Sunday, October 08, 2006

Abel Tasman National Park

After covering an absolute minimum distance in the previous few days we decided to get moving again. From Westport the road turns back inland, for some time following the Buller River. This is another pretty drive. The road twists and turns along with the river, hugging the side of the gorge. At times the river disappears behind the trees and in places the road passes under arches projecting from the rock walls of the gorge. All along the road the forests looked like a giant natural cloud factory, steaming white puffballs rising up to join the grey covering above. For once in New Zealand we had found a road with a minimum of scenic viewpoints so we drove on until we reached the small town of Wakefield, just outside Nelson. We had to stop and take a photo in Wakefield because of Gemma's family connections with the one in Yorkshire.

We'd been quite up on the idea of staying in Nelson. One reason was that Gemma likes the name and another was that it is reputedly a hip arts and craftsy type of place. The rain which had been following us made our minds up not to stay too long. We'd have to pass back that way anyway, so we decided to put a few more kilometres on the clock. In Motueka we stopped for the day at the Top 10 park. During a brief lull in the rain which happily coincided with tea-time we dashed into town to get fish and chips (or in Kiwi, fush and chups). Although the food turned out to be nice, I almost regretted the decision. The town scared me for some reason. It had the air of a place where the inhabitants have had their brains implanted with mind control devices. I didn't have any evidence, but the dull witted behaviour of the kid in the chip shop convinced me that something was wrong. Most likely aliens, I thought. I asked for cod and chips twice to be told by the boy, waving his finger, that, 'The fish is there and the chips are there.'

I nodded repeating, 'Cod', pause, 'and chips', pause, 'twice.'

He grinned, wrote it down and grinned again. I didn't actually see him tell the guy cooking the food. Telepathy?

In the morning I checked carefully for signs of an anal probe or other extra-terrestrial invasiveness. Fortunately there were none so we hit the road again. There had been continuous rain throughout the night and it didn't really abate in the morning. The whole day was spent dashing in and out of pockets of rain, sometimes drizzle, other times big fat droplets pounding on the windscreen. From Motueka we continued along SH60 towards Takaka, the road winding up and then back down a big hill. There were scenic lookouts along the way, but as banks of fog aren't really our idea of nice scenery we didn't stop. Takaka is a town with a reputation of being a bit of a hippy hangout. The business signs are all 'barefoot' this and 'organic' that. Gemma's eyes started dashing about at clothing and general hippy tat shops so I pulled her into The Wholemeal Café with the promise of a muffin.

The rain had lessened a bit so we thought we'd head up the coast towards the northern tip of the South Island. Just a couple of kilometres out of Takaka is Pupu Springs. Gemma wanted to stop to see if it smelled of poo poo. It didn't. What it was though is the largest freshwater spring in Australasia, and the clearest in the world. Clearly visible through the water were a variety of plants, almost as colourful and interesting as a coral reef. Up at the top of the South Island is a sand spit, Farewell Spit, which is a haven for birds. I thought we could have some lunch while seeing if we could see the spit with our binoculars. Unfortunately when we reached the road to the visitors centre it was closed. We turned round and sighed, resigned to our drive back through the rain. Instead we had lunch back at Takaka in the car park of the information centre. Travel is all glamour.

We stopped for the night at Marahau, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. Total distance from where we started, despite being in the car most of the day -around 35km. The rain continued through the night, the drumming on the roof of the van keeping me awake until 04:30 in the morning. When Gemma was having her breakfast she decided to wake me up by dropping the, quite heavy, pot of salt on my head. Actually, I'm not sure it was a concious decision on her part but it increased my grumpiness several fold. Because of the rain and the fact that I didn't drag myself out of bed in time, we abandoned our plan to do a trip into the national park. The place we were staying did, water-taxi, walk, water-taxi trips. Instead we took a short walk down the start of the Abel Tasman walking track to some lookout points and little beaches. The rain sputtered out, along with my grumpiness. The start of the track follows the coast by a kind of tidal mudflat, so there were lots of birds around. On the way back we passed lots of people starting the track proper, all with very serious packs and very serious expressions on their faces. We got back to the café just as the rain began again.

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