As ever it has been a busy few weeks, what with seeing the sights, travelling between them and Steve trying to squeeze some training in the gaps. So we have fallen behind on The Blog ….. again!
After Wanaka we made a short stop along the Haast Pass, to the Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park. The drive there in itself was worth the trip with stunning lakes, mountains and valleys and all on a beautiful sunny day. We always appreciate what a great adventure we are on, even during the hard, rough, tiring time, but some days we appreciate it just that little bit more and today was one of those days.
A lovely little walk led out to the Pools and it was very popular with families, with children and adults alike swimming and jumping off the swing bridge. Steve was tempted with the jump until he tested the water. “I think I’ll give that one a miss, it is freezing”.
Next it was on to another National Park. This time Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. We have been trying to get here since we left Christchurch, but with notoriously bad weather everytime we got within striking distance we kept having to pass it by.
Now, the forecast was giving a 36 hour window of fine weather and we were only a couple of hours away, so off we went.
As with many places on The South Island, The Department of Conservation had a fantastically located campsite right in The National Park and all the trails around the area either started there, or passed through. The campsite was very basic but it’s all about the scenery and the accessibility here.
We had started the day at 6am so by the time we had driven to The Park, found a spot to park up and had a cup of coffee, we were off and walking before 10am.
We chose to do the Hooker Track which is relatively easy and leads to the glacier at the foot of Mount Cook. Consequently it is one of the busier tracks in The Country.
Although there were more people walking than we had seen on any of our other walks, this didn’t detract too much from the experience. The weather and the route were amazing alongside the glacial rivers, across swing bridges and under blue skies.
After half an hour or so Mount Cook came into view with its snow capped summit. It looked pretty impressive so we stopped to take photos, which were really a waste of time because what we thought was an impressive sight turned out to be just the starter course as the views just got better and better.
We eventually arrived at the Hooker Lake and sat down to eat some sandwiches and grab a drink. Then Steve thought he would push on a little further, scrambling over some boulders for another 30 minutes, getting even closer to the glacier.
The return leg was no less impressive and although Mount Cook was behind us, the only slightly smaller Mount Sefton loomed over us and our campsite.
After a bit of a rest back at the van we did another walk in the early evening which was an elevated walk to another viewpoint of the valley for some more great photos.
We slept well that night and woke the next morning with the intention of doing another early walk, but the 36 hour window turned out to be just 24. The mountains were covered in a blanket of clouds and heavy rain, so we packed up and moved on. We spent the best part of the morning saying how lucky we had been to have had such a beautiful day.
We only had just over a week to go before our ferry to The North Island and we wanted to have a few days back in Abel Tasman where we had been house sitting back in December.
We plotted a route back which involved a two day detour back to Akoroa and The Banks Peninsula. Steve had enjoyed the cycling there so much, that he couldn’t resist doing some of the rides again.
One day he had been out for four and a half hours of hard cycling and met Sarah in the village of Lyttleton. She had parked on the side of the road, put our chairs in front of the van and had lunch all ready waiting. Steve sat down in the road to eat when a woman stopped in her car and wound down the window. “Here we go”, thought Steve, “I’m bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down”, as he prepared for some abuse. “I noticed you have been cycling”, said the woman. “I live in that house just there, if you want to come in for a warm shower, you are more than welcome”. During 40 years of cycling that has never happened to him in The UK. Some people are just so nice!
We made our way up the East Coast and had a stop in the small town of Kaikoura. This is the place to go in NZ if you want to go whale watching. We came here 21 years ago on a wet and windy day and it was a bit of a desolate, unattractive place. Then six years ago it was hit by a massive earthquake which completely destroyed the town and road network. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Kaikoura has emerged as a fabulous place, with a great atmosphere to just stroll around. With more time we would have liked to have stayed for a couple of nights rather than just the one. But Sarah did manage the time for some good old fish and chips out of the paper sitting by the sea.
We skipped the whale watching this time and instead set off on a two hour walk along the rocky foreshore. We knew there was a seal colony there and we spotted one or two a distance away as we wandered along.
The further we went the less and less people were around. Then, all of a sudden we rounded some rocks and found ourselves right in the middle of the colony, in fact, we were in what looked like the kindergarten. Dozens of seals and their pups were playing in a big rock pool, not at all bothered by our presence. We watched for a while and then moved on not wanting to overstay our welcome!
We then drove all the way North through the vineyards of The Marlborough region. We have had one or two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in the past which had come from those very vines.
Eventually, the asphalt road ended and we found ourselves at a campsite right on the beach. The area reminded us of some of the places we had camped in Far North Queensland, Australia with palm trees and ancient forests all mixed in right on the edge of a deserted beach. The weather wasn’t quite the same though, certainly not a sunbathing day.
And so our final stop on The South Island was right back where we had started 11 weeks before in the Abel Tasman area.
We initially had a couple of nights at a freedom camp, right on the foreshore in the town of Motueka, where we had been house sitting. It’s a wonderful little town and right up there with our favourite places so far.
Sarah spent the days relaxing with her book and Steve spent the days not relaxing with his bike and running shoes!
We then spent a couple of days camping in Abel Tasman and did some walking on the Abel Tasman Track and managed to squeeze some time in on the beach too.
The beaches in Abel Tasman are, in our opinion, far and away the best in New Zealand with golden sand, turquoise blue waters and a back drop of green forests.
The track is about 40 miles long, but if you don’t want to do the entire length there is an amazing water taxi service which picks up and drops off at five points along the way. So you can do whatever section of the track you feel like doing.
The Track is exceptional. It’s not a hilly, elevated track, but it hugs the coast and winds its way through the forest, past waterfalls, over rivers, some which have bridges and some that don’t. Some sections have a high tide route and low tide route, where you can drop down onto the beach and cross the estuaries. At every corner there seems to be a view into the forest or out to the beautiful golden sand and piercing blue water.
We loved the walking in Abel Tasman and Sarah enjoyed the water taxi just as much. You get a great view of the coast and then, at the end, the taxi is dragged out of the water on a trailer towed by a tractor and you stay on the boat as you are driven back through town to the start of the track.
So our time on the South Island was almost over and we made our way to Picton from where the ferry departs. We took the scenic route along Queen Charlotte Drive, a 40km twisting turning road which precariously hugs the cliff edge. We passed several places where the road was only one lane wide, not through design but because the other lane had fallen into the sea in a landslide!
We spent the last night at a Department of Conservation site down by the water’s edge and spent the evening talking about all the absolutely fantastic things we had done since we arrived in late November.
The following morning we boarded the early ferry bound for Wellington and a family reunion.
“Bye bye South Island, see you again for sure. It’s been a blast!”