The next stage of our journey takes us to the South Island. We leave Wellington by ferry, dumping the car, and three and half hours later are in Picton where we collect another. Like everything so far in New Zealand it’s all gone like clockwork, on time, efficiently and with a smile.
View over Blenheim
Guess who this is aimed at?
This part of our trip will take us to Blenheim in Marlborough country, then to the Abel Tasman National Park, from there to Franz Joseph glacier via gold rush town Hokitika. After we leave Blenheim the countryside changes dramatically from north to south; much of the roads are winding, narrow with single-lane bridges, cutting through pine-clad hills, some with great gashes in them where the wood is being harvested, hideous, and snow covered mountains in the distance. The roads are slow and we amuse ourselves by streaming Radio 4 iPlayer and listening to favourites such as the Archers Omnibus and the daily serials. Wherever we are, the scenery is breathtaking.
A view along the West Coast road
In Blenheim we are lucky again in our choice of B&B. Botanica is in an Art Deco house and our quarters are self-contained in the gorgeous garden. The owner, Clare, is a keen fruit and veg grower (I’m dead jealous of her veg beds) as well as a beekeeper. When we leave she gives us a pot of her own honey.
our little studio
‘Bloody marvellous’ hydrangea
The main house at Botanica
In every place from now on we are determined to do at least one good walk a day: here we go up behind the town for 4.5 km ridge walk with some up and down, and are rewarded with skylarks and yellowhammers as well as views across the valleys over the vineyards. The next morning Ross is determined to find the famed local spoonbills which involves a lagoon drive and a scramble over the fence – but success!
Supercilious black swan
Yellowhammer and Spoonbill
In pursuit of the spoonbill
Roos overlooking Blenheim form the Wither Hills walk
Of course this area is all about wine, and we do our fair share of tasting and eating. Our favourite vineyard restaurant is Rock Ferry for its organic, wild beauty, healthy food and good rose; we are disappointed in the much lauded Wairau River restaurant which is too commercial and large.
Ross with the Wither Hills in the background
The top tasting accolades are shared between Hunters, where we are plied with very fine wines for an hour including a special young winemaker’s experiment, ‘Offshoot’, a fizzy sauv Blanc with the yeast still in the bottle. Rarely tasted and opened just for us and actually rather good. The other fun experience was in Te Whare Ra, where the owner, Anna Flowerday, officiates herself and so the experience is all the more personal. It is one of the oldest vineyards in the Marlborough Valley. And good! A superb Riesling (not normally a favourite) and all organic.
Jane Flowerdew at Te Whare Ra
Opening the Offshoot
Making tasting notes
A wet and misty drive takes us to Kaiteriteri, on the fringes of the Abel Tasman National Park. Once again we hit gold with our studio apartment perched high on a hillside overlooking Marahau and the park itself. The next day we board our seashuttle – a huge shallow-hulled boat with an ingenious gangplank operated by a pulley to get people on and off beaches efficiently. We decided it was better to get a boat to drop us and pick us up after our hike, expensive though it was, as we only have one full day.
The studio at Kaiteriteri
The Jolly Roger flies here!
Hammock with a view
It’s a grey day but smooth going out – choppy on return when the weather closes in – and we get the spiel as we chug around: ‘For those of you who have read all three Lord of the Rings books, I can tell you that…none of it was filmed here’; the seal colony is a disappointment (I don’t see any), but the walk along the coastal path from Tonga quarry to Medlands beach scenic, with glimpses of pretty bays, golden sands and azure seas.
IN Able Tasman national park
IN Able Tasman national park
Split Apple rock
IN Able Tasman national park
The site of an ancient Pa or Maori settlement
The sweet scent of honey pervades everywhere – I wish I knew which plant it comes from. There‘s quite a lot of up and down, and it’s busy with keen backpackers carrying the kitchen sink – mostly German. Two and half hours and 7.5 kms later we are fending of the greedy wekas as we wait for the boat, munching our sandwiches.
Meeting a local
We are sorry to leave this heavenly spot, but we need to press on as it’s quite far to Hokitika. The road is more rural here, with farms and sheep- and cow-covered fields and hillsides – some alpacas too. Orange crocosmia grows wild by the roadside – it really is pretty. The roads are busy with big logging lorries and animal transporters as well as gangs of camper vans; I can’t see the attraction of the latter as they line up in car parks each night for so-called ‘wild camping’.
View from our studio in Kaiteriteri onto the Abel Tasman national park, low tide
After a night in dull Hokitika – here as everywhere we are asked where we are from, not surprising really as only 36,000 people live on the west coast of the South Island – we continue on towards Franz Joseph via Lake Kaniere which Ross assures me is a ‘lakeside’ walk. Ha! It turns out that this, like all subsequent lakeside walks we undertake, is in a dense fern forest (pretty to be sure) and nary a lake in sight apart from at a single viewpoint, but more like an alpine track as it zig zags up and down, mostly up for 30 mins! Mrs Grumpy wins and after 45 mins we turn back.
The one view from the Kaniere ‘lakeside’ walk
We make a stop at Cape Foulwind – named by Captain Cook after battling bad weather here – and the Tauranga Bay seal colony where we have much more luck and see a whole family of 20-30 of these comic creatures, with the alpha male chasing the girls and the little pups playing in the nursery pool while mums are hunting. Then we drop in on the extremely crowded Pancake rocks and their blow holes which are extraordinary examples of NZ’s volcanic history.
We arrive at Franz Joesph at around 4.30 and the sun has finally come out! We stroll up the road to see the snowy peaks, before having sundowners. Sunset is 9.30 at this latitude.
Our funny motel
The peaks come out!
A long one-way bridge
Despite a good forecast the following day for our glacier valley walk, it is misty and dull. It’s about 6 km there and back – because the glacier has retreated 3km since 1909. This is a a superhighway, full of mostly Germans again.
If you look closely you can see the trail of ant people
The Franz Josef glacier
Selfie at the glacier
It’s such an easy walk that in the afternoon we cross over the mountain to Fox Glacier and do another lakeside walk through the trees at Lake Murchison, where there is meant to be a perfect reflection of Mount Cook, Tasman etc.
Hmmm, no can see mountains
No such luck. But it is pretty quiet – until 4.15 when the Chinese arrive in busloads: they love nothing better than a bit of snow, as we discovered in Yunnan. And they time it right: as we are having a post-walk cuppa the clouds miraculously clear and we get stunning views of the majestic peaks towering over us.
And suddenly here they are, Mt Cook on right and Mr Tasman on left
Fed up with cooking on a single ring, we splash out and have a Thai meal in Franz Joseph. Like all the tourist parts of New Zealand the majority of hospitality staff are not from here – Thai, Indian, English, American – you name it and occasionally a local. But we get a real sense of Jacinta Arden’s influence, even in these rural areas. The country is extremely eco conscious – recycling is an obsession and the roads are peppered with national Parks and walks, all beautifully marked and maintained to the highest standard. It is truly impressive. And we don’t see any overt racism – but I realise that might be hidden; there’s a lot of respect shown to Maori culture that seems to go beyond the place names, especially in the museum exhibits and nature reserve information which details traditional uses for the trees and flowers.
Tree ferns and fern forest cover
We’ve been in New Zealand four weeks already and feel we are walking the country, as well as driving it! Now on to the final sector – more mountains and fjords to come.
I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 (www.louisecattell.com) and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every day...in November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site www.healthylivingwithcancer.co with my blueprint for health and well-being.
January 17, 2020 at 3:49 pm
I loved South Island and especially Fox Glacier!
Will tell you a good story about the night we spent in a hut at the top when next I see you both!’
January 17, 2020 at 6:25 pm
I think that’s taking it a bit far! But look forward to hearing all about it! The glaciers are retreating so fast. Vx