Welcome to the South Island: Blenheim, Abel Tasman and Nelson
Our journey has moved South as we left the North Island via ferry and made our way to the South Island of New Zealand. We took a ferry from Wellington (we’ll be back Wellington, one night wasn’t enough!) to a little city called Picton. We weren’t too sure what to expect of our first ferry experience but apparently we got quite lucky. We had great seats looking straight out to the amazing views all around and most importantly smooth water, to avoid any morning sea-sickness.
Upon arriving in Picton, we picked up our rental car and headed to what would be the start of much scenic and windy mountain driving on the South Island. For the first few days we were in our nice little Nissan which I didn't come to appreciate until later once we got the camper van. More to come on Wilson, the camper van soon. We departed Picton and quickly hopped on the Queen Charlotte Track, a mountain road that leads to some beautiful hikes, camping grounds and more. Steph and I did a nice hour or so hike before heading to our Air B&B for the night in the town of Blenheim. After a long day of traveling we decided the easiest thing to do for dinner was go to one of the restaurant spots recommended by our host. This great little place had a German beer hall vibe but also an array of pizzas. So we tried for the first time what we were told was a must in New Zealand, pizza with chicken, cranberry and Brie. Pretty delicious actually!
We were pretty excited about the following day in Blenheim as we had a wine tour by bike reservation. This turned out to be a great way to spend a nice portion of our day as we rode around on well laid out paths to about 7 different cellar doors (tasting rooms). Each one had their own speciality wines and stories to tell. There was one lady who ran a smaller winery compared to others we saw, who told us how years ago herself and her husband and decided they loved wine and were unhappy with their spot in life so decided to create a pro’s and con’s list of why and why not they should open a winery. Well after taking the leap, they are still going after being one of the first to arrive in what is now a booming wine region, http://www.bladen.co.nz/about/.
In addition to Bladen we really enjoyed others such as Forrest, Nautilus Estates, Framingham and Giesen. Speaking of Giesen, here is where we enjoyed a pretty epic platter, complete with mussels, meats, cheeses and chutneys. The wife was quite happy with all the different spreads!
Blenheim treated us well and the next stop was Abel Tasman National Park. What we were consistently told by those familiar with New Zealand was while the North Island has amazing scenery, once you get to the South Island things turn truly epic. We stayed at a holiday park/lodge in Kaitteriteri that was right on the water and near hiking paths. Here we stayed in a little cabin with bunk beds, that seemed small at first but once again, this was before we met Wilson. (Are you getting excited for those stories yet?!?) We spent some time on the beach for the first time on our trip, BBQ’d and enjoyed the beautiful sunset across the water, over the mountains.
The next day we woke up early for a quick breakfast before we headed out via the Abel Tasman water taxi for an epic tour of the many bays and coves that are part of the national park. There were many choices of how to explore the national park but unless you were really going to immerse yourself into the park and hike and camp it over a course of a few days, then you’re best option is to take a water taxi through the park and hike part of it, which is what we did. Our water taxi was very intimate with only about 12 people, and our driver acted as a guide, telling us about the different coves, stopping for us to take pictures of seals and penguins and even going into a remote cove that is only accessible on a smaller boat and during high tide.
After going the entire course of the park via boat, we were then dropped off for a two and half hour hike followed by a little beach time before getting picked up by water taxi. It was impressive watching these companies at work, they were really on the ball, knowing exactly which cove each passenger was due to be picked and stacking kayaks four high for those that explored the park that way.
The next day we headed out to Nelson, another great little town that we wished we could’ve spent more time in. On the way from Abel Tasman to Nelson is just another long stretch of wineries on both sides of the road screaming from afar, “come on in, you know you want to.” We decided we’d give one a try and followed what we perceived to be some back roads and just chose one, called Mahana. Truly we just picked one of what was at least 15 in the area and it just so happens we picked what was more than just a nice cellar door but a full restaurant with two different brands and a posh hotel where apparently Prince Charles recently stayed. Keep it classy Levinson’s! Now the lady running the cellar door couldn't have been nicer and it was likely because I was wearing my IU (Indiana University) t-shirt that day. She preceded to explain how her family had lived in Bloomington for 20 years as her husband was a professor before moving to New Zealand 10 years back or so. People say the world is small and this just goes to show you. So moving on, we enjoyed the wines at Mahana and made our way to Nelson.
Nelson seemed a great town to spend a weekend at, filled with bars advertising drink specials, a great beach where locals and tourists alike were walking after work hours, and overall really nice people. Our hosts that night were so gracious, having us on their patio for beers and good stories. They immediatly made us feel at home and I loved that they had a friendly little dog. We were sad to leave, but a new adventure was about to begin. We had a 6:45 am flight to Christchurch to pick up our camper van!