We traded our wheels from a campervan to an old Toyota van for the remainder of our time in NZ, and headed North from Christchurch. The inn-keeper in Christchurch gave us an old soft-sided cooler that someone had abandoned, we picked up a fruit-box at the grocery store, filled it with provisions and headed for Hanmer Springs a couple of hours up Hwy 7. Hanmer Springs is a lovely little town that caters to folks from Christchurch (Christchurchmen?) who escape the “hustle-and-bustle” of the city for skiing, fishing, and a soak in the natural hot-springs. We were all eagerly looked forward to the hot-springs, which turned out to be more like an up-scale public plunge than the spas we experienced out in Iceland and Budapest. While chatting with a Kiwi from Christchurch he filled me in on some of the difficulties locals have dealt with since the earthquake. In particular the difficulty young people have had finding work, the high cost of housing, and the general frustration with the effectiveness of their government. Suzanne and I also had a good chuckle watching an old grumpy couple who had a wonderful time loudly complaining about the amazingly well-behaved German kids (this time it wasn´t our kids) who were “energetically but politely” enjoying the warm water. I was kind of hoping that the old-grumpy-duo would turn their vitriol on us so I could invite them to join us in a game of Marco Pollo. Actually I was a little too relaxed during our stay in Hanmer Springs, I didn’t even take many pictures while we were there.
Our next excursion was to Abel Tasman National Park where we took a four-hour hike along the shore line of Tasman Bay. The scenery was spectacular, and besides the on-again/off-again whining and complaining from Alex, it was a very enjoyable walk along a well used trail. The forest was so dense that for lunch we walked just a few feet from the main trail and had a picnic lunch of PB&J sandwiches at a little creek and it felt like we were miles from the nearest people. At our turn-around point we found a white sand beach peeking out from the forest; campers, hikers, and kayakers lazed in the warm sun, a gentle sea breeze kept the sand flies at bay. Abel Tasman park deserved more than a few hours of exploration, but we did our best to enjoy what we could. I did manage to get a few decent pictures.
We discovered a very nice holiday park in Pohara and decided to stay there for a couple of nights. The beach was right outside our door and we were having great weather. One of the days we drove along the Golden Bay, along 10 miles of gravel road, and crossed the narrow spit of land that protects the Golden Bay from the wind coming off the Tasman Sea. After a short hike over a few hills we discovered a fascinating place with bright colors, Dr. Suess like trees, drifting sand dunes, violent and confused seas, and dramatic stone islands and cliffs. We stayed for an hour or so as Alex and Patrick enjoyed climbing the sand dunes and hiding from the blowing sand.
I took my camera out for a few shots, then quickly returned it to the case to try to limit the amount of grit that would build up my newly cleaned camera sensor. Of all the places we have visited in NZ, this place was the most intense. It impacted all my senses at the same time.
The drive from Pohara to Nelson covered some pretty remote country, and I had not anticipated the distance between petrol stations. So once again Suzanne and I were sweating as the out-of-gas light blazed at us from the dash. I had visions of us pulled over on the shoulder of a twisty mountain road, 20 miles from anything, hoping for a rescue. Unfortunately my imagination is particularly vivid in these situations.
Our night in Nelson was uneventful, except when we Skyped my brother Dan, the only place we could get WiFi reception was at pool deck. So the whole family huddled around the computer outside by the pool and had a nice semi-private conference call. Oh yes, and when Alex had her picture taken with the famed Ring of Power used in the Lord of The Rings movies.
We camped at Picton; our point of departure for the ferry to the North Island; for a couple of nights. A little rain storm came in, so we made progress on school, and Patrick and I got our hair cut. Barber shops are a great place to connect with local characters. The barber in Picton has been cutting hair for 12 years, he learned from the previous owner of the shop, who had cut hair in Picton for 25 years. The barber asked if I had experienced lots of traffic here in NZ. I told him “My idea of traffic may be different due to my recent time in Vietnam and India. But I have not noticed traffic as an issue.” Then he described how people in NZ are prone to road-rage. Once again I said “My idea of road-rage may be different. While in NZ I have not been shot at due to road-rage, so it can’t be that bad.”