reymouth to Picton
February 16 - March 1, 2010
But finally, we had to move on. Our friend Virginia was waiting for us in Wellington. We left Greymouth on a glorious sunny day and headed north and then east along the Buller Gorge highway. It was reputed by Lonely Planet to be the prettiest road in New Zealand and we certainly enjoyed it. We found a great place to camp that night in a high mountain valley that had once held a thriving mining village called Lyell but of which there was almost nothing left. We only knew about it because the people who had set up the campsite had also installed some information boards with old photos of the village as it once was. Looking at the campsite it was hard to believe the village ever existed. Looking at the photos it was hard to believe this busy-looking place could have died so completely.
Abel Tasman and Golden Bay
The morning after our camping expedition, we drove over the pass and down to Motueka where we wanted to stay in order to visit the Abel Tasman National Park. We had heard such great things about the park, and although we knew we wouldn't be able to do the multi-day hikes that everyone raved about, we thought we would at least take a day hike and get a flavor of the place. Sadly a double room at Eden's Edge, our preferred backpackers, was only avaliable for one night, but the host was friendly and we extended our stay for two more mights by pitching our tent in his field along with a couple of other tenters. It worked out well. We got to use all of the regular facilities, including the small swimming pool, so we were quite happy. In the two days that we were there, we spent the first biking to the beach from which all of the boat/hike tours start and end. It was a tough ride up and over hills and for a moment it seemed as though Gerry wasn't going to have the lungs to take it, but in the end we got there and back and felt quite proud.
The next day we had booked a tour that gave us a boat ride to a point on the Abel Tasman trail and a time to catch the boat back from another point on the trail 7 kms closer to our starting point. The small bays that make up the ATNP are just so scenic they are amazing. The trail hugs the coast line and winds up and down through scrub forest with freqent great views of the ocean. Unfortunately, after our exertions the day before on the bike, Gerry's leg started complaining almost the instant he started walking. Instead of quitting right there, he perservered and suffered mightily as a result. In the end, he had to even give Jan his backpack, because the extra weight was making walking even more painful than it already was. We made it to the end of the hike with plenty of time to spare, enough indeed for Jan to get into her swimsuit and head into the lovely turquoise waters of Kaiteriteri bay, which although very, very shallow, for a long, long way did eventually get deep enough for her to swim. The tide was coming in, which was just as well, because until it did our boat could not get in to pick us up.
The last place on our itinierary in this part of the South Island, was to drive up and over a 2,000 meter pass on a very steep and windy road just to drive down yet another steep and windy road to get to Golden Bay. There is much that is beautiful about New Zealand, and Golden Bay ranks up there with the best of them. There isn't that much to see and do, but it is the most lovely place in the world to see and do very little. The bay is very underdevleoped with no large towns and just a few farms and a handful of backpackers. It is quite isolated because the only way in and out of the bay is to drive over the pass to Abel Tasman, a three-hour drive in good conditions. But the views you get on that drive are stupendous, and the away-from-it-all feel you get while in the Golden Bay area is priceless.
After a measly one night, we had to reverse direction and drive back over to the pass to get on our way to Nelson and the famed Queen Charlotte Sounds. While sitting in Sumner, Jan had spent many hours poring over real-estate ads and knew that their were hundreds of lovely homes dotting the hillsides above the Queen Charlotte and many other sounds that feed into the Cook Strait. If you want a home with an ocean or at least a water view, this is the place to come. Of course there's very little industry to speak of, so you'll have to be independently wealthy, or blessed with a good pension and willing to live half a world away from family and friends.
Nelson and Picton
We had heard from a couple of people that Nelson was the best place to live on the South Island. In retrospect, we guess that they mean it is the driest place to live, as it gets more hours of sunshine than most everywhere else. It is also the center of a very large wine-growing district, the products of which we had been sampling for some four months now. We spent most of our one day in Nelson, driving around the sounds in each direction, getting great views of deep blue water, dotted with white-sailed yachts, and backed with green-clad hills. Did we mention the fact that we thought NZ pretty?
Our last stop on the South Island was the small town of Picton, where we stopped only to catch the ferry that would take us across the Cook Straits to Wellington. We had booked our ticket by phone and it was just by luck that when we drove to the wharf to pick it up, the clerk noticed our van parked outside. We had paid for a much bigger van and so we were happy to be told that we would get a refund for it on our credit card. The next morning we drove on board the ferry, parked the car, and climbed up the stairs to find places on a sheltered deck for the ride to Wellington.