Nelson and the Sounds

Published: April 30th 2011
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We had decided on a route for the last area of South Island before heading across the Cook Strait to North. We weren’t really sure how long we were going to be spending anywhere or how long it would take us so we weren’t going to book the ferry until we actually knew what we were doing!! So we headed off towards Nelson. Along the way we took the scenic drive around Ruby Bay rather than head along the main state highway. It wasn’t quite the scenic route we were expecting - there was some really great views across the sea but we weren’t driving next to the sea the whole time which was a little disappointed. We headed onto Rabbit Island which is connected to the mainland by one road only. it’s a conservation area and you are not allowed on it over night or after sunset as the road gets closed off!! Basically it is a great big picnic area with loads of BBQs and a really long beach. It was another beautifully sunny day and you would expect the beach to be packed - but it wasn’t. That has been a theme on all the beaches we’ve been on - they don’t get overly busy. I think that may have something to do with the lack of population and the number of sandy beaches. Also that kiwi’s don’t seem to sunbathe as there isn’t too much need. The sun is ferocious when its out and you can get burnt really easily - well I can anyway!!

After leaving Rabbit Island we headed back on the main state highway and towards Nelson. We didn’t stay long in Nelson as it is one huge city with a harbour and port. After visiting the I-site we were a little undecided on where we were heading next except that it would be up the sounds somewhere! On the way to the sounds we took a detour to Cable Bay with a view to staying there for the night. When we got there we were surprised how small it was. So after I had a nap in the van and Mark watched the sea come into the bay, we headed up the sounds. There was a DOC site that had been recommended to us y another traveller so we headed straight there. Elaine Bay is about 20 KM down a steep and windy track, but it at least had tarmac!! There was nothing else in the bay except a few houses and the camp site. There was a jetty there that I spent most of my time sitting on watching the stingray that were gliding back and forth underneath it. At one point there was at least 5 or 6 around there. The water was really clear and I spotted loads of starfish as well. The following morning we decided to head up to the end of the track to the DOC site at French Pass. We had to back track a little and take a turn off from where we were at Elaine Bay. Once we turned off it was gravel road for the next 22 kms to the campsite. Luckily it wasn’t that steep or too windy but it was high up and on the edge of the hill!! It was really narrow and some of the locals travelled fairly fast as they know the roads so had its scary moments!! It was a lovely scenic drive and took about an hour to do the 22 kms, but it was definitely worth the drive. French Pass is a small village with a school and a shop and a few houses. It is also the gateway from D’urville island as you can only reach it by water taxi, so the Jetty is quite long and fairly substantial. A few of the other campers had kayaks and boats and had been catching lots of blue cod off the points of the bay so we thought it would be good to have a go at fishing from the beach and I was contemplating going in for a swim as it was a beautifully sunny and hot day. The first thing we saw were some very large stingrays gliding around the shallows, then heard one of the locals mention that two sharks had been frequenting the waters over the last 3 evenings - suffice to say I decided against going for a swim. Mark started fishing from the beach and was standing about knee deep in water in order to cast further out to the drop off. I turned around as he reeled in his bait only to see the fins of a shark following it into the shallows!! All I managed was to shout ‘shark’ before it turned on its side aiming straight for Marks calves!!! Luckily he managed to move out of the water quick enough to avoid a nasty bite from the 6ft (ish) Bronze whaler shark!! We later found out that these shark have a tendency of biting humans! As the tide went out we moved around the rocks to get closer to the point but decided against wading through the water to get there as we didn’t fancy ending up as shark bait again!! We caught two small cod that were undersized so had to go back.

After a while of catching nothing we headed back for lunch and then after speaking to one of the other campers headed to the pier to fish for some bait fish to use the following day. It was a great afternoon sitting in the sunshine with a glass of wine catching (and throwing back) small spotties until we caught the mullet (similar to a mackerel) we were after for bait. As we sat there a charter came back from deep sea fishing with a massive catch. We were talking to one of the ladies from the boat who happened to be an ex- head teacher of a SEN school in Nelson. She asked if we were fishing for fun or for food. We replied that food would be great and we were trying to get the bait fish for tomorrow. She walked away and came back with a blue cod for us from the catch they were offloading!!! As it was starting to get dark and cold we called it a night and headed back to fry the fish we had been given!! The fish was delicious but trying to cook by torchlight after a few glasses of wine is not the easiest thing in the world!! We wanted something else as well as the fish so cooked noodles. However, half way through cooking the gas bottle ran out!! Just as I was clearing up the ranger came round to tell everyone about the earthquake in Japan and that we were on a Tsunami warning, and as we were next to the sea we were being advised to move to higher ground!! One of the other campers told us that nothing was due to arrive until the morning so we shouldn’t worry, another couple came to see if we were keeping up with the news and to say they were moving and didn’t like the thought of any of us staying down by the sea. So we drove up to the lookout on the hill just behind us. It was a small car park and a heli pad but we managed to fit about 4 vans in it overnight. The following morning we headed back down to the campsite and the ranger came round and told us that the warning had been retracted and we were safe. As e had no way of heating hot water for a drink and couldn’t cook anything for breakfast we were waiting for the shop to open to see if they refilled gas bottles. The ranger said they didn’t so reluctantly we were going to have to head off back down the road to civilisation and to find somewhere to fill up the gas bottle!! When we explained this to the ranger she offered to make us a cup of tea at her house!!

It was a long drive back to the main roads but it was a beautiful day so we just took our time and enjoyed the scenery. We were heading towards Havelock to try and fill up the gas bottle. It was already lunchtime by the time we filled the gas bottle up and we hadn’t drunk anything by then and hadn’t eaten much! So we stopped in Havelock for lunch at the pub- which was absolutely delicious!! There isn’t much to do in Havelock and the campsite seemed to be really full so we headed along Queen Charlotte Drive heading towards Picton. This is the shortcut between Havelock and Picton as it is a direct route except that its very windy, and has beautiful scenery all the way. We turned off Queen Charlotte Drive and went up Kenepuru Sound as there are lots of little DOC sites to stay in. We were planning on heading as far up the sound as we could and work our way back - except we soon realised we only had about 20 dollars on us so are very limited with the amount of nights we can stay! We stopped at Cowshed bay briefly before heading onwards and found Nikau Cove. It was a stunning little bay and when we arrived there was only one other van there. So we pulled up sideways to the sea and spent the day lazing on the beach. The following day we did a similar thing and just chilled out for the day. It was a bit windier so I spent less time sunbathing but Mark spent quite a while fishing. After two nights here we have run out of money its, back along the sound and back on to Queen Charlotte drive to take us to Picton.

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