Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Great Southern Land

As I write this, I am currently sitting pretty much slap bang in the very geographical centre of New Zealand.  Which is kind of funny considering it's split into two islands but that's what Google tells me, which is pretty cool.  I'm nestled up in a quiet spot in the bushes in a little town called Tapawera in Tasman district and if I say so myself, all is pretty much well in my little world.  The population of Tapawera is around 405 people according to the local notice board, which is the perfect place for a hermit like me.  I would probably have to award it the title of NZ's friendliest town so far as well; everybody is absolutely lovely here and so laid back.  Whilst everyone in the South Island is friendly pretty much, Tapawera just excels and is a beautiful part of the country to boot.  What more can you ask for?

Our lovely, peaceful camping spot in Tapawera

As it turns out, I can't really ask for too much more from life right now.  It has been a truly wonderful, remarkable week full of new places, new sights, and new 'wow' moments.  It also marked the end of a 25 year phobia of mine - the Cook Strait ferry crossing.  I first did this shortly after arriving in NZ in 1992 and was too traumatised to attempt it again since.  The crossing was so rough that my drink and everything else went flying off the table and I was so sick I actually fell asleep in the ladies loos for the most part of the journey.  Even on the return trip I refused to be coaxed outside or even look out the window.  So as much as I was looking forward to finally getting to the South Island, I was also dreading it, which Gareth became all too suddenly aware of when I began doing my deep breathing exercises and almost throwing up even before we had driven on to the ferry.  He, on the other hand couldn't have been more excited.  Three months to the day since we had left Nawtypoo Cottage!  It had been a long wait, much longer than planned but here we finally were, southbound.  And the last thing I wanted to do was spoil the journey for him.  There was only one thing for it - I had to harden up.  Besides, I had been watching the weather forecast for days leading up to our booking, I couldn't ask for more perfect conditions!

I can do this!

Farewell Wellington, you've been fab!

So instead of hiding inside, I opted to stay outside on the deck and climbed up to the very top.  And there we pretty much stayed for the whole three and a half hour crossing.  Whilst I do admit to still being a little anxious at times, it was still brilliant and I can honestly say I made the most of every minute of the trip.  Even though Wellington was grey and overcast, there was no denying it really is the most beautiful city and we all marvelled at it as the ferry pulled out of the harbour.  The sea was flat all the way and as the trip progressed and we pootled gracefully past miles of mountains dotted with wind turbines, all of a sudden the sun came out and we were treated to the most spectacular sail through the stunning Queen Charlotte Sounds.  To think I had been missing out on this all these years!  I had finally done it and overcome my fear.  Better still, our NZMCA membership saved us a fortune - our discounted rate cost just $195 on the Bluebridge ferry, compared to $337 on the Interislander!

Rows and rows of wind turbines.  What better place for them than this?!

Nice, flat sea.  Just the way I planned it!

Queen Charlotte Sounds.  Just magic!

Docking at Picton.  We made it, woohoo!

We spent a very peaceful night at a little place called Spring Creek, just out of Picton.  As you might imagine, there was a spring creek running right through the place and we were lucky enough to park right up at the crystal clear water's edge.  The weather was beautiful and I would have been tempted to take a cooling dip were it not for the eels Gareth spotted languishing in the water!

Our picturesque little waterside spot at Spring Creek

Eels or no eels it was a lovely welcome to the South Island but as the next day dawned we were keen to get moving and explore.   We didn't plan to get quite as far as we did, envisaging an overnight stop in or near Nelson, however we were both enjoying the scenery so much we just kept going!  Plus once we heard about the mass whale stranding in Golden Bay we wanted to head there as soon as possible to join the volunteers.  So head there we did, with me at the wheel and Gareth holding the map, towards a sign that said 'Takaka Hill, road open'.  Immediately that rang alarm bells for me. How bad could a road be that it needed to tell you when it was open or not?  I was soon to find out.  There was to follow, the longest 55km of my life as we climbed over 860 metres up.  I never have had a head for heights but with a sheer drop over the side, an extremely narrow road with hairpin bends and often no form of barrier stopping you from going over the edge, I was an absolute wreck.  Even the barest glimpse of view out of the corner of my eye made me want to be sick - and I was driving!

Takaka Hill and the Marble Mountains.  No amount of photography can convey how freaking high this is!

Gareth on the other hand was having an absolute blast, hanging his camera out of the window and snapping away at the incredible view.  This HAD to be Lord of the Rings country, didn't it?  As I was later to find out, indeed it was.  But for now, I couldn't look at anything but the road directly in front of me.  Even Robbie Williams couldn't get me through this one, Gareth had to resort to putting on Michael Buble!  Then suddenly, just as soon as I thought the road would never end, the hill stopped as abruptly as it had started and we found ourselves at our destination, Takaka.  What a staggeringly beautiful place - even I had to admit, it was definitely worth the drive!

Camping in the hills at Anatoki River

Anatoki River walk 

Lord of the Rings country.  Couldn't be any more beautiful!

The cafe garden at Anatoki Salmon.  This place absolutely deserves a visit!

We followed the river for a short distance before arriving at our freedom camping spot for the night at Anatoki Salmon.  This, as you might expect from the name, is a salmon farm, deep in the heart of the bush and is set in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  One side of the road is set up for freedom campers to be able to stay for two nights (as long as you are self contained) and you are allowed to use their facilities during opening hours.  You can even go salmon fishing there for free!  It's free to hire the gear, you just have to pay for the fish you catch and they will even smoke it for you or prepare it however you like.  Whilst we didn't manage catch any of the clever fishies, we spend a very enjoyable Sunday trying to, before relaxing under the vines, partaking of some delicious home made salmon snacks and a glass of local vino.  I could have honestly stayed there forever.

Collingwood.  Tad stormy!

As tends to happen with me, I didn't want to leave.  Fortunately for the owner, on our third morning we had to, so we headed further up Golden Bay to Collingwood.  Well that was the plan, but as luck would have it we struck Project Jonah and all the volunteers from the whale rescue coming back down the bay.  The towns were crawling with people all trying to find a place to stay or hitchhike back to where they had come from and try as we might, we couldn't find a vacant spot anywhere.  To make matters worse, the weather was appalling, with two days of storms forecast, making a lot of the riverside freedom camping spots too dangerous to stay at in case of flooding.  After a whole morning of fruitless searching it became apparent that we really only had one choice left.  I was going to have to drive us over that bloody hill again.  We consulted the weather, spotted a sunny opportunity on the horizon (literally) and went for it.

View from Takaka Hill towards Motueka.  Almost worth the heart failure!

This time Gareth was prepared with Michael Buble from the start!  Coming from this direction meant that we got the worst part over first and soon Michael and I were singing in perfect happy unison as we made our way cautiously down the hill.  This time there was no avoiding the view for me as it was right in front of me but even I was awestruck at the stunning landscape with the Motueka River before us.  We made it - another phobia conquered!  Saying that, I don't plan to cross that hill again any time soon...

The road to peaceful paradise.  Hello Tapawera!

Motueka we soon discovered was also swarming with whale volunteers, which whilst it was brilliant to see the sheer numbers of caring people who had turned out, was not proving too helpful in finding us a place to stay, especially when I had work to do!  In desperation we decided to venture well away from the main centres and off the beaten track, where hopefully it would be quieter.  Fortunately this time our plan worked and is how we have come to be here in Tapawera.  I couldn't be any happier or more content in this beautiful, peaceful place and to top things off I had a wonderful surprise our first afternoon standing outside the Tapawera Four Square with Minnie.  'Are you Jackie?' a friendly voice said.  I turned around and there was Kelly, a long time Facebook friend and Simple Saver!  How lovely to finally be able to meet in person after all these years!


  1. It is lovely following your journey. Keep enjoying.

  2. Love hearing about your travels, I was just over Takaka and up to golden bay in November, lovely country. The eels as Spring Creek are friendly and were wanting you to feed them, not to feed on you LOL , Welcome to the mainland !

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