Still Heading South
05 February 2013 | South Island
We're on the south island now! Got here a few days ago. With the exception of yesterday, we've had perfect weather. So much so that there's been high fire warnings since it's so dry. On the day before we crossed over, we stopped in Upper Hutt to check out a rail trail. It turned out to be unbeliveable. It was built through mountains to get agricultural goods from the farmland to Wellington, NZ's capitol. There was another kilometer long tunnel and many shorter ones; an amazing feat actually, especially for being built in the 1800,s. It was 17km each way & nothing to disturb the view. Just another beautiful spot among so many that I feel like a broken record.
We decided to catch Wellington on the way back so got an early morning ferry for the 3 hr crossing. Cook Strait was pretty calm but you could see by the current that it could be quite nasty in a blow. For the last hour, the ferry weaves among islands in Queen Charlotte sound. The water is a tropical like greenish color & the landscape is almost desert like with big, rolling hills. We took a harbor hike once we got there & man, was it hot. Since we were headed to the town of Nelson that night, we headed west on a scenic tourist road that looked like a shortcut but we've since realized that these roads are no shortcut! They end up winding over mountains, turn into one paved, curvy lane and go on forever. Every time you meet another car you gasp & slam on the brakes to pull over without falling off a cliff. Three times I looked way down over the side when we rounded a super drop off and saw a crumpled car down there!
We found a great campground in Nelson that bordered several parks & had a great bike path so we stayed a couple days to enjoy it. Whenever we were at our site, the mallard ducks would waddle over to check out our stuff. The standard for campgrounds in NZ is to have a kitchen & it i well used. It makes it really easy to keep your food cold & to make nice meals whenever you want.
Nelson is known for its old trees and they made it a beautiful town. We went to the Saturday market, biked all over the town surrounds and got fresh Marlborough region salmon to try. On our bike ride, a bee flew inside Jon's mouth and stung him on the tongue so he had a lisp for a little while. We've met lots of friendly Kiwis and they always have lots of advice on where we should head next. As our friend Rich says, sometimes people get stuck on transmit (no receive), but I guess understandably, they're excited about what their country has to offer.
After the weekend, we headed west toward St Arnaud which is the gateway town to Nelson Lakes Nat'l Park where we decided we wanted to do a backpacking trip. It sits right on a beautiful lake- Rotoiti and we got a campsite in the park. Little did we know we would later be carried away by the famous NZ sandfly (it is really an annoying black fly with a big bite). Plus, we no sooner booked our backpacking trip with a good forecast, then later in the day checked the weather & it had all changed for the worst. We got it rebooked for Wed. Our campsite sat right next to the start of the Buller River which flows westward & drains into the Tasman. We walked some trails by the lake that day but got out of there early the next morning & followed the river down a beautiful gorge to the coast. It rained most of the day which in a way, was a good break from the sun & lent it's own feel to the day. Westport is known for a year round NZ fur seal colony & has a great viewing platform but it's nothing like being up close to the Galapagos sea lions. I read that some fur seals swim as far as Austraila to breed. A trail continued on to the Cape Foulwind lighthouse. It had a different name until Capt Cook (yep, his name is all over here too) anchored there in a blow and declared it a foul wind.
We bought all the food we'll need for our backpacking trip & continued on down the coast to Paparoa Nat'l park, home of Pancake Rocks. We found a beautiful beach campground that was full of white minivans & campervans- we make up most of the traffic on the road! Overnight, the skies cleared & a chilly south wind made the waves roar.
Pancake Rocks are geologically curious limestone rock formations at the tide line that are layered like pancakes. Long distance ocean waves, like the ones we had today after yesterday's front blew through, pummel the rocks, shooting spray through the blowholes. The trail down to the rocks was filled with palms and ferns- so pretty but with the cool breeze, they seem so out of place. We took a longish hike afterward, up a limestone flanked gorge that was lovely. It even had purple mushrooms!
Now we're on our way back to sandfly city (unfortunately we'd pre-booked it), late in the day so we can blast in, cook dinner inside the kitchen and then dive into the van before the bugs can catch up! Jon is holding up traffic since we haven't learned how to drive NZ style yet. Tomorrow we set out on a 3 day backpacking trip to Angelus Hut & surrounds. Jon will use his holey pack but the forecast is good so he should be OK. Will let you know how it goes.