I made a sketchy escape from the muddy campsite that had trapped a camper van the night before and headed towards Tanaka and the Golden Bay. When I arrived I found out that the road to Tanaka was closed until 3, so I decided to go to Abel Tasman National Park where one of New Zealand’s Great Walks lies. I choose a cove that would be a 9 mile return hike in and headed out. Unlike some of the hikes I’ve tackled, the trail was wide and well worn in. It followed the cliff side through the temperate rainforest and gave beautiful views of the ocean, islands, and white sand bays. When I got to my destination, the beach had only a few other people and a couple of seagulls. I ended up staying longer than I meant to, almost falling asleep in the sand enjoying the warm weather. By the time I made it back to my car, the 3 hours it would take to get to Tanaka no longer seemed worth it. I had wanted to see Te Waikoropupu Springs which boasts some of the clearest water in the world, but honestly I’ve been pretty impressed with the lakes I’ve seen already.
I made my way to Nelson and Tahunanai Beach, where I laid down a towel on the white sands and tried decide what to do the following day. This is probably one of the few nights I’ve stopped driving earlier than an hour before sunset, and it was nice to relax. I was starting to feel I probably could have spent my whole trip lounging on the sandy, warm beaches of the north coast. I choose a campsite right in front of the beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset while I ate my dinner. After talking with my neighbor from Colorado about fishing and my favorite hiking tracks I turned in for an early night.
Although I had dreams of sleeping in, the airport in Nelson had flights coming in by 7. I packed up and headed out to Picton and the Marlborough Sounds. In Picton, the landing point of ferries from the North islands, I went to an aquarium with a blue penguin rehabilitation program. EcoWorld Aquarium was, well, a little sad. The tanks were small and dirty. The Blue Penguin they currently had spent the majority of the time with its head tucked in the corner of the tank he shared with random fish. A preserved giant squid sat awkwardly in what I would guess is a tank of formaldehyde in the dimly lit room. It was very underwhelming and I felt bad for the poor fish and reptiles stuck there.
After failing to find a cruise in my price range or a hike I was interested in, I headed down Queen Charlotte Drive that’s lined with viewpoints to look out at the sounds from the cliffsides. Since I had time to kill, I made a detour down one of the peninsula’s windy roads to a seemingly deserted resort. The barista in the cafe told me that a lot of their customers come from the nearby Queen Charlotte Track. I enjoyed my flat white with a view of the green and empty bay before making my way back to the main highway. An earthquake in 2016 devastated the highway down the east coast to Christchurch. It’s now only open during the day, and it is a very slow drive down an uneven and unsealed road. I wasn’t able to stop because of the construction, but I did get to see colonies of seals hanging out along the coastline. I ended up at a crowded campsite just south of Kaikoura on a beach with black sands and a spot for my tent where I could hear the crashing waves.
It’s hard to believe that my time in the South Island is almost over. I’m sad that I’ll no longer wake up to the sight of clouds hanging in the mountains. No more picturesque, pastel sunsets over the ocean. No setting up my tent every night or packing it up every morning. I’ll miss the green hills filled with farms and the never ending rainforests covering the mountains. Falling asleep to the sound of a river or the ocean or even better, silence. It’ll be hard to adjust to days that are filled with more than driving and hiking. But my bed next to the noisy freeway is calling me home.