23.01.2017 - 04.02.2017 20 °C
North? Check. South? Next! Picking up the story from last time, we hopped aboard the Inter Islander ferry for a 3-hour trip across stormy Cook Strait. Luckily the Wellington winds seemed to have spent their energy the days before, and the ride to the other side was very smooth.
Cruising through the majestic Queen Charlotte Sounds (Fjords are called “Sounds” in New Zealand), our destination Picton came in sight. Considered the most important hub in sea travel between the two islands, although in truth the ferry is probably bigger than the entire town itself. From our cozy little hostel (free chocolate pudding + ice cream every night!!) we put on our hiking shoes and left for an early morning water taxi to Ship Cove, deep in the Sounds.
Boating through the low hanging clouds and slowly see the sun come up was a beautiful sight. After drop off we enjoyed the day hiking through the native forest along beautiful coastline. Several of the local inhabitants came to say hello on the way such as the Weka, a curious flightless bird who is a distant relative of the famous Kiwi. The absolute highlight however was when we stopped at a beautiful beach just off the track and a small pod of Hector’s dolphins showed up to put on a little show just for us. They were feeding on what was probably something delicious and we stood there for a good 15 minutes watching them. Amazing! We ended the day with a boat ride back, some chocolate pudding (obviously) and chilling out in the hot tub.
Apart from watching the wildlife we also got an insight in how the Department of Conservation (DOC) is trying to control the many predators that have been introduced to New Zealand over the years. Possums, rats, stoats and weasels have no natural enemies here and have multiplied enormously. Because of this they pose a serious threat to the native wildlife, particularly birds and their eggs. All along the track a defensive line of traps was visible with radio transmitters attached. Whenever an animal is caught, the park rangers are signaled so they can take action. By starting at the coast and slowly moving the traps inland, the goal is to eventually get the national park free of such predators.
Next we decided to head west towards sunny Nelson - located in the center of New Zealand - for some beach and relaxing. It would also allow us to move on further towards the Abel Tasman national park, or so we thought. Once again the limits of travelling New Zealand by bus (cheap though it is) were becoming clear, as our friends at Nakedbus told us that they didn’t offer any routes there. The good thing is that we have time and flexibility!
Closest to Abel Tasman are the two villages of Kaiteriteri and Marahau. Google maps showed us that the first one was only about 75km away from Nelson. With blue skies and beautiful countryside it wouldn’t be too bad to cycle through… and so we did. Our big backpacks cheated and went on a transport van, while we spent the day cycling through the beautiful hills, towns and coastlines along the so called “Great Taste trail”. Running into all sorts of things, such as the many fresh fruit and vegetable stands alongside the road (no one there, just put the money in a box), shipwrecks along the coast and café’s with tame eels you could pet. Killer were the last 3km outside of Kaiteriteri, which went through the local Mountain Bike Park. Ouch
Upon arrival the news of our plan seemed to have gotten around, as both the bike rental company and hostel owner instantly recognized us as “those guys that came cycling from Nelson in a day”. Tired but happy we settled in for the night at our new place in Marahau, on the edge of Abel Tasman National Park. Only two types of transport matter here – tractors and speedboats.
- Speedboats to get where you want to go.
- Tractors to put the speedboats in and out of the water.
Over the next few days we discovered much of the park both on foot and by kayak. With beautiful coastline and stunning blue-green water it is a fantastic place, much like Queen Charlotte. What really makes it special though is the water tides. Because the sea gets deeper only very very slowly, there is an incredible difference between low and high tide. As a result entire bays can be filled with water at one point and be completely empty a few hours later. For our kayak trip we unfortunately picked a day where the water was unexpectedly rough, so we had to paddle hard and steer into the big waves.
Apart from that the view from the water was great, with lots of fur seals (including babies!) on the rocks around us. It was an experience to be in a two-person sea kayak too, with a rudder and pedals to steer, while wearing waterproof dresses to stop the boat from filling up with water. Quite different from lazy paddling around the canals of Utrecht
Our hostel proved to be a great place to hang out, with the Wellington Sevens rugby on a huge TV and owner Greg baking awesome chocolate cookies every now and then. Greg used to be a tour driver for the Kiwi Experience backpacker busses, and has big plans with the hostel. For now it is still a nice chilled out place though, and we are happy to have (kiwi) experienced it that way.
After a short trip back to Nelson (thanks for the ride Greg!) we got back to our bussing adventures and moved on to Punakaiki on the rough west coast of the island. With the mighty Southern Alps behind it as a barrier, the west coast receives more than it’s fair share of rain and is also referred to as “the wet coast”. Punakaiki itself is a tiny little place consisting of around three streets, a pub, no supermarket and a magnificent sea view. The real attraction around the corner here are the pancake rocks – a unique formation of limestone rocks that has been shaped and eroded over millions of years to look like a big stack of pancakes. Yummi ☺
Away from it all, the view of Tasman Sea’s mighty waves smashing against the rocks is something to look at for hours. All the pretty colored stones (white, green, orange, etc.) found on the beach are also turning into a nice little collection by now. Life is good here, and yet there is so much more to come.
Big hi to everyone back home, and ciao for now!
Michael & Isabella