Australasia | New Zealand | South Island | Abel Tasman Reserve – Wellington to Abel Tasman
I finished off my visit in the North Island by spending a day in Wellington. IMHO it was slightly reminiscent of San Francisco – coloured houses overlooking a beautiful bay. This comparison seems appropriate as Wellington shares up to 3 major fault lines with the home of the Golden Gate. As a result Wellington experiences a lot of quake activity (quakes happen 95% of the time, obviously mostly harmless) – parts of the city as known today didn’t even exist until they were brought up by an earthquake in 1855! This phenomenon plus other unique Kiwi facts are explained and demonstrated very effectively at New Zealands national museum Te Papa where I spent a couple of hours before leaving the city. Opened a couple of years ago. Te Papa serves not only as a national monument (its name correctly revealing its politically correct slant) but as one local friend suggested it also serves the dilemma of what to do in Wellington if you only have time to do one thing.
So that and other errands done (internet, supermarket and book exchange) I left Wellington from its international airport. Like Hong Kong, the runway in Wellington airport is surrounded by water which limits the kinds of aircraft that can land and take off to a Boeing 737 as the largest. Our plane was a 12 passenger plane which according to others I was travelling with was huge compared to what we could have flown in. I of course loved it and behaved like a child taken into the cockpit. Well we were basically flying in the cockpit as it was a studio flat of passenger planes. The seatbelts were amusingly like the one (!) I had fitted in my VW Beetle and there was less headroom than in my Hyundai Atoz but that just added to the cosy atmosphere! Being at close quarters with the pilot meant all fears of turbulence were a laid as I guess looking up and seeing the pilot chatting – look no hands! meant I was worrying over nothing. The view was amazing as we flew into the South Island over the Marlborough Sounds – just the beginning of that whole huge mountain, great lakes thing and before I knew it we had arrived in Picton Airport. Akin to the proportions of our plane Picton airport terminal was literally a garden shed. As we drove into town by bus where we passed Picton corner store which was at least 4 times the size of the airport!
Taking a break from the Magic Bus itinerary for a couple of days my next stop was Nelson by regular InterCity bus as it was to be my base for going onto one of New Zealands National Parks, the Abel Tasman. (If I said that the Magic Bus drivers were like Virgin 1215 then just think of InterCity bus drivers as the Radio 2 of bus drivers, need I say more?)
Its not surprising that the Abel Tasman trek is one of the most popular walks as it is basically an up-to 3 day trek of delicious rainforest overlooking secluded beaches. I chose to do a 2 day option where we kayaked one day up to one of the two beaches which have running drinking water, camped overnight and then walked on further until the water taxi picked me up and returned me to base. Apart from the first 15 minutes of kayaking where every muscle in my upper torso and arms went on unilateral protest at this undue strain it was a totally enjoyable experience as the weather and scenery were awesome plus I had that feeling of virtue of great adventure as well. As we were kayaking our guide and instructor Chris (NB all guides in New Zealand are called Chris) pointed out mountains where the opening scene of Lord of the Rings was set. I asked him if he saw it being filmed and he said no, he just recognised it from the film. I could identify with that coming from famous filming land myself (Fawlty Towers of course – the episode with the broken down car and the restaurant, you know…) Obviously everyone in New Zealand knows their local L.O.R.R. spot which is good as all the tourists are looking for them. Whats amusing is the number of people reading the book as if it was necessary travel reading. So much so that on occasion I almost felt it important to point out that the book wasnt actually based in New Zealand but I never did as after all why discourage good reading hobbits, sorry habits!
I was actually travelling at this point with Su from the Isle of Man a woman Id met earlier on in the week whod asked to join me for the trek. This went to prove that you dont necessarily stay life long friends with everyone you meet on your travels. All was bearable until she woke me up during the night saying she thought shed heard a possum eating her food outside and that she was scared so should she go out? I assured her that I had food to share and that maybe if she was scared she shouldnt go outside, advice that she promptly ignored choosing instead to go out and shine a bright torch on an animal that can actually be dangerous and then come back in and moan the rest of the night. Fortunately by the morning her possum encounter had tired her so much that she preferred to stick around and have the water taxi pick her and our stuff up from the beach where we had camped. This left me to do the walk by myself, a much calming experience. I was rerouted in my path as by the time I left the tide was too high for me to take the quicker low tide route but the high tide route from Anchorage beach to Torrent Bay is not quite as frustrating as an A41 detour and I just gloried in the stunning silver beeches overlooking the sea as I strolled through.
It seems appropriate at this juncture to mention how New Zealand is known as the Land of the Floating Cloud. The reason behind this seemingly derogatory nickname became clear during my Abel Tasman trip . Unlike many countries where clouds are just dull things in the sky that more than often signal bad weather, in New Zealand they rule. A cloud can change the lighting, the plethora of colours, the whole dimensions of a place. Sitting on the beach waiting for sunset, with one majestic move the whole mood of the beach changes from daylight to golden glow, the hills reflect different hues of greens and blues. The clouds are so large and majestic, it is clear that the name was given out of a deep knowledge and appreciation of the country.