Mountain Men and Mariners

A month ago I went West again through the parched hills of North Canterbury, to Westport for a 92nd Birthday. Fiercely independent my father had recently been forced into care.  If he was single and had his way, he’d be out in the mountains still, content in a tin shack (or so he says).  He gave up being a Mountain Man, trapping fur and prospecting in the mountains to chase a dark haired vision and then provide for a family but the passion for wilderness remains, long car journeys are out, so what to do after the celebrations?


Hanmer Springs in a dry February


A sign of relief, a skiff of rain at the Boyle in the Lewis Pass


Can you smell it? Rain sizzling on hot tar


They say ‘the camera doesn’t lie’ but I swear I couldn’t see the white line. Nearly out of the Buller Gorge, tropical rain defeating the wipers on full speed.


Happy 92nd! Mississipi mudcake with a smattering of whanau at “J’s” Cafe in Westport.


With nieces and nephew from near and far we had coffee and cake at “J’s” Cafe in Westport. Jay had tried calling it “Middle Break”, a reference to the Middle Brake on the Denniston Incline but being a local, everyone kept calling it Jay’s.  This little video will give you an idea of what the Denniston Incline is all about. And this one an idea of what it is like now

The weather was atrocious so later we tried the North Tip Head for a taste of the wild side and weren’t disappointed.


Buller River, North Tip Head


Deja vu: for a moment it feels like being on the fore-deck of a Cook Strait Ferry


The Tasman Sea has a well earned reputation.


It was my father who taught me how to read the sea, to see the pattern of the sets and always keep an eye out for the rogue wave.

Such a wave, is one of my earliest memories from further up the coast at Karamea, one minute my sister and I were playing in driftwood tossed high on the beach by a long forgotten storm, next thing we knew we were rolling around in amongst it and soaked.  Bruised and scraped from head to foot we forgot about that when we realised our parents were no longer on the beach in front of us.  Apparently the wave had popped out of no-where and swept along the beach so they’d had to run along the beach not up it, to escape.

I’d forgotten about the lost Mariners memorial to which has been added in recent years plaques in memory of those lost at sea from this little town.  Click on an image to enlarge it.

There was a time when drowning was known as the ‘National Death’ and the western river and harbour bars have taken more than their share, a moments inattention or just bad luck and it’s all over, as with the Craig Ewan on the Grey in 1993. In this newsclip tragedy-on-greymouth-bar

Still they don’t always end in tragedy as in the wreck of the scow Fairburn in 1936:

“….upon departing Westport for Little Wanganui to load timber for Wellington the master, Captain Thomas C. Sawyers, found the seas on the Buller River Bar too rough, and decided to return to Port; but she was caught by the seas and driven on to the North Tip-Head of the Bar. She struck the wall with such force that she made water fast, and her crew of six just managed to get to shore before she sank.”

And these fishing boats entering the Grey River just down the coast

With the appropriate fast food on hand we returned to the Shingle Beach for the peak of the high tide.


Half a mile up the river is the ‘Shingle Beach’, supposed to be a safe place for swimming but with the taint of sewage on the air, it’s scenic but I’ll pass on the dip.

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