West Coast washout

‘With a high rainfall, the weather is a regular topic of conversation on the West Coast.’  (Te Ara West Coast entry)

The kind of rainfall Ben and his family had to content with on their West Coast trip

The kind of rainfall Ben and his family had to content with on their West Coast trip

One of the highlights of our South Island family holiday was to be several days camping on the West Coast. After booking the Picton ferry in September I’d scanned the web for dog-friendly campgrounds. I found two: at Lake Brunner and Carters Beach. I rang the one at Lake Brunner to confirm a place. The grizzled voice at the other end of the phone guffawed when he discovered I was booking so far in advance. ‘Nah, ya don’t need to book. They’ll be plenty of space.’

Following Christmas with whānau in Nelson, we drove south for the West Coast. Climbing the (ironically-named) Hope Saddle the heavens blackened and soon the windscreen wipers were struggling to clear the sheets of rain. At the turn off to Nelson Lakes the road to Murchison was sealed off. I asked a road worker, the rain dripping off his stubble, how long the road might be closed. ‘Could be five hours, could be less, could be more,’ he supposed slowly. I smiled and turned the car towards Blenheim. We promptly decided to reverse the holiday and visit the West Coast on our return.

A week later, having been charmed by the kea at Arthur’s Pass and impressed by the marvel that is the Ōtira viaduct, we finally descended to the West Coast. As the valley opened we could see in the distance that it was raining on our right and overcast on our left. ‘Which way are we going?’ asked one the boys. ‘Right,’ I confessed. We all laughed. Fortunately, by the time we got to Lake Brunner the deluge had stopped. We soon found the rather desultory-looking campground. It was for sale.

The grizzled voice was sitting in a battered armchair on the office verandah, alongside other ageing Coasters, all with beers in hand. ‘Gidday,’ I said. They nodded. I explained how our tent was not very waterproof and asked whether it might rain. ‘Probably,’ they agreed. Then one stepped off the verandah, looked at the sky and declared: ‘You’ll be right mate the weather comes from this way and its clearing.’ We decided to risk it. The only other option was a musty cabin the size of a double bed. We quickly erected the tent, the pegs effortlessly sliding through grass and sphagnum moss. After dinner we headed down to the stunning lake. The boys found a rope going out over the water and spent until dusk swinging out and jumping into the lake, while the dog and I fought off sandflies. We went off to sleep to the sound of kiwi screeching and the 11 p.m. coal train from Westport. The rain, as promised, stayed away.

The next day we headed to Carter’s Beach via (amazing) Punakaiki. The bubbly office woman at Carter’s Beach campground declared it hadn’t rained for days and was unlikely to soon. We booked in, pitched the tent, and headed into Westport for some fish and chips. Westport is a major fishing port and I was hoping we might score some fresh fish. Scanning the menu board of the recommended takeaway we found only one species: rig. ‘What’s rig?’ I asked the sullen-faced woman behind the counter. ‘Shark,’ she snapped. Viewing the limp fillets beside the fryer I asked ‘Do you have any other fish?’ ‘No,’ she replied with a disdainful look clearly reserved for outsiders. The boys ordered chicken burgers (which have gone down in family folklore for their awfulness) and Lis and I decided to boil up some pasta – again.

Tired from a busy day, we fell asleep early, only to be woken by heavy rain and strong winds around 6 a.m. Clearly the bubbly woman was a practical joker. As the tent poles buckled with each new wind gust, large drips of water fell down from the tent roof onto our sleeping bags. The dog whimpered. I finally decided we’d better get up before the tent was ripped to shreds – the one across from us had already collapsed. Stuffing everything into the boot of the car, we headed north through the Buller Gorge for the sunny refuge of Nelson. We obviously didn’t have what it takes to be Coasters.

Leave a comment

By posting comments you signify that agree to and accept the Terms and Conditions of this Blog.