A quick preface to our South Island adventure; we had 4 weeks available to us and below is a picture of the map that we had annotated with what we wanted to see. Yes, Caro was in charge of the map and no, James was not allowed to touch it.The point is that, despite being relatively small, there is a huge amount to do in New Zealand and this is just one island. You could easily spend months and months exploring, so long as you are prepared for all manner of weather!
The ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton is not just a ferry trip to start another part of the adventure, it is as spectacular as any part of the road trip around New Zealand. The scenery as you cross is as good as any we had seen on our NZ travels and we spent a good proportion of the crossing on the front of the ship taking in the scenery and taking photos. It could easily be described as a scenic boat trip rather than a functional exercise of travelling from A to B.We were both still feeling the effects of our late nights and early start for the ferry and were not in the mood for anything more than a drive and perhaps some short stomps. Once we were disembarked we set off on the coastal drive from Picton to Havelock on the Queen Charlotte Drive, which gives a snap shot of the Marlborough Sounds. The views along the road are stunning, even on the slightly grey and threatening day that we had. We stopped for a short view point walk and timed it perfectly for the heavens to open and give us a quick dousing.We made a beeline for Nelson after that and were fortunate that the weather lifted enough to allow us to wander around the town. We’ve mentioned already that the high streets feel particularly prosperous in New Zealand and this was equally true in Nelson where there were plenty of people on the streets and reminded us somewhat of the feel of the French villages around where Caro’s parents live.Our purpose in stopping in Nelson had been to buy a travel guide for Sri Lanka, the next stage of our extended honeymoon. Lonely Planet seems to dominate the travel guide market in New Zealand and we haven’t actually found a shop that sells anything else. As LP has looked after us through two countries so far, we were quite happy to give them our custom for Sri Lanka as well. We hadn’t made it back to the car before James was thumbing through it and giving snippets of information that won’t be useful for another 4 weeks. With our minds back on NZ we went in search of a campsite and settled at the Maitai Valley Motor Camp, a short distance outside of town. It was a slightly strange place, beautifully located and peaceful but completely plastered with slightly passive aggressive signs about the 6 million rules they had in place. We supposed that they served a purpose although there were so many that we unwittingly broke one ourselves by putting our water bottles in the freezer over night to act as chillers for the cool box. We discovered in the morning that they had been removed and the water tipped down the sink. It just irked us a little and left us with a downer on the place.
We had, however, had a good night’s sleep and were feeling re-energised to tackle the South Island. We wound our way north until we reached Motueka, a fairly non-descript town which largely acts as a launching point for Abel Tasman National Park. A quick stop at the visitor centre secured us tickets on a water taxi that would take us along the coastline to the middle of the park and the start of a good four-hour stomp. This was all good in the sunshine, however, as we pulled in to the water taxi car park, the heavens opened and Caro’s mood darkened with the clouds. James scurried about in the rain, making lunch and packing the day packs whilst Caro sat stubbornly in the front seat launching her toys energetically out of the pram. James managed to cajole her out of the car and convince her to do the walk and her relatively short lived hissy fit was over before the skies started to brighten a little.
We were a little confused as to why the pick-up point was a fair distance from the water, but instead of you going to the boat they bring it to you and you then get driven down the road on trailer boat and tractor. All great fun.The weather still looked pretty threatening once we were on the water but held off whilst we were taken on a tiki tour of a few local sites, including Split Apple Rock and a small seal colony. As we were heading to our disembarkation point at Anchorage Bay the rain started to pour again, but it soon cleared and we waded on to the beach ready to start our stomp.We were tackling the first section of the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and as we had taken the water taxi up the coast, we were doing it in reverse. It turns out that this was a good thing as, after climbing steeply for about 45 minutes, it was largely downhill or flat for the remaining 3 hours. Once again, we felt very sorry for the folks laden down with enormous backpacks trudging past us in the opposite direction.
The beginning of the track climbs steadily up through bushland on what looks like a clay track, once again reminiscent of the South of France.The views changed dramatically as we made our way up and you only needed to stop and turn around every hundred metres or so to be faced with a wider and completely altered scene.There was a touch of drama added to our day as, about two hours in, we heard the beat of propellers and were in the right place at the right time to watch the sea rescue team at work.Not wishing to be in the way, we didn’t linger for long but it was absolutely incredible to see the way the pilot handled the chopper within inches of the treeline. It was high time for lunch and we left the main track and walked down a short steep slope to Stillwater Bay to find a spot to eat. We were greeted by an absolutely immaculate stretch of beach with gorgeous caramel gold sand and a pre-lunch swim was swiftly added to the agenda. Fortunately, we had brought swimsuits with us this time.
Don’t worry, we took a beach jumping photo.
After sandwiches we continued our walk around the coastline which continued to deliver beautiful views.As we came back round to Marahau and the end of our walk the tide had gone out significantly leaving hundreds of metres of sand flats. It is one of the benefits of such a beautifully rich coloured sand that the flats were actually quite beautiful in their own right.It also became abundantly clear why the water taxis were towed by tractor, as the boat ramp was now a good 500m from the water.We made our way to Takaka for the night and when our first choice campsite was full we ended up at the River Inn, a campsite/ pub /backpackers which was just the right amount of crazy. It had a ramshackle, laid back feel with cows gazing at you from the next door field paired with a clean and serviceable kitchen and hot showers after a long stomp. After a touch and go start to the day we rounded it off with an absolutely glorious sunsent.