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Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

I know I’m a little backed up on my posts, but I’ll get caught up soon. I’ve been meeting people non stop and it’s hard to find a spare few hours to upload pictures and write blog posts. Also, cheap, fast Internet access is hard to come by. OK – enough excuses. This post is about a week old, but it’ll have to do for now.

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Oct 11 – 18

I arrived in Nelson on a Saturday and I finally left the next Saturday morning. I stayed there a full week!

The day after I arrived in Nelson, I went to the Department of Conservation to plan my trip to Abel Tasman National Park. I ended up talking to Jan, a really nice Czech guy was also there doing the same thing. I was going to head to the park on Monday, but he said that if I waited a day I could join him and his friend. I figured a 3-day hike would be much more exciting with other people around, so I waited the extra day. I’m glad I did!

Anyway, that night I met up with Jan and some of his friends from the Magic Bus, Liane from Holland and Kieran from Manchester. They were all staying in a hostel down the street from mine and we all walked to the Spring and Fern, a local microbrewery that lets you bring home 2 liter bottles of beer for $10. Apparently this is quite common at pubs in New Zealand. Good times.

Jan and friends showed up at my room in the morning. We walked around town looking to rent bikes (or “hire” bikes as they say here) but all the shops wanted to charge $50 a day. A little ridiculous, as I’m pretty sure I could buy a used bike for that price! Instead of renting bikes, we walked to Tahunanui beach (an hour walk each way) and bought some Thai curry from a stand to eat along the way. I’ve been trying not to eat out, but I justified my purchase by reminding myself that I saved money by not renting bikes. Tahunanui beach (often shortened to Tahuna beach) was nice, but cold and windy! Jan and Kieran swam anyway. I took a nap in the sand.

After the beach, I gathered all my stuff from the hostel and headed over to my hosts’ house. Since I knew I’d be in Nelson longer than expected, I sent a message to Leanna and Mason, an amazing couple on Couchsurfing who said I could stay with them for the night. I immediately felt welcome at their place. We had a vegan feast, some good conversation, and we went to the Spring and Fern for a beer. They woke up early the next morning to head to work and we said goodbye. Right now they’re in Samoa. I hope they’re having a good time! I also hope they come and visit me in Austin sometime!

Early in the morning on Tuesday, I headed back to the hostel to meet up with Jan and we boarded the bus to Kaiteriteri, a pretty beach resort town that’s probably packed during the summer. Since it’s still cold outside though, we pretty much had the entire beach to ourselves – except for a few campervans and some aggressive ducks.

We lazed around in the sun, hiked up to a lookout point, walked to a rock island covered in mussels, swam in the freezing water!, and met up with Cecilia, a wonderful Kiwi girl Jan met in Canada a few months ago. We all drank some wine, cooked some food in the kitchen nearby our campsite, and went to sleep early.

Jan, who planned to sustain himself on a 3-day hike with muesli bars, chocolate bars, sausage links, and a few packages of chicken flavored noodles (which upon further inspection, actually turned out to be vegan), laughed at my large collection of seemingly random and unappetizing food items. True, I did get a little carried away by stuffing my backpack full of food. Instead of bringing shampoo, I brought a pepper grinder, a bottle of Bragg’s, nutritional yeast, and an assortment of various spices. But this was the first of several nights in a row where I got to show Jan that vegan camping food can actually be delicious. He was impressed that I could “make something out of nothing” and said if he ever comes to Austin, he’ll come to my restaurant. This was a big change from when I first told him of my plans to start a vegan restaurant, he said “It’ll probably work as long as you get all the customers drunk.” It felt like a true success! It’s too bad I couldn’t bust out the hobo pie maker. Then he’d really be impressed. People in New Zealand are really big on pies – any type of pies.

The next day, we woke up early to take a water taxi from Kaiteriteri to Totaranui. The boat took us past several islands with colonies of fur seals, split apple rock covered in cormorants, and dropped the day hikers off at their respective beaches, and then finally dropped us off where we would start our trek.

It was exciting to look out from the boat at the giant coastal forest we were about to walk the entire length of.

Many people kayak part of the trek, but this seemed more expensive and a little more complicated to organize.

We figured we’d just walk the whole way. Our first hiking day, we walked from Totaranui to Onetahuti Bay. This section included several coastal areas that could only be crossed during low tide. And because we only had a 3-hr hike ahead of us, we spent a lot of time laying on various beaches and waiting for the tides to chance.

We saw lots of cormorants, pretty birds that apparently eat three times their size in fish every day. This little guy just came out of the water and was drying his wings.

The tidal crossings made for some funny moments as we had to take our shoes off and trudge along in the mud, sometimes through puddles of icy cold water up to our thighs.You could see stacks of seashells, odd looking water bugs, and tiny crabs scampering all over the seashore (their home that was all underwater just several hours before).

When we got to our campsite, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. That’s the best part about camping during the off season.

The second day, we hiked from Onetahuti Bay to Anchorage. It rained pretty consistently throughout the day, stopping for small intervals and then picking up again with even heavier bursts of rain. We hiked a little, spent a few hours reading in a hut (and trying to escape the rain while eating all our heaviest food items to lighten our packs), then hiked some more until we were exhausted and sopping wet.

Because of my poor subluxated ribs that have taken quite a beating during this trip so far, sweet Jan offered to carry my tent (thanks Jan!) We found another hut with a fireplace and stayed in the heated kitchen area until a park ranger inspected our passes (which allowed us access to campgrounds only) and told us we better move on. The huts are significantly more expensive than the campsites (especially during the summer months). We weren’t ready to leave just yet, so Jan set up the tents in the rain while Ceclilia and I cooked a warm feast of noodles, Jan’s accidentally vegan chicken flavored soup, some dehydrated vegetables, some chopped carrots, and some spices.

Several other groups of people who actually paid to be at the hut were also in the kitchen. Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we retreated to our tents. The tents were actually much more inviting than the damp communal cabins that smelled like a bunch of wet feet. I realized that my best nights of sleep so far have been spent in a tent.

The next day, I woke up at 4am, then again at 5am, then again at 7am due to miserable menstrual cramps. I spent an hour walking on the beach and trying to pretend I didn’t hurt (my uterus now as well as all my muscles from walking). The walk made me feel a little better because it was so beautiful. I found some nice caves and all the flowers had dew on the them. Beaches look best in the early morning.

When I got back to the campsite, we put on our damp clothes, attached our packs (that still seemed to be just as heavy even though we’d eaten most of the food by this point), and hiked. There were some short, steep climbs at the beginning but the rest of the track was pretty flat. And luckily the weather was beautiful again. We knew that clean clothes and warm showers were close within our reach, so this gave us a little extra energy to speed walk the rest of the way. It didn’t take us very long to reach the end of the track – We did the estimated 4 hr hike in 2.5 hrs.

This last section, Anchorage to Marahau, was the most heavily trafficked section of the park and we got to see all people who were just there to hike for the day (they smelled really nice – like clean clothes and perfume). We ended our trek with a celebratory beer at the cafe, which we shared with some other people we met along the trail.

This was a great hike because it crossed so many different types of terrain. I would have felt like I missed quite a bit if I had only walked part of it. The path weaved around dark forests with large ferns and other tall trees, joined up with long bridges hanging over waterfalls, clambered up giant boulders jutting out over the water, climbed up large hills with limestone rock walls, trudged down into marshy flatlands, crossed through green grassy pathways, climbed back up more hills, and then dipped back down again into the sand where we saw some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

Sometimes it was a little confusing to know where the trail was.

Golden orange sand and turquoise water. Since it was too cold to enjoy a swim, this beautiful water was kind of a tease.

It was a great hike. Not the typical camping experience I’m used to when everyone sits around a big bonfire and drinks wine, but it was a really good time.

After 3 days though, I was excited to get back to the hostel in Nelson, to wash my clothes, take a warm shower, and make some hot tea. Once in Nelson, I grabbed some clothes from the free pile and put them on temporarily while I washed everything in my backpack. Jan and I went to the pub and bought a celebratory 2 liter bottle to take back to the hostel, along with a vegetarian pizza that I custom ordered to be vegan. It was one of the most interesting pizzas I’ve ever had – with potatoes, kumara, sundried tomatoes, garlic, onions, mushrooms, peppers, and parsley.

Then we hung out with a guy from Christchurch who was sharing our dorm room. He talked about rock climbing and showed us how you can climb anything for practice – including dining room tables.

I realized I was getting a little too comfortable in Nelson. When you’re supposed to traveling along at a steady pace and a place starts to feel like home, you know it’s time to leave. So I got online and booked a bus to Franz Josef early the next morning – about a 10 hour drive southwest of Nelson.

I spent the morning tip toeing around my room trying to pack without waking everyone in my room up. In the morning I said goodbye to my traveling buddy for the past 5 days, and waited outside the hostel for my bus. It’s always a little weird to make friends for a few days, then to have to say goodbye so abruptly. But…it’s also really refreshing to know that more people and adventures await. I guess I better get used to it, because it seems that that’ll be the theme for the next year.

Some Notes:

  • There are several tour bus companies in New Zealand (such as Stray, Magic Bus, and Kiwi Experience) that offer passes for backpackers. You basically buy a pass for a particular route, are able to hop on and off as you wish, and certain activities are built into the package. After talking to people who have been doing these tours, it seems that hopping off and on the bus isn’t as simple as it sounds. Accommodation and activities are often predetermind and once you stray from the group, you have to let the bus driver know how long you plan to stay in a particular city, what hostel you’ll be in, and when you want to be picked up again. To me, this sounds a little too rigid of a schedule and I’m glad I decided not to go with one of these passes. I’ve just been booking buses online as I go (often late at night for the following morning). This has proven to be a much better method for me because it it gives me as much flexibility as possible. I can make last minute decisions, I don’t have to stick with a specific bus company or route the entire time, and I usually end up meeting someone on the bus who convinces me to change all my plans entirely. It’s also nice not to feel stuck to a group. I would recommend anyone coming to New Zealand not to sign up for a tour bus. You won’t be missing out on the backpacker experience because you’ll still end up meeting all the same people anyway at the hostels. Besides, if you’re sleeping in hostels and using public transportation, you’re going to meet tons of people. There’s really no way around that!
  • The sinks here make no sense to me! They have two separate faucets – one hot, one cold. I’m told it’s the same way in England and many older homes. I’m assuming you’re supposed to plug the sink and fill it up with a mixture from both faucets, but who’s going to go to all that trouble just to wash their hands or rinse one solitary spoon? So…you get a choice – you either wash with scorching hot water or freezing cold. I usually turn both faucets on and just swish my hands back and forth between the two.

  • There is a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. Because New Zealand is one of the closest countries to Antarctica, New Zealanders are affected by the sun’s rays much more than in other countries.

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Grandma

     /  October 22, 2008

    You seem to be having so much fun and seeing so much. Makes me wish I had had the gumption when I was your age. New Zealand looks really beautiful.

  2. txrad

     /  October 23, 2008

    Looks like you’re having a grand time. It’s nice to be enjoying your trip right along with you from here in Austin!

  3. Rhnee

     /  October 29, 2008

    I love traveling with you! Your photographs are truly National Geographic material. Keep having fun!

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