Heaphy, Kaiteriteri, Nelson, Picton, Blenheim

After a hilarious & exploratory day-long road trip with Sean back to Christchurch last week, Rich & I packed up and headed off for about two weeks of travel.  First adventure was the Heaphy track, which is a beautiful 78-82 km trek (depending on who you ask) up the north-west coast of the south island and inland a bit through the grasslands & forests.

We drove across the southern alps, passing heaps of the little ski fields & excellent climbing spots along the way to the west coast– gorgeous.

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Stopped near Greymouth at Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks), which were just freaking cool:

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We stayed the night before beginning the trek in Karamea, not realizing that there was quite a bit to see and do in the area (consequently, much of that is now on my return list of things to do).  Apparently, one of the largest natural arches in the world exists a short way out of the town– and the photos were quite impressive, but slightly torturous as we never actually saw it. Fail. Anyway, the Heaphy track more than made up for it.

We did the trek in four days, in opposite order of the majority of people that hike it (who likes being conventional, anyway?).  Absolutely stunning in a totally different way than the Milford.  Started out along the beach for several hours, which is great minus the sandflies (which swarm at you like mosquitos & look like blackflies). Yeesh. We were forecasted for heaps of rain, but only got one & a half actual days of rain while we were hiking…. the second day was our shortest & rained on us a fair amount, but we made it to the hut just as the worst part hit– horizontal rain with angry-sounding winds. Kinda felt bad for the rest of the trampers who hadn’t made it in yet. The vegetation & climate along the trail varied pretty greatly; beach-side to tropical viney rain-forest to lush mountains to grasslands to mossy wooded glen to alpine & back down to lush forest… pretty sweet.  After finally figuring out my foot situation (I’ve determined that my last two toes require wrapping to avoid blisters, in case you were wondering) 😉 the Heaphy tramp was much better in that regard.

Because we were unable to book the huts along the track as the track was most often hiked, the first day we ended up trekking 24 km (15 mi) to get to the 2nd hut.  It seemed slightly more daunting than it turned out to be… especially as we left just in time to make it for high tide at one of the path crossings. Whoops. Actually, it wasn’t even bad at all… just crossed between the waves 😉

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Things we should have packed:  Beer. Or wine. Binoculars. Better naan (I bought the cheap stuff… no bueno) or any other type of bread. Sauce packets of any kind (canned chicken is pretty bland). Scrabble. Cards. Something to amuse ourselves while it was crazy-pouring rain outside from 3pm onward. (We did manage to produce a clever piece of poetry our last evening of the trek– to be posted later) 😉

Things I learned along the way: How to amuse myself with nothing to do. Watch where I’m going. The coast is beautiful, but not so much after you smack face-first into a tree branch while glancing sideways. Sandflies are evil and nothing repels them.. or even thwarts their efforts to bite you.  Do not attempt to dry long underwear on top of the fireplace; it melts into a God-awful smelly mess with fumes will probably give you and everyone else lung cancer.  Make sure any items you do not wish to be relocated overnight by a Weka or Kea is out of beak’s reach (mischievous little birds they are). Dry-bags are a life-saver. So is instant-coffee. Earplugs are essential when sleeping 12-deep in a sardine-style bunk (Rich was gifted a pair by a sympathetic fellow camper who was traveling with snoring chorus). My sleeping bag is still one of my most-prized possessions.  Beware of looney old men who are constantly searching for things lost, yet managing to find everyone else’s items in the hunt (hang on to your headlamp).  Walking the track backwards (not literally) & at a relatively brisk pace has its perks; arriving early at the huts ensures first pick of bunks, best spots on the clothes-line, having the place to yourself for a few peaceful hours.

Heaphy hut

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Also, I will be in trouble with Rich if I do not mention the wooded glen we stumbled upon; it was like walking right into LOTR or some type of enchanted mossy forest with caves, waterfalls, & streams. It was only for a short stretch, and so random that I almost questioned whether or not it was real.

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As with most multi-day excursions, the last few kms–or miles– are a bit lengthy in the anticipation of getting back to the things you love and missed (like… a real cup of coffee, a shower, any sort of fresh fruit or veggie, etc).  After making it back to the car, we and a few determined sandflies made our way back out to the Tasman coast.  We stopped at the Mussel Inn Brewery for a post-hike microbrew and a long-awaited chicken camembert pie for Rich (um, amazing, for anyone who hasn’t tried a savory pie– I was skeptical until then. YUM.)  We had a lovely hostess who, upon my inquiry about the nature of one of the tap beers, responded bluntly: “Brown.”  Right… helpful.  Great beer, though.

We stopped through Te Waikoropupu Springs, which is known to have some of the purest water in the world… second only to sub-glacial waters in the antarctic.  Apparently, the volume of water produced by the spring is enough to supply the entire city of Boston with its freshwater needs.  Impressive.

Salmon, spinach, caper, & goat cheese pizza and Stoke Amber beer (a Nelson brewery) in Takaka…. then off to Kaiteriteri, a charming little seaside town at the base of the Abel Tasman NP.

A bit north of Kaiteriteri

A bit north of Kaiteriteri

It’s a town that clearly thrives in the waves of summer tourists, and shuts down for the most part for the fall & winter seasons. Kind of nice having the town to ourselves… we ended up spending three days there running around along the Abel Tasman track, in the national park, and taking the water taxi up the coast.

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Drove through a fair amount of vineyards & orchards on way to Nelson… most were closed for the season, but I did manage to make a couple stops for fresh figs & a bag of apples, pears, & nashi (a pear/apple hybrid). They just have a little honesty box next to the fridge or fruit stand where you drop the money into– pretty convenient set-up.

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Made our way along the coast to Nelson, where we visited the jewelry shop owned by Jens Hansen, who made the rings for the LOTR movies.  Also had some great craft brews– Stoke and Sprig & Fern.

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Off to Blenheim, which is centered in one of the main vineyard & winery regions in the South Island (apart from central Otago).  Rich & I rented a tandem bike for a full day of winery tours– and got really lucky with the weather as it was forecasted for rain through the weekend, but we only saw it on the days before and after our tour.

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Lunch at Georges Michel Winery

It was also nice having the region to ourselves; peak-season ends in March/April, so not all of the wineries were open, but enough to fill our day with good stops. And finished off with a visit to the Makana Chocolate Factory– yayyya, truffles! Oh, and… I may or may not have been taking selfies off the back of the bike… 😉 Still peddling, though!

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The next morning, we hit two more wineries before heading back down the east coast to Christchurch. Found a couple of seal colonies– one randomly off the roadside & another one in Kaikoura (known for its consistent whale sightings).  Got some pretty solid seal pics.

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“Pretend we’re friends for the photo, please”

Back in Christchurch for a low-key rainy day & then we leave in the morning for Auckland…