The drive to the Abel Tasman region was beautiful as we moved through a beautiful mountain pass with some lovely gorges and great river views. As we came down toward the coast we started seeing signs for orchards, some vineyards and citrus groves. At one point we passed a large field filled with neat rows of tall poles – almost like a field of utility poles, and there were even wires string from top to top. We agreed that it looked like what you would do to grow hops. Sure enough, as we came around a corner, we saw a sign that this was a hop farm and then we came across more established fields, but as it was after the harvest we did not see any hops. This region of New Zealand grows most of the hops apparently. After spending the last few weeks seeing snow capped mountains and glaciers, it was interesting to arrive in a more temperate zone where citrus and kiwi were being harvested.
The next morning we jumped in the car and headed to the coast and Abel Tasman National Park. The drive took us up and over some more mountains on a windy, narrow road that was made more narrow by a pretty major slip (landslide) that had taken out one side of the road. They were working on the repairs and managing traffic through a several mile long one lane portion. The views on this drive were also amazing and we ended up along the coast to catch our water taxi up to the trailhead we planned to hike that day. This area has pretty big tidal differences, five meters between low and high tide, and the bay has a very long sandy lead up during low tide, about a half a mile. So we loaded into the water taxi in a parking lot and a tractor towed the boat out to the dock and drove across the sand until we were in water deep enough to launch. A number of boats are “moored” in the harbor and they are on sand part of the day. We actually saw this in a couple of places on this trip.
The water taxi trip was a treat, we checked out a number of lovely coastal sites on our way to the various drop of points, and while we were tooling along the drive of the boat suddenly stopped the engines and excitedly announced “little blue penguin” and pointed to the little guy, just swimming along. We always love it when the drivers/tour guides/boat captains get excited about something because it means we are sharing a pretty special experience.
Our hike took us up and down the hills that make up the coastline, with a beautiful view at every turn. We looked down on some pretty spectacular beaches, walked across another fun swing bridge, saw beautiful birds and basically enjoyed a picture perfect hike with fabulous weather, fantastic sights and even a nice conversation with a local who gave us some history and pointers for other things to do in the area.
Farewell Spit is a very long spit that might one day (again) connect the north and south islands. We did not time our visit to match the tide so we were not able to go far our the spit, but we did walk along the beach for a bit and were amazed at the amount of pine needles that accumulate along the beaches. We stopped at several incredibly scenic lookouts as this area has steep mountains and deep valleys which create some dramatic landscape, especially when viewed from the edge. We stopped in the small town of Collingwood for lunch and took a few minutes to go through their historical museum. They had quite the collection of, well, everything. Furniture, rock collections, school notebooks, ration books, weapons, war time medals, kitchen appliances and utensils, books, radios, typewriters, personal grooming equipment, and more. Including someone’s diary from the 1920’s which was easier to read than my current journal. We both observed “they don’t throw anything away here.” It was an interesting glimpse into what life was like there.
After more than a month of staying in small towns around New Zealand we found the mid-sized city of Nelson to be bustling! It is a nice city with a lot of shops and a nice wine shop were an American ex-pat is the owner and very willing to share her knowledge of the region and the wines with us. We enjoyed the tasting there and took back several bottles of local wine. Nelson also claims to be the “craft beer capital of New Zealand” but we must be spoiled by variety and volume of craft breweries back home because while there were a number of breweries and tap rooms, we did not find anything extra special. We found several beers we enjoyed, had one sample of a berry IPA that was undrinkable – really, we each took one sip and set the glass aside – but nothing to blow us away.
From Nelson we headed east to the main winery region, Marlborough, and the town of Blenheim. When we checked in the host offered a suggestion for dinner of the pub a few blocks away – “I love the steak special there, could eat it all the time.” So, guess where we ate? It was a lovely pub with a nice selection of mild beers, Dan enjoyed his steak and I had a nice fish and chips! Before dinner we wandered over to the wine depot, a tasting room in the old rail station. Not only did they carry over 100 wines from New Zealand, most were from the area. The woman helping us took the time to quiz us about what we liked and didn’t like in wine, not just “white or red? Dry or sweet?” but lots of questions before she curated a personalized but self-directed tasting for each of us. The wines we tried were delicious and the experience was fantastic! We tasted a lot of wine and bought a few bottles to enjoy at our leisure!
From Blenheim we headed back down the east coast toward Christchurch along a section of the map that showed no towns, no tourist markings and that no one, not a single person in the i-Sites anywhere we stopped pointed out something to do. In Blenheim, where we specifically asked, we were told there was a place to stop for lunch, but that was it. We were a bit surprised given how much there is to do everywhere else, so with a bit of “what if we pass by something we want to spend more than an hour or so checking out” trepidation, we headed through the area with a reservation at Christchurch. Well, there really isn’t anything along that part of New Zealand. It is lovely country with pretty coastline, but no pull offs, hiking trails, or attractions. We did pass a pink lake and both of us said “that looks like the salt flats in Belize” so I did a quick google and, yes, Marlborough salt is a thing. This area is good for salt evaporation. And growing wine, and grazing sheep, but the road just goes through there. We ran into a fair amount of road construction as they were fixing a road hit hard by several recent earthquakes!