Week 46: Soaking Up the South Island: New Zealand, Part 3
After a week of jumping from one scenic and interesting town to another on New Zealand’s North Island—continually feeling like, “Wait! I want more time here!”—I was especially excited to have just one Airbnb rental on the South Island for the next six nights.
We made Nelson our home base. This coastal town on the Tasman Bay is known for having an inordinate number of both art galleries and sunny days, perfect for relaxing and exploring. I used an exploration technique I developed in St. Augustine, FL last year, when I was there for a month: don’t try to see too much of the town at once; instead, tackle just a few blocks at a time, knowing you’ll be able to go back the next day to see more.
One shop that gets a lot of attention is Jens Hansen: he’s the jeweler who designed the ring for the Lord of the Rings films. The ring was actually a handful of gold rings of different sizes: some engraved with the Elvish language, some not, some of wearable size, and another the size of a small dinner plate and three times as heavy. If you’re so inclined, you can get one for yourself and even have your own phrase engraved in Elvish. The LOTR affiliation doesn’t hold special significance for me, but I did find myself drawn immediately to a unique silver ring in a case near the entrance. It made a special souvenir for me to take home.
I particularly loved the Nelson Market we visited on our final weekend: a weekly farmer’s market on steroids, you could buy everything from produce and honey, to arts and handmade crafts, or just pig out on a wide variety of sweet and savory foods. I came away with a jar of local honey, a special pillow sham, and a sampling of treats. My worldly travel partners also introduced me to biltong, a dried, cured meat originating in Africa and similar to beef jerky. We sampled several delicious flavors and purchased a few to have on hand for our next day’s adventures.
Day 11: The Great Taste Trail
I enjoy cycling and do it more and more, but I’m a leisurely, casual rider compared to my friend, Schuyler: he regularly takes his bike when he travels internationally. It’s a great idea if you’re willing to haul that extra luggage, because I’ve found from experience that I take in more of my surroundings when I tour a new area on two wheels. The slower speed is a starting point, but escaping from the confines of an automobile’s walls makes the sensory experience exponentially better. And if you enjoy cycling, you know a rental bike will never be as nice as your own.
On a sunny and warm Friday afternoon, we found a bike rental shop for me, and Sky and I set out for a ride on the Great Taste Trail that links Nelson with several other towns and parks in the Tasman region. Along the trail, you can stop at wineries, berry farms, cheese shops, breweries, and restaurants. It’s a perfect combination: eat and drink your fill of the local cuisine, then hop on your bike and burn off some of those calories as you make your way to your next stop. We had time for just two winery visits during our ride (about 40km or so round trip), but we went back to a berry farm the next day with Sarah Lynn and our (unimpressed) little traveler to get a serving of fresh-fruit ice cream.
Day 13: Abel Tasman National Park, a Perfect Finale
On my last full day of [non-travel] adventure, we packed lunches, our biltong from the market, and gobs of sunblock and headed to Abel Tasman National Park. The smallest of New Zealand’s 13 national parks, this one is known for its golden-sand beaches, rocky outcroppings, and Coast Track, a hiking (or “tramping” as the Kiwis call it) trail that runs from north to south along the coast of the park. Hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities, so I was waiting for this day with great anticipation. (Saving it for the final day made me a little anxious that we might miss it, but we made it!)
This park remains a preserved oasis of forest, which I’ll credit in part to one particular feature: you can’t drive through it. The only ways to access the park are on foot or by boat. You can choose to hike and camp from one end to the other (plan about 4-5 days), or you can take a water taxi to one of seven beach drop-offs and make a day trip of it.
With our three-month-old traveler in tow, we chose this latter option. After seeing the full coastline from south to north from the water, we hopped off at one stop, hiked two hours south, and caught a final water taxi ride back to our starting place.
Trying to describe the beauty of this place is difficult and unnecessary when I have dozens of photos to choose from.
Day 14: Saying Goodbye (For Now)
On my final full day, Schuyler and Sarah Lynn dropped me off at the ferry in Picton, and I made my way back to Wellington for my trip home. Leaving was hard for a number of reasons. My first two-week vacation was everything I could have asked and hoped for: a vacation from work, winter, responsibility, politics, news, and social media. I got to spend fourteen days with two (now three) dear friends in a beautiful, friendly, refreshing, faraway place I’d only dreamed of visiting.
The trek to get there and home was long and tiring, but I’m ready to go back. I fully intend for this not to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s just the first of many.