The 1650 kilometer trip began with a 10 hour drive from Auckland to Wellington. I was driving a relocation car from Auckland to my final destination of Queenstown, an inexpensive way to get a one-way rental car. Apparently Queenstown experiences a shortage of car parts; I wasn’t alone in this 8 seater van, as I found that I was to enjoy the company of about eight spare tires haphazardly piled in the back.
After stopping in windy Welly for the night in an unimpressive hostel, I departed early in the morning for the ferry to Picton. Rain and clouds greeted me, making me all the more grateful for making my first Cook Strait crossing a month prior on what turned out to be a faultless sunny day. For the next leg of my journey, I planned to take my time and decided to take the scenic route to Nelson. In New Zealand, scenic route is an abbreviation for a route which consists of windy and ridiculously narrow roads bringing you dangerously close to cliff edges, where one small falter will lead to immediate death, or if you are unlucky, permanent injury and discomfort. Being that I was in the middle of a very wet and thick fog, this wasn’t one of my shining moments. Nonetheless, there were certainly some notable scenic views (I mean, it is New Zealand after all) and I was able to dodge all potential threats to my well-being.
Upon reaching Nelson, population 60,000, I immediately set out on my quest to find Jen Hansen Gold & Silversmith, the birthplace of The Ring. It either ceases to exist or is top secret, because it certainly wasn’t where the map indicated it should be. I’m sure that my inept map-reading abilities had nothing to do with this. Anyway, being impatient and frustrated with both the weather and Daylight Savings (in this case, I was losing daylight, so the term itself mocked me and my frustrations), I jumped back into the van with my rubber road trip companions and headed to Motueka, the perfect place to stop for the night before hitting the Abel Tasman National Park the next day.
I prepared myself my gourmet backpacker’s specialty of powdered soup and canned chicken before collapsing into bed, where I silently cursed Mother Nature, forgetting that I shouldn’t offend her due to my desire for her cooperation the next day. Being the forgiving entity that she is, I awoke to a colorless sky which quickly succumbed to a bright blue color reflecting that of the turquoise waters. I boarded my Abel Tasman water taxi, which turns out to simply be an operation extracting more money out of tourists to see something which, on foot, would be a free attraction. Being one of New Zealand’s smallest, yet most impressive, national parks, the Abel Tasman is named after the first European explorer to set sight on New Zealand in 1642.
The taxi first took us up to Awaroa Bay and then dropped me off at Tonga Quarry, where I had a short hike to Medlands Beach, my pick-up point before returning back to port. Along the way, we passed plenty of rocks and birds and seals, a continuation of much of what I have already seen of New Zealand’s various coastlines. However, what makes this particular park special are the golden beaches which interrupt the green and blue horizons of mountain, sky, and sea. The sand is so bright and yellow, it emanated a reflection of the sun.
The overall atmosphere was quite charming, with kayakers littered along the coast, birds flittering in the distance like dust particles sparkling in the sun’s rays, and seals flopped lazily on their comfortable rocky sun loungers.
The advantage of my walk was seeing the many deposits of granite, which I have never seen outside of its natural environment of kitchen counters.
However, my ankles proved to be sand fly magnets, so I was happy that I opted for the one hour walk as opposed to the one four times as long.
Exhausted, happy, and hungry, I got back into the trusty old van to head to Westport before calling it a night. I underestimated how much time it would take to get there, and I ended up completing much of the drive on dark, lightless roads, through mountain ranges with which I was completely unfamiliar. Surprisingly, I made it without plummeting into a dark valley or river and checked in to the hostel. My fellow backpackers here seem to have missed out on certain hygienic practices in their upbringing, and I was set to room with a couple of bears and some very smelly hikers. While hanging out in the lounge with my book, I had my first encounter with earthquake-related activity. A rumbling, lasting no more than ten seconds, make the entire room shake. Everyone looked around as if we would find more information magically appear out of thin air. I have to admit that I was quite excited about this experience. I will probably be bragging about it when I am old and decrepit while my grandchildren are forced to listen to my totally fabricated and exaggerated tales. That night, while I was sleeping, I awoke to the sound of an even larger rumbling. After further inspection, not only did I realize that I was mistaken in that the loud noise had nothing to do with tectonic plate movement, but more to do with the two ogres I was forced to share living space with. The noise coming out of those nostrils was so other-worldly that it seemed not only unnatural, but unhealthy for these women to be breathing in such a manner. This uncomfortable disturbance led me to an extremely early start the next day as I set out for my drive down the “Wild West Coast” to Glacier Country.