We started our journey that morning by boat – crossing back across the Kenepuru Sound to our hire car, where we left it, parked next to the Te Mahia jetty.
Our drive brought us back through Havelock and along Highway 6 towards Pelorus Bridge before we took a big right turn and the road to Nelson.
Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and the 2nd oldest settled in all of New Zealand (after Wellington), becoming a city in 1858 by Royal Charter. (Edit: Russell is the oldest town in New Zealand. Kerikeri, founded in 1822, and Bluff founded in 1823, both claim to be the oldest European settlements in New Zealand).
It is named after Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson – the victor of the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 against the French and Spanish fleets. Most of the streets and place names in Nelson refer to partcipants and ships in that battle.
We stopped on the Eastern shore of Tasman Bay and had lunch at the Boat Shed Cafe. on Wakefield Quay. As we ate we looked out across the bay and could see our destination across the water – Able Tasman National Park.
Named after the dutch explorer, Able Tasman, the park contains Golden Bay; the location where Able and his crew became the first Europeans to set foot in New Zealand in 1642 – while the English were engaging in their civil war.
300 years later in 1942 the park was formed – 22,000 hectares of protected land – with golden beaches, sculptured cliffs and a 60km coastal track that is considered one of the best in the world ; hence why we were here. But first we had to drive over a small mountain and get to our accomodation at Marahau, a small village and the southern gateway to the park.
Our stay was at an amazingly stylish guesthouse. The hosts were super friendly and we had a really great view across to the park itself.
We did not budget enough days to do the full 60km walk around to Wainui Bay so being clever we booked a boat for the next morning to drop us along the route. That left the most southerly part for us to try and conquer that first afternoon.
We began our hike crossing the walkway that runs across Marahau Estuary. On the return leg we managed to see a number of grey herons searching for dinner amongst the shallow waters and reeds.
After the estuary we made our way up a small climb and through some beech forest with sprinklings of kanuka trees (white tea trees) bringing us around to an opening and great views of the Tasman Sea as we began the coastal section of the walk.
We made it as far as Apple Tree Bay camp ground before the setting sun meant we had to turn back.
That evening we went for dinner in one of the only nearby restaurants – Hooked On – a quaint little beachside restaurant but there was nothing boutique about the portions.
The next Morning , after breakfast we walked down the street to the Aqua Taxi home base. The parking lot was a cauldron of industry ; backpackers repacking their satchels and sacks, tractors wizzing past dragging the flotilla of water taxis into position; pilots walking around collecting their motley crew of passengers for the day. At 9am all the boats hit the beach and stuck out on their various journeys.
We began heading south to check out Split Apple Rock before catapulting north up the coast to Motuareronui Island and its colony of seals and birdlife. The other name for the island is Adele Island , named after the wife of French explorer Jules Dumont D’Urville who mapped out a portion of this part of the coast and named a number of it’s features.
After an hour of cruising up and a couple of stops we were offloaded on the beach at Bark Bay . The next part of the journey would be on foot. We had almost 4 hours to strike south, past Torrent Bay village and meet our connecting boat ride back to Marahau at a spot called the Anchorage.
Our path took us across suspension bridges over sweeping inlets, through native forest dotted with wild mushrooms and across golden sandy beaches with some picnic sandwiches to keep us going.
We finshed off our big day of hiking in the park by grabbing a couple of burgers at the neighbours place – the Fat Tui pit stop and swapping travel stories with the other guests over some drinks – we had a few bottles left from Blenheim.
Our first stop on the road trip back to Nelson and it’s airport was at Mapua Wharf and its vibrant collection of coffee shops, bars and shops. It is also home to the Golden Bear brewery.
We then went onto nearby Rabbit Island and walked along its long sandy beach with the southerly part of Tasman bay lapping on the shore. It was formed over thousands of years by sand and silt being deposited at the mouth of the Waimea River and forming a number of barrier islands that then merged.
FInally we stopped at Pic’s Peanut Butter World. Unfortunately the tours were not running that day but we managed to get some lunch and take a few snaps.
And with that our time on the South Island was over. We jumped on our 30 minute flight across the sea to the North Island and it’s capital city – Wellington, for the last few days of our trip.