Friday, 20 March 2009

Abel Tasman National Park

Named after the Dutch explorer who first anchored his ship here, the Abel Tasman National Park has some great coastline. The hour-long walk to the first beach tired Andy out sufficiently to merit a 30-minute nap. The shock of seeing a spider on the path didn't help either.

The goal of our walk was Separation Point, known for its seals. We didn't see any until Andy almost stumbled into this one, sleeping in its flax hideout. The bird life was pretty good too. While we were watching a seal pup, this gull got quite friendly. We also woke up some oyster-catchers which were sleeping on the beach. In the evening sun, we heard a collection of birds in the jungle canopy – here's a montage for your enjoyment.

We regretted not filling up our fuel in the morning and were caught out in Takaka. All the petrol stations were closed and didn't accept our card in the 24-hour machine. At least the fish and chips were good! An air of tension filled the car as we eased it over Takaka Hill and coasted down the far side to Motueka (note to self – the engine needs to be running for the power steering to work – a handy tip for winding roads). With the fuel light on, we glided into town and a petrol station that was still open.

A late night drive to Picton then ensued, passing numerous possums on the side of the road. They weren't scared and looked like the fancied their chances against our car. The abundant possum road-kill suggests it isn't a fair fight.

Armed with pies and pastries, we caught the lunchtime ferry on Friday. We were sad to be leaving the South Island but looking forward to catching up with friends in Wellington.

Read our Greymouth to Farewell Spit posting.

Greymouth to Farewell Spit

Our night at Arthur's Pass was rather cold, so after our walk up Avalanche Peak, we drove to Greymouth. Our campsite was besides the long grey pebble beach.

Running short of time, we had to rush up the coastal road to the north the next day. We wanted to top up the tank in Greymouth (following sound advice from other travellers), but all petrol stations were closed due a power cut affecting a third of the west coast. We had no choice but to press on with a less than full tank.

The coastal road was beautiful, all little coves and sandy beaches with rainforest covering all available space. We stopped at the interesting Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. No-one quite knows how they came about. Exhausted from the drive on extremely winding roads, we stayed in Motueka.

The next day, we drove to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit, a 25-kilometre long sand strip at the top of the South Island. We did a brisk coastal walk to the nearby Wharariki Beach which is one of the loveliest beaches we've seen. It boasts sand dunes, a seal colony and two rock islands, called Archway Islands. We watched two baby seals playing in a sheltered tidal pool and munched on our sandwiches amongst the dunes.

The highest point on the walk rewarded us with great views of Cape Farewell, the most northerly point of the South Island. We continued along the coast to Pillar Point Lighthouse where we finally got a good look at Farewell Spit. On the way to our campsite in Pohara, we saw hundreds of black swans in Golden Bay along with lots of other birds. It was a nature lover's paradise.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Arthur's Pass and around

Known locally as Arthur's arse, the South Alps are breached in the middle by the impressive Arthur's Pass. It's named after Arthur Dobson who had the 'idea' of putting a road here - it follows an old Maori trading route. On the way to the pass, we had a short stop at the Castle Hill limestone cliffs and boulders.

Darren and Zoe literally fed us for the entire weekend. They gave us a packet of risotto mix for our Sunday evening meal, which was truly delicious. We'll be looking out for it on our next visit to Pak 'n' Save supermarket.

Today (Monday) we climbed Avalanche Peak (1,833m), just to the west of Arthur's Pass Village. A steep climb with impressive views of Mt Rolleston and the surrounding peaks. On the summit, we were joined by a very friendly kea who was more than happy to pose for the camera.

Read our Kaikoura to Christchurch posting.

Kaikoura to Christchurch

The sea was too rough in Kaikoura for the whale-watching boat to go out, and our trip was cancelled. We were all gutted. However, we'd had a great dinner the night before at the Pier Hotel. It was a real seafood feast complete with local beer.

On the Friday afternoon, we said our goodbyes to St John at Christchurch airport. It was sad to see him go, but we'll see him again in May when we return to the UK for a month. For the rest of the weekend, we'd arranged to stay with friends in Christchurch. Andy's old mate from uni, Darren, now lives in New Zealand with his wife Zoe. It had been seven years since we previously saw each other, so it was awesome (as they say here) to catch up.

Darren and Zoe live by the harbour and have gorgeous views from their decked terrace. They have wetsuits and a surfboard, so we had a go at surfing on the beach nearby. It ended up being more like body-boarding than surfing, as neither of us managed to stand up on the board. Darren had to show us how to do it. In the afternoon, we took the double kayak for a spin in the harbour.

For the evening, Darren and Zoe took us to the rugby to see Christchurch's Crusaders play against Perth's Western Force. The opening was very impressive with marauding knights galloping around the pitch and cheerleaders performing their crowd-pleasing moves. The rugby was entertaining too, although the Crusaders managed to squander their 20 point lead, resulting in the game being drawn.

On Sunday morning, Andy decided to ride up to Summit Road on Darren's bike. It's 4km and 400m to the top so the ride is very steep. Whilst Andy didn't have to get off the bike, he was well off Darren's pace (45 minutes to Darren's 30 minute record). Great views and a 56kph (34mph) top speed on the descent.