Around Nelson in the South island

We have been in NZ’s South island for about 2 weeks and have gorged ourselves on sightseeing. In our excitement at the vast number of beautiful spots to see, we pushed ourselves to exhaustion and are now resting up for a few days. As i write, we are sitting in the gardens of a small, quiet backpackers, reliving our sightseeing frenzy over the last 2 weeks.
When we last posted on the blog, we were planning a 7 day walk in the mountains. Those plans evaporated when we realised there was thigh-deep snow on the pass we wanted to cross, more snow forecast and a raging river that had to be forded (its footbridge having recently been washed away). So instead, we hired a car and set off to explore the surroundings. Our base was the town of Nelson, on the Northern coast of the South island. With many beautiful beaches and cliffs, massive snow covered mountains and sparkling blue lakes inland, there was much to see. Most mornings we rose with the sun (around 5am) and drove along quiet country roads. We were plan less, and just followed our noses, stopping as we found something we wanted to explore. It was only as afternoon faded that we considered the question of where to sleep that night, and consequently found ourselves in a variety of dubious campsites (more on that in one of the next posts …).

We also used the car as a way to access hikes, and avoid the expensive shuttle fees that transport companies charge to drop trampers to the mountain tracks. The cost of these shuttles has shocked us – being about 20 to 40USD per person for a half an hour ride to the start of the track, and the same for the return journey. So if the hike is only a few days long, it’s more economical to hire a car and park it at the trailhead. (Car hire is cheap here, cheaper even than bicycles, with 1 bike being double the daily rate of a car. Mad!) Using our hired car in this way, we did a 4-day hike in Nelson Lakes national park, again staying in mountain huts. We were lucky with the weather having sunshine and amazing views every day. The tracks and the huts were quiet, and we just had hut company one night. That night our companions turned up at 8pm, as darkness was falling and we were about to go to bed. Our hearts sank as 2 men and a boy came stomping into the hut, laden with supplies, including a litre of whiskey and 12 bottles of beer, and our expectation of a quiet night went out the window. They were also carrying rifles, which together with their green camouflage clothing gave them away as hunters. They were in the valley to shoot red deer which are considered a pest here. Having taken a boat up the lake to within 15 minutes of the hut they were able to carry such hefty supplies (apart from the alcohol they had a regular sized cooker, a cylinder of gas, and an ice box full of fresh food). They turned out to be three generations of the same family, and contrary to our expectations, quiet, lovely hut companions (even when drunk!). Despite arriving late, and consuming half a bottle of whiskey and 6 beers, they were up and out before us the next morning!

After our hike, we continued touring in the same vein – up early, going all day, setting up camp in late evening. We explored the North coast well, and then went East through the Marlborough sounds and wineries, down to the coastal haven of Kaikoura. Along the way we finally addressed the question of fishing, with Daniel landing us a fresh salmon! The fish was caught and landed on the river bank pretty quickly, but it took an age to finish it off. The place from where we had hired the fishing rod had given instructions about how to kill the salmon once caught, but i found it too gory to listen to, and Daniel didn’t quite catch the kiwi accent, so we bumbled around for a few minutes before Daniel finally administered the death blow. Crikey, what a bloody business! But (once cleaned up!), we dined well that day, having sashimi for lunch, and fried salmon filets for dinner! A few days later we drove past a cherry farm, where we could go and pick our own, paying by weight for what we collected. We spent an hour amongst trees laden with fruit, finally leaving with a kilo of cherries in our basket, and another kilo in our bellies 🙂 When the manager of the farm heard Daniel was French Canadian she offered him a job, as all her best pickers are French Canadians. She clearly hadn’t seen the cherry juice dripped all over his shirt!

We are now enroute back to our base of Nelson, where we must return the car in a few days and where Daniel’s replacement prescription lenses will finally be ready (1 month from starting the process … yes, we do sometimes miss HK’s efficiency!). Despite there being 3 month’s worth of hiking and sightseeing between here and Nelson, we did nothing today, resisting the urge to push ourselves to see more.

We never had much of a plan to start with, but as you have probably gathered our initial rough idea of walking from North to South has been replaced by more selective hiking, with car hire or hitching in between points of interest. The official route from North to South bypassed many beautiful spots, and required a lot of road walking to link the end of one trail with the start of another. By being more selective about the hikes we do, we have ‘saved’ days that we can spend on more general sightseeing (the coast, nice lakes etc that are not in the hiking plan). It’s a fine balance to judge the optimum time in the mountains to keep both of us happy as I hate to miss any major mountains, while Daniel hates to miss any amazing coastline. No disagreements so far on where we spend time, but with even more choices ahead of us, the next few months could get interesting!  We’ll have a rest in Nelson over the weekend and aim to do some planning for the next few months.  We need to figure out where we will be over the peak season from mid December to end January, as things are steadily getting busier and our current planless wandering may not work so well!

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