Today we picked up our hired car in Picton and had the ride of our lives - the route between Picton and Nelson is absolutely stunning - which came as a complete surprise - had not expected to be driving through forested mountains, the road snaking around steep rock faces with vertiginous drops down to a jade-green river deep below. On the 2 hour journey we encountered quite a variety of scenery. Soon after leaving Picton, the vegetation changed from lush rainforest to steep sloped pine forests, and there were little wispy cotton-wool clouds floating low down as if stuck in the trees. Further down the road, we found ourselves driving past huge vineyards on the flat plain, but with dramatic snow-capped mountains right behind them. The most beautiful view though was over the sea near Nelson looking towards the snowy mountains of the Abel Tasman National Park. The sea was like marble with the shadowy white mountain peaks reflected in it.
We saw several birds of prey swooping by as we drove through the mountains - at one point a hawk flew right in front of the windscreen - Owen was suitably impressed. The other amazing thing about this drive was that we were the only car on the road for most of it! There really are hardly any people in this country....
Nelson is in one of the most beautiful settings a town could wish for, but it's not a very beautiful town in itself! It sprawls over a huge area, between the mirror-like sea and the steep forested hills behind, where we're going for a hike tomorrow. The buildings of Nelson are, shall we say, an interesting architectural mix, but I have to say most of them look like they were designed by a machine, not a person - which is such a shame given the beauty of the bay it is set in. But it has a lovely riverside walk which Owen and I did this afternoon, where we saw lots of birds, including cormorants.
The weather has been warm with blue blue skies and piercing sunshine ever since we arrived on South Island - just lovely. The rippled volcanic hills witrh shadowed folds look amazing bathed in the sunlight.
We're staying tonight in the twin hostel of the one we stayed in at Picton, so we get the chocolate pudding again tonight!