The long and winding road to Golden Bay

1 November 2019

It’s time to leave Picton and head way out west.  Before long we arrive at the tiny town of Havelock, on the outskirts of which lies an area of wetland that looks perfect for birds.  We’re not wrong, and are pleased to see a gang of Royal Spoonbills sunning themselves on the branches of some dead trees. 

Suddenly a flash of blue and white catches our eye as a New Zealand Kingfisher whizzes past.  Like others of his species he’s prone to vanity and lands on a distant, fallen tree trunk so we can admire him in all his multi-coloured glory.

But there’s no time to waste, we have to move on and start driving the long and winding mountain road that will take us to our destination in Golden Bay.  From time to time there are good views of the coastline, but I rarely have time to admire it as I’m focussing all my attention on the road.

This road is steep, quite narrow, and twists and turns alarmingly in places.  It’s not what I’m used to, and is therefore a bit of a challenge. And just to remind me that this isn’t a playground, we pass a couple of smashed up vehicles whose drivers obviously weren’t up to it.

Or maybe they were just playing silly buggers?  Although the standard of driving here in New Zealand generally seems reasonable, there are some local motorists who seem to have a qualification in advanced recklessness.  One of these miserable bastards tries to run me off the road, horn blaring and lights flashing, apparently because I’m not driving down a precipitous slope towards a 90 degrees bend – with no crash barriers, I might add – at quite the break-neck speed he thinks is desirable. 

I pull over and let him go, sharing with him my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon curses as he passes.   If he carries on like that he’ll be dead before too long and, although it sounds callous to say it, the rest of us road users will be a damn sight safer for his passing.  Sad, but undoubtedly true.

The journey continues through the mountains, past conifer plantations, livestock farms and occasional sea views until we’re brought to a halt by traffic lights.  A helpful piece of digital technology tells us the light will turn green in 12 minutes. After 60 seconds it changes its mind and tells us the road will be ours in 11 minutes.  We’re getting the hang of this now, so it therefore comes as no surprise to learn a minute later that it’s only 10 minutes until we’ll be on our way.

My god, time passes slowly here.

We learn later that Takaka Hill was devastated two years ago by violent storms dragged into this part of New Zealand by the tail-end of a typhoon.  Several sections of road were washed away, at points where seams of “rotten granite” were unable to resist the extraordinary amount of water cascading down the mountainside.

This is the only road into the north-western tip of South Island, and for several days that area was totally cut off by land.  Ultimately the road re-opened, but with alternating single lane at a number of places where damage was most severe. Two years and $2m dollars later, there are still three major sections of road to be repaired, at a cost estimated at a further $20m.

Finally we ease our way through the last set of roadworks and make it to our destination.  In all sorts of ways the drive here has been more challenging than I’d anticipated, but I’m not complaining.  Since arriving in New Zealand we’ve developed a taste for Tui beer, and we’ve invested in a dozen bottles for moments just like this! With a view like the one from our cottage, and beer in hand, I’ll soon wind down.

But I do hope we remembered to pack a bottle opener.