6th Jul 2012
Heading South and the beautiful Kaiteritiri
It was an early start from Wellington as we jumped on the bus with yet another new bus driver and bus people to head for the ferry port. The weather looked pretty poor and the wind had picked up so we were expecting quite a rough crossing which we could cope with but were unsure how some of the hungover passengers would fair!
The ferry was BIG and felt just like a Dover ship to Calais complete with a cheesy bar and a café serving all day breakfast – bonus! Unfortunately, we were about an hour late in leaving and while waiting in the port, the clouds rolled in completely obliterating the views out to sea. But once we set sail, the weather improved and the dramatic Marlborough Sounds came into view. They were stunning; hundreds of inlets, headlands, islands and peaks dotted across a bright blue sea and it was incredible to think that this massive ship was making its way through them. And we were so lucky with the weather as clear blue sky poked through the clouds. It was beautiful and such an amazing start to the south island. After the 3 hour crossing, the picturesque port of Picton came into view nestled into the valley – our jumping off point to catch a new Kiwi bus en route down the coast to Kaiteriteri.
And what a drive it was! The south island was already impressing us covered with huge mountain peaks, lush green hills and NO people! Our new bus driver, Flee, enjoyed telling us that the whole of the west coast of the south island has a population of just 30,000! Unbelievable! But it has certainly helped to make sure that the landscape remains wild, untamed and beautiful.
We passed through some small hamlets and the larger town of Nelson with stunning views out to the sea and across to the rocky mountain ranges. But we didn’t stop here as we were heading straight down to the seaside village of Kaiteri with its gorgeous beach. The best thing about this little hamlet is its proximity to the fantastic Abel Tasman National Park – NZ’s most visited park which stretches along the western coast, blanketing the northern end of a range of marble and limestone hills. Stunning!
We were staying in a very cute little lodge only 200 metres from the beach which was lovely and the pub next door sold very good local ale so we enjoyed a jug in front of the fire while watching a rugby game. We had already decided to stay a couple of nights here to explore the beautiful national park, and signed up to do a walk and a kayak trip.
So day 1 and we boarded a water taxi for the hour trip to the start of the walking track which would hug the stunning coastline along the parks edge. But we got more than just a taxi ride as the crazy driver put his foot down and we sped towards a small island known for its population of seals. And there were loads of them! Adults, babies and all playing around in the water and swimming around and under the boat. It was amazing to see them so close. En route, our hilarious driver also stopped off at a popular site known as Split Apple Rock – a HUGE rock sliced in half millions of years ago by the ice age! But he had fun trying to persuade the gullible Asians in the boat that this rock was actually made of fibreglass and appeared in the 2nd Lord of the Rings film! A few of them believed it for a while!
But it wasn’t long before we were dropped off at a very secluded beach for the start of our walk along the rocky coastline. The weather was perfect with bright blue skies matched by a very calm bright blue sea! Perfect! And the trek itself was out of this world! We had been told the coast along this area of the park was breath-taking and it really was. Stunning bays, clear waters, roaring waterfalls, pristine forest and beautiful views out to sea! After a few hours of walking through what felt like paradise, we stopped off for lunch at the halfway point on a beach completely deserted but for a few shags (native birds!). And having enjoyed some bread, brie and pate we finished the 5 hour walk over 12km of the south islands most beautiful coast and waited to be picked up for the journey back to our hostel. Unfortunately, the tide had gone way out by the time the boat arrived so we had to wade through the freezing water for 50m to get to the taxi! Pretty cold!
That evening it was back in the hostel bar to say hello to the next load of Kiwi bus people that had turned up that afternoon, and we sat by the fire enjoying a few jugs of ale with some new friends! Again, we were definitely some of the oldest on the bus but we were getting used to this by now!
Day 2, and along with some of our new bus buddies, we were heading out sea kayaking in the morning giving us another chance to see the stunning coastline of the park! Chris, being the kayak pro, sat at the back of our kayak to steer but being the dare-devil that he is, he decided not to use the little rudder that comes with the boat but went freestyle instead. But for oldies, we did pretty well and seemed to be in the lead most of the way!
And the scenery was just as stunning as the previous day, with rugged cliff faces, gorgeous green trees and dark blue clear sea. It was the perfect day for kayaking too with calm water and not too much wind, although we still felt pretty cold! We made our way round the bay watching out for more shags and eventually arrived at Split Apple Rock – the big cracked rock in the middle of the sea. It was amazing to be up so close to this natural wonder and we were able to kayak deep into the cliffs here as we explored some small caves. And the best part was we stopped off at the beach here for hot chocolate and cookies! We got more even more surprises on the way back as a very friendly seal decided to swim up close to our kayaks, diving down and popping up again for about 20 minutes following us back to the bay. What a sight!
But back on the beach and it was time to get packed, changed and on the bus for the journey to a very small town called Westport! What an amazing few days and the perfect start to the stunning south island!