South Island Starter: Bring on the Hiking, Vineyards and Craft Beer in a Church...?


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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island
April 21st 2018
Published: June 5th 2018
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Another early start but fortunately not a lot of driving today, the inter-island ferry was going to do most of the heavy lifting and then it was only 20 kms or so to our first stop on the South Island, the town of Blenheim...we were heading for the wine region of Marlborough, was looking forward to checking out some vineyards and sampling some vinos!

The plan for the South was to do a counter-clockwise tour, starting in Picton and finishing in Christchurch in a little under two weeks...would prove to be a lot of miles and driving but that's the price we had to pay for what we wanted to see and do, and frankly the driving was a big part of the experience...fortunately the South Island provided tons of beautiful scenery, and it didn't take long to find it as we had a bright sunny day for the ferry trip across, the route snaking its way past coves and around islands, a fantastic start...

Arrived in Picton around lunch and promptly made our way down to Blenheim...not much to the town itself but the perfect launch point to a number of vineyards...on recommendations from our friends in Wellington we opted to check out Allan Scott and Cloudy Bay, conveniently located across the street from each other...Allan Scott was first, had a chat with the folks in the shop about the different types of wine they made, sampled a few and we both agreed that the white cabernet sauvignon was the best, it was great...wandered out onto a really nice patio and sat down for some lunch; the charcuterie plate I ordered was amazing, and coupled with the cab made for a wonderful and relaxing time...picked up a bottle on the way out and then made our way across to Cloudy Bay...

Again super nice folks, sampled a few of their wines which were good but did not ultimately reach out and grab us...because it was Fall the harvest was over and the fields of vines were not as plentiful, the upside though was less folks and we were able to have more one-on-one time with the staff to learn about their wines and processes, really cool...

Another short drive the following day, we were aiming for Abel Tasman National Park but thought it would be too much of a drive in one shot, so decided on
Bye-bye Wellington...Bye-bye Wellington...Bye-bye Wellington...

...on the ferry to the South Island...
laying up in the town of Nelson, supposedly renowned for its craft beer...hmm, okay! Arrived early enough, got settled at the camp site and K mentioned she wanted to do a bit of hiking, gots to earn those pints I suppose...haha...there's a big hill to the east of town in Branford Park called the Centre of New Zealand, interesting name and never quite sorted out whether that was true or not but it was a beautiful day and a great hike up to see some amazing vistas, well worth it...

Having now earned our pints, and on a recommendation from the dude at the camp site we made our way to a craft beer joint called The Free House...took a little searching to find it as it is set back on a lot and not right out at the street, turned out to be a really cool spot! Converted from an old church, the place is really neat inside and also comes with a fairly substantial patio outside, complete with an old camper-van doubling as the kitchen...had a good chat with the bartender about the types of beers, and after a few samples settled on a flavour each then
Terns in Abel TasmanTerns in Abel TasmanTerns in Abel Tasman

...from a distance I thought they were penguins and got all excited, still cool though...
outside to soak up some sun and relax...all the while being serenaded by Tango music as the weekly tango club were out doing their thing at the front of the property, too funny...

Could have spent the rest of the day there but we figured we should probably go down to the water and check out the local beach at the very least...Tahunanui Beach is quite nice, a bit too chilly to swim that day but went for a stroll and watched the folks that were there doing their thing...

Camp site had a proper bbq, so picked up some supplies on the way back that included lamb steaks, yes! We do have lamb back home but it is certainly not as prevalent, and I had never had a steak, sounded like the perfect opportunity! Fired 'em up and man were they good, certainly a bit gamier than beef but a fantastic meal...

The big mantra in New Zealand is "NZ driving can be very different than driving at home", and while the North Island hadn't been too different we were to come to realize why this is frequently mentioned on billboards in the South as we
Hangin' at Totaranui...Hangin' at Totaranui...Hangin' at Totaranui...

...beautiful spot, not a lot of folks which was nice...
made our way the following morning to our next stop: Abel Tasman National Park...majority of the highways we encountered in the South were two lanes, with the exception of the outskirts of Christchurch where it jumped to four, and coupled with the more mountainous terrain it became quite clear that distances on maps did not match driving times we were accustomed to back home...today's run to Abel Tasman came up as 133 kms, not too bad we thought, hour and a half conservatively? Once we hit our first mountain and spent the better part of thirty to forty minutes in third gear winding our way through switchbacks we realized that estimation was out the window...add in some construction, single lane bridges and 10 kms or so of twisty gravel road we ended up clocking in at almost 3 hours...okay then! Guess we can trust the Driving Time Estimator website after all, and even throw in a bit of extra time to be sure...gah...

At any rate we made it to Totaranui Campground at the northern end of the park; one of the few if not only spot that can handle camper vans...arrived to a mostly empty site, had our pick of the litter which was great, the downside being it was a bit chilly to fully take advantage of the beautiful beach...got ourselves sorted and went for a relatively short hike to get our bearings, it was mid-afternoon at this point so didn't want to wander too far...finished up the evening with some lamb-ragout pasta I had whipped up, and a good thing I had that going for me as it was our anniversary and one of us didn't have a card...still hearing about it...

Good but chilly sleep (no electrical hookups in the park) and then off to tackle a couple of trails in the area...simply awesome, the hikes were challenging in spots but the forest was beautiful and we would occasionally pop out to some wonderful viewing points of the coast, postcard-worthy...one of the trails we were on is part of the Abel Tasman Track, a five day-51 km track that runs along the coast I believe...a bit too much for us both time and effort-wise but at least we were able to experience a portion of it which was cool...

Heard lots of wonderful things about the park before we got there, and it truly is beautiful...from the drive in to the beach and the hikes the scenery is quite stunning, we really enjoyed our time there and it is certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me...the fact that there weren't too many folks around probably added to it, we rarely came upon anyone else on the trails, one of the perks of traveling off-season I s'pose...

(Some photos copyright of Karen C., denoted by (KC)...used with kind permission)


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South Island ChannelSouth Island Channel
South Island Channel

...on the way to Picton from Wellington...
Gettin' serious...Gettin' serious...
Gettin' serious...

...actually doing up my shoelaces for our hike up to the Center of New Zealand...no messing around...haha...
NelsonNelson
Nelson

...as seen from the Center of New Zealand
A Peach and a Pear...A Peach and a Pear...
A Peach and a Pear...

...atop Center of New Zealand...
The Free HouseThe Free House
The Free House

Cool converted church-to-pub in Nelson...(KC)
Pint at the Free HousePint at the Free House
Pint at the Free House

...complete with camper van kitchen in the background...awesome spot...(KC)
Let's Tango!Let's Tango!
Let's Tango!

Weekly tango club at the front of the Free House...(KC)


6th June 2018
Terns in Abel Tasman

Nice shot
The joys of New Zealand

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