Greymouth to Westport

New Zealand

Due to the relative isolation of the towns on the west coast thanks to the Southern Alps, it often seems Carrie and I have stepped back in time. Internet access is more of a tourist myth, ATMs are scarce, and water heaters at our motorcamp in Hokitika were coal-powered. Black, sooty smoke swirled in the air above our tent making me think of London in the 19th Century. I could feel my lungs shrink in fear.

Greymouth, however, was a breath of fresh, sea air. Our tent was parked a stone’s throw from a beautiful beach and a large grocery store was just down the street. The only problem was my left knee was starting to get permanently achy. Since walking on the Fox Glacier it was getting harder to walk and then cycle without difficulty. Before, a dose of Ibuprofen would do the trick, but the little pills weren’t working.

On DAY 69 we left Greymouth for the village of Punakaiki. It was a short day at about 45km. The road rejoined the coast. The weather was warm, sunny and almost windless. As we curled around serene bays and rolled over bluffs I could feel my knee get stiffer and stiffer. When we arrived at the motorcamp in Punakaiki I was sure we’d have to take a bus the rest of the trip. My knee was shot.

Carrie and I were hoping to go for another walk in the Paparoa National Park, which is home to unreal limestone rock formations and caves, but we had to can that idea. Instead we decided to take a rest day in Punakaiki to see if my knee might recover enough to continue cycling.

But I hate just sitting around. So on DAY 70 Carrie and I visited the famous “pancake rocks”, geological oddities along the coast, we walked around a big cave on the side of the road, and we paddled and dragged kayaks up and back down the Pororari River. The kayaking was a lot fun. The river runs through a steep limestone gorge that narrows as you go further upstream. Huge limestone boulders jutted from the clear water. Lush ferns and palms and all sorts of “bush” lined the riverbank.

After a day of “rest” my knee was still aching. Was this the end of our cycling adventure? Instead of brooding over that question, we decided to visit the local tavern for a beer and fried food. The beer and chips kept us company while a growing friendly mob of Kiwis gathered around the TV to watch a rugby game. Carrie and I know nothing about rugby except that it seems to be a national obsession. We joined in the fray for the heck of it.

It’s hard to think of another team sport that looks so painful. House-sized men slam into each other just like in American football but these guys aren’t wearing any sissy pads. Their faces are the faces of boxers and wrestlers: swollen noses and gnarled ears. The game was fun to watch and the lively commentary from the peanut gallery kept things interesting. After the first half we had trouble staying awake though. It was 8:30pm, past our bedtime. I took two Ibuprofen before bed and prayed for a miracle.

Early on DAY 71, I awake and bend my left leg. I get out of my sleeping bag and walk to the bathroom. I walk back to the tent. I do a little dance in my head. My knee doesn’t hurt. After we decided to continue cycling north to Westport, Carrie insisted that I keep taking Ibuprofen. I was unsure whether my knee would handle a 55km ride but it did pretty well. The road from Punakaiki to Westport continued to hug the coast, providing an inspiring vista perfect for cycling up and over a few big hills. We took it easy and had a nice ride.

Westport is the west coast’s second largest town. The town survives, not on tourism or farming, but on coal mining. As we rolled through town to the motorcamp, the sharp smell of a thousand burning barbecues wafted in the air. My knee was working. We’ll see if the lungs hold out.