We had booked to stay on Golden Bay in mid February but brought it forward because the weather looked set fair for the previous week and wet for the time we'd planned to go. It meant giving up the idea of walking the top section of the Abel Tasman because of the tides but as I was only just feeling over the worst of the shingles, a long walk seemed unlikely anyway.
We set off in glorious weather and it stayed like that for 5 days. The drive to Takaka, the only real town on the bay, from Nelson, is only about 65 miles but involves going over Takaka 'Hill'. This adds another hour to the journey and forms a natural barrier from the rest of the world! It is at the very top, left hand corner of the south island and this long, steep, zig-zag road is the only way in and out. Golden Bay is a sparsely populated, alternative community of artists, farmers and people looking for a different way to live. It's just lovely. When we arrived in the town the local estate agent was having an auction of properties on the street!
It was a gold and coal mining area and there are lots of reminders of this. We walked up to see a water race (akin to an irrigation channel) built high up in the hills to provide water for the gold diggers (no, not that sort of gold digger). It's now used to provide hydro-electric power. Walking along it required nerves of steel for me because at times it was nothing more than a small, boarded walk on the cliff edge. We had huge admiration for the 8 guys who managed to build the whole thing in just 6 months.
Then we went to see an area of natural springs. Waikoropupu springs are the largest in Australasia and the clearest fresh water springs in the world other than under the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. It was so amazing to see water of this clarity. There was no real perception of depth because the water was almost invisible. If it hadn't been for the movement caused by the springs bubbling to the surface and the plants growing in the water, you wouldn't have known there was anything there. The photos just can't give an accurate representation but I'm proud of capturing a particularly 'darting' dragonfly on the wing!!We were mesmerised watching the water sparkle in the sun.
A couple of evenings we headed out to the Mussel Inn to hear live music and try the home brewed ale. Again, a very eclectic group of people were there. It's worth a look at the website as it gives far more of a sense of what the place is about than I can! Other notable places included the Naked Possum café and Langford Stores and Art Gallery. The latter is at the end of a long and winding road into the hills and is a tiny shack, which serves as a Post Office, shop, gallery and reminder of a time gone by.
The beaches were incredible but we were reunited with our friends the sand flies along with their mates, the jellyfish. We didn't swim or spend any length of time actually sitting on the beach.
Randomly I want to share with you the worst as well as the best things on the trip around children-a subject close to my heart. We were on a walking track on the Bay when, ahead, we saw a little boy of 4/5 and his Dad. They were chatting away happily. The boy stopped walking but Dad carried on a while. Suddenly the boy screams at the top of his voice, 'Dad, come here!' Dad turns and calmly says they have to get back to the car soon as Nanny and Grandad are waiting. The boy gets stroppy and shouts at his Dad to come back (only about 8 steps). I could see this Dad weigh up the situation and he decided to go back. On seeing us the little boy went shy but when asked by his Dad what the problem was he whispered, 'I just needed to tell you that I love you'. There were three speechless adults.
In contrast to that, in Nelson recently, we saw a chap with a t shirt on that made me sick to my boots. He'd obviously had it printed up specially. In large print it said, 'PROUD TO HAVE BEEN ARRESTED AND CHARGED WITH THE DISCIPLINING OF MY CHILD'. I mourn a lack of structure and boundaries in the lives of many children today but let's hope we never return to those days.
Saving the best of our Golden Bay trip for the end, we headed up to Farewell Spit. This is one of 1651 wetland sites included in the Ramsar List signed as an international treaty at Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 which provides for national and international conservation of wetland sites. It is also a Flyaway Site for shorebirds to rest and feed on their long-distance journeys. It is the longest sand spit in New Zealand and it's estimated that some 3,400,000 cubic metres of material are added every year. It is a magnificent sight and the surrounding landscapes of sea and cliff are truly spectacular. At one point rock types spanning most of the last 65 million years are displayed in an orderly sequence! The spit began forming after the last ice age some 14,000 years ago. The bird life was incredible to see.
A few days before we were there 82 pilot whales had stranded on the beach at the inlet. I was glad not to have seen it as many died before they could be refloated. A makeshift cross marked the site. We had booked a three hour horse ride high up on the ridge overlooking the spit and had such an amazing time. Near the start we rode across the beach where the whales had been. It was the first time the guide's horse had been that way since the fateful day and he simply freaked out when we got there. He was rearing up and wide eyed.It had clearly been a disturbing experience for him and he took a lot of persuading to walk by eventually. Paul's horse was the troublemaker as always and gave my steady steed a hard time causing them both to bolt on a couple of occasions which is not what you want on a steep cliff edge. It was the best way to cover the ground though and we enjoyed it immensely. I couldn't believe the gradients the horses coped with. The views were awesome. Then we walked on foot to Fossil Point (needed somebody good at spotting them with us!) and Wharaiki Beach with its caverns, stacks, islands and endless white dunes. I clocked up head injury number ****** by walking into the broken end of a branch. Just for a touch of irony it was a Manuka tree, which is known to have healing properties. We stemmed the blood and carried on!! Then we walked up to Cape Farewell, which is the northernmost point of the south island. The rock structure is magnificent.
Exhausted but very, very happy we headed back to the bach to have our last night at the Mussel Inn before leaving for Nelson. Two artists were performing together that night and there was a big crowd. The whole evening made me feel as if we'd been taken back to a hippy gathering in the 60's. I almost expected George Harrison to walk in clad in white with a sitar. They played 'My Sweet Lord' and lots of Indian chants. There was much shaking of shells and tapping of bits of wood. The chap had grey hair down below his waist and was dressed in Indian style with a skimpy open waistcoat. All this was fine until it was announced that he was English, called Steve and then he started playing the didgeridoo! The audience was clad in hand knitted jumpers, beads, woollen pixie hats etc. People sat on the floor or skipped about the tiny room in their own little Nirvana. Incredible. It was truly another world. The defining moment came as Paul and I turned to each other and at precisely the same time asked, 'Do you think everybody is really little?' They were. Tiny. I felt like a giant amongst the men. We'll miss the Mussel, that's for sure.
I am bringing the blog to an end now. I think we could do without the hassle of trying to upload photos in Vietnam and Laos. We can't do it from our Apple laptop for some reason. I also want to have photos and stories to share with our friends back home in the UK.
This exciting journey began with a loud and energetic Farewell party and rightly ends at Farewell Spit, a place of peace, natural beauty and isolation.It has been a journey which has changed us greatly. We have found people and places to live long in our hearts. We have pushed ourselves physically. This time next month we will be home. We thank those of you who have managed to make us still feel close to home with phone calls and emails. How we continue with life is up to us but it will be different and we will be planning the next adventure as soon as we get back!
Shawsaway is over. So, from Farewell Spit………farewell………oh, spit!!