The Cook Strait crossing had been a never to forget experience but once we’d picked up trusty hire car Dexy and the pitching and rolling sensation had abated it was time for Jonno to set us off in the right direction for our first road trip on South Island.
Queen Charlotte Drive
The description of this drive is; “it is like cruising the Marlborough Sound without a boat“. SOLD – where do we sign up? Needless to say it was this route that we decided to take from Picton to Nelson via Havelock along the edge of a number of the Sounds rather than the more common State Highway 1 to Blenheim, then State Highway 62 and finally number 6. It does take longer but, as you know, we travel a little more sedately.
We had only been on the road five minutes before we hit the first scenic lookout. It gave us fantastic views over the port of Picton and the Interislander Ferry loading up for it’s return voyage. Don’t forget to read our story of the exciting ferry crossing from Wellington as it wasn’t a normal crossing by any means – Master and Commander: Our Interislander Crossing.
The road cuts along the edge of the sounds and amazingly their is only 5 km between Queen Charlotte Sound and Pelorous Sound by road. If you were to go by boat from the shore in one Sound to the next it would be a trip of more than 100 km. It shows you how long each of the Sounds are. There are plenty more places to stop along the 40 km route but, to us, none more beautiful than Ngakuta Bay where we sunned ourselves, had a paddle and snacked before heading to a breathtaking lookout at Cullen Point. It was a 5 minute walk from the car to the scenic lookout and well worth it.
Don’t do this journey if you are heading to Picton with a deadline for a ferry. You need plenty of time to stop and soak in the countless views and negotiate the twisty road. It could be number 7 in Jonno’s top 5 drives!
Poetic Stay in Nelson
The Queen Charlotte Drive set the bench mark and although the remainder of the drive, from Havelock to Nelson, was still exhilarating and scenic it wasn’t in the same league. We were well and truly ready for a bit of down time when we arrived in Nelson at our Airbnb. A large colonial style house with views of the mountains to the front and the rear. Coffee and a natter on the deck with our hosts, June and Tim, was what we really like about Airbnb. They were originally from Salisbury but joined their daughter out here about 8 years ago. They had both worked in hospitality and catering so continued that out here running a bakery. They packed that all in a few years ago and Tim now writes and paints. He has had a booked published called To Insanity and Beyond and there was a copy of it on the bedside table. It had a touch of the Spike Milligan’s about it and is quite an acquired taste.
Over a lavish breakfast with lots of home-made bread and jams the next morning, June happened to drop in the conversation that most of her neighbours were ex pats. She then shocked us by saying that she had been at a coffee morning a few weeks ago with a neighbour and as she left commented on a picture of Che Guevara in her neighbour’s hallway. Very casually her neighbour replies, “Oh yes, he’s my brother” and left it at that. A return chat over coffee has yet to be arranged but how fascinating that conversation would be.
Or to give it the official name Moturoa/Rabbit Island. This island lies just off the north coast of South Island. It is a recreational reserve and accessed by bridge over a causeway or via ferry from Mapua. It has a long safe swimming beach and is very popular for mountain biking and cycling. We stopped off for a walk along the beach which was very sheltered. How many more glorious beaches will we come across?
We drove further along the coast to the wharf at Mapua to see the tide rushing in and lots of locals leaping off the wharf and letting the river carry them downstream before clambering out and doing it all again. There were a little cluster of retail outlets and galleries around the wharf and it had a nice feel and there is a very good market each week. On Easter Sunday the 2,000 residents are joined by over 30,000 visitors for the huge fair and market.
Our final stop along this stretch of coast was at Ruby Bay. This is a very scenic bay with views right over Tasman Bay and right on the door step of three National Parks (Abel Tasman, Mount Richmond and Kahurangi). After perching on our driftwood lunch table and chairs we continued up the coast to our overnight stop at Motueka.
Laughing Kiwis in Motueka
Our first choice of accommodation is always Airbnb but sometimes due to the location, availability and price it does not fit with our travels. Our couple of nights in Motueka was one of these times and we would be at the Laughing Kiwi Backpackers accommodation. I’m not sure if we have covered this in the past but backpackers accommodation here can include a variety of room set ups, ie not just dormitories.
We had a small double room with an en suite and would be sharing the large kitchen, dining and seating area with other guests. The kitchen was well equipped and after labelling up all our dry and chilled goods with our names and date of departure we decided to cook while the kitchen was relatively quiet. It is fascinating to see the range of things being prepared.
At one end of the scale there were minimal meals of noodles and pasta with not a lot else, then on day two we had a lot of vegetable choppers arrive. Once again we had eaten fairly early which suits us. When we had cleared away, everyone in the kitchen seemed to be armed with a knife and a chopping board. Fellow travellers chopped as if their life depended on it, or to out-do their neighbours chopping technique. Some forward planning chopping and cooking was even going on for those heading off on some of the two and three day hikes.
To relax post-chopping there was bar football, a hot tub, bikes to use, board games and even a hammock or two. It was a great place to stay, exchange travel tips and meet some interesting people. Our only comment is that everyone else seemed in a rush. We do have the luxury of time on our side but there was quite a competitive side to the comparisons of distances travelled, activities completed, who had the biggest pot of veggies and so on.
Our final morning in Motueka was spent taking a leisurely walk around the old wharf at Port Motueka and then a trip to the Sunday market with it’s mix of tie dye clothing, local produce and crafts. What’s the hurry?
20/12 – 24/12/2017