Kia Ora, friends! That means hello in Maori!
After a rainy stay on the North Island of New Zealand, I made my way to the South Island via the Interislander ferry across the Cook Straight. The ferry itself was as nice as some cruise ships, complete with lounges, a food court, and a pub. The trip itself took about three and a half hours, but the approach into Picton made the entire trip worth the wait. The rains on the North Island left me with low expectations, but my hopes were still high. We got close to the South Island and saw the sun was shining, the dolphins were jumping (so I was told – I didn't see them!), and I was filled with excitement at what some have called the most beautiful island on Earth.
We didn't spend much time hanging about in Picton and jumped right on to a bus headed for Nelson. After a quick stop in Blenheim for some wine tasting, we drive into Nelson. There I said goodbye to the group I had been traveling with on the North Island. Our driver kept referring to the South Island as the “mainland”, explained that the North Island is just a side show and welcomed us to the REAL New Zealand.
In Nelson I was greeted by a good friend I had made while traveling in India earlier this year, Jackie. On that trip, one of my most challenging, I was accompanied by Jackie and her mother Christine. We all muddled our way through the culture shock together and created a bond solidified by shared adventures. I was happy to see her! We caught up as she drove out of the city and towards her home in Mahana where I was planning on staying for the weekend. We passed fields of happy sheep grazing on the lush green grasses and vineyards with their vines trimmed back for the winter.
We arrived at a nice home nestled in the rolling hills above Mahana covered with vineyards and various other crops. There I met her lovely daughter Hannah, partner Nigel, and son Jock. Jackie told me about the plans for the weekend as we had a cup of tea and sat around the fire. I realized how nice it felt to be in an actual home for the first time in a couple of months. Jackie asked if I had been eating lots of fish and chips, a New Zealand staple, and I told her that regrettably I hadn't because I had been cooking dinner every night to save money.
So we made our way to a cute take-away “chippery” right on the water, placed our order, and walked around for about 10 minutes while it was being prepared. When we returned to the restaurant and they called our number, I walked up to the counter just as the guy behind the counter viciously stabbed the paper wrapped packet repeatedly before handing it over the counter. Hmm…why would he stab it? Wasn't the fish already dead? Was he just making sure? I must have looked confused, because Jackie and Hannah were laughing as we walked to the car. Apparently the stabbing is necessary to ensure the food stays crispy long enough to get it home. Ha, I was relieved my fish was dead! The fish and chips were delicious as promised and after a long travel day, we made it an early night. The full belly and soft, warm bed was like a slice of heaven and I fell asleep smiling.
The next morning we jumped in the car and drive up to Abel Tasman National Park where we would be spending most of our day. Jackie shared stories of when she had visited the area as a child and we talked about the effects if tourism on the area as well as the huge influx of Brits in the area. We decide to take a walk along the shore to see one of the golden sand covered beaches for which the park is famous.
Our walk started out through a tidal area covered in water and grasses. After a short way I found myself in brush and what felt like a forest in Colorado. Jackie explained that most of the vegetation in that area was not native. We continued on and the trail got a little muddy as we walked past streams and small waterfalls. The trees changed and it started to look a lot like the rainforests I saw in Tasmania.
After a couple of hours of walking we found ourselves on a long stretch of golden sand called Apple Tree Bay. We took off our shoes and socks to feel the sand between our toes and listened to the surf breaking against the shore as the seagulls hung around checking us out. After a short break we climbed a steep embankment on the far side of the beach to get back on the trail and make our way back to the car. Since we had left the tide had gone out and what was covered with water before was now home to thousands of little crabs scurrying back and forth on the sand.
We stopped for an afternoon snack and went back to Jackie's house for dinner. We were joined for dinner by Christine, or Nana as her grandchildren call her. It was great to catch up with her and hear about her new home. We had a lovely dinner and watched a movie called “Before the Rain” after dinner which took place in India in honor of our time together there.
The next morning we stopped by Chris' house where I got to play with her two cute dogs and a few dozen sheep before making our way into Nelson to catch my bus back to Picton that afternoon.
We stopped at a local museum featuring The World of Wearable Art (WOW) and several classic cars. Oh. My. Gosh. So cool!!! The WOW exhibit blew my mind and got my creative side jumping up and down in excitement! Each year, thousands of individuals create some if the most amazing costumes representing ideas from around the world. The costumes would made Lady Gaga jealous! Some were exotic, some were just strange, but all of them were remarkable. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, but I did buy the DVD of the show. I may try to recruit a few friends to create an entry with me….
A mention should also be made of their classic car display of beautiful specimens throughout the years. From Caddilacs to Jaguars, there was no shortage of beautiful cars to see!
I was sad to say goodbye to Jackie, Chris, Hannah, Nigel, and Jock, but the road travels on and I go with it! We said our goodbyes and I got on a bus back to Picton where I would be spending the night before catching a train the next day.
The KiwiRail Coastal Pacific train left Picton mid-day and took me through gently rolling hills covered with grazing sheep until it makes it's way closer to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
I watched the rocky shoreline go past as I thought about the fact that next landmass east of here is Chile! We travelled through dark tunnels and over lush hilly passes to arrive into Christchurch that evening. As many of you know, Christchurch was ravaged by a series of large earthquakes and aftershocks starting in 2010 leaving its Central Business District a no-go Red Zone. So while I will be returning to the city at the end of my trip, it is no longer much of a tourist destination.
I stayed at the Y-M-C-A!! Literally!! It's one of the only hostels still standing in Christchurch. I'd like to tell you it was fabulous, but I would be lying. It was actually grungy and strange. No worries though, I was only there about 12 hours before I got on the next train. I did try to recruit some people to do the famous pose in front of the sign though…no takers unfortunately…language barrier.
The next morning, I enjoyed the ride on the Tranz-Alpine train through deep gorges, over creaky wooden bridges, and into long, dark tunnels. I fought for a vantage spot along with about 100 Japanese tourists as we travelled through the majestic mountains. After dealing with the rest of the passengers without any idea what “personal space” means, stepping off into the quiet village of Arthur's Pass was a very welcome feeling. It's a very, very small community at one of the highest mountain passes in the Southern Alps where I was spending a couple of nights. I got off the train, checked into the hostel, and made my way to the trailhead just outside of town.
After much debate on which trail to take on, I decided on a hike to the base of a waterfall. I made my way up the hills to a platform overlooking a beautiful waterfall framed by snow capped mountains and lush green forest. In a town known for its high levels of rainfall, I was treated to bright sunlight and blue skies. I sat and ate my lunch and thought about how similar it looked to home. As I was thinking about home (Utah), a family showed up on the platform. I immediately heard the American accent and asked where they were from. They were from Provo, about an hour south of where I live! Strange place to meet a neighbor! We talked about how much it looked like home and had a nice chat. I see so few Americans abroad, it was nice to chat with some!
I made my way back down to the city, grabbed my Kindle, and did some serious relaxing. After a few hours and a nice hot shower, I made my way to the pub across the street for a lively discussion about American politics with a Canadian and an Aussie before retiring for the evening.
Bright and early the following morning I wasted no time getting back onto the trails. There was a five hour trail that I wanted to hit while it was still sunny, so I got on the trail around 9:00. I made my way through dripping wet rain forest, dry alpine scrub, and tall pines along the trail. The track wound up and over gorges and past gushing waterfalls while surrounded by the happiest bird songs you've ever heard! I stopped a few times for photo opportunities and lunch before making my way back to town for more mundane tasks like laundry and planning the next leg of my trip.
I reluctantly boarded the train out of Arthur's Pass the next morning, keeping my chin up only by reflecting on all the great things I was able to see during my two days there. I wish I could have stayed longer, there were so many more trails to follow! I got off the train a few short hours later in Greymouth where I stayed for the night. I will leave you there for this post, but don't worry, there is much more to see of the South Island…pardon me…Mainland!
Happy trails my friends!
P.S. I'm trying something new and posting a test video on YouTube to get back to using videos in my blog again! The video below is of Abel Tasman National Park. Please let me know how it works for you!