New Zealand: 2/12 – 2/18

(New Zealand) Takaka >>> Puponga >>> Nelson >>> Nelson Lakes Area >>> Hector >>> Greymouth >>> Arthur’s Pass

2/12 – Hiked to Aorere Caves and Watched Seal Pups play at Wharariki Beach!
2/13 – Golden Bay and Driving back south to Nelson
2/14 – Shopping in Richmond and Driving through the Central Mountains
2/15 – Hiked Mt. Roberts Circuit around Nelson lakes
2/16 – Wifi in Westport and Hiking the Heaphy Track!
2/17 – Cape Foulwind, Tauranga Bay, Pancake Rocks, and the Punakaiki Caverns!
2/18 – Rec Center, Monteith’s Brewing, and Hiking in Arthur’s Pass


2/12:
Hiked to Aorere Caves and Watched Seal Pups play at Wharariki Beach!
+ Woke up and ate cereal down by the river. The water was so blue and it was a very peaceful and relaxed setting to start the day.
+ Our first stop of the day was a long hike up to Aorere Caves. They had been recommended to us by Corey’s friend and after a long drive down a dirt road followed by another hour long hike up the mountain, we finally reached the caves. We felt silly as we’d come without our headlamps, but were able to use our phones flashlights to walk into the caves and explore. Overall they weren’t that great and probably not worth the effort or time.
+ Once we’d walked past all the sheep and gotten back to our van, we drove along Golden Bay towards Farewell Spit. Halfway along, we passed a number of cars stopped on the side of the road and decided to stop as well and see what had caused all the ruckus. It turned out it was a dead beached pilot whale 😦 Just a few days earlier, hundreds of pilot whales had inexplicably stranded themselves near this area and hundreds of them died before volunteers were able to return them to the sea at the next high tide. This one was all alone though for some reason.
+ Once we reached the northernmost point of the south island, we found ourselves at the parking lot for Wharariki beach. We put on our rain gear since it was drizzling and began the hike out over the hilly farmland towards the coast. We passed through a few fields full of curious sheep and then walked through a bunch of tunnels formed through the thick beechwood trees. Finally we reached the sand and some other hikers on their way back advised us where to see some seals!
+ The tide was still way out but it was coming in so we knew our time was limited. When we reached the huge rocks jutting from the sea, we were greeted by a few seal pups!!! We had not expected to see them and we were able to get so close to these cute and playful creatures! We hung out there for probably an entire hour watching the pups play in the rock pools and chase each other. In the middle, Corey left to go run around and check out the other rock cliffs and the cool tunnels they offered to explore. Liz stayed at one of the larger pools and watched the baby seals swim around, chase each other, and waddle from pool to pool. Eventually the tide was getting too high for us to stay and it was getting dark so we had to start back to the car.
+ As we were leaving the parking lot and heading south again, a rabbit ran out in front of us on the gravel road. Instead of crossing to the other side, he just sprinted down the middle of the road. For miles we followed behind the little guy on the gravel road, alternating our distance behind him from a few feet to a hundred yards or so in hopes he would just go off to the side already! Eventually after 6 or 7 miles, he finally found a field he liked and got off the road. We’re not exaggerating! It was miles! How weird!
+ That night we made some dinner from the back of our campervan and then slept in Puponga right next to the beach!

2/13:
Golden Bay and Driving back south to Nelson
+ We slept in late because it was raining and very windy all morning. Plus sleeping is amazing and we can almost never get enough of it!
+ Once we left the confines of our van to pack up and prepare for the day, we saw a big group of pilot whales coming in fast towards the shore. They were swimming on their side since it was so shallow and there was a lot of fin flapping 😦 . We were worried they would strand themselves like the earlier group but after 15 minutes or so, they eventually seemed to head back out to sea. Hopefully they stayed out there!
+ Stopped at Farewell Spit cafe where we looked through the big binoculars they had in the back and saw many many more of the dead whales laying out on the beach on the spit. 😦 They were still leftover from days earlier. Farewell spit was closed due to the beaching and only some people in hazard suits were walking around the area.
+ Stopped and explored Labyrinth Rocks near Takaka. Cool rock formations making tons of mazes great for hide and seek. Someone had even taken the time to hide all sorts of toys and trinkets in among the rocks!
+ Our housesitting hosts had graciously offered to put us up for another night on our way back through Nelson before we headed south so we decided to take them up on the opportunity tonight. This would allow us to do a quick load of laundry and get a shower in to start fresh again.
+ Neil asked Corey how the van was working out and then offered to help us make another fix or two to make it even more comfortable! He was so nice and with his expert woodworking skills, got the job done in no time!
+ After some dinner and relaxing in the living room with them watching some captivating NZ telly, we all went to bed.

2/14:
Shopping in Richmond and Driving through the Central Mountains
+ After our clothes were all dry, we left their house, got some groceries, then exited the Nelson area and started heading west.
+ We stopped again in Richmond to make some returns and also visited some thrift stores. We were able to get the last few items we needed like a camping table, tea kettle, large cooking pot, plus some more books for Liz and some mosquito nets to go over the windows at night! It was fun having a shopping day!
+ Started our drive to Nelson Lakes. We made it to our camping spot at Hope Saddle Lookout at the top of a mountain just before sunset and were able to hike the short trail out to the windy lookout to admire the beautiful sky as it changed colors!
+ That night we watched the movie LaLa Land and had some wine to celebrate Valentine’s Day! It was great to have a van big enough to sit up and watch a movie!

2/15:
Hiked Mt. Roberts Circuit around Nelson lakes
+ In the morning we enjoyed some nice bowls of cereal with our new table and chairs outside and then we drove into Nelson Lakes National Park.
+ One of the top day hikes in NZ was a loop called the Mt. Roberts Circuit and was supposed to take 5 hours to hike. After the initial 90 minute climb up to the top, we had fantastic views of the blue lakes surrounding the area and could see hundreds of kilometers far off into the distance on this picture perfect clear day.
+ The recommended “tramping times” for NZ trails are normally pretty accurate but for whatever reason we were able to complete the loop in only 3 hours!
+ We got back in the van and drove west towards the Murchison area to our campsite, Mauri Falls. Since we arrived a little earlier than normal, we had extra time to cook fajitas and then ate inside the van to escape mosquitoes and other flying nuisances. As always, the fajitas were very tasty! Yummm!!

2/16:
Wifi in Westport and Hiking the Heaphy Track!
+ After our morning routine and cereal, we went and looked at the falls. They were nice and although it was a popular kayaking spot, no crazy fools were running the rapids today.
+ We continued our journey to the west coast and reached the “big” town of Westport.
+ We used the public library there in Westport both for their wifi and for their computers to transfer some cd’s over to Liz’s Sansa so we could listen in the car. During our shopping spree at the thrift stores, we had bought some cd’s to listen to while driving. Then when we got back to the van, we discovered it didn’t have a cd player! How silly of us! We had looked at so many vans before buying that we didn’t even remember the one we’d chosen didn’t have a cd player! Lol. At least we were able to put them to use by transferring them though.
+ We wanted to go north along the coast to the end of the Heaphy Trail so we drove the really windy roads for 2 hours all the way up to Karamea.
+ Once we arrived, we hiked part of the Heaphy Track. We had decided against doing the whole thing because to drive from one end to the other would take 6.5 hours! This meant we’d either have to pay for really expensive transportation back to our car or only one of us could hike while the other drove to the other end.
+ Since we couldn’t do the whole thing, we at least wanted to do a day hike so we hiked in about 90 minutes and then Liz turned around. Corey decided to do some trail running and ran ahead about 10 minutes before turning around and running until he had caught up with Liz again. Then we finished the hike together.
+ Once we reached the van again, we began the drive back south. There was an absolutely beautiful sunset along the way! Since most of the drive was right along the coast and winding cliffs, we had perfect views throughout the whole thing!
+ Slept in the town of Hector at a little rest area off of the road. This town is named after the same man that the Hector dolphins are named for. There was even a small dolphin statue here at the rest stop!

2/17:
Cape Foulwind, Tauranga Bay, Pancake Rocks, and the Punakaiki Caverns!
+ After a nice breakfast at the picnic tables nearby (spoiled only by the pesky sandflies we incessantly had to swat away), we walked out to the beach. Saw a dead jellyfish and some people fishing but no dolphins.
+ Drove the rest of the way back to Westport and restocked our supplies at countdown. Then we gassed up the car again and drove to Cape Foulwind and did a small hike to the lighthouse. Corey decided to go on a side hike all the way down to the water and out along the rocks while Liz took the gravel path back. He was able to get closer to some of the seals and might have even spotted a dolphin.
+ Drove further down the coast to Tauranga Bay to see a seal colony. There was a short hike out around the cliffs to a viewing point where there were many seals! Adults and babies this time but we still preferred Wharariki beach since you could get so much closer and it was so much less crowded.
+ Continued south down the coastal drive to Pancake Rocks. These were some really cool rock formations that offered the opportunity to see blowholes if the tide was high and water rough enough. Unfortunately for us the water was too calm and we didn’t see any spectacular blow hole displays. We did see some Hector dolphins swimming offshore though! They were very cute and little and we wished we could be down there swimming or kayaking with them.
+ Just back up the road a little were the Punakaiki Caverns. These were much deeper and cooler than the Aorere Caves and didn’t involve a long and steep hike to see them! Liz decided to hang back since caves weren’t her favorite, but Corey explored all of the different tunnels and alleyways he could fit through!
+ We then continued along the coastal drive to Greymouth (the largest town on the west coast). The coastal drive was beautiful and we were spoiled with a nice sunset once again!
+ Slept near Cobden bridge right in Greymouth.

2/18:
Rec Center, Monteith’s Brewing, and Hiking in Arthur’s Pass
+ Since it had been a few days living out of the van, we were both fulfilling the stereotypical grungy backpacker image and decided it was time to clean up. So we showered at the city rec center which offered a nice pool and shower area.
+ Went to the historic Monteith’s Brewing Company where we chose to skip the tour and just get a tasting tray instead. We didn’t get to choose our beers as the grumpy bartender just picked them for us and we really weren’t impressed with any of them!
+ This area of the country had a road cutting all the way east to Christchurch and we had to decide if we were going to continue east to Christchurch or just go halfway to Arthur’s Pass and turn around. We decided on the latter but still had to do the drive up to Arthurs pass. It was flat for most of the way and then extremely steep for the last few kilometers and our tiny van struggled to maintain any sort of speed while creeping up the hills.
+ Once we reached the town and hiking area, Corey hiked Devils Punch Bowl while Liz relaxed in the van admiring the surroundings and catching up on her reading. The hike was nice enough and got up close to a big waterfall which was cool.
+ We cooked dinner near the visitors center because this area was covered and it was starting to rain. Plus there seemed to be less sandflies in the city as opposed to the campgrounds. The West Coast is infamous for it’s annoying sandflies and they were certainly living up to their reputation! We often found ourselves putting on long pants and jackets, along with socks to cover up as much as possible. That way we weren’t always lathering ourselves with the smelly deet-filled bug spray.
+ We cooked up sausages with the last of our peppers and then added curry powder to a healthy helping of rice! (Our speculation was right and we were glad we cooked here because we later found out the campsite was full of sandflies!)
+ Slept at Klondike Corner campsite- pretty valley but way too many sandflies. That night we turned the roof of our campervan into a murder scene as we killed one sandfly and mosquito after another for a good 15 minutes!

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