The West Coast spans most of the South Islands western coast - with the exception of Fjordland and the Tasman area. It is also known as the Wet Coast thanks to the generous amount of rainfall it gets due to being on the windward side of the Southern Alps, with hundreds or even thousands of miles of ocean to the west of it before the next landmass - which would either be Tasmania or South America, depending on where on the West Coast you're standing. With only 32,600 people inhabiting the 23,000 km² here, the West Coast is - in fact - even more sparsely populated than Southland, and amounts for only 1.4 people per km².
I'm staying in Woodstock, a small village near Hokitika, which in turn is a modest township of 3,000 people located at the mouth of the Hokitika River. Once a centre of trade for greenstone, gold, coal and lumber, Hokitika is nowadays mostly a centre for ecotourism. As for Woodstock: While the village originally sprang up in 1865 when gold was found in the Hokitika Valley. As the gold reserves were exhausted, it gradually shifted towards forestry, and nowadays is a quiet farming village of a few dozen inhabitants.
Little did I anticipate that this lovely rural community should be the stage of my encounters with...
The Wicked Witch of the West Coast
Much to my regret, this should be the predominant memory I have of this episode of my journey, but more about that later. First let me go about introducing my new hosts: Colin the cook and Leanne the lady behind the bar.
They have a number of children, but since most of them are away at boarding school or university, I only get to see the youngest of their number: energetic little Oscar.
Also, there's Liz, the second cook and fairy godmother of the house, taking care of everyone all the time...
...as well as the cat Jacey, who used to be a feral cat before Colin and Leanne tamed her through food, patience and affection. Nowadays she is quite affectionate herself, and can often be found resting in places where she's not exactly supposed to be.
Next, we have the turtle in its aquarium...
...and also a floppy-eared rabbit out in the back.
Finally, there are also other helpers here. First off, we have Mark and Gabriella from Germany. They have been staying here for over a month already, and should depart about one week before me.
Next, there's Simon and Constance from France, who arrive shortly before Mark & Gabriella leave, and should stay a few days longer than me.
And lastly, we have Marc and Patricia from Spain, who have helped out here before, and are merely dropping by for two days near the end of my stay.
So, now that the our cast of characters for this set is complete, let me proceed to introduce you to the stage upon which the drama should unfold.
I am staying in the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel.
That name sounds pretty highbrow, but its really just a cute little country tavern by the side of the Woodstock-Rimu road, overlooking the Hokitika River.
It doesn't even have any accommodation for guests right now - apart from the option to camp in the car park for a night. However, it does have a nice history, which adds its own bit of flair to the place.
In fact, why don't I invite you to a tour of the place?
As for the township of Woodstock, it's quite a picturesque place as long as the weather holds...
...but being a temperate rainforest biome, we do get our fair share of downpours (fortunately not on a daily basis).
However, more than half of the days are still sunny (or at the very least only overcast), which gives me ample opportunity to explore the are in my spare time.
Interlude: The Woodstock-Rimu Heritage Trail
My first stray takes me around the immediate area on a hour-long round-trip on the Woodstock-Rimu Heritage Trail.
It's a nice little round-course that initially takes me up the hill, and to a glow worm dell. What's a glow worm dell? Well, effectively, it's a little glade or riverbank populated by glow worms (not to be confused with fireflies). In this case, I have to duck through a little hole in an earthen wall by the roadside, and emerge in a sheltered gully, which is already quite beautiful at daytime. However, the true magic of this place only becomes apparent when I return later and night to see the glow worms in their serene beauty, sprinkled like azure stars on a low-hanging firmament of the walls of the dell.
Subsequently, I climb the rise near Rimu by means of the old coach road...
...from where I get an astounding view of the Hokitika Valley.
From there, the trail leads me down the zig-zagging Lightning Track...
...and to the old gold tunnels at the foot of the hill.
After that, it's along the road past what little remains of Digger's Sawmill...
...followed by the old Sludge Channel.
And then its back into the township of Woodstock...
...where the very last point of the heritage trail is located right next to the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel.
Much like back on Stewart Island, my jobs here at the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel revolve about daily routines rather than continuous projects. Unlike all my previous jobs, however - all of which involved working mostly in the mornings and possibly early afternoons - this time the majority of my work takes place in the evenings, as I support Colin and Leanne with running their tavern.
This is an exciting new experience for me, although it does include unsavoury tasks such as dealing with an seemingly endless stream of incoming dirty dishes before they can pile up into mountains of extraordinary magnitude.
But apart from that, it's filled with all sorts of food preparation tasks, such as building beautiful burgers...
...decorating delectable desserts...
...or - much to my delight - preparing peerless pizzas.
Apart from the evening jobs - which take up the majority of the time, and often last until 9pm or later - there are also some morningly maintainance missions to master, including cleaning the tavern...
...the outside areas...
...as well as the bathrooms.
One job that's particularly fun is taking out the trash, since it involves crushing the cans with this neat little contraption.
Fortunately, I am not alone, and have helpful companions to help me lift this burden... for the most part.
Main Event: The First Encounter
Yes, not all is fine in this place, and it does not take too long for the other helpers to reveal their true colours. Mark for one starts off by pestering me about my glasses, and even goes so far as to question my upbringing.
However, this is nothing compared to the tantrum Gabrielle throws one morning as - after I had worked for over an hour cleaning tables and bathrooms, just like I did the previous morning - she starts screaming and hollering at me, claiming that I don't do enough around the place, and calling me a lazy hobo and other unsavoury names. My host, Colin, witnesses this outburst of hers first-hand and promptly reprimands her, but she is beyond reasoning, and lashes out at him as well before retreating to her room.
Could she be right? Am I truly doing too little? I wonder about these things for a while, but as I stay in this place, I eventually realize that if anything, she is the one doing a sloppy job. Unlike me, she also has a paid job in the city which occupies some of her time, and uses this as an excuse to stop working early in the evenings, as well as not do any work in the mornings at all, leaving it all up to me and Mark.
Later I should learn that it was only due to Mark apologizing for her promptly which saved Gabrielle from being kicked out right there and then - an unfortunate turn of events for me, since subsequently Gabrielle would treat me with scorn at every corner, and generally make my otherwise beautiful stay in this place quite miserable.
Working at a tavern, you'd expect the food to be amazing. Well, that's partly true. While we do get all meals provided by our hosts, only one is actually prepared for us. The other meals we have to prepare ourselves, starting out with breakfast consisting of a nutritious bowl of cereals with yoghurt prepared from powder. Also, once again my hosts have a soda machine which we'Re free to use, thus providing us with unlimited supplies of sparkling water.
For lunch, I usually prepare myself some toasts with jam, hazelnut spread or tomato paste, or warm up some spaghetti or baked beans.
But the best meal of the day by far is dinner, when either Colin or Liz cook up some delicious dish for all the staff to enjoy. Its usually a bit later in the evening - at 9pm or 10pm, after the kitchen closes for the public (but the bar is still open), and we have amazing dishes such as wild food platters (including venison, boar and even wallaby), spare ribs, steak, burgers and my personal favourite, pizza! Like me, Colin has his own special recipe for pizza bases, which makes them almost, but not quite as good as my legendary tri-Tail pizza (read that: its one of the best pizzas I've ever tasted).
Also, let's not forget that every once in a while, there's also some tasty dessert in it for us.
And on top of that, we also get access to the fridge-o-drinks, as long as we stay reasonable...
...which means that every once so often, I get to mix myself a German speciality cocktail, which I've been missing out on for a long time (the rest of the time I just drink L&P or good old orange juice).
Interlude: The Hokitika Far Stray
My second stray should take me quite a good distance away from Woodstock. Some might call it ambitioned to walk all the way to Hokitika and back - after all the place is a good 8kms away - much less take the scenic route along with doing some geocaching both ways, but then again, I guess I am an ambitious fox after all, so I think nothing of it, and bravely venture out.
The first part of the way takes me across the lower section of the Woodstock-Rimu Road...
...across the Hokitika River, which at this point is a good 200m wide...
...and into the township of Kaniere (pronounced like "canary"), where an old piece of artillery is on display at the park.
From there, I take a turn off the beaten path, and follow a narrow, windy road for the next 5kms...
...past the one and only Excavator World (which I ignore, since I'm not really that much into excavators)...
...all the way up to Blue Spur, which marks yet another key location of the gold rush.
Along the way, I am looking for Geocaches left and right, and while many of them prove to be too well-hidden, I eventually manage to find one among a nest of my "favourite" plants, which I have loving named "Death Stars". These little filigrane-looking flowers produce leaves stiff and sharp enough to pierce trousers with ease, and while they're not as prickly as roses or thistles, their predominantly green colour when not flowering or wilting makes them significantly harder to spot, and more often than not you'll walk or reach right into them, only to wince in pain as you realize your mistake.
Next, my way leads me along the pipeline walk, which runs along the course of a former pipeline...
...and onto the Hokitika Heritage Walkway (they sure do love their Heritage Walkways around here, don't they?), which gives me a great view of the coastal town of Hokitika.
The trail continues to take me through native brush...
...until I eventually arrive on the roads of Hokitika.
Since it's already well past noon, I find myself a nice little café...
...and have a tasty mushroom pie and apple juice for lunch. It even comes with a little salad.
As I set out again, I reach the ocean within a matter of minutes, and marvel at the force of the waves as they roll in from the Tasman Sea, as well as the peculiar way the clouds just seem to start right over the land. This is due to a common atmospheric phenomena on the windward side of mountains: Wet air from the sea is blown over the the land and against the mountains, where it rises into cooler atmosphere layers, and turns to clouds due to the decreased capacity of water of cold air. That is also the reason why the West Coast gets so much precipitation.
I continue walking along the coast all the way to Sunset Point, which juts into the estuary of the Hokitika River...
...and is home to stranded old ship, which nowadays serves as a popular picnic platform.
From there, it's past the Westland Milk Products factory, which is to Hokitika like Krauss-Maffei is to Allach...
...and across the Hokitika Estuary, which at this point is almost half a kilometre wide...
...to a rarely visited memorial,commemorating the foundation of the South Westland Air Service in 1934.
Since its already getting late, and my shift starts between 5pm and 6pm, I decide to call it a day for now, so all that's left is to follow the Arthurstown Road upstream for about two hours...
...passing by a lake hidden just out of sight, and eventually returning to the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel just in time to start my shift.
Even in a backwater place like this, there's quite a number of funny, interesting, or breathtaking sights around if you just keep your eyes peeled, such as creatively modelled mailboxes...
...or particularly peculiar seating arrangements.
Somehow, I get the feeling I'm standing on the wrong side of this sign....
...and I kinda doubt that this place is getting many word-of-mouth recommendations (although they're probably big on saving on vocals).
Once again, I end up finding the police box in all sorts of unexpected places...
...and one night, we even get an uninvited visitor in our establishment.
The little fella is not scared at all, so eventually I have to take him outside using a spatula.
On a later day, I wake up to find the entire valley covered in mysterious mist...
...and on another, I manage to seize yet another intruder in our establishment. Together with the mice I caught in Marton and Christchurch, this now makes a total of three.
By the way, that's not a bowl...
...that's a bowl.
St. Patrick's Day - a traditional Irish holiday commemorating the arrival of Christianity on Ireland which is observed in big parts of the English-speaking world on the 17th of March - also falls into the period of my stay here, and consequently we end up decorating the bar in blacks and greens...
...and another night, Leanne herself takes the stage and sings a song for us.
Main Event: The Second Encounter
Several weeks into my stay, I learn that Colin and Leanne are planning to go on holiday to walk a track in Fjordland for a week, leaving me alone here with Mark and Gabrielle, with Liz in charge of running the place.
My thoughts as I learn about this are somewhere along the line of "The Divine Dragon help me!". Fortunately, it goes hand-in-hand with the revelation that Mark and Gabrielle will be departing within that week, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My days spent in the witch's company have not exactly been happy, and she always finds a way to make me feel unwelcome - be it glaring at me as she passes by, complaining about me "doing absolutely nothing" in German to Mark, or slamming the cutlery in the dirty-cutlery-pot with such force that it's obvious she would much rather have hurled it at me whenever I'm washing the dishes.
On one evening of the week during which Colin and Leanne are away, the situation escalates to a whole new level: While I am labouring with the dishes once more on a very busy night - dirty dishes stacking up to my left, clean dishes which no one feels responsible to put away behind me, and me in the middle of it all, scrubbing dirty plates and pans and puts as fast as I can.
Just then, Gabrielle comes in, and tells me to take out the trash, which, too, is getting quite full. Me, being totally overwhelmed with the workload, inform her that I'm busy and that she should do it instead if she thinks it needs to be done so urgently.
A mistake, for she flies into a rage and pushes the pot of dirty cutlery - including some very sharp steak knives - with such force that it comes crashing down into the kitchen sink. I barely have time to get my hands out of the way before the basin gets flooded with pieces of pointy metal.
For a moment, I stand jsut there, shocked and frozen as she stomps away. I am unsure how to react. Should I just let it slide, trying to endure these last few days?
But no! Enough is enough! And if I don't say something now, then the sage Gethanaya only knows what this witch is going to do next.
So I step into the main kitchen area and call after her just as she leaves through the opposing door, giving voice to my rage, and letting everyone in the kitchen know what the ruckus they just clearly heard was all about.
She doesn't react to it at all, and most of the kitchen staff can just stare in disbelief. Some of them comfort me a little, but most just go about their business. Nonetheless, everyone is alert now, which should just turn out to be quite the lifesaver before long.
You see, this encounter is far from over, for just a short time later, Gabrielle returns to the kitchen and starts verbally lashing out at me. I, unwilling to tolerate her behaviour a minute longer, retort by accusing her of the horrible demeanour she's been showing, and before long she grabs the pot of silverware and threatens to spill its sharp and pointy contents onto me. It's only the timely intercession by one of the waitresses that saves me from getting skewered by five dozen knives and forks.
As she stomps off enraged once again, Liz calls her down, but she completely disrespects the older woman's authority and soon after prematurely retires from her shift, going to have a shower, which causes me to run out of hot water for the dishes.
Fortunately, this should be the last such incident, and when Mark and Gabrielle finally depart a few days later, I'm not the only one who is happy to see them go - quite a number of the staff have been annoyed by Gabrielle's behaviour and when Colin and Leanne finally return yet a few more days after that, they ensure me they would have dismissed Gabrielle on the spot had they been here to witness this second incident.
Apart from my encounters with the wicked witch Gabrielle, I really enjoyed my stay with Colin and Leanne. My bedroom was nice and comfortable, and not too cold either. The food was great, and it was the first place ever where I got a regular supply of soft drinks and fruit juice (though to be fair, I did get a steady supply of juice back at Jennie's place as well). The work was nice, and although doing the dishes for dozens of people on most nights was tedious, I enjoyed the evenings when I could help out preparing the meals all the more. The one thing pulling this place down was the negative atmosphere caused by Gabrielle - fortunately, the place got a whole lot more enjoyable after she left. The facilities were good, and near the very end of my stay, Simon, Constance and I were even taken on a day trip to Hokitika Gorge. Altogether this resulted in a solid and good experience, and I certainly don't regret coming here.
Interlude: Gorgeous Gorge, Classy Cascade, Lofty Lake
Before I move on, there's still one last thing to tell you about: As mentioned above, Simon, Constance and I were taken on trip to Hokitika Gorge near the end of our stay, and on our way back took the scenic route to visit Dorothy Falls and Lake Kaniere.
We are taken there by Graham - Leanne's father - who often visits the Royal Mail Hotel, and is kind enough to give us this little trip around the valley before we move on to other places. It's a good think he was able to give us a lift, because Hokitika Gorge is over 30 kms away, so walking there would have been out of the question, and even a bike trip along the whole round-course - which is just under 90km long - would have been quite the endeavour.
From the carpark, its a short walk along a winding path literally on the mountainside...
...until we come to a rope bridge across the Hokitika River...
...where Simon takes a picture of Graham, Constance and me.
A bit further down, the path takes us all the way to the shore of the beautiful turquoise river...
...and on the way back, I spot a lonely purple berry sitting on the path's embankment.
After that, we continue our drive to Dorothy Falls. The road there leads us along the River Styx, and through a densely vegetated valley with only short stretches of farmland...
...and shortly thereafter arrive at the Dorothy Falls, which are truly a beautiful sight to behold.
From here, it's only a little further to Hans Bay at the shore of Lake Kaniere. In case you're wondering why the lake bears the same name as the township of Kaniere, which is over 15km away... Well, its because they were both named after the Kaniere River, which flows from Lake Kaniere to the twonship of Kaniere, where it joins the Hokitika River.
By its shore stands a mighty Miro Tree, which is a coniferous evergreen tree native to New Zealand...
...and due to the weather being particularly clear today, we can see all the way to the snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps in the distance.
The Road Ahead
Eventually, the month of March nears its end, and with it my stay at the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel. Before I leave, I present Colin, Leanne and young Oscar with the traditional piece of gift artwork I prepared during my stay, and once again, they, too, are very taken with it.
However, this time my hosts are not the only ones for whom I've prepared a piece of gift artwork. Since Liz has been looking after us quite kindly while Colin and Leanne were away, she, too receives a picture as a token of thanks from me.
Now, my next stop should be Takaka...
...however, since this should again be a multi-day journey, and there should be many tales to tell of it, I once more I am going to grant it its own chapter in my blog. So stay tuned for more tales of the travelling fox!