As a child I was taught the tale of the Maori demigod Maui who, while standing in his canoe - Te Waka a Maui - caught a great fish - the North Island, Te Ika a Maui.
To me, the South Island has always been remote and somewhati inaccesible. In 2008 we finally went there in my cousin's camper van. We had a glorious time.
This is the beginning of our South Island Journey.
To see the North Island part of our journey, see Te Ika a Maui.
Nelson and Golden Bay are popular in Summer, and flooded with people from Christchurch during the school holidays that last all the way through January. Lots of sunshine - the best climate in NZ - pretty beaches and forests, vineyards, good food - who could ask for more? I don't know why more people don't live there, but fortunately, they don't. Of course, to get much further north than Nelson you do have to wend your way over the winding roads of the impressive Takaka Hill, but the road is fine. We could be persuaded (easily) to return here for a longer vacation, preferrably in February, just after the pressure on campgrounds abates as the kids go back to school.
We came by ferry to Picton, down the long arm of Queen Charlotte Sound, and took the windiing coast road as far as Pelorus Bridge on a beautiful summer day. We camped with a sense of relief - finally we actually were in the South Island.. First time in the South Island for Rose, and only the second time for me. Forty five years after my first visit - I must go more often.
Then we went on to the remarkable Museum of Wearable Art and companion Motor Museum in Nelson, over the big Takaka Hill with its strange limestone rocks and caves, and on north as far as Farewell Spit. We spent a magical evening and day (in that order) at Wharariki Beach, and another grand day going to Totaranui Beach in Abel Tasman National Park and a huge freshwater spring at Te Waikoropupu.
Kiwis regard the West Coast as remote and economically disadvantaged. In truth, the population is small, farming is not rich, fishing has declined and the coal and gold are pretty well mined out. But the West Coast has an abundance of dramatic scenery and is well worth visiting. Many Europeans do visit, sometimes to the bemusement of local tourists who have not quite got used to some foreign ladies' penchant for parading around the washrooms in the buff. (Sadly, they only do it in the ladies washrooms - but then I feel fortunate that the men do not seem inclined to emulate their ladies.)
The Wekas paraded for us at Cape Foulwind (where the winds were pretty foul) and the strange pancake rocks and seaweed at Punakaiki provided a worthwhile stop. In Hokitika the Wildfoods Festival was only evidenced by a wall mural, but we caught the tail end of a beach sculpture competition. Hiking to Franz Joseph glacier and Fox Glacier was great, and the weather behaved itself, only pouring with rain when we were safely tucked up in our camper, and not ruffling the waters of Lake Matheson (famous for its reflections of mounts Cook and Tasman.)
The :Hump" in this case being the Haast Pass over the Southern Alps, away from the West Coast and into Central Otago at Wanaka. We stayed at Pleasant Flat campsite (a Department of Conservation or "DOC" site) where sandflies tried hard to feast on us. We came to realize there must be special breeds of bugs at DOC sites - they always seemed fiercer there. The road is good and the views inspiring. Amazingly blue pools in the river are a sight on the east side of the pass, before you reach Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. The lakes are stunning.
We had plans to stay at Wanaka for a week with my cousins, but that was some time ahead. So we stayed overnignt by the lake and pressed on south, past the Cardrona Pub, historic Arrowtown, Queenstown and Kingston. All except Kingston we would revisit when we returned to stay at Wanaka.
Kingston is the northern terminus of the rail line that operated in conjunction with the lake steamer service on Lake Wakatipu, that serviced Queenstown and sheep stations all around the lake. The "Kingston Flyer" ran from Invercargill to Kingston for many years. It has been preserved and still operates each summer, but now the track only runs as far as Garston, a scant 20 kM from Kingston.
Over the Hump