

Next Up: Wildlife

Copyright 2002
Scott & Karen Semyan