The South Island so far!!
It is about time I put fingers to keyboard, after a shamefully long absence from writing the blog!! It was in my thoughts many times, but there was always so much fun to be had doing other things! Anyway, here is my offering of our experience of the South Island so far....
We actually took the ferry to the South Island on my birthday. We had not intended this to happen, as we had hoped to travel the day before in order to get to Kaikoura in time for me to swim with dolphins. Fate played against us though because the dolphin swims were booked up for weeks in advance, and our ferry was cancelled due to it being stuck somewhere in the Cook Straits with a broken engine. My birthday was therefore somewhat of a non-event, with it spent travelling an hour in the rain from our free campsite outside Wellington, then being told our already day-late ferry was further delayed, to then end up nearly at the South Island to be told we had to remain still while we endured yet another delay. By the time we arrived at Picton, we were extremely windswept and somewhat aggravated and tired, but Tim made an effort to try and help me feel like it was actually my birthday still!
Grumblings to one side, the journey on the ferry to the South Island did actually have some highlights. Leaving Wellington, we admired how the windy city was nestled amongst steep hills and with a windswept coast on both sides. We thought how bizarre it is that 10 minutes drive out of the capital, and you can be driving along a coastal track suited only to 4x4s! The best bit of the journey however, was travelling through the Marlborough Sounds. The scenery was truly beautiful, as very steep, rolling hills reared like dragon’s backs out of the water, and disappeared as suddenly as they emerged, into picturesque bays, sounds and inlets of turquoise water. The Marlborough Sounds are actually made up of numerous sounds, islands, and spits of land jutting lace-like from the mainland, and many bays can only be reached by boat, helping them to retain their idyllic and unspoilt appearance.
Picton itself is a relaxed and pretty little harbour town, which manages to retain a community atmosphere despite being exposed to a barrage of enthusiastic travellers disembarking from the ferries at regular intervals. Most people seem to pass through Picton, whereas Tim and I stopped to enjoy birthday coffee and browse round an art gallery before going on our way. Possibly the best bit for me, was when we followed signs for free range eggs, which took us to an idyllic smallholding nestled at the base of a mountain range outside Picton. The lovely couple who owned the place came out and proudly introduced us to their miniature pony collection (including a very excited stallion who has won best NZ stallion for 3 years in a row we were proudly told, and 2 tiny fluffy foals) and a very excited dog called Brian whose soft black dread-locked coat made him look like a Rastafarian! Such experiences could never be enjoyed shopping for eggs in a supermarket!
We drove for over an hour along a stunning road called the Queen Charlotte Drive, which hugs the sounds, twisting in and out of pretty, secluded bays, and dipping into verdant valleys and back up onto open hills with stunning lookouts over the islands and bays. We spent a few days around the sounds, including a gorgeous place called Duncan Bay where we went on a walk through sub-tropical rainforest that clung to the sounds edge, and where the sun shone and made it look like we were in a paradise garden. We peered though clearings in the trees at the idyllic bays that could not be reached unless by boat, and looked at the dense forest and pondered how so much of it will not have experienced a human foot on its soil.
We also enjoyed a few relaxing days based at Whites Bay, further down the coast towards Blenheim, where we picked huge mussels off the rocks for lunch, and Tim swam in the sea with a backdrop of mountains, and we would clamber onto a rocky ridge to admire the sunset in the evenings . If it all sounds very idyllic, it was, and I feel suitably lucky to be able to have such great experiences. We camped in a lovely spot in some native forest by the beach, where we sat outside and read the New Zealand broadsheets in the sunshine on our picnic chairs.
After Whites Bay, we headed back through Picton to the town of Nelson. Tim and I fell in love with this place and both agreed we could quite happily live there! It is a very attractive town, blessed with the most sunshine hours in New Zealand, and full of beautiful old wooden houses, mingled with some art deco architecture, and the only art deco cathedral in the world. It was a very green, leafy town, with a thriving artist community, indicated by weekly arts markets taking place in the evening sunshine with a backdrop of live jazz. There was also an alternative, hippy vibe to the town, with quirky shops advertising all manner of healing and mind-balancing/soul-cleansing workshops and relaxing complementary therapies. There was also a collection of lovely, second hand bookshops, enticing browsers to stay and enjoy the sofas and linger. None of the unfriendly ‘this is not a library’ attitude!
Nelson is situated on the coast, surrounded by gorgeous countryside, with a very large, attractive sandy beach at one end. The drive along the coast into town gives a great introduction to this beautiful city, as joggers and strollers enjoy the promenade, and where Tim and I would amble in the evenings to watch the sun set over the sea. We had delicious coffees (something New Zealand does particularly well) in a smart cafe perched on stilts over the water, and Tim treated me to belated birthday fish and chips out of the papers while the sky turned pink. Delicious!
On Saturdays, Nelson has a fantastic market, and we emerged clutching delicious pumpkin seed bread, organic lavender massage oil, a crocheted sunhat for me, and delicious spiced nectarine chutney. We took this back to our camp base, which was in a picturesque, peaceful spot just outside town. The camp ground had been left in memory of a kind man called Edward, in a paddock by a babbling brook, under some old beech trees full of tuis and fantails (my favourite New Zealand bird). It was lovely to wake up to the sound of chattering fantails, and have a dip in the crystal clear river in the evening, to cool off from the heat of the day.
We managed to tear ourselves away from Nelson and venture up the coast of Golden Bay to Cape Farewell. This is the most northerly point in the South Island. It was characterised by steep cliffs, ravaged by the Tasman Sea until a deep archway had been formed in the rocks. There is also a long finger of land that stretches eastwards from the Cape, home to an array of rare, migratory birds from Antartica. We stood at the Cape for a while, admiring the view, before turning back as the winds were far too strong to safely enjoy a cliff walk. Instead, we went and walked across the moonscape of a beach nearby – Wharariki. This impressive beach has an end of world feel to it. There was only one other soul on its vast expanse, and we walked into the wind as it formed patterns and sculptures in the huge, stretched-out sand dunes. The sea ravaged the shore, and we saw seals basking in the late afternoon sunshine, quite content to live in such an exposed environment.
We drove down Golden Bay, stopping at the lovely, hippy town of Takaka for a coffee and a browse of the quirky shops. Then we went through Motueke, another hippy place that was clogged with holidaying New Zealanders (Golden Bay is a prime summer holiday location for people from New Zealand) and passed lots of orchards around Ruby Bay and Mapua (where my sister Ellie worked a few years ago). We also visited Pupu springs, which are apparently the clearest and largest in the world, apart from one in the Antarctic!! The waters were suitably gin-coloured, as we strolled through manicured walkways and peered under the water with the help of a mirror contraption.
Cobb Reservoir, Kahurangi National Park
I am sure there are people who will disagree, but Tim and I found this a soul-draining place. We bumped and ground along 26 km of slow, twisting, steep, narrow unsealed road, before arriving at the black, deep and somewhat menacing waters of the Cobb Reservoir. It was very cold, being high up in the Kahurangi National Park (New Zealand’s second largest national park) - so cold in fact that we could see our breath in summer. The view of the reservoir from on high was fairly spectacular, but not really worth the arduous journey, the wet and the cold. We thought it might cheer us up to go for a walk to find a mountain-top view, but we walked for ages uphill through forest before it was time to come down again . Oh well. We have a philosophy that if we are not enjoying ourselves, then it is time to move on, so we did.
Abel Tasman National Park
Tim and I had 2 very lovely days enjoying this stunning national park. We hope to return in a few weeks, because the area and campsites were so clogged with holiday-makers (it is currently the long New Zealand summer holiday), that we decided to go back when it is less hectic. The first day we spent there, we hired a kayak and ventured out along the pristine coastline. The waters are very clear and turquoise, and the coastline boasts an array of perfect, golden sand beaches and quiet coves, many of which are only accessible by boat. The park is so popular because the native rainforest goes right down to the coast, and the beaches are so stunning. It was great fun pootling around the bays, and examining the rocky sections of the coast line close up from the water. We saw 2 fat fur seals indulging in a spot of sunbathing, and had fun peering down into the depths as rocks suddenly appeared under the kayak, spotting fish and star fish. The highlight for me has to be when Tim saw a penguin! This was very exciting, and we watched it for a while, diving under the water in search of food, then bobbing up with its head held high, paddling furiously away with its little fins. The blue penguin is a tiny breed - barely the size of a small cat. We stopped at 3 of the beautiful beaches to explore, before it was time to return the kayak.
Another day, we went to admire Split Apple Rock. This famous rock is literally a huge chunk of cliff, left behind in the sea by the receeding land, that had a perfect split down the middle as if it were an apple cut in half, as the name suggests. It lay on a rocky outcrop by a beautiful beach, where we were able to clamber over the rocks and find our own little beach where I could read and Tim went to fish. We dipped under the turquoise water for a snorkel, but I did not last long as brain freeze was setting in. We picked handfuls of mussels to have for supper, and very delicious they were too (only some areas of the Abel Tasman waters are a marine conservation area).
Nelson Lakes National Park
We spent a couple of days at Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa; two very scenic lakes nestled amongst an impressive mountain range. Lake Rotoroa was simply stunning, and we thought it would be a lovely spot to while away a couple of days, with walks, fishing, swimming and generally relaxing. The reality however, was that we were attacked by literally swarms of evil sandflies the moment we stepped out of the van. It was so bad that many people left as soon as they arrived. We lasted until the next morning before fleeing too. It is a shame, as it really was very lovely there apart from that. We doused ourselves in sandfly repellent and lazed on a jetty over the lake in the evening sunshine, where we were offered cold beers by a couple of young Austrian men, and where we were talked at by a man from Rhodesia with long blonde hair and a rather unattractive beer belly that kept exposing itself! He flung pieces of tinned tuna into the lake, and enormous grey eels with cold eyes came up to feed. No swimming for me then, especially after one of them took a chunk out of a young boy who went for a dip!
Lake Rotoiti was not plagued with sandflies so badly, so we went for a stroll in the native forest that lined the lake, and refreshed our hot, sticky selves with a dip in the cool waters of the lake afterwards. Check out the photos. It really was very beautiful.