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A ferry through Marlborough Sounds and kayaks on Golden Bay

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 8 March 2009 | Views [1311] | Comments [2]

It was great to be back on the road after a work break in Wellington (work for Claire, “work” for me). We stuffed our gear into our bags and jumped in a taxi to the Interislander ferry terminal. The 3 hour ferry journey ( a comfortable mode of transport number 28) was calm and sunny, over the Cook Strait and then into the myriad of inlets that is the Marlborough Sound. A pod of dolphins cavorted by the ship as we approached tiny picturesque Picton, gateway to the South Island, where our cheap as chips $23 a day chariot awaited.

After a stocking up we tackled the Queen Charlotte scenic drive. Neither of us in the mood to be cooped up in the car on such a fab day we stopped at almost the first campsite we came to and had an afternoon with the gentle lapping of the sound and the quacking ducks in our ears. One duck had a bit of a limp, but was managing ok. A pair of dreadlocked Scandinavian girls hopped out of a campervan. Once they discovered the limping duck they launched into a frenzied set of activities to protect the little fellow. These ranged from asking the campsite manager to take it in (“No”, she said, “It's a wild duck, that's nature for you.”) to taking out their supply of markers and cardboard and making signs for oncoming traffic. They even stopped a few drivers passing to see if they had seen the signs. Then a one child family came along and joined forces – they brought towels and sheets which they used in a vain but hilarious attempt to capture the duck. Fabulous entertainment of an afternoon. The campsite was great, had a shop and everything and a few possums fighting woke us up in the middle of the night.

Onwards through mussel fields to Nelson, the biggest town up North for a proper shop for supplies. Past vast well tended fruit farms and vineyards to Takaka Hill, the only and very windy way in or out of Golden Bay unless you have a kayak or decent boots. We passed through the main town, Takaka, on Golden bay to head past Pohara and on to a 35km gravel track. This lead to the enormous Totaranui DOC campsite by a wilderness beach surrounded by the deep bush of Abel Tasman National Park.

The weather in the morning could not have been better for a sea kayaking trip (mode number 29) we had arranged with Golden Bay kayaks in Pohara the previous day. Our guide, Tana, a chatty Japanese girl who came for 6 weeks and was still there 3 years later met us at the beach and showed us the basics of our double kayak. I was given the great responsibility of steering the foot pedals.

The group of four kayaks set off towards and around the nearby shag inhabited islands, translated from Maori, 'Small Island' and the lovable 'Island Island'. Peter Peterson was a Dutch illegal immigrant in the area who managed to evade the authorities for years by having a little hut on one of the islands and hiding in the bush whenever they paid a visit. After some years the immigration officials called it quits and gave him leave to remain. Peter duly spent the evening in the local on the mainland and, pissed as a fart, swam home as usual. He was never seen again.

The group paddled across Wainui Bay, the site where Abel Tasman the dutchman, was the first European to drop anchor in New Zealand as it became known. He misread the warlike local Maoris' chants as greetings. He left pretty quickly after having his greeting party slaughtered. After seeing large starfish, a box ray and a seal who jumped out to suss us out when the steering was on the blink, we pulled into a desterted beach, complete with its own island for a cup of coffee, a bickey and for myself and a middle aged Aucklander, a quick dip. Sea kayaking is an amazingly peaceful experience and I would urge anyone to do it in Golden Bay.

Home made sandwiches on the beach was followed by availing of the free wireless in Takaka Library. A few minutes north are Te Waikoropupu Springs which thankfully the locals shorten to Pupu springs. We didn't really know what to expect of NZ's largest springs but we were pleasantly surprised by a very good walk through the 4 stages of forest growth from post fire  trauma through to mature, all in about 15 minutes. They call the water the clearest in the world and I have no reason to disagree – at a one part you can see the sands “dancing” where the fresh waters pump from the bedrock.

It was still early when we made for the campsite so we decided to take a trek up to see Rawhiti caves, a limestone cave system mentioned in the Rough Guide. It took about an hour to get up, most of which was steep scrambling up the side of a valley. What welcomed us at the top was a large cavern with a myriad of stalagmites, stalactites and other bizarre formations, handsomely reflecting the late afternoon rays. We were quite tired by the time we came back. Someone, I suspect the camp manager had donated a few logs to the little collection of kindling I gathered during the day. Claire very happy to be back in campfire territory. Our cheap 2 season tent and sleeping bags weren't quite as effective as we moved further away from the equator.

It was time to move somewhere else – on the way (to be fair destination unknown) Cathedral Grove distracted briefly – a moist rocky-jungly place ending in a claustrophobic look-out reached through a crevice in the hills. We picked up some veggies up a country lane, leaving the money in an honesty box and picked up some fabulous salami after a sample from a lovely old English gent at Golden Salami. Up to the 37km long Farewell Spit, its base the most northerly point on the South Island. It looks a bit like a Kiwi as you view it on a map. The weather had started to come in and the walk up and around the spit was grey, black swans and other wetland birds abounding. We carried on to Wharariki Beach but the rain descended on us as we pulled into the car park. It was miserable – I reheat last night's chili con carne on the stove under an umbrella and we decided to give Wharariki a miss.

It was chucking it down more and more each campsite we passed on the way back – we looked in hard at one in Collingwood – a tiny hamlet ludicrously proposed to be capital during the gold rush – and eventually decided to avoid the whole wet tent situation by staying in a hostel – Kiwiana, in Takaka. There's no point being miserable and cold in a tent if you don't have to. It was a friendly place with pool and table tennis and some infuriatingly difficult wooden puzzles in the garage. The rain was still in vogue so we spent the next day chilling in the hostel but did manage to pay a visit to the local museum filled with all sorts of randomness including large collections of tobacco containers, teapots and large carnivorous snails.

For dinner we visited the place almost everyone told us to visit – the Mussel Inn, the perfect little country brewery/pub with great fresh food, a chess set and lots of characters. A chap called Dave who, for a living, panned for gold in the hills and made sleep outs (like adding a spare room to your house) befriended us. He told us about the exodus of prominent people to Golden Bay during the fears about Y2K in 1999. He pointed out a Rockefeller and a Carter who had holed up here to weather the storm and on seeing the lack of ill winds evidently decided to stay. All seemed happy with their lot. As we left Dave recommended a backpackers down the road. Although we had intended to leave Golden bay the previous day, its charms had clearly enticed us to one more night...

The weather had started to clear up a lot so we gave Wharariki Beach another go in the morning, and were so glad we did the 50 km journey again. The access route takes you through farmland to reach some pristine dunes overlooking a wind-and-sea swept landscape of off shore pillars and caverns, now accessible in the low tide. The tide leaves shallow pools in the rocks where baby fur seals are left in nursery, gamboling about, splashing and posing for the ever present groups of gringos. Very cute, although my favourite was the mother returning to see a tourist splashing the cubs with sand (???), she chased away as you might expect to happen to Benny Hill. Spectacular beach – but make sure to go at low tide.

With some time to kill we took the turn inland at Collingwood and drove up to Bainham, home of Langford's ancient local store. The heavily pregnant and very tall shopkeeper rewarded us for buying some jellies with a hint to follow the road up to Salisbury Swing Bridge. Which we did. It's a bridge which goes to pretty much nowehere. We came back past the fairly unimpresive Devils Boots, limestone formations that look a bit like an upsidedown pair of boots if you squint..

We stayed at Hinterland as Dave had recommended us. It was only when we got there did we understand his description: “grapes in the ceiling”. The owner, Bill, rented out his barn when he didn't need WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms, who work for room and sometimes board). He had a lifestyle plot, which basically means a non-commercial farm. The barn had, somehow, grapevines tangled around the roof slats and the garden was filled with apple and pear trees. Bill told us to fill as many bags as we wanted and let us about our business.

As the Mussell Inn had a band on that night and was within walking distance we decided to go back for dinner again. Ben the Hoose, a Scottish fold band played although the 2 Wellingtonians and Dave, who we met again, were more entertaining. Somehow the music seemed a bit sad, and it was as though all the people who would have been up for raising the roof were outside at the bonfire. As we left ,the bonfire people, clad in typical hippy gear were just starting to get going, swinging around the flaming chains and laughing loud in the fire dappled shadows.  A well spoken fellow from Stewart Island, NZ's most southerly point gave us a ride back in his Ute.

After breakfast we picked some grapes literally from the ceiling and pears and apples from the orchard garden. Bill asked us if we wanted to stay again. We did, but we were already glad to have spent 5 days in Golden Bay – 3 more than intended, but it would be a shame to miss out on other parts of the South Island, so we packed up and moved on.  Golden Bay is a little slice of a Kiwi life far removed from many of the trappings of modernity, reminding a little of El Bolson, but a better heeled and less bohemian version.

Tags: camping, ferry, fruit, kayak, seal, springs



Ben the Hoose sad?! In what way? I caught them at Hamilton Gardens Festival and they were anything but sad! It's probably not the kind of music suited to your typical hippy though :)

  Neil P. Apr 27, 2009 10:01 AM


more melancholic than sad ... probably more due to the middle aged crowd of holidaymakers than the music. I'm sure at a festie they'd be great craic!

  Eoghancito Apr 28, 2009 6:23 PM

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