From smart Nelson City to the rural beauty of Abel Tasman National Park

Tue 21 Feb 2017 19:00

February 9th. After a cold night a crystal morning to Marahau on the doorstep of Abel Tasman.

At last the combination of a power point and somewhere accessible to write in the wee quiet hours. I apologise for it being so long since my last blog to you all.

We joined the rush hour to leave Nelson but soon turned off into the Montere Hills through fine French wineyards growing on clay soils threaded with gravel giving the wines a certain uniqueness of texture, well that’s what the brochure said.

This is also NZ’s prime hop growing area and these spindly plants were wound upward to three metres on strong string. Baby doll sheep (their ancestors the pretty smiling small sheep from the English South Downs in Sussex) were efficiently nibbling the grass and lower leaves to keep the vines in good shape as we sped westwards.

We had taken a detour to see them so now we were back on the Highway 6, Redwood trees, Pine plantations and blackcurrant farms pleased our eyes.

We stopped for a coffee alongside the Calm, sparkling Tasman Bay where early French settlers had arrived and Arthur Wakefield landed to set up the town he named Nelson. An overgrown railway track nearby was once used to transport grey marble from a hilltop quarry to build the new Cathedral in his city, long after he was killed in a skirmish with Maoris and settlers over land in the Wairua Valley. The New Zealand Company in London had sold much New Zealand land that did not exist and pressure was on the Governor down to find more for the furious settlers, so the Maoris were robbed of land by force in the process.

We booked into MacDonald’s Farm, our 7th Camp and pitched alongside a rushing river with the mountains of Abel Tasman offering protection. The weather was lovely but any breeze was chilly. The Alpaca’s in their thick coats weren’t bothered and the silky black coated piglets were far too busy play-fighting to notice.

Anywhere else in the world the sight of an aluminium motor boat full with people holding cameras and sitting on a trailer being towed by a tractor might look a little odd, but not here. As our bay was very shallow and flat the tide goes out a long way so we had to be transported from the company office to a wide concrete ramp into deep water. Two tractor trailer combinations backed down the ramp at the same time, the Honda engine was lowered in and started, we floated off and started on our mini cruise to Anchorage Bay, about 12kms along the 52km Abel Tasman walking track.

Along the way our skipper/guide took us to see split apple rock, with its attached Maori legend. Then we disturbed some fur seals languishing on the rocks smug in the knowledge that their near extinction by man is now over and they are safe to grow in numbers.

Just as we had done in Hiva Oa Harbour back in the WARM tropics, this vessel backed into the shore, throwing out a bow anchor on the way, until she could lower her ramp onto the beach. Then skipper dashed down the ramp with another anchor and we all stepped ashore onto a golden sandy beach with its compulsory band of ancient driftwood. We knew the first part of the walk was steep uphill out of the bay and after that was easy gentle rises and level ground.

The path was wide and smoothed by thousands of feet. Pretty fairy falls and stones covered with emerald moss, burnt orange coloured rust granite and the ever noisy cicadas. I reflected I could have wheeled a wheel chair along most of the track. Mother would have liked that for a short while anyway.

“Do you ever miss Zoonie Rob?” We were sitting looking at the anchorage in the lee of Adele Island at the anchored boats.

“Yes, when I see anchorages like that!” Tasman bay is sheltered from the angry Tasman Sea and hence a favourite place for sailing. It was also a favourite sheltered spot for the early settlers and their farming enterprises. Frenchman D’Urville and explorer and navigator and his followers settled this area bringing their wine growing skills with them so the area and names are distinctly French.

Although the Park is no longer farmed of course as it is preserved for the recovery of indigenous species of flora and fauna. We were up close and personal with cicadas. Back at Momorangi camp the rangers had set a quiz for children to find dead cicadas on the ground and draw them. Here we did not have to find then they were all over the path. Rob and I studied one up close on an eye level branch to see how it makes its noise but we couldn’t see anything moving. Then one landed on Rob’s hat and we laughed.

As I was writing my nots for this blog two wide backed horses were being riden along the raised bank next to us. We exchanged pleasantries then the lead horse stopped in her tracks and would not budge. Her rider explained she had seen the woman preparing breakfast on her table perched immediately ahead on the bank. The horse wanted a look at the breakfast to see if there was anything of interest. Her soft nostrils scanned the food but nothing was to her taste so she agreed reluctantly to move on.

All the way along our track were little paths that led steep down to bays with sandy beaches. We took two, one for water and chocolate and the second for lunch. We didn’t stay for long though as the sand flies were murderous.

The weather is passing through the buffer year between El Nino and La Nina which is why it is so changeable. NZ folk constantly complain how untypical the weather is. The temperature in Australia in places near the east coast is over 40’ and the sea temperature is 4’ above normal which is a considerable rise and will inevitably affect sea life. Just two days before we started the walk 400 pilot whales stranded themselves on Farewell Spit at the top of South Island. Massive efforts by over 500 volunteers, many of them children, have been made to refloat them or at least keep them wet. We will learn why soon and I wonder whether the sheer number means it is something to do with the climate.

Towards the end of the easy walk we started to imagine things like a pint of cold beer at the bar where, on our arrival the day before, we had enjoyed a vanilla ice cream blended on the spot with local blue berries. The NZ beer is very good but the price! This time £12 a pint, the most expensive yet.

Radio New Zealand told us in an interview that most of NZ’s natural water is now polluted with nitrates and extracts of urea. Intelligent NZ folk assume they need to boil for three minutes any water taken from streams and lakes. One of the rivers near Christchurch will soon be the most polluted in the world, so they say. That’s depressing when the world image of NZ is one of the last pristine wildernesses.

Vicky the Volvo has been drinking 1 ltr of oil for every 1000kms so the next day we decided it would be prudent to buy a big 5 ltr can just to make sure we had plenty. We were to be very glad we did a few days later.

On our way back to camp we stopped near the boat launch and inflated our little kayak. The sea enters a little bay protected by a spit of sand and shingle. Off we paddled taking in the surroundings as we watched the water level drop with the receding tide. It was easy to see the sand bars as the water shallowed and we headed for the greener water areas. Despite this poor Rob spent most of the return journey pulling the dinghy over the shallow water. Should have gone in the morning when the tide was full but we weren’t sure Repco would still be open in the afternoon for oil on a Sunday.

New Zealanders’ current beefs are the weather and freedom camping. A lady chatted with us as we packed up the kayak. She worked with her son, Daryl, hiring out plastic kayaks. Daryl wasn’t too worried about the weather as he was off to somewhere in Indonesia soon for a few months to collect his new bride. She complained bitterly about the freedom campers. “So you have a camp near you do you?” I asked.

“Oh no, the nearest is at Nelson, did you see them down by the marina?” Yes we had seen them, looking rather uncomfortable and lonely to be honest. “Well they’ve just been booted out of there, and a good thing too.”

“Wasn’t that because the wind blew all their council provided portaloos away? So they have a bad effect on your business?”

“No no they bring in the business for us, we do well enough out of them but I don’t see why my rates should help them.” Hmm.

Back at the camp that evening we decided to relax in the living room area, on nice armchairs, so I could catch up on sending photos to the blog. A very fat and immoveable chicken occupied the armchair to one side of me, while Rob engrossed himself in his book on the other.

The next day we were heading south to St Arnaud at the head of Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park.