We’ve spent a lot of time in the van the past few days – seven hours to Picton one day then four hours on the ferry and four hours driving the next. This morning we just wanted not to be in the car. So we got up and drove three hours. Haha.
But we ended up in the beautiful town of Napier on the Pacific Ocean side of the North Island. Gorgeous little spot.
Normally we aren’t really attracted to cities. But this one is cool. Apparently in 1931 Napier was leveled by a devastating earthquake. When the townspeople rebuilt, the purposefully rebuilt the town in an Art Deco style. Today the draw to the town is this unique architectural style.
We skipped the historic architecture tour and instead opted for a self guided walk up to the beautiful residential area high above the city overlooking the ocean. The town has a similar feeling to San Fransisco, but also to Seattle’s Alki Beach or Queen Ann Hill.
We stumbled onto a lovely botanical gardens, a historic cemetery and a vintage girls high school – not to mention all the lovely houses. We walked back along the beach and enjoyed watching the locals out soaking up what is likely one of the final summer days here.
Weather looks good for tomorrow but then the forecast calls for rain for a week. We are following the forecast closely as we have options of what order we see things on the North Island, and some are more weather dependent than others.
So our North Island adventure is really just beginning. And what a beautiful place. I’m so glad we stopped to check out Napier.
We leave the amazing South Island of New Zealand today after twenty-one glorious days. We have been truly enchanted by what we have seen and done so far in this beautiful island nation. And the best news is we still have more than three more weeks to explore north.
We have been prepared all along to have bad weather in this notoriously wet country. But so far we really have only had a handful of days with rain and none of those days did it rain that much. The forecast for the weeks ahead looks a bit wet, as we really begin to get into the New Zealand fall now. But even in the rain we love it here.
We have met great people and enjoyed spectacular scenery. And as we spend more time we learn more interesting things –
Road Construction – it’s pretty constant. The roads are narrow with lots of very old bridges. There are no “freeways” and the “motorways” are only near the larger cities. Otherwise it’s two lane and sometimes even two is not exactly quit it. On the South Island a major north south road was damaged so extensively in the 2011 earthquake (that also greatly damaged the city of Christchurch) that there is no estimate as to when it will reopen. In the meantime all traffic is diverted to the other north south road which is currently undergoing extensive expansion to try and handle the load. You just can’t be in a hurry.
Costs – in an earlier blog I mentioned the high-costs of things in this country. But now that we have been here for awhile I am noticing some things. For instance we have never paid a fee yet to enter any of New Zealand’s abundant national parks. We have never paid for a toilet or to fill our water tank. We have stayed in several free campgrounds. Those costs alone in the USA would really add up. There is no sales tax and that is definitely a savings over the 9% plus in the county I live in. And while many items in the grocery store are more expensive particularly produce, I’m now seeing that other things are ridiculously cheap. Today I bought a bottle of ginger spice that at home would cost me $4-5. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a large jar of dill pickles. At home it would have been $3-4. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a bottle of olive oil that at home would have cost $10. Here I paid $7. And remember a NZ dollar equals 70 cents in US dollars.
So when all is said and done. It’s really not that expensive after all.
Green – I thought when I visited Ireland last summer that I would never be anywhere again that was so green. Sorry Ireland. New Zealand has you beat. A veritable green world pours forth from forests and meadows, moss and ferns, miles and miles of vineyards and even the blue-green of the water.
Forestry – and speaking of green, the hills are alive with evergreen and deciduous trees. There is an obvious forestry industry including the clear cutting practice used in my own home state of Washington. But there is also what appears to be a very successful reforestation program and new growth and mid growth are obvious next to old”er” growth.
The South Island, home to a pretty impressive list of Hollywood film locations, is rugged and mystical and crystal clear from sea to mountain top. I’m told the North Island is different, but different is always good and I am looking forward to learning first hand what the differences are.
So halfway through Chapter Six it’s Northbound in New Zealand! Fabulous!
I know next to nothing about sheep farming. As a matter of fact everything I know I learned in one afternoon on a sheep farm in southern New Zealand.
When we hiked the Abel Tasman Trail two weeks ago we met three couples – two from New Zealand and one from the states. We were all about the same age. One of the couples graciously invited us to stop into their sheep farm when we were in the area. So we did.
Isn’t that amazing? We were nearly strangers and yet they invited us to their home.
Their home is a 700 acre sheep farm that has been in their family for 140 years. During that time much has changed on the farm and in the industry but this farm and this family have endured. Endured the depression, world wars, falling and rising wool prices, weather and more. In 1874 New Zealand was in its infancy. Still today the area around the farm is remote. The town of Nightcaps only has 180 residents. Teeny.
The farm has about 2500 sheep and today the majority of their income comes from lambs rather than wool. Wool is currently not as profitable as it once was. But lamb is.
A lamb is a sheep that has not yet gotten their adult teeth. They usually go to slaughter between six and nine months. The lambs are culled early in their lives and divided. The ones to slaughter (all the boys and some of the girls) are kept together and fed and prepared for this destiny. The others are kept for breeding and wool. They spend their days rotating through the paddocks grazing on the grass in the winter they also eat a turnip like plant called a “swede”.
Sheep that are not specifically bred for wool produce a rougher texture of wool – mostly sold and used for wool carpets.
Just a few years ago New Zealand had twenty sheep to every human being. Today it is seven to one. Many sheep farmers have switched to breeding deer for venison (exported to Germany) or dairy cows (dry milk exported to India). Most of today’s New Zealand lamb is exported to China and Great Britain.
I enjoyed my crash course on New Zealand sheep farm and my afternoon tooling around the farm. What a special opportunity to learn first hand from these generous Kiwis.
I expected living in the camper van (caravan) to be similar to our six weeks living in beautiful pink Betty last fall as we traveled across the United States. It does have some similarities, but to be honest, I think I enjoyed Betty more. The most important reason is we could set up Betty at a campsite and then take the car and go off to tour or do whatever we needed to do. With the van, the entire campsite moves with you no matter if you need to run to the store or travel 500 miles. But we are getting used to that. I slept really poorly the first few nights but I’m getting used to the van bed now and we made some adjustments to the cushions that has helped. Arne finds he sleeps much better in the van than he ever did in Betty – but I loved the custom foam mattress we had made for Betty. Wish I had that now.
The kitchen in the van is small, a bit smaller than the kitchen I had to work with in Betty, but I do prefer the propane stove in the van over the electric stove we had in Betty. And the van has a working sink which Betty did not. I make a point to cook good, healthy colorful meals, no matter how small the kitchen. I believe just because we are essentially “camping” we don’t have to eat bland or instant food. Since I love to cook and try creative things its just as fun to try that in a tiny kitchen. We have had everything from Chicken Tacos to Swedish Meatballs. Our system is Arne sits at the table with the cutting board. I hand him things to chop while I stand at the stove and cook. It works and its fun too.
But alas the van does not have a toilet, just a port-a-potty.
New Zealand has an amazing caravan culture and caravan tourism is huge business. No matter where you drive in New Zealand hundreds of caravans and campers are driving with you – as are rental cars and tour busses. Even in March which is past the peak season and well into Fall.
Along with the caravan culture comes fabulous services provided by the government including restroom facilities frequently along any and all roads as well as FREE campsites through out the country. Some of these sites have services but most don’t. We spent our first two nights in free sites. The first one had no services (no bathroom or running water) but the spectacular view made it worth it. The second night had sanikans only, and not as nice of a view, but just down the road was a visitor center where we headed first thing in the morning for coffee and a “flush”.
We spent the next three nights in a beautiful campground in Milford Sound that we paid for, about $25 US. It was very pretty, had power and water and we had access to bathrooms, showers, laundry, restaurant and bar. But no wifi or cell service in this very remote area.
But the van doesn’t have heat and the nights have been pretty darn cold – dropping into the thirty’s one night in Milford. We sleep in warm clothes and wool socks and huddle under a warm comforter. In Mount Cook I pulled out my fleece hat for the first time in our four months of travel – and in Milford I pulled out my gloves. I’ve now used every item in my suitcase. It should warm up when we head North.
We are now as far south as we plan to go. This photo shows what territory on the South Island we have covered so far (both in the car and in the caravan) and now it’s time to do an about-face and begin the drive north along New Zealand’s South Island’s West Coast.
We have been offline and out of cell range for the past four days as we toured the incredible South Island area known as Milford Sound. It definitely is out in the Wop-Wop! No technology distractions to take attention away from the scenery – which takes your breath away. No technology distractions keeps us mindful of our surroundings. I’ve never seen anything quit like it, although it is reminiscent of fjords we have enjoyed in Chili, Alaska, and Norway. But I think more beautiful than any of those. And the road to get here had some frightening yet exquisite moments – reminding us of driving in the Swiss Alps or the Road to Hanna. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joke as we wander about the world how often we start a sentence with “this reminds me of…”.
We spent two glorious days in the Aoraki Mount Cook area, hiking and exclaiming around every corner how stunningly beautiful it was. We couldn’t imagine anything prettier. Then we drove south to Milford and “Wow”. Milford is actually not a “Sound” it is a glacially carved fjord (sound is created by a river fjord by a glacier) and is part of New Zealand’s largest National Park – Fjordland National Park.
In some ways the fjords are comparable to other astounding world sites we have seen and yet also other-worldly. So many similarities and yet so magnificently unique as well. Glaciers on the mountain tops and it feels you could just reach out and touch them. The sun glinting off the snow and the waterfalls that tumble hundreds of feet into the water – everywhere you look. Moss covered forests with unusual looking ferns – I keep imagining Bilbo Baggins with his giant feet will come trodding down path. This is the place we were fully prepared to experience soaking rain. And yet, the sun has shown her magnificent face each day and blessed us by illuminating the spectacular mountains falling straight into the sea (or more accurately jutting straight out of the sea), the greenest greens of mossy forests and the brightest skies of azure blue, and the clearest water where the fish look up at you and give you a wink.
Milford Sound. Magical. Magnificent. Mindful. My Fab Fifties Life.
We have been in New Zealand 12 days already. Several words come to mind to describe this country in my early impressions;
CHEERFUL – the people here! Wow! They are all so happy and nice. Something in the water? Or maybe they realize how good they’ve got it in this beautiful country.
PATRIOTIC – everyone we talk to loves their
country and wants to tell you all the things you shouldn’t miss while you are here. They actually seem to like tourists.
COURTEOUS – the roads in New Zealand aren’t freeways. And they do drive fast and on the left. But everyone is so courteous. They don’t use their horn, they allow others to pass when it’s safe. Also everywhere there are these one lane bridges. Everyone waits their turn. And it works. It just
Blues and greens
FUNNY – New Zealanders love to give things nicknames and it’s fun to listen to them talk. Of course they call themselves Kiwis; their flip flops are jandles; sunglasses are sunnies; breakfast is brekkie. Clothes are togs, the corner market is the dairy, caravan is a camper and wop-wop is out in the boonies. Ta means thanks, stoked is excited and choka means overflowing. And the one I like the best is “tiki-tour” that’s what we are on – a tour without any real destination.
Interesting finds while tramping
OUTDOORSY – Trekking (or tramping as it is also called) is a national pastime and everyone young and old is out tramping about on the trails everywhere we go. Being on the water is also a national pastime (this is an island after all) and people are on the beach, in the water and on the
water in kayaks, paddle boards, dinghies, sailboats, ski boats, water taxis, cruisers, yachts, ferries and cruise ships. Boats are everywhere.
CLEAN – the water is the clearest and cleanest I have seen anywhere in the entire world. There is not a speck of litter ANYWHERE! The beaches are pristine as are the woods and trails and roads. And everywhere there are clean and efficient FREE public FLUSH toilets WITH TOILET PAPER!!!!
GORGEOUS – we have spent most of our time so far enjoying the stunning scenery of the South Island and have been blessed with sunshine the past seven days. As we begin to journey farther south tomorrow I’m anticipating cooler and wetter weather. But even with the rain comes more waterfalls and beautiful rivers.
COLOR – the multiple hues of green are amazing.
Who knew there could be so many shades of green. And the turquoise of the water is such a surprise.
EXPENSIVE – alas it’s not perfect. New Zealand is expensive. Gas is around $5.50 US per gallon. Groceries are very expensive, but not as expensive as eating out. Our Airbnb’s have been reasonable, but tomorrow we pick up our camper van. It will average about $100 a day (plus gas – yikes!).
So starting tomorrow we are off in our caravan, wearing our sunnies and jandles, headed to the wop-wop on our tiki-tour. And we’re stoked!
I’m finding one of the most enjoyable parts of our grand adventure is the feeling of accomplishment in both physical endurance as well as in logistical planning. Our just-completed three-day hike on the Abel Tasman Track in the most northerly section of New Zealand’s South Island ticked both those boxes.
The view and the water color was spectacular
New Zealand was high on the destination list as we began our world tour planning three years ago. Hiking the Abel Tasman Track became part of the discussion about a year ago. So
New Zealand’s famous silver fern. Silver on the bottom.
early on day one of our hike we stopped and just breathed it all in. Look where we are! We aren’t just talking about it, we are doing it! It’s such a remarkable, joyful, invigorating and even spiritual feeling. Accomplishing goals is my drug of choice.
Parts of the trail was through lush green jungle-like forests
Our journey was made especially lovely through the help of the Abel Tasman Guides out of Nelson, New Zealand. We knew we did not want to have a guide
So many birds we have never seen before!
lead us on our hike, but we also knew the logistical needs of sleeping and eating on the trek were going to be a challenge. We are not traveling with camping gear and so that is where the Abel Tasman Guides come to the rescue.
We were picked up at our Nelson hotel and transported to Marahau where we parted with our largest pack and kept just a daypack. Our large pack would be transported ahead for us. We then boarded the Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi for the ride to the beginning of our hike.
It was cloudy and drizzly and the sea was quit rough as the boat not only brought us to our destination
Our journey begins
safely, but included several side tours into inlets and bays with our skipper describing the history, geology and flora
Split Apple Rock as seen from the Abel Tasman Water Taxi
and fauna of the area. We reached our destination of Totaranui after about two hours. Here is where our
hike would begin. And by the grace of the Maori – the sun came out!
The first day was only about 6 miles and it provided us some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen
At the estuary
in my life. We had been advised to take our time, because we needed to cross an estuary at low tide, which wasn’t until 4:00pm.
We arrived at the estuary just before 4:00 and the
A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.
unusually high tide combined with recent flooding from previous days had the water running much higher than usual. We
watched other hikers ford the stream with water up to their chest and waist. We waited about thirty minutes and then decided to give it a go. I didn’t mind getting my shorts wet because I had another pair but I really wanted to keep my shirt dry so I decided to wade across in my bra and shorts. It makes for a good story and the reality is we only got wet up to our upper thighs.
Day one was finished as we arrived at the Awaroa Glamping site. Owner Mike greeted us with beer, wine and a smile. We were his only guests that night and he made us a delicious dinner of edamame, coleslaw and three kinds of pizza in his outdoor pizza oven. We had hot showers and then slept in a tent with a double bed inside. I slept like a rock.
Day two Mike made us breakfast before escorting us back to the trail where we said our farewells and began our trek. This was our longest day and the weather made life grand. Sunshine and blue skies prevailed as we tramped along admiring the interesting plants and birds and spectacular
Tree feens look like palm trees but are actually ferns.
turquoise water. When we arrived at the next tidal crossing the water was again very high. But here we had the option of adding an hour to our day by
Inside a dead tree fern
going around and over a headland to avoid wading. We opted to go around. Our total distance on day two was 17 miles.
Glamping tonight was at Anchorage where huge multi-
Glamping night two
room tents were set up for us as well as several other trekkers. Dinner tonight was enjoyed with several other couples; a young American couple from California, a young French couple on their honeymoon, a “seasoned” fabulous American couple(just like us!) from Durango,
Salmon dinner at Anchorage.
Colorado traveling with their friends, two “seasoned” fabulous New Zealand couples. We all hit it off
Dinner together night two
and dined on salmon, salad, potatoes and chocolate brownies, prepared by Chris and the Abel Tasman Guide service.
Day three allowed us to get a bit later start after breakfast as we headed out for a ten-mile final trek. We once again ogled the views, never seeming to tire of it. We ate our lunch and napped for an hour on the golden sand beach at
A bit of a rest.
Apple Tree Bay before arriving at our final destination back at Marahau. Here we joined our new friends for celebratory beers before the two-hour bus ride back to Nelson.
The end of the journey
We could not have enjoyed it any more than we did- such a blessing to be here and to accomplish a 32 mile trek and come out smiling on the other end.
And our time in New Zealand has barely just begun! We have more than five weeks to go!
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