1. 2. Day 9: Nelson, Murchison, Westport: | Our Travelling Experiences – With Cas & The Sanman

Day 9: Nelson, Murchison, Westport:


After breakfast at the motel, we settled up and thought we would make a final trip back into town for one last look around, before heading out towards WESTPORT.

Christ Church Cathedral - Nelson

Christ Church Cathedral – Nelson

Christ Church Cathredal looking east angle.

Christ Church Cathedral looking east angle.

The Rose Window

The Stained Glass Rose Window

Of major interest would have to be the CHRIST CHURCH ANGLICAN CATHEDRAL conspicuously perched, overlooking the main CBD area. Without any doubt commanding the best view, in town. Located at the head of TRAFALGAR STREET, (dominating the town) nested at the top of CHURCH HILL, this building represents a splendid example of colonial architecture which was started back in 1924 and completed in 1930. It was built of grey marble sourced from the PAKIKIRUNA RANGE on the west side of the TAKAKA VALLEY. Although TAKAKA marble has been used in a number of public buildings, THE NELSON CATHEDRAL is the only building entirely faced with this distinctive rock. The steps are constructed from granite, which was sourced from TONGA BEACH, now part of the ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK. Of particular significance was the inside stained glass window. This was absolutely salient. Each component of the window has it’s own characteristic. The window represents the VIRGIN MARY AS QUEEN OF HEAVEN, surrounded by BIBLICAL kings and prophets. In 1984 THE CATHEDRAL under went some cosmetic changes inside, with the end result being what you see today.  We spent about 45 minutes taking pictures and finally left about 10.30am.I was particularly surprised to find one of my old customer’s who I use to deal with, had shifted (from a prime location in the main street) round the corner and “surprisingly” (after some 20+ years – lol) had new owners.  Well time was getting on, so we hit the road. At RICHMOND, the tank was a bit dry so we tanked up – $1.58 a litre and made our final pass through RICHMOND heading south, for MURCHISON, then onto WESPORT.The drive south from NELSON on STATE HIGHWAY 6 follows all the way through to WESPORT. Initially, it passes through WAKEFIELD and BELGROVE, then goes down through forestry plantations, where we came to the THE SPOONER’S SADDLE in the GOLDEN DOWNS FOREST. This first section had a wonderful array of GOLDEN POPLAR TREES shedding their leaves, and was a nice easy drive. We saw remnants of the old NELSON GLENHOPE RAILWAY LINE. After crossing the saddle we arrived at the KOHATU JUNCTION where SH 61 from MOTUEKA joins SH 6. (This is a great short cut if your wanting to avoid NELSON, for MOTUEKA.)

From the KOHATU JUNCTION we continued south on SH 6 through the MOTUPIKO RIVER VALLEY, over the HOPE SADDLE  and on to the KAWATIRI JUNCTION. It’s from KAWATIRI that the road follows the mighty BULLER through 35kms of farmed river flats and BEECH FOREST to MURCHISON. Although part of the NELSON REGION, MURCHISON is our first introduction to the glory and green that is the scenic beauty of an undulating country with high bush clad mountains known as the WEST COAST and BULLER REGION. Incidentally, the MAORI name for the BULLER IS KAWATIRI, meaning “DEEP AND SWIFT”. We continued southbound, traversing the lush farmlands and arriving in the farming community  of MURCHISON around 1pm.

MURCHISON, a small township of around 700 people and regarded as the whitewater capital of NEW ZEALAND. First known as HAMPTON, MURCHISON sprang to life with the discovery of gold and later grew into farming. Devastated on the 17th of June 1929 by an earthquake that killed 17 people as it wrenched the mountainsides blocking rivers and cutting roads. (Also known as the BULLER earthquake).

The Swing Bridge at Murchison - 01

The Swing Bridge at Murchison – 01

The Swing Bridge at Murchison - 02

The Swing Bridge at Murchison – 02

We decided to take a break and have a late lunch, at the tearooms, before heading on. NEW ZEALAND’S longest swing bridge is located just outside of MURCHISON, south, on the right-hand side of the main highway. At 110 metres long and 17 metres high, it’s worth stopping, so we checked it out.

Just after leaving MURCHISON the BULLER RIVER enters the UPPER GORGE where the earthquake slips and river rapids are a spectacular sight.  The township of INANGAHUA was devastated by two earthquakes in 1928 and 1967 that hit the region. We called into the INANGAHUA HALL which has an excellent historic display, recounting the tremendous power of these two events.

From here we seemed to follow around the sides/edges of mountains, skirting river flats, and came to a place called BERLINS.  Now if it’s a cold wet day and your looking for a break, from driving, then BERLINS is probably a real good place to visit, BECAUSE it basically consists of ONE building – A PUBGOOD FOOD and GREAT hospitality, located along the LOWER GORGE ROAD.  At HAWKS CRAG the road went down to single lane as it is literally cut into the mountain side.

Hawks Craig

Hawks Craig

HAWKS CRAG is a prominent landmark in the LOWER BULLER GORGE, where the road has been cut into a cliff that drops into the BULLER RIVER. In 1955, two elderly prospectors, FREDERICK CASSIN AND CHARLES JACOBSON, made the first discovery of uranium on the roadside, about a kilometre downstream. The area is made up of a rock type called HAWKS CRAG BRECCIA (PRONOUNCED ‘BRETCHA’) – a mass of angular fragments, probably formed by floods near a mountain range where rock was being eroded rapidly. At the time it seemed a most unlikely place to find uranium, so it had been overlooked by prospectors. With banks of native RATA giving way to farmed river flats this final leg to WESTPORT was an easy journey rising over lowland hills to the township at the mouth of the mighty river, on our left we saw the junction with the coast road up from GREYMOUTH. From there we found the bridge which took us over the mighty BULLER RIVER into WESPORT.

The WEST COAST is teeming with abundant wildlife, including rare kiwis and white heron (KOTUKU), seal colonies, penguins dolphins and a variety of unique native alpine flora, this 600 kilometre long region (no wider than 70 kms at any point) serves as a time capsule, revealing what this country might have looked like before humans arrived, some 1000 years ago.

Westport –

(for the record)

Lying at the mouth of the BULLER RIVER and draining into the TASMAN SEA, WESTPORT has a history of being a port city, in fact, one of the most important on the WEST COAST OF NEW ZEALAND.  That position was solidified, first in the 1800s by the discovery of gold nearby, and later by the development of significant coal deposits to the northeast of the town.  With a population of over 7,000 residents the area relies heavily on, FISHING, MINNING and FARMING. In today’s economy the coal is still mined, but is now shipped by rail to CHRISTCHURCH for transpacific shipment.  The port function of the town is basically as a fishing port that has some local fishing vessels, but also a freezer plant for a larger company that handles the catch of offshore trawling vessels not based in WESTPORT. At the mouth of the mighty BULLER RIVER, the township can rightfully boast as being the first port of THE COAST. Founded in June of 1861 by an adventurous storekeeper RUBEN WAITE, who established a small permanent settlement after exploring THE BULLER. WAITE latter helped in the establishment of GREYMOUTH.

Westport – was first a gold town, and then a coal town, and even now still operates New Zealand’s only bituminous coal mine. On a lighter side, the wildest side of NEW ZEALAND – the WEST COAST, has the power to touch your soul with its landscape of brooding mountains, icy glaciers and surreal coastal formations AND one must NOT FORGET that WESTPORT, is an old WEST COAST mining town, steeped in history.

Our first port of call was the COALTOWN MUSEUM, where it took take us back in time, imagining life as it was for the NEW ZEALAND pioneering coal miners, interestingly we walked through a simulated underground coal mine. This museum was donated to the community back in 1971, and is housed in a building which first saw use as a brewery. An outpouring of support, contributions and labours of love resulted in the first completed stage of the museum opening in 1977. Two further stages have been added while the collection continues to grow.

After spending just over an hour at the COALTOWN MUSEUM, we headed into town to the “THE OLD BLACK & WHITE HOTEL”(on one hand) a touch of LIVING KIWI HISTORY, and on the other a real step back in time, (4 Cas it was a real culture shock) set in a pre-war building dating back to the 1860s. Having stayed in this hotel some 25+ years ago, it is so very interesting to see the changes which have taken place, over time.  GONE are the days of the “SILVER SERVICE”, with the evening meals in the restaurant, the $1.99 FULL COOKED BREAKFAST,  the huge guest lounge to relax in AND when Cas walked into the bedroom (for some unknown reason, we were given the HONEYMOON SUITE) it was one of the very rare moments, in history, when she was actually unable to expound words from her mouth. I had to remind her that it was only for ONE NIGHT!!!

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