We started our South Island tour by taking the ferry from Wellington to Picton, and driving 2 hours on the Queen Charlotte Drive to Nelson, which is at the northern end of the South Island. In Nelson, we stayed at an AirBNB, and our hosts, Andrew and Rena, were so accommodating and full of information about the area. They helped us plan trips to Able Tasman Park and Farewell Spit, and activities in Nelson. Our favorite restaurants were Harry' and Naam Thai.
Able Tasman National Park
From Nelson, we drove an hour to Able Tasman National Park, located along the Tasman Bay. We planned to do a one-way hike from Marahau to Anchorage Bay (8 miles), and take a ferry boat back. The hike was a moderate hike, with absolutely beautiful views of the bays and beaches along the way. Several parts of the trail went inland over hills where we had nice viewpoints. We saw several new bird species along the way including a friendly Weka, a flightless bird, and a Variable Oystercatcher. We had a picnic lunch on one of the beaches and managed to get to Anchorage Bay well in time to catch our boat. The boat ride only took about 20 minutes, and when we arrived back at Marahau, it was low tide. So they use tractors to pull the boats out of the water all the way back about a quarter of a mile to the shoreline. Then you stay on the boat while the tractor delivers you to the car park. What a system! (See Photos)
Farewell Spit is a 16-mile long sand dune and nature reserve that lies at the very northern tip of the South Island, about 2 hours from Nelson. It is an internationally renowned bird sanctuary with more than 90 species, and it is particularly important for migratory shorebirds. The sand dunes are still growing at a rate of about 3 million cubic meters per year.
The spit extends like an arm, out into the open ocean, acting like a trap, collecting a range of marine life on its shores. Sunfish, oarfish and giant squid have all been recorded, along with many strandings of dolphins, and baleen whales. Pilot whales have stranded in mass several times. It was also a navigational hazard resulting in many ship wrecks until a lighthouse was built in 1870.
We did three short hikes in the area, with our favorite one down through the sand dunes to the coast. We were there at low tide and got to see baby seals playing in a tidal pool. We weren't there at the best time for bird watching, but we did see a pretty Yellowhammer. (See Photos)
We spent a day walking around Nelson, having lunch and dinner, and visiting two museums. Our favorite museum was the WOW Museum. The museum has the winning outfits from the annual "Wearable Art Show" and hundreds of antique cars. Tony really did not want to go, but he ended up really enjoying it. The wearable art costumes were unique to say the least and the car exhibit was one of the best we've ever seen, except of course the "Keels and Wheels" at Lakewood Yacht Club! (See Photos)