Leaving NZ – Revisiting Marlborough Sounds (and Hawke’s Bay)

Snow on the mountains; view from our Ruby Bay houseIt’s getting rather cold, now that it’s autumn (end of May); this picture was taken from the balcony of our house in Ruby Bay, looking in the direction opposite the bay.  Snow on the mountains.  And, alas, time to leave NZ.  We’ve gotten 3 email reminders from Immigration that our time to leave is fast approaching (efficient, that office).   So we’re off to Auckland to sell back our car.  We get to do the Marlborough Sounds/Cook Strait ferry trip again – hopefully in sunshine this time – but our primary aim on the way back to Auckland is to see the Tongariro National Park – and maybe hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the most popular day hike in NZ.  We’ll see; it’s pretty iffy this time of year, when snow can make it impassable.  Oh yeah, and we’ll visit (or revisit) some wineries on the way back – why not??

We finish cleaning the house, pack everything into the car, and head off to Picton to connect with the ferry.  We’ll be making the same trip between the North and South Islands that we did in December, but in reverse.  That first trip was made through the middle of a fog bank (Dec. 12; “Marlborough – The Sound, The Wine“). Hopefully this time will be different!  As we pull away from Picton, early early in the morning, we are greeted by bright sunshine fore and aft.  All Right!!!

The water is calm, the temperature cool, the air crystal clear; it’s a perfect morning.  We’re navigating the same Queen Charlotte part of the Marlborough Sounds as before, but the view is strikingly different from our earlier trip; the view of the mountains meeting the water is very pretty, but it’s missing the atmospherics of the fog that I had so decried on our first trip.  Below are pictures from along the route.  At one point Ginger finds me (it’s a big boat!) to that say there are dolphins playing in our wake; alas, when I get to the stern they are gone.

Suddenly, around a bend (there are many bends!), I can see a clear demarcation in the water; we are about to enter Cook Strait, and our calm water is going away!  Pretty dramatically!

Oh yeah, there is a (pardon the pun) sea change in the water!  The waves are crashing on the rocks, and this big lumbering boat is swaying pretty hard.  Perhaps in the upper right picture below you can get a feeling for the large swells, although it feels much rougher than it looks in the picture.

There are some very pretty views to be had as we pull away from the South Island, and these help take our minds off the rolling ship.

The middle of the Strait is pretty uninteresting unless you like to count the swells rocking the boat.  Some of the passengers soon take to fresh air, hanging over the railing, but we’re good.  Ginger took a Bonine before boarding, and I buy a ginger beer as therapy.  A couple of rocking hours later we approach Wellington and its bay on the North Island, and the water becomes both calmer and prettier.

We showed you Wellington before (Dec 5, 2013, “Wellington City and WOW!”), so I’ll just On the road to the Waipara Valley - and wine!end this section with a shot of the beautiful mountains (and winding road!) on our way to a quick stop in the Martinborough wine region.  We plan to have lunch there and revisit a couple of our favorite wineries.  We can’t stay long because (1) I’m driving and can’t drink much, and (2) we’re due in Napier where we’ve scheduled a few days to further explore wineries in our favorite wine region, Hawke’s Bay.  Work, work, work!



We covered these wine regions in a previous post (Dec 6, 2013; “Napier, Hawke’s Bay, and … Martinborough?“).  Martinborough is not small, it’s tiny; but they do have some wonderful wines.  They’re almost on the way to Napier and Hawke’s Bay, so the small detour won’t cost us too much.  One of our Martinborough favorites, Murdoch JamesBesides, we really want to revisit some of our favorites.  Alas, Coney Wines was closed, but we did find Murdoch James open.  Yummmmmmm!  Fortified Pinot Noir may sound weird, but it’s really good!  Then off to Hawke’s Bay.  The wineries here are spread over a large area, and we missed a lot of them the first time through; but we’ll make up for that now!

Map of Hawke's Bay WineriesAs you can see from the map, the wineries (the small numbered squares) are scattered over a large area.   Intervening cities and the distance between wineries make it hard to visit very many in a day.  The first time through we concentrated on the northern ones (as well as sight-seeing in Napier), so didn’t cover much territory – but we loved what we covered!!  This time we’ll concentrate on the more southerly wineries.  Alas, there’s no way we can do them all; next trip, right?  Below are pictures of a couple that we really liked  – Alpha Domus and Elephant Hill, and below that the elegant Craggy Range.

Some of our favorites are shown below, but we shouldn’t forget Black Barn, and certainly not Church Road.

Next post, Tongariro National Park – for me, the highlight of our NZ trip!

Revisiting Nelson Lakes, with company

Brian and Janaki, Mt Roberts to the rightI’ve shown you Nelson Lakes National Park before (post of Dec 29 2013, “Nelson Lakes National Park“).  It’s a pretty area, nestled at the northernmost limit of the Southern Alps and serviced by the sleepy village of St. Arnaud, population 100.  This time we are revisiting with company – similar to our last post on Abel Tasman National Park.  First to visit is our son Brian and his girlfriend Janaki.  When last we were here, Ginger climbed the challenging Mt. Robert (that mountain on the right), a 2,000 foot ascent up the Pinchgut Track, correctly labeled “steep”.  Due to the lateness of the day and impending clouds, on that climb we had backtracked down the Pinchgut rather than complete the slightly longer 6 mile loop.  This time we plan to do the reverse climb, doing the 6 mile loop and only going down the Pinchgut.  Alas, when we get there, that trail head has signs saying it is temporarily closed.  Rats!  So off we go, once again up the Pinchgut.

What makes the trip more interesting for us is that Janaki, bless her heart, has never hiked up a mountain, much less one that’s a hard 2ooo feet up.  The path starts gently, but rapidly turns into a series of steep switchbacks.  Early on, Ginger realizes that this is not her day to hike and decides it would be wise to turn back, particularly since she’s done this hike before.  The rest of us continue on,  but as we look out from the trail, we discover that the high clouds (visible in the first picture) are not quite so high anymore; they’re lower, and they’re coming our way.  Nooooooooooo!

We keep climbing, and the clouds keep lowering.  As you may remember, the trail goes in and out of the woods, but when it comes out, the view below is increasingly and disappointingly obscured.  Janaki, however, is doing great and is plowing uphill just fine,

in spite of the impressive incline.  The view is crap, but the kids are enjoying being inside a cloud.  OK, but what about the view you’re missing?

Janaki and the view (or lack thereof) from the topFinally we clear the woods for the last time and shortly we’re at the plateau top.  Yeah, the loop continues up a little further, but what’s the point?  The view won’t change!  So back down the Pinchgut we go, still stuck inside that darn cloud!  I’m grumbling in my beard, but the kids still think being in a cloud is cool.

Just two final photos: the view back at the trailhead, with victorious climbers Brian and Janaki; and the view of the lake and the mountain from St. Arnaud, showing Mt. Robert being sat on by a cloud – which, on the right side of the mountain, funnels right down the Pinchgut track!

Those clouds are just mean!


The trail in a pretty birch tree forestNext to visit Nelson Lakes is John Chang, our California friend.  This time we’ll climb the mountains on the other side of Lake Rotoiti, the St. Arnaud range; it’s a tougher climb, a longer and higher up-and-back.  A disadvantage of this climb is that, unlike Mt. Robert where the trail goes in and out of the woods, offering panoramic views as you go (if you’re not inside a cloud), this climb is all woods most of the way until you finally emerge onto treeless tundra.  At the start the trail is pretty smooth and gentle, and the birch forest is beautiful.  Soon, however, the trail heads up – rather steeply – and becomes rough, peppered with rocks and roots.

On the rocky outcrop with a view of Mt RobertsWe finally clear the forest – we’ve been working hard! – and not far away is a rocky outcrop with a view.  This is the turn-around point for many climbers, and we decide to stop here for our well-earned lunch as we catch our breath and cool our heels.  It’s a pretty view, Mt Robert and Lake Rotoiti in front of us, and the valley heading north off to our right, as shown below.

The view up from our rocky outcropWe, of course, will not be deterred from reaching the top.  No wimps, we!  You will note, however, from the picture to the side, that the terrain is wickedly steep.  We’ll actually be climbing up the mountain to the left of this picture, but it’s no less steep!  The picture below shows some pretty flora on the mountainside Pretty plants on the mountainsideas we hike up – I’m taking pictures of flowers, not catching my breath, honest!

Going up the steep incline, we occasionally stop and turn around to catch the increasingly awesome view of our stoney outcrop, Mt Robert, Lake Rotoiti, St. Arnaud, and the mountains in the distance.Half-way up the steep part

Near the top it gets really steep (it wasn’t before?) and we have to use our hands as well as our feet to go up; we’re crawling!  And then we’re there.

It’s bloomin’ Awesome!  Unlike Mt. Robert, this ridge top is sharp, so there is a nearly 360º view – including the other side of the mountain that we have never seen.  To start off, let me show you the view you’ve been seeing, that of Mt. Robert.  Note in the foreground that it looks like you’ll fall off a cliff if you take a step forward.  Yep, the climb up was steep!  The trail continues at a right angle along the ridge, but that must be for hikers spending the night somewhere.  We’re

happy not to be going further!  Pictures can’t capture the whole gorgeous scene, but I’ll show you a few.

A strange plantSome of the plants up here are pretty interesting – for example, this thing growing on the rocks.

Time to go back down, and Surprise!  Going down that steep part turns out to be more of a challenge than going up!  The pictures below don’t do the steepness any justice – pointing the camera downhill flattens the terrain.  We find that walking this section is impossible, sliding is not a great option, and the only thing that works is to sidestep/slide/fall without a lot of control, heading toward a big rock or clump of grass (hopefully anchored) to stomp on to arrest the downward momentum.  It’s more tricky than it sounds, and – ah – not always successful!

One last view of Mt Robert and Lake Rotoiti from above, and the tough trail going down.

We are, in fact, getting very tired navigating the hard trail, which is more step down and jump than walk a path.  Our legs are getting shaky and threatening to cramp, but The St Arnaud range; we hiked up the middle foldwe finally make it back, tired but happy.  Our hike took us up the middle fold of that St Arnaud range – reasonably impressive, yeah?

A final look at lake Rotoiti – and one of its inhabitants, an eel.

Next post – leaving the South Island.

Abel Tasman National Park

You may remember that, early in our sojourn on the South Island, we traveled to the west side of Abel Tasman National Park but only hiked a piece of one of the inland trails due to Ginger recovering from back issues (Dec 30, “Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay“).  We had no real views of the beaches that Abel Tasman is famous for; now we intend to do better!  This time we’ll approach the park from the east, take a trip by sea kayak, and hike the seaside trails above the beaches.  Abel Tasman is NZ’s smallest national park, and one of it’s most popular, with stunningly beautiful golden sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, lush green bushland, striking granite outcrops, and an abundance of wildlife.  Sounds good to us!  It is also only 20 miles away from our house, one of the many attractions that led us to this area.

I’m going to show you this pretty part of the world via three of our trips with visitors: my sister Linda, our son Brian with his girlfriend Janaki, and a good friend, John Chang.


Kaiteriteri beach, looking out to the Tasman BayOn our first foray, we take my sister sea kayaking from Kaiteriteri, a small village just south of the Park.  Looks nice and peaceful, doesn’t it?  After a brief lesson we gear up and, just us with guides, head into the park waters.  It’s really pleasant – all the short way to that island on the left, whereupon we enter Tasman Bay and encounter wave swells higher than the kayaks!  We’re going to Split Apple Rock, about an hour’s paddle away, but how to get there is an issue – we need to take the waves head on, but heading directly toward Split Apple Rock  Split Apple Rockputs the kayaks broadside to the waves; so we compromise and make an arc, taking the waves at an angle.  Tough paddling!!!  Our outing rapidly becomes hard work!  With great perseverance we make it to Split Apple, and calm water.  It’s a pretty place; the water is a beautiful color; the rocks are interesting; and we get to paddle through a small cave.

Then it’s time for a well-deserved lunch break, and we land at a nearby gorgeous beach.  Look at that water!

Groan, now we have to kayak back!  Thankfully, the waves and wind actually help us on the return, but the quiet bay is a welcome end to the trip.  In spite of waterproof jackets and kayak skirts, we find we’re thoroughly drenched; our muscles ache in places we didn’t know we had, and we’re beyond tired!  We’ll sleep like the dead tonight.  We decide we’ve have had enough of sea kayaking – at least in rough water!


Abel Tasman has a Coast Track and a number of Inland Tracks, but most people opt for the coastal route with its idyllic beaches.  To do the complete Coast Track  would take 3-5 days, but there are several water taxis that will take you to different drop-off points and pick you up at appointed times at the end of your hike, giving you 6 different choices for day hikes – although several of these hikes are time-critical due to sections of the trail being under water at high tide.  With Brian and Janaki now along, we decide to simply start at the beginning and hike until somebody decides it’s time to head back.

At the start, the tide is out – impressively ‘way out!  The tidal flats keep going, and the Tasman Sea is off in the distance, resulting in interesting bands of color.  I can picture

us lounging on that sandy beach and wading in the rivulets of that ephemeral land, but there is more to see that beckons us on. It’s tempting, though!

The tail is relatively flat and easy – and attractive, often with a view of the water and

Pretty beach beaches.  We explore some of the beaches, and then choose a pretty one to host our lunch.  Although the trail itself is easy, getting down to some of the beaches is a bit of a challenge.  There are paths going to them, but they’re invariably steep; definitely worthwhile, though!  We are sharing “our” beach with a handful of other people, but it’s such a big, long beach that we feel as if we have it to ourselves.  Nice!

It’s really beautiful!  The sand is wonderful, the water gorgeous, the beach comes with caves and rock formations to explore, and there are picturesque islands and mountains in the distance. The large rocks make nice tables and chairs; the view is hard to beat.

Further down the beach are some quite pretty shags that are not at all afraid of me; one tells me that I’m trespassing, in no uncertain terms.

Islands in the bay


Back on the trail again, we wander a bit further, with more views of beaches and islands offshore.  Then, alas, it is time to turn back.




Next to visit us is a friend from California, John Chang.  Before going back to Abel Tasman, we of course had to visit a few nearby wineries – consider it fuel for the hike!  Maybe you notice that life isn’t bad here?

We have a habit of not being early risers, and this time it bites us; when we arrive at the Abel Tasman water taxis, we’ve missed the outgoing trips to parts unknown.  The only option is to start hiking from the beginning of the trailhead again; rats!  But this time we’ll go further, and zoom past the early regions.  The repeat trip is still pretty!

Beach with a viewIt’s a cool, cloudy, windy day (it’s early autumn here), and there are not many people on the trail; the golden beaches with their crystal-clear waters are deserted.  We find a beach that’s big and looks gorgeous from up above.  It’s quite a scramble down the steep path – coming up will be a struggle – but it’s worth the effort.


Beach flowersWe even find a patch of late-blooming beach flowers before we scramble back up to the trail.  It’s getting late, though, and time to head for home – with maybe a stop at a local pub for a thirst-quencher.  Hope you enjoyed this part of Abel Tasman.  Our only regret is that we weren’t able to spend more time hiking in this beautiful park.

Next post – back to Nelson Lakes National Park!