Sheer Cliffs and Gale force winds – Day 6 in EnZed

Leaving at about 9:30am we headed for French Pass about a 1 hour drive from the motel.

It was a shocking day with howling winds threatening to push us right off the narrow winding roads.

French Pass and the many bays and inlets leading to it are not on the main tourist route and only the traveller intent on visiting the no tourist New Zealand would come here.

The view from the car driving to French Pass

The view from the car driving to French Pass

The road is narrow, winding and very steep and the last 20 km or so is dirt, narrowing even further in some place with no room for 2 cars to pass between the hill on one side and the almost vertical cliffs plunging far down to the sea on the other.

A momentary and rare break in the rain cloud lets us see what is just a few inches beyond our car tyre!

A momentary and rare break in the rain cloud lets us see what is just a few inches beyond our car tyre!

As we drove on I knew Kerrie was wondering why on earth I would bring her to this wild, windswept place. She could not see what lay far below or to the sides of the winding road because the rain and high cloud swept up the hills and enveloped us in a dense fog that made it impossible to see past the car bonnet.

It was near the top of this treacherous piece of landscape that a rare and brief break in the cloud revealed the scene far below causing Kerrie to immediately understand why we were here where even the sheep and cows were desperately seeking any shelter possible.

No one would ever know we'd been here if we slipped!

No one would ever know we'd been here if we slipped!

It was a glimpse of a bay and a rocky shore that even the howling wind and clouds of sweeping rain could not diminish the wild beauty of.

This changed our attitude from trepidation to excitement about what we would find at the end of the road.

We rounded the last bend to finally spot the goal of the drive, French Pass.

I used to sail through this pass on the fishing boats as we steamed to Admiralty Bay and up to the North Island to fish.

Sailing through the French Pass was always exciting and could only be done within 30 minutes at the top or botom of the tide

Sailing through the French Pass was always exciting and could only be done within 30 minutes at the top or botom of the tide

It’s a very narrow seaway where two oceans meet and because of its location, the depth changes on the seabed and the rushing ebb and spring tides it is only possible to sail through this pass for a half hour at the turn of the tide. Within minutes after the tide the swirling eddies and the current make it impassable.

The swirling eddies and rips grow more violent by the minute

The swirling eddies and rips grow more violent by the minute

I’ve seen sizable ships swung almost 360 degrees attempting to get through too late.

We parked the car on a little siding and walked down a steep, narrow little track cut out of the sheer cliffs believing that it was entirely possible that the car would be blown completely of the road by the time we returned.

The steep path to the Pass was challenging but totally worth it

The steep path to the Pass was challenging but totally worth it

When we got to the little lookout we were so glad we had made the trip. It was spectacular! It was wild, a cauldron of wind whipped sea and spray against a backdrop of stunningly beautiful cliffs and with a depth of colour no photo could do justice to.

The tide was at almost slack water yet we could still see the swirling confusion of the sea as it ripped around the unseen underwater canyons.

The howling wind only enhanced the experience of standing alone overlooking this special place and we had to marvel at how the lights that guide the narrow pass were erected in 1906.

Since only a small piece of rock was visible for just 30 minutes at dead low tide 30 – 40 buckets of concrete were mixed at just the right time of day according to the tides and were placed in a small open boat.

The boat would be towed out to the rock by the steam tug Namu through the swirling eddies and rips and at just the right time the men in the boat would let go the rope and drift onto the rock. Holding on for dear life they would empty the buckets of concrete into a steel cylinder that could be unbolted as the column grew and then they would tie a canvas bag round it to stop the sea washing all the concrete away. Thirty minutes from letting go of the rope the boat would be washed through the gap no matter how hard they held
on and they would be picked up by the tug.

Despite all this effort only very small amounts of the concrete stayed on the rock and slowly, bit by bit the base was eventually completely which is still there today.

It was quite mesmerising to stand here taking in this unique place.

We trudged up the cliff track to the car and we had to hold on to the car as we removed our raincoats to prevent being blown away.

We proceeded on down the road to the hamlet of French Pass which was all but deserted and exactly as it was 38 years ago when we used to tie up periodically at the little wharf here.

We made our way back across the wind swept hills occasionally visiting a small bay when the road and the wind enabled us. We drove on to Havelock, the Green Mussel centre of the world, where we purchased some live mussels and some Toi Toi wine, (the wonderful New Zealand wine made around here that Christine had introduced us to), finally arriving back at the motel at Mt Richmond late in the afternoon.

After we cooked our Mussels by steaming them in a pot with a little wine we sat down to the delicious meal with a glass of the magnificent Toi Toi before retiring into the enormous king sized bed that was so incredibly comfortable.