Nelson & Marlborough

We stay at a nice little campsite right by the Lake Rotoiti and enjoy the views. Originally we played with the idea to go on a ‘proper’ day walk up on the Robert’s Ridge (clearly Roberts’ are intrepid explorers!) but the weather isn’t on our side so after a lazy morning we go on a little bush walk to stretch our feet.

Colder weather is forecast so we escape to the north coast and the little city of Nelson. This is probably the biggest city we’ve seen since Christchurch and Queenstown. It has plenty of shops and restaurants on offer, both of which we should make use of. From personal experience I can report it has at least 7 different outdoors/sports shops, which we all visited on the quest for a perfect new pair of shoes for Alex and his grumpy achilles (the injury is celebrating it’s 1 year anniversary 🙁 ). After this tiresome activity I need a drink and find comfort in a craft beer and Kombucha pub. I dare say I don’t think Kombucha-Gin will make it as the new ‘it’ drink and stick with the ‘traditional’ wine for our Vietnamese dinner afterwards.

Abel Tasman National Park

The following day we’re heading to Marahau which is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park where we’ve booked a 3 day self-guided kayaking trip. Before they let us loose we undergo a briefing with demonstrations of how to get in & out, paddle and not capsize the kayak. We pack the kayak full of our supplies (perhaps too full), tent and sleeping bags and before lunch time off we go. Alex is familiar with the whole procedure as he’s been kayaking since he’s been a little boy. For me this is all unfamiliar territory but I find it quite intuitive and enjoy the novelty.

For our lunch stop we head to a little sandy cove – what we didn’t expect, however, is the strong wind literally sweeping sand onto our sandwiches giving them an extra crunch. It’s cold in the wind so we quickly set off again as the kayak at least provides some protection from the elements.

As these trips are designed for total novices it doesn’t take us very long at all to arrive at our final destination for the day, Anchorage. We pitch the rather sieve-like summer tent we rented and, especially I, try to get warm quickly by putting on all the clothes I brought. It’s 10-16 degrees during the day and considerably colder at night – lucky we brought our hot water bottles with us!

We prepare a simple pesto & pasta meal and after a quick gaze at the crystal clear starry night retreat into our sieve tent. A rather chilly night follows and we warm ourselves with tea and hot-milk cereal until the morning sun takes over warming duties. It’s a beautiful spot with plenty of New Zealand’s most annoying bird – the Weka – to keep us occupied, frustrated and entertained. The local ranger drops by and warns of rainy weather at lunch time so we quickly pack up and get going again.

We paddle out to a little rocky island not far from the bay and witness a gull feeding frenzy worthy of the Blue Planet. A few dozen sea gulls and other birds sweep over a choppy spot of water, take aim and dive right into it. Being in the kayak we can only guess what is happening under the water but it appears that a school of fish is being pushed up to the surface by the nearby seals, ready for the sea birds to attack.

The lazier fur seals are relaxing on the rocky island. Seals and sea lions use these rocky spots as nursery for their youngsters and indeed we can spot a few juvenile fur seals clambering over the rocks too.

We paddle on and before we know it we arrive at the campsite for the night – as I mentioned earlier, this is truly tailored to everyone. We don’t mind too much as we have the prime beachfront spot all to ourselves. It takes us a while to actually move the kayak and our belongings to the campsite as its low tide and we’ve some 100m down the bay.

Alex decides to go for a snorkel seeing as we’ve borrowed some wet suits and brought snorkel gear with us. I’m less keen as the water is only 17 degrees and the outside temperature even lower…

Predictably the snorkelling is a “refreshing” experience. The 3mm wetsuit does little to stem the cold which I find especially concentrated on the slowly thinning central area of scalp that graces most late thirty-somethings. After much hyperventilating I plunge underwater and swim furiously to keep warm.

At first glance there’s little life underwater, just an endless jumble of boulders stretching away into the cool murk. I head for a nearby reef and stumble upon a few small fish, a multitude of starfish, urchins and some bright orange cushion stars. It’s a magical experience. I feel both calm and humbled sharing this adverse environment with these strange creatures for the briefest of moments. The moment doesn’t endure as an electrifying trickle of cold water down my neck reminds me I’m no amphibian. I return to the shore where I’m pleased to find the kettle already boiling.“

By the late afternoon a few more campers have joined us and we make our pasta & pesto dinner just as the sun is setting and the tide is coming back in. A truly beautiful spot.

As the dark blanket of night is falling over us we’re mesmerised as millions of stars that form the Milky Way are becoming visible so clearly. We can easily identify Marahau in the distance as even this tiny town is radiating light from it like a huge beam.

The next morning we start our usual routine by making tea, followed by breakfast and coffee. We meet some of our co-campers and start chatting. We’re taking our time as we have until 3.30 pm before we get picked up and again have not particularly far to go. We’re enjoying the serenity of Mosquito Bay and get going just before the tide is fully out, avoiding dragging the fully laden kayak with our heavy belongings further than we must.

We round a small headland to stop at the Cathedral Caves, a series of smooth water worn rock arches and stop for lunch and a second warmer snorkelling trip.

As we paddle into our final destination, Bark Bay, we spot a stingray in the shallows. Full of excitement we try to follow it but strangely it doesn’t seem to like that and swiftly swims off. We soon spot another one and another one before realising that the whole bay is full of them! We try and follow them being as inconspicuous as we can but they’re skittish and won’t let us get too close. We’re lucky enough to even spot a small shark (which again out-swims us easily) and a huge red fish thrashing in the water either eating something or being eaten itself. Happy with our wild-life spotting we finish our kayak experience as we see our water taxi pulling in.

After that its a short boat ride followed by an even shorter tractor ride back to the kayak office and our camper-van. We take our first hot shower in 3 days and I enjoy it thoroughly. After the past few nights our camper-van seems like a luxury villa on wheels. We spoil ourselves with a dinner out at the local restaurant which also features good WiFi and celebrate (not sure exactly what) with a drink or two.

The next day we don’t feel particularly energetic and have a very long lazy morning before venturing a town further and exploring the local spa our boat driver from the day before tipped us off about. Afterwards we check-in at a nearby campsite, do grocery shopping, laundry and plan our next route. We decide to drive up further north-west to the Farewell Spit before driving all the way back and towards Picton for our ferry over to the South Island in three days time.

Farewell Spit

Route planned the following morning we drive up north and arrive at our campsite just before a torrential down-pour keeps us in our van for the remainder of the day and evening. We console ourselves with a nice warming beef stew which Alex is cooking up in the communal kitchen.

The next day we want to venture out to Wharariki Beach on Cape Farewell, but discover to our despair that a section of the road has been flooded by last nights monsoon and is impassable. We head to another viewpoint on Cape Farewell instead and take a little walk along the headland. We enjoy a beautiful blue sky and (rather endure) very strong winds for a few moments before abruptly the weather changes. Within minutes dark grey clouds are rolling in and a few drops becomes a few thousand buckets of water. We sprint back to the van and arrive completely soaked through. We decide to take refuge at a nearby cafe and order some hot drinks. To our surprise the rain shower has drifted off again giving way to sunshine and blue sky. We take a risk and try for another walk.

This time we’re lucky and are spared another soaking. The walk along the Farewell Spit (or at least as far as we’re allowed to go), which is a huge sand bar formed over the past few millions of years, is really interesting. Starting on sandy beach the trail leads along the spit and crosses it through the dunes about halfway along. The centre of the spit is a hidden oasis with plants and palms growing around recently formed lakes of rainwater cutting off the path. We remove our boots and wade through to cross. The wind remains strong and whilst it’s been giving us a helpful push in one direction, it blasts sand into our faces for the entire two-mile return journey.

By the time we arrive freshly exfoliated at the car we’ve only got an hour or so daylight left before sunset at around 6pm. We drive on towards another campsite and arrive just as its getting dark. On the way we collect some driftwood off the beach as a terrace with fire pit is advertised and enjoy the warming fire and beautiful view over a star studded sky.

Picton and the way up ‘North’

The following day is designated for driving to Picton where we hope to kayak on the Marlborough Sounds and then take our ferry over to the North Island of New Zealand the following day. We take the morning at a leisurely pace and drive almost all the way to Picton, stopping at a waterside campsite just 30 minutes outside of town. The drive is beautiful as we make our way over the mountainous terrain of the Kahurangi National Park, through Nelson and over the outskirts of Mt Richmond Park, giving a glimpse of the vast Marlborough Sounds.

Unfortunately, the lady at the kayak rental place tells us that the winds are too strong so a half-day excursion is not really worth it. Instead we go on a little walk around the nearby peninsula. The view over the sounds is amazing and whilst Alex is taking pictures of the surroundings and wildlife I’m relaxing on a bench and mopping up all the sunshine I can get. It’s a beautiful blue sky day with little wind so we can’t quite see the kayak-lady’s concerns but so be it.

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