Friday, May 30, 2008


We packed our gold mining gains, and a souvenir pan (you never know) from Shantytown into the car, and continued northwards towards Greymouth and ultimately Punakaiki. This place is famous for its pancake rocks and its blowholes. The pancake rocks are a cliff formation peculiar to the area, formed underwater by marine animals obligingly turning into layers of limestone, sequentially and over a period of tens of millions of years. The finished product was thrust out of the sea by an earthquake, to form cliffs. The blowholes are holes (unsurprisingly) in the pancakes through which large volumes of liquid (maple syrup say, or perhaps just seawater) are squeezed at high tide. You can just see why people flock here. Just.

Punakaiki was the only other stop off on the West Coast that we thought was within easy striking distance and even vaguely interesting. Our expectations weren't high, and in one important way they were met: The food west of the Alps continued to disappoint. Had we eaten some of the pancake rocks themselves, rather than the disagreeable stodge for which we exchanged perfectly good real money in Punakaiki's only tavern, we would have been no worse off. If this is what the locals themselves regularly eat then clearly there is another variety of blowhole here whose eruptions are independent of the tide.

But all that was to come later.

When we first arrived, we went straight to the rocks, and took the path that led in a circuit from the main road to the cliffs, through abundant flax growth, and back. It was close to sunset and Letizia started snapping away in light that perfectly displayed the strange formations. There was something strange in the atmosphere that at first I put down to the rocks themselves, the noise of the waves' impact underneath us, and to the isolation lent by the surrounding flax.

But after the light had faded and we had found our motel - situated on a tiny sliver of land with the darkened beach on one side and an even darker enormous cliff on the other - I realised what it was that had struck me as odd earlier on. Since leaving Cork, we've either travelled inland, or on the eastern seaboards of enormous landmasses. This family of islanders had just seen a sunset over the sea for the first time in 5 months.

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