We have said goodbye to the north island. We left by ferry from Wellington and sailed to the south island, where we will be staying the rest of our time here in New Zealand.
I can hardly remember the last time I traveled by ferry! During my entire childhood, back in Denmark, this was an essential part of all my holidays. My whole family lived in rural Jutland, and as almost all holidays included visits there, ferries were our only way to get there. It meant bad and burnt coffee, old buns with dry cheese and omelets with rye-bread in the side. All ridiculously overpriced! And it meant Donald Duck magazines, solitaire and card-games on repeat until we arrived in either Nyborg, Aarhus or Ebeltoft to continue our journey by car. Now I was about to sail by ferry again, and to top the whole experience, the ferry was in fact built in Denmark, back in 1983. Pure nostalgia!
First stop on the south island was Nelson. This is the main city in the northern-most region of the south island. Alexandra had been reading about a small and very cozy little hostel, The Shortbread Cottage, that could just house 13 guests, but had a very strong feeling of “home” with a fireplace and free, homemade bread, freshly made, every evening. The guidebook said that booking well in advance was strongly encouraged. We had made no booking and decided to take a chance anyway. It turned out that they had a double room for the night, the only one in the house, and we made a nice and cozy bed for Anton on the floor by using some mattresses from our campervan. The following day we decided to extend with another two nights, albeit in another room with bunk-beds. The landlord gave us the room to ourselves, at no extra charge. We enjoyed having, if not really good beds, then at least better beds than in the campervan for a while. We enjoyed having lots of other international travelers to talk to by the fire in the evening. And we enjoyed strolling through Nelson and the local farmers market, without thinking about where to turn in for the night at around 5 pm.
After three days it was time to start exploring the north-western part of the island. Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most popular holiday destinations in all New Zealand and its just about one hour by car from Nelson. We wanted to hike through the mountains and rain forests, cross the rivers and see the waterfalls up close. To get to all the beautiful scenery, we had to either hike for many hours, which is not really a good solution when traveling with a three-year old, or sail by speedboat (water taxi) into one of the magnificent, and often hidden bays in the area. There we would be dropped off at one sandy beach, and picked up at another one, some 6,5 kilometers further north, 5 hours later. The official times indicated that the hike would take about 2,5 hours. But with Anton we usually calculate a “double up” on those things. We ended up doing the hike in little over 4 hours, including several stops for drinking water, eating sandwiches and biscuits, and just standing still for a while, taking it all in. So when the water taxi arrived where we would be picked up to sail back to the camping ground, we already sat there waiting for it on the beautiful beach, with our feet in the sand. Once again Anton really proved to be an excellent hiker. He only complained a bit during the last 4-500 meters or so. He completely forgot to complain any further when he saw the turquoise water, and the pure white sand in front of him. And we did not carry him at any point during this 4 hour hike. Well done for a three-year old! We recognized his achievement with one or two sweets!
The following day we drove all the way up to the northern tip of the south island, Cape Farewell. Again we spent many hours outside in the wild nature, hiking and enjoying the deserted, windblown beaches. It was an extremely beautiful area, which we were not allowed to explore in its entirety alone. Unfortunately you have to go on a guided tour to see it all. In fact, most of the “Farewell Spit” is a “no access” area to the public. We decided to save those money for something else and did some walking in the “allowed areas” which was just fine for us.
It was about this time that Alexandra stumbled upon a place in the guidebook where we could catch our own salmon, have it smoked or grilled and then either eat it right there or take it with us in a pizzabox. This is what we call a “put & take” in Denmark.
None of us have ever previously tried fishing. But for this particular exercise no experience was required and the friendly man at the counter showed us some of the basics, before he let us in to the lake to try our luck. In the beginning we did not have any bait. He said “try it without any bait for 10 minutes. It should not be too easy, you know?” And then he smiled and said “If you haven’t catched anything by then, come and buy some bait for 2 dollars”.
As we started we could see hundreds of fat salmons in the water, slowly and lazily swimming around our hook, without even noticing it. After about 20 minutes I went back for some bait. Anton was starting to get bored and we needed some action! That helped! We had a catch in the first try with bait! Alexandra had the fishing rod by then (coincidence, of course!) and she did not miss her chance to gloat! Anton and I helped getting the poor, slippery creature up on land by using a net. Then we put it in a plastic box. This was when it was all of a sudden up to me, to actually kill the fish.
We were a bit concerned about letting Anton witness this particular part. But then again, this IS a part of life and we decided that he should learn how living animals are turned into food on the dinner table. He actually did not take any particular notice, and he even wanted to see how it was filleted and smoked. This was, however, done by the experienced staff on site. Otherwise I am certain that our catch would have been severely damaged and inedible. So, just 30 minutes after the catch, we all sat by the tables eating the delicious salmon we had just gotten on the hook 25 meters away. Anton ate with great pleasure!
In the Abel Tasman National Park we also went to some beautiful caves. It is not the first time we see such things, but the Ngarua Caves were much more spectacular than the ones we saw back in South Australia. And we were even the only ones participating on the 45 minute long, guided tour through the cave system that morning. Very impressive caves!
Here in New Zealand I have often come to think of my late father, who dreamed of becoming an astronomer in his youth. As things turned out he became something completely different, but he never lost interest in the stars, the galaxies and outer space. I recall some very heavy, thick books, on the lower shelves in the bookshelf back home, containing explanations and diagrams of far galaxies and planets. Here, in the southern hemisphere, it seems to me that the starry skies are so much brighter and clearer than in Europe, and there are so many more stars! Especially on a dark and clear night! One evening, as I stepped outside the campervan, I suddenly saw how the sky was almost lit up with sparkling stars. It was very beautiful. I often send my father friendly thoughts when I see all those stars here. He is probably sitting up there looking down at us. Because if he is anywhere right now, it has to be in the starry sky above the southern hemisphere, which is much more impressive than in the northern hemisphere.
Before we move down south, along the west coast, we have returned to Nelson for a few days. Once again we have checked into The Shortbread Cottage. Anton really feel at home here, and immediately he found his corner in the living room and watched a bit of television. There is a nice warm fire burning in the fireplace, and the long-term tenants here are currently baking in the kitchen for us all to taste. This is not bad at all...!
You can see some photo highlights from the first week here on the south island by clicking here!