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Published: March 25th 2010
Resting on the top of St. Arnaud mountain in Nelson Lakes National Park.
One of the main reasons that we are touring New Zealand for three months is to determine if we might want to live here someday. We definitely want to live outside the U.S. at least once, preferably two or more times, before we kick the bucket. Right now, New Zealand is a top contender.
Perhaps it is the similarities between New Zealand and California - we can't help comparing the two. Both locations can claim plenty of sun, sand, wine, and mountains. Both places are populated with outdoor enthusiasts. Both places also are centers for alternative lifestyles, from hippies (current or ex) to Libertarians who just want to be left alone, dammit! Of all of the regions of New Zealand, the one that feels most familiar, most like small-town California, is the northern part of the South Island.
The city of Nelson (population: ~50,000) is the fourth and final base of our trip. The City feels like a cross between Mendocino and Palo Alto with a dash of Santa Cruz thrown in. Nelson is the main commercial center of the region and is overflowing with artists, hippies and even the odd business person. The main industries in the area
View of Lake Rotoroa from the top of St. Arnaud.
seem to be shipping (Nelson has a huge port), agriculture (orchards, sheep, wine), tourism, and, sadly, logging.
The town of Blenheim - about 1.5 hours from Nelson by car - is ground zero for the Marlborough region, the area most recognized in international wine circles. Sauvignon blanc is the signature grape and New Zealand's most well-known wineries are located here: Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford, etc.
Nelson is perhaps best known for its proximity to New Zealand's most popular and, many would say, most beautiful national park, Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer and the first European to set foot on New Zealand waaaay back in the 1600s; he didn't like what he saw and so it was another ~200 years before Captain Cook sailed by and staked a claim for England). More on Abel Tasman National Park in our next entry.
We decided to take it easy during our three weeks in Nelson. Taking it easy to us means staying at a really nice place, eating good food, and relaxing (when we aren't hiking, biking, or running). No big sight-seeing tours and no adrenalin junkie activities are planned during our stay in Nelson
Nelson Lakes National Park.
(looks like no sky diving on this trip - maybe next time).
We've spent a lot of our time poking around the downtown - checking out the excellent weekly farmers' market (strangely, the cost of organic farm-fresh produce in this country is marketedly lower than supermarket produce!), making friends with the folks at our nearby coffee shop, and celebrating St. Paddy's day at a local bar inside of an old church (the pews are even still there).
There are some great hiking trails in the area and we've spent many days searching out tough hikes with beautiful scenery. Unfortunately most of the best hiking trails are a bit of a drive from town and getting to some of the trailheads can be a bit of a challenge (pretty sure we didn't violate our rental car agreement!).
Our favorite trail network in the area (besides the Abel Tasman trails) is located in Nelson Lakes National Park. The mix of beech forest and alpine scenery in Nelson Lakes National Park is stunning. The St. Arnaud day hike was a good challenge - the views of Lake Rotoroa and nearby mountains from the St. Arnaud summit more than made up
Enjoying the sun and the views of the Tasman Bay from a bluff above Cable Bay.
for the long climb.
The Cable Bay hike just north of Nelson was another tough day hike with great scenery. We really enjoyed the expansive views of the Tasman Bay and the native forest on the track. Our run-ins with sheep and cows (the entire track passes through private property) and sheep herding dogs were a bonus. We even had a nice chat with a local sheep farmer who was rounding up his flock.
In the "potentially violated rental car contract" column is the Mt. Arthur hike in the Kahurangi National Park. To reach the trailhead at the innocuously-named Flora Carpark (parking lot), we first drove for over an hour on small backroads and then climbed a near-vertical one-lane gravel road (with no guardrails and steep dropoffs on one side) for over 30 minutes (climbing up nearly 2000 feet). Considering that we were in an old Toyota Corolla, the drive was especially terrifying.
The most delightful part of our time in Nelson has been staying at 39 Russell Street, a cheerful little cottage owned by a famous Kiwi artist named Jane Evans. It is a very comfortable cottage with a full kitchen, a comfy living room and
lots of little places to curl up with a book on a cloudy day. The decor is especially cheerful: the cottage is painted in all bright colors and is filled with art (paintings, ceramics, sculpture, glass) from Jane and other local artists. We love it.
And so we've spent a fairly quiet and relaxing three weeks in Nelson enjoying the town and the surrounding parks and beaches. We have had a lot of time to reflect on our trip and what we want to do when we get back to the States.
Today we had a very serendipitous meeting. One of Adrian's San Francisco mountain biking friends, Manu, and his girlfriend, Wynona, have also been traveling in New Zealand for the past three months. We had a few near misses with them but never actually worked out a time and place to meet up. Today we ran into them completely by accident at the farmers market. Earlier this evening we grabbed a drink with them and talked about our experiences and how travel has changed how we see the world and our place in it. A lovely and unexpected experience - something that we love most about travel.
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