After our shopping spree in Hokitika we drove to Nelson. This city on the tip of the South Island claims to have the best climate in New Zealand, and does indeed have on average more sunny days than any other city in the country. It is known for arts, crafts and local farmers markets and is nearby to wine country and Abel Tasman National Park.
The drive there took about half a day but was quite interesting. We drove through the Buller Gorge Scenic Area. The road there was narrow and winding so whenever I stopped to take a picture Sandy worried that slow cars we had already passed would get ahead of us again. In the town of Murchison, famous for whitewater rafting, we enjoyed the warm summer weather during our lunch on the patio of a restaurant. In one small village we saw a sign announcing fresh raspberries for sale. This sounded delicious so I pulled over immediately but there was only a small roadside stand in front of a house and no one was there. On closer examination they had a fridge full of fruit and a box where you could drop off money. They even had an "honesty box" with money in it so you could make your own change. You won't see that in too many places. They seemed to be doing a good business though as two other cars pulled up as we were leaving.
By the time we got close to Nelson it was late afternoon so we decided to check out some wineries. We found a nice Sauvignon Blanc at Greenhough. We also stopped at Fossil Ridge, which had a very pretty setup for tasting and lunches but was the only place we found that charged for wine tasting. We only bought one bottle at each winery because we figured that we could only pack two bottles in our luggage to take home with us. We weren't going to repeat the mistake we made on our trip to France when we lost several good bottles of wine to the security guards at the airport.
An interesting bit of trivia for me was that the great physicist Ernest Rutherford was born and raised in Brightwater, about ten miles southwest of Nelson. There is a large sign along the highway announcing this as you enter the town. There is also a monument at his birthplace and the elementary school he attended has been preserved. There is even a local wine named after him. As I'm sure everyone knows, Rutherford was famous for the classic gold foil scattering experiment which revealed the nuclear structure of the atom and eventually led to the developement of quantum mechanics. The town is justifiably proud of his accomplishments, although it's not like they have anyone really famous to brag about.
As we drove into Nelson Sandy had to call in for a meeting at work. This made it exciting for me to try to find the way to our B&B without my navigator. After some cursing and swearing by both of us we finally found our destination. The Baywick Inn is a restored Victorian house on a quiet street across from a small river and greenbelt. It was only a few blocks from the center of Nelson so we could walk anywhere we wanted to go in town. From the front window we could see a monument on a nearby hill that marked the exact geographical center of New Zealand. Although it was only about half a mile away, we never had the time (or energy?) to climb the trail that led up to it.
That evening we walked downtown and found our staple of New Zealand cuisine, a pizza place. The waitress there recommended that we visit the Abel Tasman coast the next day. She claimed she had traveled extensively and that this was her favorite spot in the entire world. It was why she had settled in Nelson.
Nelson is a great base for a day trip to Abel Tasman National Park. The park is famous for it's coastline. There are low, forested hills which surround several bays with beautiful beaches. The Coastal Track is a multiday walk which goes from one end of the park to the other, visiting all of the major bays and beaches and climbing over ridges in between for expansive views. It is also possible to take a water taxi that will drop you off and pick you up wherever you like along the Coastal Track. This makes it possible to do sections in the middle of the park rather than just at the ends.
It took us less than an hour to drive to the small resort town of Kaiteriteri which is just south of the park. It has a large beach and a line of stands for water taxis. After paying our round trip fee (which we thought was way too much - over $100NZ for the two of us) to ensure our pickup, we walked along the beach to our boat. There was no dock so once again the boots and socks came off and we waded out to the boat. It was about a forty five minute ride to Bark Bay where we dropped off on the beach.
Our plan was to take the Coastal Track from Bark Bay over the intervening ridge to Anchorage Bay. The water taxis passed by the beach there so we could signal them for a pickup to take us back to Kaiteriteri. They ran on a regular schedule so we either had under two hours or almost three and a half hours to get to Anchorage Bay and catch a ride. Everyone that we asked said that it took about two and half hours for the hike so I was resigned to the later pickup. But just like the last day on the Milford Track, Sandy wanted to catch the first boat. She took off at a fast pace up the trail before I had even finished putting my boots on. She was determined to make it. We didn't know the distance we needed to walk so we didn't really know our chances of getting there in time. Turns out we made it in an hour and a half so we had plenty of time to spare. At least we did until we decided to go to the rest room on the beach since we were there so early. It was over a ten minute walk each way and we barely made it back in time. We caught our taxi and were at the car by 2 pm.
The hike was nice but in our opinion it was overrated. The water was an unusual greenish blue color on this section of the coast. With the deep green of the forested hills and the bright blue sky it was very pretty. The beaches were nice but we have been to a lot of fantastic beaches on islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. It was really crowded too. That was a disappointment. In the early eighties when I visited New Zealand and hiked Abel Tasman I only saw one other party of two hikers the entire day. Now there are water taxis and motor boats and kayaks everywhere. Even the beaches in the remote bays are crowded with people who get in and out by boat. The beach in Kaiteriteri was jammed. It felt more like a busy lake in northern Wisconsin in the summer than remote coastline. Things had changed a lot in twenty five years and not for the better. Our verdict was that it was worth a visit if you were in the area but we wouldn't plan a major trip around it.
We were back in Nelson by three in the afternoon so we decided to walk to Founders Park. Some people just can't get enough hiking. There was supposed to be a farmers market there as well as a recreation of the early settlement of Nelson. We did find a good bakery and enjoyed some sticky buns (since we hadn't gotten lunch) but there wasn't much at all in the farmers market. We had been hoping to get some good fruit or something for lunch/dinner. Next we walked downtown to see the Friday evening arts and crafts fair. It turned out to be quite small too and wasn't that interesting. We had some snacks at a sidewalk restaurant, picked up some fruit and cheese at the market and went back to our B&B. We enjoyed a light dinner and some wine in the nice garden there.
Saturday morning was supposed to be a big farmers market in Nelson but we had not been impressed by the two markets we had been to the day before. We decided to spend a leisurely day touring through the Marlborough region as we drove back to Christchurch. Our first stop was a quilt shop where Sandy found some fabric and some yarn to take home. Then we stopped at a winery that we were told had the best tshirts. The wine had strong oak flavors which is unusual for a New Zealand wine. Sandy and I didn't care much for it as we both prefer lighter wines. Since it was quite expensive as well we didn't buy any. It's unusual for us to not get at least a token bottle when we are out wine tasing. But since we were so limited in what we could take home we made an exception. I didn't like their tshirts either. They seemed to be doing ok though as two vans full of people on a wine tasting tour pulled up as we were leaving.
We had better luck at our next winery. A purchase there gave us three bottles total. That meant that we were done with wineries. We still kept busy though as there was a "boutique chocolate factory" for us to visit. The kitchen had a glass wall so you could see the chocolates being made. More importantly they had samples of lots of their candies. Oh well - one of two boxes of candy weren't going to make that much difference to our luggage. Then it was time for us to head for Christchurch. The drive was right along the coast for much of the way and was quite pretty, especially the section near the town of Kaikora. We stopped at an overlook that was just above a sea lion colony that was fun to watch for a while. Finally we got to Christchurch where we stayed in a motel near the airport. We spent the evening cramming everything back into our luggage. We even managed to fit three bottles of wine instead of only two. The next morning we flew home.
The trip had been great. We had wonderful luck with the weather, especially on the Milford Track. If our holiday had been a week earlier it would have been a different story. Sandy found a lot of really beautiful jewelry and craft items and we had a lot of fun touring the wine country. New Zealand is one of the prettiest and most varied countries in the world and one of our favorite destinations. We may be back there sometime in the future to do the Routeburn Track.