Sunday, May 07, 2006

South Island - we're here!!!!!!!! It's on to Abel Tasman National Park for us - sailing, hiking, it's go go go!

May 7th. Up at 5am today to pack and get down to the ferry (thanks Lorna for dropping me off!) that would take me to another world, the South Island to be exact, and the town of Picton - see, told you, a traveler's life is not an easy one. OK - it is easy, just alot of early mornings!

Sitting on the ferry minding my own business, when who appears but the lovely Josh and Yvonne from our North Island bus!! YAH - knew we were reuniting at some point, so good to be back with at least some of the Stray gang!! Also met a new Stray mate, Pete from Manchester...Yvonne and I reminisced about the original Stray team, but we were looking forward to seeing how Stray 2 would do... keep your fingers crossed!!

Everyone says how different the two islands are. I would soon decide for myself! Each of them has its own unique physical character...the North with its volcanic nature which, as you know, has blown its stack(s) a few times in the past. Nowadays all that volcanic activity is translated into hot thermal pools, mud baths, crater lakes etc. The South Island has its own highlights - the Southern Alps (who knew somewhere outside mainland Europe would use this name?). It has incredible national parks, giving rise to glacial hikes, amazing skiing, remote bodies of water and the freshest air around!

So the bus picked us up as we got off the ferry in Picton; a new driver in charge by the name of Stretch! What a character.. how do Stray pick these guys! Brilliant fun and quite the amateur dramatic! Great guy! We all got on the bus, had a nosey at the new folks (who we would come to be very friendly with very quickly!) and headed off! Stopped at Pelorus Falls for a coffee and a look at the local pet pig (weird i know but it was there!). Then off to the town of Nelson, for a supermarket stop before heading out to Abel Tasman National Park, where we would be spending the night! We were staying at Old McDonalds Farm - yes, folks, that is what it is called. The chalets with 3 beds in them, were the smallest things i had ever seen. Imagine the size of my upstairs bathroom (for those of you who know it!) - it was smaller than that! Hilarious! Everyone made dinner, chilled out and got to know each other.. ahh the traditions of the Stray bus! Another fab group - how lucky am i to meet so many fun people.. i know you all think im just Pollyanna and everything is just perfect, but seriously these folks were really great fun. We had Ian, Dale and Martin from Birmingham/Bradford, Pete from Manchester, Laura from outside Dublin, Marieke (and Yvonne) from Holland, Tasha and Louise from England, Almira and Amanda from Canada, Anna and Linnea from Sweden, Valerie and Florian from Switzerland, Julia from Argentina, another Julia from Germany, Christos from Scotland, Josh (from the States) and Grace....oops sorry Grace can't exactly remember where you are from? Anyway, lovely group!!! The kids headed out to the local bar but i was a tad tired, so headed off to bed - acting my age for once!!!

May 8th. Woke up to a somewhat grey day! I'd signed up to do the half day Sail and Bush Walk.. others were doing full days sailing or even overnight but i only had so many days and wanted to keep any extra time i had for Queenstown so this would have to be enough in Abel Tasman unfortunately. A little about the park; it is very famous among "trampers" (NZ word for hikers, and you can do a great 3-5 day hike here - classified as one of NZ Great Walks - which if i had more time and hadn't visited it in winter, i would love to have done!). It is also famous for its beautiful scenic beaches, coves and bays; there is alot of sailing, sea kayaking etc that goes on here! It really is gorgeous here; however as we all stepped aboard our catamaran, the wind whipped up, the deck below us was soggy and the majority of us were slightly inappropriately dressed; hmmn this didn't bode well for the next few hours!!!

First stop - Split Apple Rock. Our guide and captain, Matt, who informed us when we got onboard that he was suffering heavily from a hangover so we had to be nice to him (what!!!), explained that this was cut out of rock for the LOTR films, then transported here afterwards to sit in the water as an icon of sorts.. hmmn wasn't sure if this was really true, especially after he told me about the tree climbing penguins (how gullible am I!) which turned out to be regular cormoronts aka shags in NZ. It was now officially freezing!!! None of us could get warm, (check out Laura and i looking oh, so warm!) we were all shivering and i couldnt feel my feet. Felt sorry for Marieke and Laura who were staying overnight on a house boat! No thanks! Pete, Stretch and I got off at a beautiful beach (gorgeous..esp. when you imagined it in blinding sunshine rather than sleeting rain!!)!.... We walked back via the coastal track and had a great chat about life, love and the fact we were all so glad to be off the boat! Of course, just our luck. Pretty soon after we exited "The Ship of Chills", the sun came out and the rest of the gang had a wonderful afternoon! Oh well, what can you do about mother nature!

Back at the ranch, after walking past some really stunning scenery and even more gorgeous beaches, we all got in the bus and said goodbye to Abel Tasman, as we headed off south, through the Buller Gorge to the ‘wild, wild’ West Coast, which stretches for over 400 kilometres. For the next two nights we would be staying in Barrytown near Punakaiki, highlighted as one of the most beautiful spots along the coast. One of the things about Stray is that they take you "off the beaten track". Barrytown - as we would come to find out - was definitely OFF the beaten track. So much so, that even some New Zealanders don't know where it is! The scenery on the way here was incredible, and we could start seeing the differences compared to the North Island. We passed through lush, green mountaineous land; wierd to think only 5% or so (hmmn need to check that %) of NZ is still natural forests when it seems we were driving past hours and hours of it at a time! However, over a third of the country - 5 million hectares- is now protected as either national parks (of which there are 14), maritime parks (3 of them) and 2 marine reserves as well as many forest parks!

Anyway - separate posting to come on Barrytown - stay tuned!


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