Nelson, Marlborough & Tasman National Park

Published: November 20th 2010
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Well we did arrive safely in South Island in the end….. derelict buildings from the last whaling station in the country could be seen just inside the entrance to the Tory Channel, it closed in 1964 ending more than 50 years of pursuit of the migratory humpback whale. Its hard to believe but even today few ‘Sounds’ residents enjoy the luxury of road access to their homes, with boats still the main mode of transport, even mail and doctors come by boat (which we were to participate in later). This is Marlborough (not the Wiltshire market town) justifiably famous for its breathtaking beauty, and of course its wine! Encompassing one-sixth of New Zealand’s coastline, the Marlborough Sounds are made up of four main waterways – the Queen Charlotte Sound, Pelorus Sound, Kenepuru Sound and Mahau Sound, which encompasses hundreds of tranquil coves and waterways. The journey down the Queen Charlotte Sound aboard the ferry gives only a glimpse of this glorious scenery which is hard to visualise without seeing for yourself. The most famous of all Pacific explorers, Captain James Cook, spent many a long time during his travels in this area and it was on the highest point of Moutara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound that Cook claimed New Zealand for the King and the Sound for the Queen. Mussels and salmon farming are common in the Sounds, and you can cruise to see how mussels are grown and harvested, taste fresh mussels straight from the sea, and enjoy them with a glass of Marlborough’s renowned sauvignon blanc. Picton near the head of the Sound is where we left the ferry and headed off on the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive towards Havelock. We decided to stop at a small campsite called Smith’s Farm (a working beef farm) which was near Linkwater. When we arrived we were the only motorhome booked in and the owner said we could take our pick of the sites. She was very friendly and helpful and we were indeed lucky to catch her as she was just about to go and move a herd of beef cattle to another field as her husband was in Wellington and so she was running the farm and the campsite on her own! She told us that there were several nice walks in the area and one in particular on her farm which ended at a waterfall; apparently the trail was marked with red disks so you could not get lost! After choosing a site we set off to find it, we walked through several fields with cattle, lamb and goats and into a small wooded bush area continuing for a while until we hit a stream which was quite fast flowing but we did managed to cross. This then led us up the valley to the waterfall which although small was truly spectacular with various sprays of water shimming over the mossy rocks and with a drop of about 20 metres. On our way back we encountered several herons drinking out of the cattle trough and managed to get some good close up photographs as they did not want to move on. After a barbecued steak supper………….. and a couple of drinks, Paul spotted an animal across the field which he thought at first glance was a possum so he went armed with ‘zoom’ lens to take a photograph. On the way he met the owner’s daughter in the field who said she thought it was a hedgehog and indeed on closer inspection it was!! In the morning we headed out to walk part of the Queen Charlotte Track that had been recommended by the owner. This is a coastal forest track which follows the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds and is 71 km long, a very popular walk of New Zealand taking 3 – 4 days to cover the whole walk – a bit too long for us today so we just did a part of it. We then headed for the Abel Tasman National Park stopping at the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve which is set in native forest and where there are several shorter walks to choose from. We decided to undertake another short walk, this started in the forest, crossed the river over a ‘precarious’ swing bridge (which swayed rapidly as you got half way across) and then brought you back to the car park via the river bank. The car park, which was near a small campsite had a café selling home cooked food which looked delicious so we had a ‘flat white coffee’ (a lovely cup of coffee similar to a cappuccino but not so frothy which has become our favourite hot drink since arriving in NZ.) and some cake. This was such a lovely area that we decided that when we returned to head down the east coast we would do another walk and stop again in the café! We continued on through the Rai Valley which has stunning scenery, the whole area was covered in broom with bright yellow flowers (we discovered later that this apparently is a pest) and set against the green pine trees gave a glorious vista. The roads continued for ages winding up and down over the Richmond Mountain range but we finally arrived in Nelson the main town in the area and also the centre of the wine region. We continued on to our next destination which was a ‘top ten’ campsite in Motueke, (we get 10% off these sites). The reception staff were extremely helpful and again we were able to select our own pitch and also said that we could have a free session in the spa pool which sounded to good to miss after our long journey. We parked the motorhome and decided to have a swim in the heated pool and then to have our free spa pool session which was absolute bliss. We booked a couple of trips for the next few days so that Paul could have a rest from driving (I might try it sometime!). The next morning we were picked up by mini bus and taken to Kaiteriteri where we boarded a catamaran which took us up the Abel Tasman coast and cast us adrift (see photo) at Tonga Bay where we were to walk south on the Abel Tasman track passing Bark Bay and Torrent Bay. The boat was going to return and pick us up at Anchorage Bay but we had to walk a total of 19 km before that (need to keep the calories off for all this delicious wine)! The terrain was very hilly following the coastal path and crossed many waterfalls and bridges, it was such a relief to finally arrive on the lovely yellow sand of Anchorage Bay (believe it or not we were early again and had to wait for the boat to arrive!!!). The next day our second trip was a wine tasting tour - much more civilised. Again we were picked up by minibus and as we were the only ones on the tour that day had our own local guide to ourselves. We had a delightful time visiting 5 local wineries in the Moutere Hills area, sampling a wide range of wines and also shared a gourmet platter at one of the vineyards - delicious. We were supposed to also visit a brewery but as this was closed the guide took us to a local bar which had just opened for Paul to try the local brew – I think he preferred the wine and that says a lot! During the day we brought several bottles of the wine we had sampled, some of which was particularly good, although most of the wine in this area is superb and we shall enjoy these over the next few days. We really liked it in the Abel Tasman National Park but it was time to move on and we headed back towards Havelock again stopping at Polerus Bridge where we undertook two waterfall walks. Whilst walking along the river we noticed a Kingfisher and stopped to take a photograph but just as we were about to get a second shot a couple of people came along the track and frightened it away. We spent ages chatting with this couple on the riverbank in the middle of nowhere on a narrow edge, they lived in Christchurch (New Zealand not Hampshire) and were on a short holiday. We carried on with the walk returning to the car park and met the same couple, who we now know on first name terms and are called Natalie & Allan, and started chatting again. They told us about another waterfall walk on the way to Kaikoura where we were heading and that sometimes seal pups were swimming under the waterfall, so we will see if we can do this walk later. When we mentioned that we would be spending Christmas in Christchurch they insisted that we must visit them when we arrive in December - where in the world would you meet someone on a walk in the bush and end up being invited to their home, very friendly people in New Zealand, we will definitely look them up in December. We had lunch at the car park café and Paul decided to try a ‘meat pie’ this time as this seems to be a staple ‘NZ’ menu item and selected Wild Rabbit and was impressed, I chose Apple Shortbread which was also equally delicious………..We continued to Havelock passing through Canvastown, named after the tent village which popped up when gold was discovered in the 1860s and booked into a campsite where we were hoping to go on a mussel cruise on the Sounds. The owner said that they were not running at the moment but we could join the Mail Run on board the Pelorus Express. This boat delivers crucial supplies and mail to the isolated homesteads nestled in quiet secluded bays, the same way it has been done for decades as there are no roads in these outer reaches of the Sound. We arrived at the harbour early in the morning and the cruise lasted all day. We had a delightful time meeting local people at each drop off point as well as viewing the mussel and salmon farms on the way around the Sounds. The captain even manoeuvred the boat down between the rows of mussel lines so that we could see them up close. New Zealand Greenshell Mussels are a native shellfish and found nowhere else in the world; these large jade shelled mussels (see photo with Maisie’s turtle which we are taking care of for her and carrying around the world) cultivated on longlines nestled in the idyllic bays and coves of the Marlborough Sounds. They are easily recognised by the vibrant green and gold shell colouring and the meat is creamy white when the mussel is male and apricot to orange when the mussel is female. The captain of the mail boat usually delivers the mail with his wife but she was on a ‘garden tour’ that day so his neighbour was helping him. Paul had a long conversation with them at one of the stops and apparently they really enjoy the UK soaps particularly Coronation Street (they do not seem to have any programmes of their own). They also enjoy watching The Two Ronnies and Benny Hill a little behind the times here! They said we must try the mussels at the local restaurant aptly named ‘The Mussel Pot’ which has a unique mussel menu. You cannot miss finding it if you ever visit Havelock as it has a giant pot of mussels on the roof and luckily was only a short walk from our campsite. We would thoroughly recommend it as that evening we walked into town and sampled the menu, we had the mussel chowder to start followed by steamed whole-shell mussels – delicious particularly with the local Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and that from someone who does not particularly like shellfish!......... Tomorrow we head off to Kaikoura with the intention of whale watching off the coast.


20th November 2010

You two are going to be soooo bored when you come home!! Love all the descriptions of the scenery & your take on the culture etc. Try not to drink the island dry! Love from us both xxx

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