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Published: February 17th 2017
First view of Apple Tree Bay from the Abel Tasman Coast Track
Arriving on the South Island (Te Waipounamu) on the Bluebridge inter-island ferry, we were greeted by the same leaden grey skies that had bid us farewell from the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui) in Wellington a few hours earlier; though admittedly the last hour of the cruise did reveal some picture postcard scenery as we made our way through the inner reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound. Disembarking the ferry in Picton, we then had to tackle the incredibly windey Queen Charlotte Drive (with around 180 bends in just over 15km of road) before arriving at our overnight stop at the wonderful Smith's Farm Holiday Park, where if the warm banana and chocolate-chip muffins on arrival weren't enough to win us over, the chance to feed the resident goats and sheep certainly sealed the deal!
The next day (Wednesday 8th
February) we took the only-slightly-less windey road to Havelock in the hope of getting an internet connection, only to end up heading straight back to the farm to purchase some wifi time there instead! Having then managed to make a last minute booking on BookMe for a wildlife cruise on Queen Charlotte Sound, we hopped straight back in the car and re-traced
Waterfront park in Picton
our route from the day before back to Picton – a journey of only around 20km, yet which takes a minimum of 30 minutes to complete – only to discover that in the time it had taken us to drive there the trip had been cancelled due to high winds and rough seas... and though the tour company had tried to call us to let us know, they'd been unable to get through because we had no phone reception along the way! 30 minutes, 20 kilometres and 180 or so bends later, we were back at Smith's Farm again
But if we thought the Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and the farm had been windey – and up to that point it was undoubtedly the windiest road I had ever driven on – then even it was about to be outdone by the Kenepuru Road, which more or less follows the shoreline of Kenepuru Sound (Queen Charlotte Sound's neighbour to the west) through over four hundred
(yes, 400 - that's not a typo) bends in just 30km!!! Needless to say, by the time we arrived at our destination – the DOC campground at Picnic Bay, just outside the village
Linda on the beach at Picnic Bay
of Portage – Linda was battling motion sickness, while I was on the verge of suffering repetitive stress injury... and in dire need of a stiff drink!
But if ever there was a destination worthy of the journey, it was this wee little campground situated on the shores of Picnic Bay; where we took one of just three available campsites only metres from the tranquil waters of Kenepuru Sound. And it was in this secluded little getaway – with our own private campsite nestled snugly amongst native vegetation just back from the shoreline – that we were first treated to the spectacle of a tui (a bird with the most beautiful and intricate call we have heard thus far) trying forlornly to chase away a much larger wood pigeon; before being introduced to New Zealand's second most famous flightless bird (unless you count the now-extinct moa – in which case it's only third): the weka.
Unfortunately our final wildlife encounter for the evening – when we spotted a pair of possums in the bush nearby – ended on a sad note, when we noticed that one of the possums refused to run away or climb a tree upon
The Troublemaker nestled in bush at Picnic Bay
our approach; preferring instead to simply tuck itself into a ball as if trying to hide in plain sight. When we found the same possum in front of our van the next morning adopting the same position and refusing to move – I actually had to push it aside to avoid having to run over it when we left – we came to the conclusion that it must have been a victim of one of the numerous poison baits that the Department of Conservation use to try to eradicate possums.
(Unlike in Australia, where possums are native animals and therefore considered to be cute and cuddly, in this country they are an introduced species – and one that has taken on plague proportions, with around 70 million of them believed to be calling New Zealand home – and as such are looked upon with disdain, in much the same way as we Australians despise cane toads.)
Our reason for staying at Picnic Bay – aside from simply wanting to spend a night in the most scenic surroundings possible – was that having had our boat cruise cancelled on Wednesday, we had subsequently decided to embark on separate adventures
Heading out into Pelorus Sound on the mail boat
on Thursday: I was booked on a full-day mail boat run on Pelorus Sound; while Linda was keen to hike the last twenty-plus kilometres of the Queen Charlotte Track – the most famous multi-day tramp (hike) in the Marlborough Sounds; and one which happens to end just a short walk away from - you guessed it - Smith's Farm!
So after spending an uncomfortable night at Picnic Bay (a result of the temperature having plummeted to around 6 or 7 degrees overnight, for which I was not at all prepared) and then waking not long after dawn the next day, I dropped Linda off just a couple of kilometres down the road in Portage - at a point where the Queen Charlotte Track intersects the road – before setting off solo back along the ridiculously-twisty but suitably-scenic Kenepuru Road, bound for the marina in Havelock.
Thankfully for both of us the weather had cleared for the first time in days, and as Linda was legging it along the ridge-top that separates the Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte Sounds, I was heading out into the convoluted expanse of Pelorus Sound (the largest of the four Marlborough Sounds) under a beautiful
Passing a greenshell mussell farm in Pelorus Sound
blue sky on the mail boat. With the majority of properties facing Pelorus Sound having no road access (not to mention no power lines or phone lines) the mail has been delivered by boat for over a hundred years; and for most of that time the folks performing the mail run have taken tourists along with them, as a means of subsidizing their endeavours.
With inlet upon inlet separated by high, forested ridges – some reaching up to a thousand metres above sea level – the scenery was truly breathtaking; and with plenty of enlightening information and entertaining anecdotes from the Scottish skipper Jim it was a most enjoyable day out indeed. If only the resident dolphins or visiting orca had have made an appearance, the day would have been complete – but we've plenty of time left on the South Island to see those (hopefully)! All in all, as far as scenic boat trips go, the Pelorus Mail Boat run would have to rank right up there with the best of them.
Having returned to Smith's Farm on Thursday night, we packed up and hit the road on Friday bound for Nelson; though sadly Linda was soon
to be struck down with a migraine – an affliction we thought she had put behind her for good, after not suffering from one in over two years – that left her virtually incapacitated, and necessitated a sudden change of plan.
With this in mind (along with the weather forecast that suggested Saturday would provide the best weather of the week) we ended up pressing on from Nelson all the way to Marahau on Friday afternoon, where we headed straight for Old MacDonald's Farm Holiday Park – thus allowing Linda to recover from her migraine in peace the next day (and with the benefit of farm animals for company – which she always appreciates!) whilst allowing me to tackle the Abel Tasman Coast Track that starts only a few hundred metres from the farm's entrance.
Waking nice and early to a cloudless blue sky, I scoffed down a quick breakfast and was on my way to the start of the track by 8am – though I did stop to pat one of the resident llamas at the farm on my way through, which I can safely say is the first time I've ever done that! Pausing at the
Porters Beach in Abel Tasman National Park
national park shelter to swap my long pants, jumper and woolly hat for shorts and t-shirt, I was relieved to see that I had beaten the crowds to the start of the walk, which was just as well given that over 30,000 overnight trampers (the name Kiwi's give to hikers) tackle the Coast Track every year – and that doesn't include all of the day-trippers, for which the figure must be considerably higher.
Setting out across bridge after bridge over the Marahau Estuary, the track eventually reached the regenerating forest on the other side and proceeded to follow the shoreline past beautiful secluded beaches with crystal clear water lapping gently at their edges, as the sun rose ever higher into the sky and the mountains on the other side of Tasman Bay (through which we had passed the day before on the way into Nelson) stood up from the horizon.
About an hour into the walk I got my first clear view of Adele Island just offshore; and it wasn't long after that that one of the highlights of the entire day came into view – the beach and lagoon at Apple Tree Bay. With a sandy spit
The beach and lagoon at Apple Tree Bay
separating a seemingly green lagoon from the sparkling blue waters of Tasman Bay – all backed by the forested outline of Adele Island – the overall scene was utterly mesmerising; and there was no chance that I was going to pass up the opportunity for a closer inspection...
Down on the beach a number of lucky campers were waking to a scene that I'm sure they will never forget; and it immediately reminded me of the day ten years ago when I woke up on the beach beside Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island. Needless to say, the short swim I enjoyed at Apple Tree Bay was one of the highlights of my day!
After passing a couple more secluded coves the trail then turned inland for an extended walk through a forest of ferns (this being New Zealand after all) before eventually reaching the sea again at Anchorage – which happens to be one of the busiest spots on the whole trail, given that it not only has a large campsite and hut, but is also the first pick-up & drop-off point for the multitude of water taxi companies that ply the waters of the national park.
Torrent Bay Beach
Nevertheless the beach at Anchorage was beautiful (and surprisingly quiet) so I took the opportunity to plunge in for my second swim of the day; before hitting the trail once again and following the high-tide track around the southern end of Torrent Bay (which is one of three bays on the track that can be crossed directly within an hour or two of low tide, but must be walked around at any other time; while Awaroa Bay can only be crossed at low tide as there is no high-tide track). Halfway around Torrent Bay a side-track led to the super-popular Cleopatra's Pool, which as inviting as it looked was (in my opinion at least) overshadowed by an even more beautiful pool in Torrent River further downstream, right near the trail junction.
After re-joining the main trail I eventually made it to the northern end of Torrent Bay – where the orange low-tide route markers could be clearly seen scattered at regular intervals across the bay – before passing through the privately-owned properties of Torrent Bay village (reachable only by boat), where a beautiful curved beach faced the tiny rock outcrop of Pinnacle Island. Climbing up a ridge behind the
Pinnacle Island, just offshore from Torrent Bay Beach
village, a lookout point beside the trail offered one of the most picturesque views of the day, with the white sandy beach backed by the translucent waters of Torrent Bay; and beyond that a veritable sea of greenery.
From Torrent Bay the trail then headed inland through the forest for the final eight kilometres to Bark Bay – with the highlight being the swing bridge crossing of Falls River about 3km from the end - and if it's true that the scenery along this final stretch couldn't quite live up to the standards from earlier in the day, then it's only because the first 16km was so damn spectacular! But in the end I made it to Bark Bay with thirty minutes to spare before my water taxi was due to arrive - having hiked 24km out of the track's total distance of 57km – and would definitely rate the Coast Track in Abel Tasman NP at least the equal of it's Australian counterpart in Royal NP just south of Sydney... plus I got to take a 40-minute boat ride back to the start!
After spending a second night at Old MacDonald's Farm in Marahau – where sandflies
reared their ugly heads to cause us all sorts of bother in the evening - Linda and I packed up and headed inland on Saturday, taking the scenic Motueka Valley Highway through a fertile valley full of farmland and fruit orchards. Stopping for lunch by the shores of Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, we couldn't have wished for a more scenic backdrop than the cloud-shrouded mountains of the St.Arnaud Range rising steeply up from the lakeshore.
With Linda having by now fully recovered from her migraine, we set off after lunch to follow a 4km hiking trail leading around the shoreline of the Brunner Peninsula (which juts out into the lake, dividing it's northern end in two) to West Bay on the other side, only for Linda to then get stung by a bee just above her right foot on the way back – and just as had happened previously when she worked on a honey bee farm in Western Australia, she immediately suffered an allergic reaction which caused her foot to swell badly. Talk about having a bad run of luck – some people you just can't take anywhere!
Arriving back in Kerr Bay with
Rainbows and Thermal Springs
The Waiau River near Hanmer Springs - take one
Linda already sporting an impressive limp, we hopped back in the campervan to knock off another hundred or so kilometres; before finally stopping for the night at the Marble Hill DOC campground, located at the beginning of the climb to Lewis Pass – where, unsurprisingly, we were once again plagued by sandflies! Whether this sandfly invasion is confined to the South Island or whether we simply hadn't been troubled by them on the North Island because it was always so damn windy we couldn't quite be sure, but for the first time all trip Linda and I found ourselves wishing that the breeze would pick up to blow these voracious little bastards away!
Also not surprising – given that we spent the night at our third highest camping spot of the trip, and that the two highest ones had brought the worst weather - was the rain that tumbled down for much of the night and the whole of the next morning, forcing us to bed at the ridiculously early time of 7:30pm (a full hour before sunset)! And with the rain only intensifying after we'd finished breakfast the next morning, there was little for it but to press
Jet Boat Junction
The Waiau River near Hanmer Springs - take two
on over Lewis Pass - the lowest of the three main mountain passes that cross the Southern Alps from east to west - in pursuit of the better weather that we hoped lay on the other side of the mountains.
And sure enough, no sooner had we made it down to the base of the mountains crowding Lewis Pass (in the vicinity of Hanmer Springs) than the clouds began to part, offering a tantalising glimpse of bluer skies ahead. This was hardly surprising though, given that the Southern Alps are famous for creating a 'rain shadow' effect – whereby the prevailing westerly winds are responsible for massive amounts of rain being dumped on the West Coast, while the rest of the South Island east of the mountains receives very little rainfall by comparison.
Stopping off just outside Hanmer Springs, Linda and I had our first taste of that quintessential Kiwi past-time: jet boating! Boarding the Amiru Jet with it's twin 700hp engines, we were soon zooming our way downstream through the Waiau Gorge, taking seemingly suicidal angles into corners and passing within half-a-metre of sheer cliff faces... and all at top speed!
To say we enjoyed ourselves
would be an understatement, and given that we spent over 45 minutes on the river (during which we not only ventured 15km downstream from our starting point beside the Waiau Ferry Bridge and back again, but then headed a similar distance upstream amongst the braided channels of the Waiau River above the gorge as well) I think it's fair to say we got our money's worth... especially considering we'd only paid $60 each for the privilege!
Now if only that theory about the 'rain shadow effect' were to prove true for the following week on the East Coast - we'd be in for a very pleasant week indeed...!
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