01.12.2016 - 03.12.2016
Saturday 3 December 2016 - Writing the day and date is for primarily for my sake, as I generally haven't a clue otherwise - I love holiday-mode for that, including the oddity of the start of summer being 1st December. Beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine as I write, seated at the table in the motorhome, Tom driving, Jess in the passenger-seat. We've just spent the night in Golden Bay on the eastern side of the northern tip of South Island, having driven around the periphery of Abel Tasman, NZ's smallest National Park, a "trampers" and kayakers haven, which can be walked or paddled in 3/5 days, but no roads at all. The route in and out is via a "stomach-churning meander over Takaka Hill", 10km of hairpin-bends either side and some superb views.
No internet-access right now, but I think I last wrote the night before the ferry. So, early start for all over-nighters on the motel 'powered' carpark. Heavy traffic already, but we were at the port for 0730 and over an hour wait to board (it felt as though a cross-channel port would be a shock to their systems). Tom was disappointed for me to make the crossing in dull, low-cloud conditions, but the view was quite atmospheric. A slow departure through Wellington harbour and along the coast - and a full-breakfast - then an hour or so across Cook Strait to the Marlborough Sounds and another hour through to the small town of Picton near the head of "the majestic Queen Charlotte Sound". Although we'd now arrived on South Island, we were actually no further south, the weather was better and the scenery still wineries and farms but hillier. I did feel as though in a different country, perhaps simply because of many crossings of the English Channel.
A straightforward 2-hour-drive through to Nelson to meet Jess at the quite small but busy airport, before heading into the town for Tom to make some business-calls and for me and Jess to have a look around. Great town - everything you're likely to want, attractive including a striking art-deco cathedral, right on the coast with lovely beaches. Yes it adds another flight to every long-distance journey, but there's a good schedule. Tom was already a fan and has now convinced Jess of a possible place to live away from Auckland. On to Motueka overnight, the next town Tom had to visit the following day with a substantial prize - a free holiday - to award to a busy travel-agent.
Friday 2 December - Work and motorhome tasks completed, we headed for the first and best-known access to Abel Tasman Park, at Kaiteriteri, a busy small resort with a lovely beach and the first stop for the sea-shuttle/water-taxi, which calls at all the main beaches around the park's coast. It must be packed during the main season of Boxing Day through to end-January. But it wasn't what we came here for, other than to view it, so back on the road for outward leg of the drive we made this morning, but continuing to the carpark at the very end of the road, near Wainui Bay. A woodland-walk for about a mile delivered us to stunning, large beach with the tide out. The amount and variety of driftwood was extraordinary, particularly in the absence of any other flotsam and jetsam. This region is home to blue penguins, not that we expected to see any - wrong time of day, as they come ashore at dusk, and not quite the right place - but we were sad yet curious to discover an undamaged, washed-up, seemingly recently dead one. Unquestionably light sky-blue and about 30cms long, Jess named him Darwin. I hope to see some waddling on a beach later in my travels, perhaps on the east coast. We were then excited to find millions?billions?trillions? of tiny - a few mm - mussels covering many rocks around the beach, often interspersed with oysters, occasionally with mussels of the size we are more used to seeing, and even more occasionally empty shells of approx 5+". Cue a Google session on our return. We scrambled over rocks in the hope of progressing across several smaller beaches to an ultimate specific point (Taupo), but the tide was beating us and we retreated to study the mussels and rocks some more before reluctantly leaving a truly special beach, which we had had entirely to ourselves.
There is a very large, free campsite at Totaranui on the opposite side of the headland from where we were, which was really tempting to seek out, but signposted only for tents, 12km down a dirt road marked unsuitable for caravans, and it was already mid-evening, common-sense prevailed and we headed back to civilisation, arriving in Pohara Beach just as the rain started and low cloud blanketed the world, so it was probably a good decision! Mussel-study commenced, the main lesson being about size, minimum to maximum of which we had seen on 'our' beach - farmed mussels usually harvested at 4-5cm, although in NZ I've seen the popular green-lipped variety routinely served at more like 7-8cm and delicious with it. A pleasant, cosy evening with one of those great what-have-we-got-in-the-fridge/cupboard-to-throw-together meals.
Checked out Marahau = third 'gateway' to Abel Tasman this morning. Also Split Apple Rock, a huge granite Boulder in the sea (just off another lovely beach), which looks like...a split apple obviously! The Tasman Sea is beautiful turquoise and light blue in different areas. Now we're working our way back to Nelson airport for Jess to fly back to Auckland and Tom to Christchurch, both for work, but I'll pick up Tom again on Thursday for our last few days on South Island.
Tom has driven today, as I have a long way to go this afternoon, working across to west coast and then heading south towards the glaciers. Now feeling very aware I'm past the halfway mark of my NZ extravaganza - days rushing by.