It was not that long after we landed in Christchurch that Meghan and I found ourselves in Jail. A penitentiary that was originally built in 1874 and decommissioned in 1999 had been remodeled into a backpackers hostel. The rooms were the original cells kited out with new floors and comfy beds. Somehow it did not feel creepy at all and was actually one of the cleanest and most well equipped hostels we have been in.
From here we picked up our “home on wheels “ We were surprised to find a slightly larger and generally nicer van waiting for us. Our plan for the South Island, which we figured out as we were pulling out of town, was to do a counterclockwise loop of the island.
Our first stop was the ocean side town of Kaikoura. The big attraction here is a picture perfect peninsula jutting out into the south pacific and backed by the snow covered peaks of the seaward Kaikoura range. This was our first glimpse of the NZ mountains we craved after the disappointing weather in the north island. Our road atlas quotes a 1936 National Geographic article saying “Here in an area approximately the size of Colorado are grouped the snow-mantled peaks of Switzerland, geysers of Yellowstone, Volcanic cones of Java and Japan, and the Lakes of Italy: the mineral springs of Czechoslovakia, the fjords of Norway, sea coasts of Maine and California, and waterfalls higher than Yosemite” So far NG is right on! The coast here certainly reminds me of Big Sur and the mountains are phenomenal rising over 7,500 feet almost right out of the ocean. Kaikoura is known as one of the few places were such tall mountains are so close to the ocean and here the ocean is prolific with whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, and albatross.
Next, on to New Zealand’s Wine country and the small town of Renwick. We found a really nice hostel that allowed for campervans to park in their lot and use the facilities. It was owned and operated by an older couple who where 4th generation in the “village”. We felt well taken care of like staying with Grandma and Grandpa. We slowed things down and just lay around all afternoon and put off the wine tour by bicycle for the next day. We met a really nice couple from Holland and an Irishman and we stayed up late together drinking wine and enjoying good conversation.
Vino Anyone? We picked up our rental bikes around noon, a vast improvement from the bikes in Aitutaki, and headed out to sample the local wines. Marlborough Country is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and the vineyards produce mostly white wines. Really, the only red we found was a Pinot Noir. The wine was good and most of the wineries had free tastings. Each taste was small but after 8 or 10 it adds up and before long we were feeling buzzed, after lunch and some tastings of schnapps for desert we were back to the hostel for a mid afternoon nap.
Moving on we visited the harbor town of Picton, were the ferries from the north island come. Then to a really winding road up one of the many peninsulas of the Marlboro Sounds to a sweet campsite on a cove. This was a good deal out of our way but we wanted to get ourselves in a good position to hike the Queen Charlotte Track the next day. The Queen Charlotte Track is immensely popular but most visitors only do the first few kilometers.
The Queen Charlotte Track, a 73 km track that runs along on of the many finger like peninsulas that makes up the Marlborough Sounds. A maze of Islands and land masses were the water seeps its way inland. This track can be done on foot or by bike with three to four nights. There are plenty of B&Bs and backpacker type places so it can be done without a tent or camping gear. This would make for a different type of multi day hiking experience but I think that I would probably prefer the seclusion of more remote hikes.
On to Nelson and from what we read and saw we have this the Boulder of NZ! Next stop, old McDonalds Farm! This was a neat little campground/campervan park in an open field alongside a river with showers and a little outdoor kitchen area. It was the last stop at the end of the road that brought you to Able Tasman National Park. This was a nice enough place however a large school group was also camping and they were very loud. When I went to take a shower I stopped by the toilet, while reliving myself I heard one of the chaperones telling the kids they had exactly 10 minutes to get showered. Hearing this I did what I could to finish up quickly and made a run into an oncoming gang of little kids running madly to get one of the few showers. I immediately jumped into a full sprint to outrun the little buggers and got to the showers first. Only one little girl had enough head start and steam to beat me! As I showered little kids kept knocking and tugging at the shower stall door telling me I had only two minutes to shower thinking that I was part of their group!.
The next morning we set out on a independent two day Kayaking adventure along the coast. Sorry to be longwinded but I am just going to give you what I have in my journal:
11/25/09 - Abel Tasman Kayak, Day 1 We woke early to get to the Abel Tasman Base. The mornings routine would be to get outfitted for gear, go over the basics, and head to the water to demonstrate we were capable of paddling the kayak. They loaded all the boats as well as all of us into a two car train pulled by a farm tractor and pulled us out onto the long beach to the waters edge. It was a traffic jam of tractors pulling trailers coming in an out on the low tide sandbar.
Once in the water I did have a few issues operating the ruder for some reason, but after we got out on our own I quickly had it all figured out. We returned to shore to wait for a water taxi to the drop off point from which we would paddle back. The boat ride was enjoyable and defiantly more than just a taxi ride. The driver was very personable and pointed out a blue penguin, brought us by the Island that was home to a protected seal colony, pointed out all the bays, and even brought us up alongside a sunfish? I had never herd of this fish before and in his 20 years there he had never seen one and was quite exited about it. From the drop off point we quickly set out in our fiberglass ocean kayak to the north, in the opposite direction of were we were heading, to Shag bay. After passing another blue penguin we arrived at two narrow channels leading into an inland lagoon only accessible at high tide. We carefully navigated the boat in and discovered a peaceful cove with crystal clear and perfectly still water. There is a good amount of exploring to do here and we paddle around for a little while before finding a female seal all alone in the protected waters. The seal swam about and continued to take up peculiar poses in the water and swimming quite awkwardly all around the boat and the lagoon. This was a special moment and we took time to stay and enjoy this magical place. From here we paddled out and across a channel to the Island were the protected seal colony was and found another little inlet that was packed with seals. There were a few big males swimming about and laying on the rocks, a female with a newborn pup, and a few more roughhousing (or having Sex) in and about the surf. From here more paddling took us back across the open sea to Mosquito bay were we would camp for the night. A small island centered in the middle of the bay was our backdrop to the open ocean and our camp was only a few feet of the shore. At first it appeared that we would only share this campsite with a few other campers but before to long a guided group of Speedo clad Germans came paddling in. The one upside of this was that the Guide was actually really cool and we spent a good portion of the evening chatting with her about NZ.
Fur Seal and Pup
Anyone for some Escargot?
Sunset from the cove we camped at.
11/26/09 Kayak Day 2 - We set out early in calm weather for the long paddle home. Today would be about three times longer than our previous day and we were exited to have the calm water. The winds slowly picked up till we got into a situation were I felt like we were getting blown out to see and for a moment I was a bit worried about the day to come. After a long hard paddle we pulled over to a crescent cove with a trail to an excellent overlook. We then tackled the “Mad Mile“. This section is apparently always windy and the longest stretch without a place to land. For us it was a lot nicer than the section leading up to it. The winds picked up again and it was back to big sea swells as we paddled around another bend trying to get to another empty beach to stop for lunch. We paddle out to another island that was “pest free” (no pesky possums or rabbits!) so lent it self to be a bird sanctuary. From here on, it was hard paddling for almost two hours before we got to the take out. We were both exhausted and covered in salt from the splashing waves when we got back. We learned that that many people had bailed out and either walked or took a water taxi back! All in all it was a great adventure and great to camp in NZ.