After my weekend in Wellington, I took an early morning ferry across to the South Island, which drops you off in the small town of Picton. The typical way to do the South Island is in a basic loop around the outside (with a stop in the middle at Queenstown and/or Wanaka as you cross over from one side to the other), but I hadn’t decided whether I wanted to go clockwise or counterclockwise.
Since I was going to hit everything at some point, there was no practical difference, so I left it up to random choice and asked the desk clerk for the Intercity bus line to decide for me. She said counterclockwise and so I bought a ticket to Nelson.
The bus was more than half empty and I was a bit low energy, so I pulled out my brother’s iPod (he sent it over to replace my dead one), pulled up some music I recognized and decided to chill out for the couple hour bus ride. About fifteen minutes later, just outside of town, I could hear the driver making some announcement over the loudspeakers and paused my music so I could listen, figuring he was going to say something about our schedule or some construction issue on the upcoming road.
‘O no, it was nothing that mundane. He was giving us a history of the settlement of this particular area. The name and date of the original exploration (Dutch, ergo the Dutch name “New Zealand” and later the British). A little bit about the timber farmers that were the first settlers in these valleys, but “more about that later, when we get closer to Nelson. . .” I actually pulled out my ticket to make sure that I hasn’t inadvertently gotten on the wrong bus and was on some sort of guided tour.
Nope. Intercity public bus. NZ$26 ticket to Nelson. Just a regular old bus, with the unpaid for, but added, bonus of a knowledgeable tour guide/driver. I am not sure I can say this often enough – these people may be the nicest and friendliest I have ever met. By the way, this ended up not being a one time occurrence; more often than not, the bus drivers played this informative role on the buses I took.
At Nelson, I walked through the middle of town to the end of the main road, then up a hill to the nicest hostel I stayed at one the entire trip, the Golden Lodge Hostel. The hostel was the second floor of a historical mansion on top of a small hill with a great view over the town and the harbor. Inside, everything was quite plush: big living room with a big screen TV, nice rooms, expansive kitchen, and nice furniture everywhere. And an oddity for New Zealand – free wifi. I stayed there a couple days, then wandered a bit further west to Motueka, which is right next to Abel Tasman National Park, which would be an amazing place to camp in New Zealand.
Abel Tasman is the most visited park in all of New Zealand. You can do all or part of a 25 mile, three to five-day hike through the park, sleeping at huts maintained by the Department of Conservation. The park borders the ocean and has some of the nicest water views in the entire country. Unfortunately, I managed to bring some torrential rainfall with me to “the sunniest place in New Zealand,” so I didn’t partake in any of the hiking, though I wanted to originally.
My knee is a bit jacked up, after getting dinged back in Sudan, but the hiking in this park was fairly level, unlike most of the rest of the opportunities coming up, so I was a bit disappointed in my bad luck on the weather front. Instead, I took a water taxi up and down the coast, to catch some of the rain sodden views and then set off south for the long bus ride to Fox Glacier.