We were in for a nice surprise upon arriving in Westport: the rain fell only inland and the west coast was enjoying a beautiful and sunny day.
Our first sightseeing stop was the pancake rocks and blowholes in Punakaiki. We ignored the cafés near the entrance and made a beeline for the entrance; mainly to beat a Chinese tour group to the views. The path around the rocks is tarmac and wide. First are some views over the wider area of the pancake rock formations. The worn out stacks of layered stone still baffle researchers about how exactly the were formed, but either way they are interesting. We were lucky enough to visit at a time when big waves were pushed against the coast by strong winds and it was just after high tide. Waves crashing into the rocks and shooting up the blow holes was quite spectacular. Sadly, there is a bit of a lack of camping options in the area, so we ended up in the nearby holiday park without any tools in the kitchen, working wifi but with hot showers.
The next morning we were super excited to get to Barrytown, where we had signed up for making some knives. Steven and Robyn, a lovely retired couple welcomed us and 8 others, gave us some work clothes and explained what we would be doing all day and showed us a knife selection to help us choose a shape.
Teaming up in pairs, each of us started by heating a flat steel bar in the forge until orange hot, before the other person then hammered it into their desired shape on the anvil. Each steel got heated up and forged three times and we managed to get them into a pretty good shape. Steven then took each person’s blade and helped giving them their final shape, before tempering (heating and quenching them in water) them. The next step was cutting off the excess material and grinding and polishing the middle section. Once the brass bolster and wooden handle were glued and riveted on, this part of the blade was no longer accessible by the belt grinder. We used belt grinders with four different grades of belts to smooth out and polish the surface of the blade. The last step before lunch was filling all gaps around the handle with poly-resin. While the participants enjoyed toasts, crisps, fruit and hot drinks inside Steven ground off the excess filler, and roughly finished the handle and blade.
When we returned with renewed vigour, we got to finalise our blade shaping. Most people gave their blades extra curves (i.e. bowy style), but we were happy with our styles and moved on to polishing. Steven gave us plenty of great tips about how to achieve better results. In order to protect our rimu (red pine) handles we treated them first with liquid leather dye (which soaked into the wood) and brown shoe polish (which stuck very readily to the dye). This combination gave the wood a very dark brown tone that looked beautiful with the brass rivets and buttress and protects it from water. All that was then left to do was polishing the blades by hand and super fine sandpaper, before Steven then properly sharpened the edge. In the end each participant had a beautiful looking knife to take home. We had to celebrate our achievements with a glass of barrypagne (white wine made bubbly in a soda stream). Steven and Robyn were lovely and kept us happy and entertained with lots of (non-pc) jokes (Steven) and good food and drinks (Robyn). In the free time we tried axe throwing and had a go at the giant swing. It was so big that all other people had to pull one person up by means of a long rope. We had a lovely day and highly recommend this day activity. They have been doing this for 14 years and had roughly 24,000 knifes leave their workshop, but still made a personal effort for every one of us to achieve our best result.
The following day we had some more crafting booked: this time we undertook something a bit less martial and more arty. The small town of Hokitika is a bit of a capital of the jade carving in New Zealand and went to a workshop to make our very own piece of green jewellery. Before that, we used the morning to go and visit the picturesque Hokitika gorge. Located 30km inland from the town it was surprisingly busy, but still very scenic. A well-built path winds through the forest and over a hanging bridge. Sadly, it was not possible to walk all the way through the gorge, but the views we got over the turquoise river were pretty beautiful and worth the side trip. Hokitika has a long and sandy beach for walking in good weather and plenty of very nice jade and other crafting shops.
Our crafting session took place in a hotel a few kilometres south of town in a small building. After carefully selecting two pieces of jade, a friendly and chatty Kiwi helped us to shape them how we wanted them before polishing and stringing them. He had three trays with a range of off-cuts and small jade pieces and some were very pretty. Due to time limitations we could not shape them into hooks, infinity swirls and other shapes commonly seen in gift shops. We still ended up with two beautiful pendants. Zoë enjoyed it so much that she made another one after spotting another pretty piece.
On our third day at the coast we drove to Okarito lagoon. It is known for its bird life and especially white herons. Upon arrival, we found the weather all grey and showery so instead of heading for the lagoon we took to the wetland trail up a hill called the Trig. We spotted some small birds like fantails and tomtits, but nothing exotic. Incoming rain made us move on after only a brief stop at the top. The rain also cancelled other outdoor activities and without any other alternatives we were only left with driving on to the township of Franz Josef.
If you want to find out about our time around the famous glacier area stay tuned for our next post.