After our night in Nelson, we continued to drive north toward the very top of the island. This day and the next were some of my favourite drives, we had to drive right over a mountain range to get to the valley on the other side. We saw beautiful views of the ocean and the mountains. These mountains were bigger and different than we’d seen before. With more rock formations then vegetation. But being at what feels like the top of the world is incredible. Our first stop was a little town called Takaka. It’s seriously the only town in this valley, but is somehow bumping. I’m not saying it’s big, like most towns in New Zealand it’s basically one street, but that main street had so many people and shops on it. It was described to us as a hippy town with lots of local art and coffee shops. And boy was it. We spent hours looking at the shops, eventually we stopped for coffee and a snack at a cafe called the dangerous cafe. We sat outside in their cute back garden and used their wifi for a bit. Afterwards we walked back down the other side of the street, there were more art related stores and galleries on this side. My favourite was this place called art bank. Which was an old bank converted into a local art gallery. The space was beautiful and they had these cool $1 post cards of this graphic art that said art bank on them, I really liked them.
I think my favourite thing about Takaka (and most towns in New Zealand) is the sense of community that’s so obvious throughout the town. The stores and restaurants are not just there to get the job done, but to have a nice restaurant or cafe. The stores are fun and reflect the owner, who more often than not is the one working at the front. There are outlets to support the local art, and their are signs for events and festivals constantly. Even the grocery store, and a large grocery store at that, is locally owned.
After our lovely day in Takaka we did another grocery shop, topped up on gas and continued driving north, toward farewell spit. This is the most northern point in the south island. Just outside of Takaka on our way we stopped at Pupu springs. A natural spring that is significant to the Maori people. It’s significant because of how clear the water is. I wish I could have taken a better picture of the clear water, but it was cloudy a that point, so it kept reflecting on the water and I couldn’t get a clear picture. But it was really beautiful and serene. Similar to Cape Reinga, the signs are really polite, asking the visitors to respect and share in their experience by not eating on the grounds and by staying on the paths. This kind of experience always make me realize how important these places are to others. How significant it is to their culture and their history. They could so easily close off these places, or charge a fee, but they choose to share with everyone.
So we finally made it to the north of the north, but didn’t exactly know how to make it to the actual spit, so we decided to go to Wharaiki (Fa-ra-eekee) beach, which was probably the best decision we made all day. Similar to everything we do, we had no idea what to expect when we arrived. We had to drive on this gravel road for a a few kilometres with no sight of the ocean anywhere. We make it to the car park, where a sign says it’s a 30 minute walk to the beach. Again, no beach in sight. Instead we are parked in a valley of hills that are covered in livestock, a sheep field to my left, a cow field to my right. When I stepped out of the car I went to shut my door, when I did so it revealed a peacock no farther than 2 feet away from me. I wasn’t scared, but was kinda shocked and went “OH!” and started laughing. Here’s a pic of my new friend.
So we started on our adventure to the supposed beach. It ended up being a beautiful walk. The path went through the cow feels, with step ladders to lead you over the fences. We finally got to walk on the rolling hills we had seen all over New Zealand.
The path started leading downhill, into more of a green area with more trees, and once we walked through that we were on sand dunes. We walked up these tall dunes only to have the most beautiful beach revealed to us. When we were walking there we passed a few people, one of the guys mentioned that there were seals when he was there. And boy was he right.
I’m just gonna set the scene and then let the pictures do the talking. Imagine a massive flat sand beach, on the verge of sunset, with few other people around. Giant rock formations create the landscape along the shore, with caves scattered around. And hanging on those rocks right at the shore? Seals. Little baby seals.
So we spent a few hours here, just until the sun was setting and then we made our way back on the beautiful path.
We made our way to our campsite for the evening, excited about the stir fry we were going to make that evening. We asked the woman at the desk about farewell spit and how to get there, seeing if we could do it in the morning before we made our way to Abel Tasman. She informed us it was a 5 hour hike to the edge of the spit, and there’s no road. So that was scratched off.
The next day it was my turn to drive. So I got behind the wheel, on the other side of the car. Because I’ve been in so many cars and seen all the traffic on the left side, it’s not that hard of an adjustment. It just takes a bit to figure out how to align yourself to the road. Things to note about New Zealand roads. The speed limit is almost always 100, because most roads are highways in the middle of nowhere. Except, no one actually goes 100, we would get passed all the time. The other thing is that the speed limit is 100 even on twisty roads and roads on mountain cliffs. So we would be going like 60, maybe even 40 if we were going up hill, and people would be zoooomiingg by. Like who is going 100 on those roads???
So I drove Shelley all the way to Abel Tasman National Park. New Zealands smallest national park. And for my first day driving I had a funny kind of day. I drove through a penguin crossing zone, under a rock arch and over a mountain on a gravel road. The road to Abel Tasman is not an easy route. Unlike the other national parks, it’s not as easily accessible, it’s mostly known for it’s walking trails, which take days to do and have many camping spots along the way. But we were really excited to go since a friend of ours told us it was his favourite place in New Zealand. The park is on the water, and has bays every few kilometres, so we did a hike to one of the bays on the other side of the mountain. The guy working in the visitor centre recommended it, said it was 45 mins-hour. He underestimated the whole thing because it’s uphill one way and down the other, so it was a bit more challenging then we had anticipated, but it was worth all the work because we basically arrived at a private beach. People would hike by every once in a while, but we were the only ones laying there on the gorgeous hot day. So we set up camp, and hung out for a bit. About 20 mins one seal swam by right at the shore. Later someone yelled “penguins!” and we bolted down the beach to these two birds. We soon realized these black and white creatures were not penguins since one of them flew away as we started running…. I’m sad to report that we never saw penguins on our trip.
So after a beautiful afternoon and the disappointment of no penguins, we began our hike back, much easier than the way there. We still had some things on our to do list though, like kayak and see split apple rock. However, those were on the other side of the park, and of course you can’t just drive through the park, so we had to drive all the way around. And when I say we, I mean me. So in classic New Zealand fashion, there was only one highway, so we drove back through Takaka and back over the mountains from the day before. The clouds were ridiculously low at this point, so when we reached the top I was driving through clouds, it went from sunny to foggy in a matter of minutes. I only have one regret from this trip, and it was not stopping to take a photo. By the time we arrived in Marahau, the town on the otherside of Abel Tasman, it was getting dark, so we stayed at a campsite that we had seen advertised. It was dubbed “the farm” and so we were a little nervous about what we were going to find. What we ended up finding was the best campsite ever.
The facilities were so modern and clean, there were outdoor areas with fireplaces and seating. The kitchen was an outdoor room, with a massive fire place. There was even a cottage kind of building with another smaller kitchen and a cozy tv room. So that night we watched a movie. We also had a delicious dinner by the fire.
A funny thing about this trip was how we syncing with the sun. We woke up with the sun, and went to bed with the sun. So we were going to bed between 8 and 10pm every night. Not my normal habits. One night we were in the tent at 7:30, and our alarm was set for 7:30. So that was a solid 12 hours in the tent.
As we were watching the movie we were all getting sleepy. One of our later nights. So when it ended we zonked out in our tent, dreaming about what will happen tomorrow.