Thursday 1st March
Halfway through our time away from home!
Today was a long driving day with no planned extra-curricular activities. We left Blenheim and found a nice spot for breakfast overlooking Moetapu Bay in Mahau Sound. We were in the part of New Zealand called Marlborough (top right of South Island) which is known for its Sounds, although these are not as steep sided (above water) as Milford or Doubtful Sounds they are just as scenic. The cicadas were out in force and when we walked a few hundred metres to the lookout point we could see them in the trees and occasionally flying around. We have heard them nearly every day whilst we have been away but cannot usually see them.
We drove on and stopped in Nelson for an hour. The Cathedral has an unusual windowed bell tower that you can see the bells through. It also has a mixture of old and new buildings together.
Our final resting place for the night was at the Moteuka Top 10 Holiday Park, close to where we needed to be for our next adventure in the morning.
Friday 2nd March
Today we were going sea kayaking! A slightly grey morning, no rain, and not cold, but an 07.45 start at The Sea Kayak Company's HQ. After the paperwork our guide, Sally, towed the kayaks to the launch site at Marahau just inside the Abel Tasman National Park. We and 2 other couples followed behind in our vehicles. We squeezed into the waterproof tops (tight neoprene cuffs and waistbands), thin life jackets and neoprene 'skirts'. After a practice getting in and out of the kayaks we followed the tractor and trailer towing the kayaks out into the shallow bay, wading behind (as advised, in clothes and shoes we didn't mind getting wet). The other 2 couples went off on their own as they had kayaked before and were hiring the boats, unguided, for the day. That meant we were the only ones with Sally! I was in the front and Martin was at the back with the steering pedals. The area we were in was perfect for beginners as the sea is very calm all the time, more like a lake. The sea was a deep emerald green. We paddled north for around an hour and then crossed to Adele Island to stretch our legs. The Island is a nature reserve that has been cleared of all pests (stoats, weasels cats etc) and the bird population has flourished. The birdsong was the loudest we have heard. We got back in the kayaks and paddled to the end of the island where we saw a couple of fur seals and a pup on the rocky shore. Paddling back to the mainland Sally said that she often sees sting rays, dolphins, Little Blue Penguins, and orca where we were. Unfortunately we didn't see any of these today. We ended our adventure at Akersten Bay where a Water Taxi waited for us. We said goodbye to Sally whose was going to be collected with the kayaks by someone else, and boarded the watertaxi - a large speed boat with half a dozen bench seats - back to Marahau. The journey was very quick compared to being in the kayak! When it got to Marahau a tractor with a boat trailer reversed into the water and the taxi drove onto the trailer and we were driven the last few 100metres across the shallow bay to the boat ramp. We worked out that we had kayaked at least 8 kilometres (5 miles) in the 3 hours. We had managed to stay afloat and it hadn't mattered if we weren't synchronised with our paddles all the time. It was an enjoyable morning, but we are not about to rush out and buy a kayak. Sally had said that the weather was about to take a turn for the worse as there was a storm coming. She had been cold all day, but we were OK - normal English summer weather for us!
From Marahau we drove to Takaka as we had read and heard that the drive was worth doing. It was a long drive and it was winding and steep up to the top of Takaka Hill, and winding and steep down the other side. The local joke is "its just a hill, get over it" and they sell T-shirts saying the same to raise money for the local school. The skies had become darker during the afternoon and the clouds had come down so the views were not that spectacular at the top of the hill. We walked through Takaka, which was very similar to other small towns - a long linear high street with shops and not much else. We opted for a Holiday Park outside Takaka on the coast at Pohara. As we ate that evening the rain started in earnest and did not stop until the morning. The wind blew and the van was buffeted from side to side all night. We had parked in the middle of a reasonably empty part of the site whereas most of the other vans were around the outside against the hedge.
Saturday 3rd March
When we woke up (Martin slept all through the storm but I had one eye open most of the night, two sometimes !) we could see that there were branches blown down all over the park and a tree had been uprooted not far from our van! We drove down further down the coast and ate our breakfast at Ligar Bay, looking out to sea, passing what they referred to as "Washouts" which meant cracks had opened up in the roads and the hillside has slipped down to meet the roads ! On the way back to Motueka, at the top of Takaka Hill, the views were clearer than the day before. Snow had come down on the tops of the highest hills during the storm. We got to Motueka in the afternoon, which was shut! Most of the shops seemed to have shut at 2.30pm - well, the holiday season was just about over for them. So we drove back on through to Nelson and stopped to walk Tahunanui Beach and had an icecream. We also stopped again at Moetapu Bay in Mahau Sound for a nice cup of tea and biscuits as it was such a lovely view!
We were making our way to Picton to get the ferry across to North Island, but on the way saw a DOC site right on the shore at Momorangi so we stopped there (about half an hour away from Picton). When the owner asked if we were on a ferry crossing I said we were hoping to queue and get the next available one tomorrow. He told me that the previous day's crossings had all been cancelled due to the storm so they would still be clearing the backlog. We managed to book a crossing on the internet for Monday at 1.10pm; the two earlier crossings were already full. This meant we had an extra day to fill. We both agreed to stay at this site for another night as it was so very quiet and picturesque.
Sunday 4th March
In the morning the sun was shining in a bright blue sky. We didn't need to rush to get anywhere today so we had a full cooked breakfast and left the site to drive to Picton around 11.30am. The road (Queen Charlotte Drive) into Picton was the most winding one we had been on so far; it was continuously twisting and turning with small tight corners and Martin didn't leave second gear for most of it. Every so often there would be a tantalising glimpse of the Queen Charlotte Sound through the trees. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures at different lookouts both on the way there and the way back.
In Picton we parked outside the centre and walked to the i-site as I wanted to check whether we needed a printed ticket for the ferry, as all we had was the booking reference from the internet. They confirmed all we needed was the reference and ID to confirm we were the people named on the booking. The next thing to check was where to queue for the ferry. Maps in the terminal showed us where and we left knowing exactly where to go the next morning. Then it was back along the Queen Charlotte Drive and into the Camp Site.