We arrived on an overnight flight at 4:30am losing 2 hours in the time difference. It was a tiring trip. We took a nap in the lounge of our hostel when we arrived, then went out to buy some waterproof jackets and pants, as well as some provisions.The parachute-material ‘waterproof’ jackets we’d bought in Durban were windproof but certainly not waterproof and had to be replaced. We got back to the hostel, checked into our room and zonked out for a couple of hours more. By the next day we were pretty well recovered.
Christchurch was devastated by a couple of earthquakes back in 2010 and 2011; much of it still looks like a wreck with whole city blocks laid flat. I can’t help but feel empathy for the people who lived through the tragedy, those who died in it, and those remaining there who have had to rebuild.
Our Cruzy Camper Company campervan got dropped off at our lodge the next day. It took a couple of hours going over the ins and outs of the van’s operations before we did a bigger food shop and got our telephone/data SIM card bought and set up. Then we finally took off for our campervan adventure.
As we headed up the east coast of the South Island, cross winds must have been gusting at about 30+ mph. Our campervan was getting blown around the road and it felt difficult keeping it under control. It was especially hairy when the road narrowed on bridges. It’s another white knuckled drive and I’m holding on to the wheel for dear life. Fortunately, it got easier after a couple of hours. This is perhaps the only time I’m ever driving way under the speed limit and consistently getting passed by 18-wheelers.
We stopped for a couple of nights in Kaikoura. The coast is flanked by The Seaward Mountain Range and its most notable feature is the peninsula that juts out eastward into the Pacific Ocean. The geologic features of the ocean floor off the coast cause the upwelling of currents which stir nutrients and plankton setting off ecological chain reactions that result in an array of diverse sea life.
Kaikoura Peninsula walk
New Zealand Fur Seal Mother w/pups
We stopped in picturesque Picton for lunch and some sightseeing. We were on the way to our second camping stop in Nelson, a pretty town surrounded by mountains on one side and wide, white sand beaches on the other. There, we hiked to The Center of New Zealand– the surveyed geologic center, that is. It provided for a very nice hike and some great views.
Town of Nelson from The Center of New Zealand
Tahuna Beach in Nelson
The campground was quite different than the one in Kaikoura. Our van took up a small portion of our campsite but all the other campsites were compactly filled with huge tents and campers–some even sported full sized refrigerators. We were surrounded in seemingly tight quarters and feeling quite hemmed in. There were babies screaming and crying, mommies yelling at their babies, and planes flying over head coming in or out of the airport nearby. A small kid cut through our campsite and one of our neighbors used our extra space to park his truck for a while after moving his trailer. This was the outdoor version of Paul Simon’s song, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”.
The second night Cindy asked to be moved to a quieter site. It was a much better campsite as it was on the end with a decent view and steps from the beach. Just minutes after we settled in, a tractor came roaring by towing a trailer full of kids. And then it came around again…and again…and again. It finally stopped after a few times around, and once gone, the relative quiet of that campsite was pleasantly enjoyed.
A shameless ‘selfie’
View from the mountain bike track
We stopped in Kaiteriteri, a tourist town with a beautiful beach. I was itching to rent a bike and we found a local eco-lodge that rented them. I did a 2 hour bike ride in a mountain bike park which was adjacent to the lodge. The trail was groomed with neatly banked hairpin turns. While I biked, Cindy swam in the pool, took a sauna, steam and a soak in the hot tub. The bike and pool-time were a nice diversion before getting on the rode to Able Tasman National Park.
Up and down mountain passes, the drive had more hairpin curves than ants on corn syrup. The scenery was just stunning. In fact, we’d been seeing spectacular scenery from the time we left Christchurch. Kiwis (New Zealanders) we’d met along the way were extraordinarily friendly. Perhaps they were the friendliest people I’d met since the start of our journey.
At Abel Tasman National Park, we stayed in a Department of Conservation (DOC) campground at Totaranui Beach. There was more space for each camper and it was less structured than the private campsites. Campers could pick their own sites as opposed to having sites chosen for them at private campgrounds. We had a hard time deciding where to ‘pitch’ our camper when we got to Totaranui. We were hoping for a modicum of quiet and privacy. After moving our camper a couple of times and walking around the grounds, we found a site tucked into a corner of one bay that seemed sparsely occupied compared to the others . We moved our camper one last time pleased we’d scored a bit of paradise. It was about ten yards from another Cruzy Camper campervan and in the morning we were greeted by a young british couple who acknowledged us with a “Hey, you guys rented from Cruzy Campers, too”. They were headed in the same direction and we ran into them a couple of times down the road.
We were also ‘greeted’ by a DOC ranger who woke us up at 7am by knocking on our van window. He thought we hadn’t paid but there was a clear lack of communication and/or coordination by the rangers. Not only had we paid the day before we arrived, we were also checked in by another, more senior ranger upon arrival. I looked forward to having a chat with both rangers later to address the error. When I did, they (separately) both blamed each other. At least the senior guy had the temerity to apologize.
That day we hiked one of the DOC “Great Walks”. We headed south along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track past Goat Bay, Waiharakeke Bay and Awaroa Inlet to our destination, Onetahuti Bay where we arranged to be picked up by a water taxi. Timing was critical as Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed within an hour and a half of slack tide. We found out when got to the inlet it also meant taking off your shoes to make the crossing. It was cool to be able to do a one-way hike and loop back by boat along the coast. However, the DOC rangers’ verbal descriptions of how long it would take to hike differed with our experience on the trail. Also, the posted signs regarding the time it would take to complete the walk were conflicting. Despite building in what we thought was a whole extra hour to complete the 3-hour walk, we were really hustling at the end to make sure we caught the water taxi. Generally (but not always) the directions on signs were fine, but when it came to the posted walking times we found them inaccurate on frequent occasions. The estimated walking times were usually conservative but not in this case.
Totaranui Beach in Abel Tasman National Park
Crossing Aowara Inlet at low tide
When we got back and looked at our campground bay, we thought we had entered the wrong one. There were gobs of huge tents and a slew of people who had arrived when we were gone. The entrance to the Cruzy campervan next to us appeared to be just a few feet from a monster tent. It’s been high season in Australia and New Zealand since about mid-December and all the kids are off from school until mid-February. Happenstance was that we couldn’t plan around some bad season somewhere traveling the globe and New Zealand high-season was going to be the one. Even our guide book suggested avoiding New Zealand at this time and now I can see why.
After a morning hike in Abel Tasman we rolled inland and south passing through an amazing river valley until we stopped in a quiet, near-empty campground just outside of Murchison. I was so excited because this was the entrance to the Buller River Earthquake Rapids area where we would go white water rafting, rated on-line as being the best place in the country to do so. We arranged to go rafting the following afternoon, so in the morning we went to do a short hike of the Skyline Trail just on the other end of town. This was one of several short hikes to choose from in the area. There is hiking all over New Zealand. How awesome!
View from the Skyline Trail
After lunch we connected with our river guide as planned. No one else signed up for the trip so it would be just the three of us. We hit perhaps 3 or 4 stretches of big water and at one point I swam, or actually floated some of the rapids. Later, I climbed rocks on the shore to make a few jumps off a 10 meter cliff into the river.
Did he say “wave to the camera” or “paddle”? I can’t hear!
Much credit goes to the ART therapist, Joseph Coyne, I saw in Australia for plantar fasciitis. Although my foot is not 100%, after treatment he gave me some practical exercises that have allowed me to hike to my heart’s content…and just in time for New Zealand where there are daily opportunities for great hiking.