The next locum placement is on the horizon and we have four days of freedom before Twizel. On our whistlestop three week trip to New Zealand in 1984 there were many areas that we just did not get to, so with those memories and our guide book we have chosen an itinerary down the west coast then across into the centre of South Island. There is actually a very limited choice of routes, the intervening mountains having only three crossing points for 400 km.
First stop is Nelson. The internet is a great tool for choosing accommodation, you get lots of photos and can make informed choices. What better location than five hundred feet up a hillside, with a panoramic view of Tasman Bay. Our hosts are Kiwi and Canadian. She told her husband that she would only move to NZ from cold Canada if he built a house with double glazing. The added bonus is a hot tub with views of the stars.
Our journey takes us into the peninsula containing Abel Tasman National Park, not that far, but just enough to tease us with its delights. For a man who was only a few hundred metres from being the first European to set foot in Aotearoa, but beaten back by Maori, history has been kind to him and his name lives on in these parts. A return here is already on the cards. For many, the Abel Tasman Track is the main draw, with good reason. We have only a morning before moving on, but in that time organise ourselves on a boat trip that drops us off at a sandy beach of which there are many, providing a delight for walkers and summer residents alike. Little settlements such as Torrent Bay, accessible only by boat at high tide, still have no mains electricity or internet. That is the way many holidaymakers would like such communities to remain.
Hokitika was on our list of places to return to. The weather is not much better, a moody sea and overcast skies offering a typical west coast day. The Tasman Sea incessantly batters the coastline, but does, in a seeming concession, give up a treasure of sorts - driftwood. A wander along the stony beach reveals much artistic talent, with imaginative creations constructed as part of an annual competition. Imagination is required of both the builder and viewer. Admiration of the artistry is for a short time being, as the next gale will surely flatten the flimsy structures.
No visit to the West Coast would be complete without an immersion in old history (the same is true of all New Zealand). Shanty Town, a recreated bygone days village, provides the opportunity for a vision of the past when gold and coal was mined, and sawmills were common in these parts. It's a reminder yet again of the pioneering toil and sweat of early settlers. Gold panning is offered and we are delighted to find a few grains of gold in our pans. The river gravel dispensed to us has been well chosen by the park operator so that visitors are not disappointed!
A night at Arthur's Pass does much for our appreciation of mountains and wild scenery. Awesome also is the story of the road and rail building that connected east and west New Zealand. Arthur's Pass was named in commemoration of Arthur Dobson who 'discovered' a potential route across the 3,000 foot saddle in dense bush with the hugely inaccessible and difficult to traverse Otira Valley to the west. The route was actually traversed by Maori as a trading route for pounamu (greenstone or jade) many years before Dobson got there in 1864, but the man is credited with promoting the route as worthwhile for the construction of a horse and cart track. The discovery of West Coast goldfields and the ability to provide supplies from the east followed very soon after. When the 5 mile long Otira rail tunnel under Arthur's pass opened in 1923, the bores met to 3 centimetres, and the tunnel was the longest in the British Empire.
Not ones to pass up the opportunity for an impromptu swim, en-route to Twizel we stop at Rakaia Gorge in the afternoon heat and don our kit. We are not the only ones taking advantage of the cooling blue waters…there is just something different about plunging into a glacier fed river warmed up to just the right temperature by the summer sun.
That now completes the journey from Cheviot to Twizel, nine days of sightseeing and exploration, and Lesley is now ready for her four weeks in the MacKenzie Country. Twizel is a PRIME practice and her training in Kerikeri last October is about to be put to good use again.....