Ambling Abel Tasman

After leaving Kaikoura, we headed up to Blenheim to the wine district of New Zealand. I made a quick pitstop at the Cloudy Bay vineyard in order to take some pictures. I remember it being my dad’s favourite wine for a long time so I thought I should check it out while I was in the neighbourhood! We had a delicious lunch at the Wairau vineyard before moving on to Marau – the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park.

Not Vagabonding… or Hobo-ing… but Tramping

Tramping is a kiwi national pasttime. For me, “tramping” brings up vague connotations of riding the rails with all one’s belongings tucked up in a handkerchief on a stick. Turns out, tramping is all about exploring some of the most beautiful parts of the country using the cheapest form of transportation possible: your feet.

Abel Tasman includes one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” The entire walk takes about 3-4 days to travel in total, with campsites and cabins along the way. After listening to stories about the best sections of the walk, we decided to only walk a small section of it (a 7-hour section nonetheless!). We stayed in a campsite (Old Macdonald’s Farm) in Marahau, where we met up with a friend who is travelling on the Stray Bus. An aquataxi took us all up the coast to Bark Bay. The water is crystal clear and a gorgeous turquoise colour. The sand is white and pristine, leading up to jungle-like rainforest. The paths here are well-maintained and obviously well used. We met many people along the way who were carrying their entire backpacks and tramping the whole track… and couldn’t help being glad we weren’t them.

At Anchorage Bay, we stopped and ate our picnic lunch. The scenery was stunning. This was not my vision of New Zealand. I knew it would be gorgeous, but I expected more rolling green hills and more placid English countryside imagery. Certainly not the idyllic beaches and sparkling seas that we saw in Abel Tasman. Sometimes it seems like New Zealand has it all!

As it was high tide, we had to walk the long way around Anchorage Bay, adding about an hour to the walk. A short detour (i.e. wrong turning) and a few hours later, we arrived back in Marahau exhausted and ready to hightail it back to Hanmer Springs for more bubbling water and a massage.

The West Coast

Unfortunately, we can’t stop and see everything. Even though we have a car, we are under some time constraints to get to Dunedin in time for Sarah’s flight to Auckland and to make sure that we get to see as much as possible of the South Island together. So we zipped down the West Coast yesterday, stopping for the Pancake Rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki (unfortunately it was the wrong tide for the blow holes) but generally heading straight for Franz Josef glacier.

Today, we woke up early and headed out to Lake Matheson, where there were rumoured mirror-like views of Mt. Cook. We weren’t disappointed. Mt Cook and Mt Tasman are snow capped and we had perfect photographs of the mountains reflected in the water. We stopped off at Fox glacier too, just to have a look. On our drive back, we were caught in a truly “New Zealand” roadblock: sheep crossing the road.

Tomorrow we explore Franz Josef glacier in detail. I’m embarking on an 8-hour full day ice hike… luckily the campground we are staying at has a hot tub suitable to soothing aching joints upon return! So far, Sarah and I have been so impressed and so awed by everything we have seen in New Zealand. Can it really only get better from here?

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Early Mornings are Always Worth it.

The mountains plunge into the ocean at Kaikoura, their peaks rosy in the sunrise. They are blushing, unnerved by the lavish attention the sun pours upon them this morning. The boat zips along the water, churning up the calm blue seas with its wake of white froth. And in amongst it, black dorsal fins appear; the dusky dolphins are playing, teasing and enticing us into the sea.

It’s 5:30am. Sarah and I are shivering in our wetsuits. After an awkward night camping, taking a dip in the freezing Pacific Ocean hardly appeals. But once the horn blows on our boat, we are all told to slip into the water as quickly as possible and swim swim swim to the dolphins, who are a few metres away. My face is glued to the water and it isn’t long before I spy my first dolphin. I squeal with delight but that’s good! We have been told to squeal and sing and laugh to attract the dolphins’ attention. Soon, I am surrounded. There are dolphins above, dolphins below, dolphins spinning me in circles as I catch their eye and play their favourite game: Make the funny people dizzy! As we have been told, we are there to entertain the dolphins, not vice versa. There is a chance they won’t play. And then there are once-in-a-lifetime chances, like today, when the dolphins are so cheery and playful that they can’t get enough of you. They are close enough to touch, but we don’t. They are close enough to see every little scratch on their skin, to watch their splash as they perform their acrobatic stunts, to see them nibble on jellyfish as they snatch one in front of your face. Sarah and I have an underwater camera, and the pictures will either be fabulous or terrible. They were everywhere, but they were so fast.

By 9am, we are exhausted. With the blessing of our skipper Hank, I climb out onto the prow of the boat, throw my legs over the side and start snapping photos. The dusky dolphins are the acrobats of the ocean, and they are in full performance mode this morning. They are somersaulting and jumping in huge groups. There are over 200 dolphins in the vicinity of our boat and there are three boats in the water in total. One of the other boats has a pod of 300 dolphins swimming near it. I have never been in an environment with such an abundance of active, visible marine life. The dolphin encounter in Monkey Mia doesn’t even come close to comparing in terms of sheer numbers of dolphins. Albatross soar overhead too, king of the birds.

I would recommend this trip to anyone; it was fabulous and worth every second of the early morning wake up. We used Dolphin Encounter, and their website is: http://www.dolphin.co.nz/kaikoura/ .

Road Trips with Sunny

Sunny is our constant companion for the next 2 1/2 months! He is the one that will take us around the south island, keep us safe and carry our stuff. Already he has seen much of Christchurch and took us from Ch-ch to Hanmer Springs, a beautiful Alpine village where hot springs are the main feature. We drove through the stunning Lewis Pass, and caught our first glimpse of the magnificent views New Zealand is known for. But it was an afternoon of relaxation in the hot sulphur pools (yes, they were smelly, but it was very warm and soothing) that was just what was in order. We indulged, and happily. It was then a short journey to Kaikoura, where we had a seafood barbeque on the beach with freshly caught scallops, mussels, whitebait and the local delicacy, crayfish. Delicious! It was here that we caught up with friends Adam and Dave, whom we met in South Africa, caught up with in Melbourne and Sydney and now had dinner with in New Zealand. It may be that we will see them again in South East Asia, just to show the serendipitous nature of travel. Indeed!

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