Sunday, 30 September 2018

Mainland tour, Day 4 - Over and under

With thanks to NelsonTasman
Today was a mix of old and new, for me. Marahau is sort of in the middle, since I was here in January with the Baby, for her brilliant kayak-expedition Christmas present to me - it began and ended just down the road from our motel. But the first stop of the day took me way back - our Abel Tasman Eco Tour with Fay called first at Kaiteriteri, where I had a number of family holidays in my distant youth. The campground now is very different, much more developed and busy - but the beach is still as sandy and golden as when I crouched in the shallows, desperately trying to learn how to waterski (on clunky home-made skis, behind a less-clunky home-made boat that I'd spent my share of time crouching underneath holding a wooden block against the hull as Dad hammered nails into it...)
We went then to Towers Bay, a classic golden sand beach streaked with black iron sand with Split Apple Rock artistically placed off to one side - a slightly more imaginative name than is usual in New Zealand, but still pretty factual. And then, dear reader, we tackled Takaka Hill again! Just as many curves and corners, just as steep up and down - can you believe it, it's a school bus route! This time, though, we stopped near the top at Ngaru Caves, where we joined a tour with Dave that took us down and through, lights on and off, seeing stalagmites and stalactites, 28,000 year-old moa bones, more recent kiwi and possum skeletons, copperplate graffiti on limestone curtains, stairs, straws and puddles. Stories too - like the woman out orienteering, who fell into a tomo, had her fall broken by a dead cow that had done the same thing, and was saved by her PLB. That's the trouble with a marble hill - it does tend to have holes in it.
After a lookout over Harwoods Hole that would have reminded me of Switzerland if I had ever been there (tch), we dropped down to go see the Riwaka Resurgence, a river that pumps out of a cave, the beautifully clear turquoise water originally rain that fell on the hill and has been filtered down through the marble. It makes the sort of contrast with the lime-green moss and ferns all around it that only nature can get away with. Gorgeous. And very, very cold.
And that was it for the tour, after six hours of chat and information, conversation and opinion - very enjoyable. Especially the filled rolls Fay supplied for lunch. They were delicious - as was the mushroom soup at the Honest Lawyer in Nelson that night. Though the excellent strawberry and lime cider that preceded it may have had some influence.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Mainland tour, Day 3 - Plenty of frogs and weka, but no mussels

With thanks to NelsonTasman
There was a mix-up about tide tables today - did you know there's also a Collingwood in the US? - so I ended up having to skip breakfast and to shoot off back towards Cape Farewell in order to get to Wharariki Beach while there was still plenty of sand. Fortunately the road was very quiet (and the many one-way bridges were mine, all mine) and I got there in time. There's a car park, a 20-minute walk through a farm, then bush, then dunes, and then there you are, on a magnificently wild and remote-feeling beach with the Tasman rolling in onto the fine, gold-sparkled sand - and not a soul in sight.
In the middle of the bay are the Archway Islands - a typically Kiwi down-to-earth name for some artistically pierced and placed rocky islets. There are caves, sculpted headlands, wind-bent manuka thickets, waving golden marram grass, reflecting pools and, apparently, seal cubs. I didn't see them because I was so occupied exploring the opposite end of the beach that I almost got caught there by the incoming tide, so I had to forgo trekking down to their little colony. It was spectacularly wild, the wind blowing away my footprints in the sand the moment I'd made them. It was well worth missing breakfast for.
Our next call was the Mussel Inn and brewery on the way back towards Takaka. I'd enjoyed their Freckled Frog feijoa cider last night at Zatori, but it was still too early for alcohol (or mussels...) and the pub doesn't have an off-licence (!) so I had to make do with coffee out in their garden. Dogs aren't allowed, because of the weka that wander through; the toilets, walls papered with beer labels, are composting; the friendly barmaid had dreads; and locals have their own beer mugs hanging over the bar (the pub reserves the right to reject those it feels are too big). It's that sort of establishment! Fun.
Taking the advice of Tracey at Zatori, we made a detour to The Grove, a park in behind Takaka with a very pleasant walk through the bush that ends up winding through and around some huge rocks to a lookout over Golden Bay that feels man-made, it's so perfectly placed. But it isn't.
We headed off back over Takaka Hill again, still astonished at the endless curves and corners but entranced by the views, which were highlighted today by unseasonal snow on distant mountains. It was all blue and green gorgeousness - classic Mainland beauty. It's so good to be back! Then we wound down into Marahau, to check into Abel Tasman Lodge, which is a very welcoming and comfortable motel, our room looking out onto a big lawn busy with quails and a weka family, a stream and some stables beyond. 
A ride would have been the icing on the cake, but it wasn't a bad alternative to go for a walk along the seafront, winding along a path through the scrub down to the rippled sand, the tide well out again, and the sun throwing long shadows. We ate that night at the Fat Tui burger van, thoroughly enjoying their basic Cowpat burger, with afterwards the treat of a deep-fried Moro bar (shades of Glasgow - not). Then we settled in for a cosy night serenaded by frogs.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Mainland tour, Day 2 - Fish in a barrel

With thanks to NelsonTasman 
Well, not quite a barrel, and no guns involved - but at Anatoki Salmon Farm, catching a chinook is so easy that pre-schoolers can do it. Just ask Ethan. He was the littlest of the three kids we watched each hook and (with some assistance) land good-sized salmon from a lake swirling with fish. Those were the lucky ones, since alongside were three large pens with about 8,000 fish in each, bred and raised to supply restaurants and supermarkets around the country. I'm not sure Ethan's parents thought they were that lucky themselves, since they then had to pay for the fish, have them cleaned and packed, and then presumably eat nothing else for the next three days of their holiday.
I just watched, enjoyed the green and blue of the surroundings, and then wandered past the café and little petting zoo to the river where some gloriously slimy eels came to check me out with their creepy cloudy blue eyes, hoping for a feed.

Next we visited Te Waikoropupu Springs, which used to be just Pupu Springs. People used to swim and dive in the fabulously clear blue waters too, but now you're not allowed even to touch the water. It's all explained in the fancy entrance, where there's a gorgeously smooth piece of marble to run your hand over - Maori protocol rules today, after long years of being ignored. They're still well worth visiting: the surrounding bush is regenerating nicely after the gold-mining and farming, and the figures are remarkable. The springs pump out 14,000 litres per second - that's 2,400 bathfuls a minute!

Afterwards, we went into little Takaka. It's a cheerfully hippy town still, with shops selling voluminous pants, and bright waistcoats, and lots of art galleries and murals. There are also numerous coffee shops - the one in the old cinema is very colourful. Then we headed back to even littler Collingwood for our next activity: the Farewell Spit Eco Tour.
This is tide-dependent, so we left today at 1pm, driving with Murray along the coast past the sites of many sad whale deaths - not from whaling, but strandings, which happen regularly because of the shallowness of the bay inside the spit. Ironically, it's usually pods of pilot whales that get caught out, bringing masses of people to the mudflats to try to help re-float them every time. Then we headed across to the South Island's northernmost point, Cape Farewell, which is suitably spectacular, the headland furrowed and arched, and the Tasman looking unusually blue and tropical on this lovely day.
The tour's main focus was in the opposite direction, where all that sea-eroded rock ends up - Farewell Spit itself, which is a 27km-long curve around the top of Golden Bay. You can only go 4km onto it by yourself, so this was a first for me, to trundle in the bus along the sand all the way to the lighthouse near the end. En route we got lots of history, natural and man-made, and felt lucky to be there in such perfect conditions. It would have been quite a different story, often, for the lighthouse keepers and their families. We had tea and muffins in one of their houses, were allowed (blind eye turned) to climb up the current lighthouse, and then had a small expedition up onto the wind-sculpted dunes.
Then we bombed back along the beach into the low sun, past hulking big seals, sculpted driftwood, flocks of gannets and oystercatchers, with all the time the blonde sand whirling along below the windows and making us feel that we were flying. We finally got back to Collingwood in the dark. It was a great trip.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Mainland tour - Day 1: Arrival

Writing, as I have done now for most of the year, a REGULAR COLUMN in the Sunday Star-Times Escape section - World Famous in New Zealand, since you ask - I need a constant supply of material to fill it. Though it's possible to write from research only, obviously it's much better if I've actually been there, done that; so it's the perfect excuse to hit up the PR people i/c tourism around the country. Consequently, today I am setting out on what I would call a two-week fact-finding tour if that didn't sound altogether too serious. It's a junket!
So I flew from Auckland to Nelson, hired a car, and drove west to Collingwood, over Takaka Hill with its innumerable bends and corners, feeling very happy to be behind the wheel and not in the middle of the back seat, sliding miserably from one sister's hostile shoulder to the other, unsuccessfully fighting the relentlessly growing urge to throw up. Ah, family holidays! We detoured to Wainui Falls via an unexpected tunnel and a spectacularly rocky bit of coast, and I walked through the bush to the falls, along a wonderfully clear river pouring over marble rocks. It was very pretty, and I might have been impressed if I hadn't recently been to Iceland, which sets a high (ha!) standard for waterfalls. 
We spent the night at Zatori Retreat, a friendly and casually elegant lodge looking out towards Farewell Spit. So casual, in fact, that other guests were padding about the lounge in bare feet, there was a cat called Milo and a dog called Beau, chickens in the garden outside, and most of us ate together at a long table. The food was good, the chat was about cycling the Heaphy Track, there was a crackling fire, and outside it was dark and silent. Good start.

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