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My Last Days on South Island

(Reprint from News: February 2, 2002)

January 28, 2002

 

I left the small port town of Hokitika the next morning and continued driving on winding Highway 6, slowly snaking my way up the west coast.  At Westport, I headed inland and drove along the Buller River Canyon for about an hour, then headed over to Nelson Lakes National Park where, this being a Friday afternoon, I was expecting to see huge crowds and a packed campground. 

 

I was surprised, however, to find only a handful of folks in the park and a campground that was mostly empty, so I enjoyed a pleasant night there while camping near Lake Rotoiti.  It felt good to get some use out of the folding chair, water jug and sleeping pad that I'd bought in Auckland a month earlier, now that I've toted that stuff all over New Zealand.  Nelson Lakes is a nice park something like Glacier National Park in Montana, with snowcapped mountains, pretty alpine-like lakes, and a great Visitor Center with a friendly staff. 

 

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Above left:  Driving north on the West Coast.  Ferns like these are just about everywhere in New Zealand, and some are taller than houses.

Above center:  Pancake Rocks viewpoint at Paparoa National Park.

Above right:  This is why they call them Pancake Rocks.  Neither scientists nor Aunt Jemima know how they formed.

 

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Above left:  Highway 6 on the coast... and yet more ferns.

Above right:  A tight squeeze.  Compared to the U.S., the roads in New Zealand are really narrow (though most are wider than this one) and very winding.  It can take all day just to drive 200 miles.  That's one reason New Zealand seems a lot bigger than it really is.

 

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Above left:  The weather was nice enough to camp.  This is at Nelson Lakes National Park.

Above center:  Lake Rotoiti at Nelson Lakes N.P.

Above right:  Another shot of Lake Rotoiti.  This area was covered with ice during the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago.

 

After packing up my tent the next morning, I drove up to the vibrant city of Nelson on the northern coast of the South Island, which boasts that it's the sunniest city in New Zealand.  Sure enough, it was indeed warm and sunny when I got there.  I checked into a mom-and-pop motel that afternoon, then drove a few miles to Motueka where I hoped to do some sea kayaking near Abel Tasman National Park, which apparently is one of the most spectacular National Parks in New Zealand.  Ah, but with beauty comes popularity, and unfortunately all of the kayak trips for that day were filled -- that's the price you pay for serendipity, I guess.  I consoled myself by staying up until midnight while watching the New Zealand Black Caps play (and beat) Australia in cricket. 

 

The next morning was sunny, warm and glorious, and after returning some e-mail, I drove a few hours north to Picton which, as you may recall, is the ferry terminus for the South Island.  It was good to get back here after my 33-day trip around the South Island.  I checked in, once again, to the pleasant Broadway Motel and got some takeout at Lord Thompson's Takeout, which is undoubtedly the very best fish & chips place in New Zealand (and having eaten in just about every fish & chips place in this country, I should know).  That evening, you guessed it, I watched some more Black Caps cricket on T.V.  Good thing I'm not in a rut, huh?

 

I had a few hours to kill the next morning before the ferry to Wellington arrived, so I drove down to an empty park near the Picton beach to update my website.  As I was typing away at a picnic table, a park caretaker, a friendly elderly gentleman, came by with a broom and as he swept, we started talking.  We chatted for 20 minutes as he told me about New Zealand and I told him about America, then he smiled and bid me goodbye.  That's the way it is in New Zealand -- people often come right up to you and start talking as if they've known you all your life.  

 

After a while, I packed up my laptop computer, headed over to the ferry landing, and boarded the ferry.  On this ride, I was taking the older, slower, and cheaper Inter-Islander Ferry instead of the sleek, new Lynx which I had taken on my southbound crossing on Christmas Day (see News: January 1, 2002).  The Inter-Islander is a bit rusty and, at 20 years old, is definitely showing its age but it has a lot more charm and personality than the Lynx.  I decided that I preferred old, slow and cheap -- maybe that's because I'm also old, slow, and cheap.  As I lounged on the sun deck while watching the scenery pass by at 20 knots, I said goodbye to beautiful South Island.

 

During my 33 days on the South Island, I saw just about every corner of the island and visited every sizable town -- and a lot of small ones.  Overall, my experience there was pretty positive.  Yeah, it did rain a lot and it was a lot more crowded than I imagined it would be.  In fact, it was more crowded than just about anywhere I've been in the U.S. during the summer.  But heck, it's a beautiful place, the scenic variety boggled my mind, and the people were exceptionally friendly.  I'll definitely come back to the South Island some day -- just not in December or January.

 

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Above left:  Since my last name is Leu, I got a kick out of this "superloo" in Nelson.

Above center:  Sunbathers at Pelorus Bridge.

Above right:  Check out the mussels on the roof.

 

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Above left:  Kenepuru Sound on the northern tip of the South Island.

Above center:   Heading north on a beautiful, warm afternoon.

Above right:  After traveling around the South Island for a month, I returned to the pleasant town of Picton where I'd catch a ferry the next morning for the North Island.

 

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Above left:  One of the two Interislander ferries coming into Picton.

Above center:  The first stop in Picton: fish and chips.  This little place serves the best fish and chips in New Zealand.

Above right:  "Three pieces of flake and one scoop, please."

 

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Above left:  The next morning, waiting for the ferry to take me back to the North Island.

Above center:  Leaving Picton and the South Island, heading north.

Above right:  Heading out into Queen Charlotte Sound.

 

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Above left:  On the Interislander Ferry during the 3-hour ride to Wellington.

Above center:  Saying goodbye to the beautiful South Island.

Above right:  And saying hello once again to Wellington, on the North Island.

 

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