Some years ago in France we thought we had seen the ultimate in museums – ‘The Museum of String’, closely followed by the ‘Museum of Prunes’. However today in Hokitika we come across the ‘ Home of the Sock Knitting Machine Museum’ which must surely cap both of those. We decide against enjoying the contents of the museum after some brief deliberation and head off north through Greymouth and into the flatlands that spread out before the hills that lead us to the Nelson Lakes.
The area around Greymouth is industrial, flat and quite dull and it is the only region of New Zealand so far where we have seen evidence of poverty in the ramshackle dwellings along much of the road. A humorist in one of the little towns along the way had placed a telling sign on his petrol price display that made us chuckle. But in reality petrol is not cheap here and for people in rural areas, often with large distances to drive to the next township, this is a real concern.
In Murchison we seek out the best looking coffee shop and find the River Cafe. There is a mean orange cake to enjoy with a pot of real leaf tea. As I peruse a brochure for a place to stay, Louise, the lady who had served us, asks us if we are looking for somewhere to stay as she owns it and it is free tonight. Her batch is only a couple of minutes walk from Lake Rotoroa and six kms down a valley away from the main road. It is very reasonably priced, looks very comfortable and, as it looks like rain tonight and the dreaded sand flies are menacing, we book it there and then and set off in search.
We are met by Tony, her husband, who makes us very welcome, insisting that I share a beer with him safe from the sand flies because I have plastered myself in their home-made repellent. It smells nasty but the flies hate it too so a result there. Tony tells us that the area is a fisherman’s delight with several rivers and lakes within a twenty mile radius. He also enjoys hunting wild pig and deer that live in the surrounding hills.
We have time for a walk around a little bit of the lake and it is a walkers’ paradise with tramps into the hills in all directions. This is also pristine forest with some very huge, old trees.
So purely by chance and good fortune we have stumbled across another fantastic place to stay that I would recommend: ‘Gowan Bank Backpackers and Homestay’ in the Gowan Valley. Their website can be found on: www.nelsonlakesshuttles.co.nz
Wednesday 1st February….To Nelson and old friends.
Louise and Tony cannot be more helpful in the morning. We would like to stay around and do some walking but the weather is not promising and so we head off for Nelson where we are invited to stay at Katie and Ian’s for a few days before our flight to Australia.
The road through the hills and valleys of the Lake district is another stunner. The hills have the distinct sharp cut sides and are covered in dense forest. It is also an Alpine skiing area that is not ‘trendy’ but is close enough to Nelson and Murchison for local people to enjoy.
As we approach Nelson there is evidence of the recent floods as roads are only recently opened and along some roadside banks a few homes have been nearly washed away. An exclusive block of apartments had thick mud sweep down from the hill behind and fill the rooms before spilling out onto the road below. For those people it must have been terrifying. But by and large the town has recovered quickly from the floods and has retained its attractive outlook. It has the reputation of being the sunniest city in New Zealand and it is protected from the worst of the weather by the islands and sounds that surround it.
It is lovely to see Ian and Katie again and one of their two sons – Jack – who still lives at home. Last time I saw them, when they lived in Wellington, he was just four and his brother Daniel was seven. Jack is now a strapping, tall adolescent. Like a lot of New Zealand kids , he is sport crazy and lives a largely outdoor life which means his use of the dreaded computer kill games is fairly limited and non intrusive. His brother, Daniel, now lives in Wellington and is preparing for University and a life of independence.
Katie and Ian have a beautiful house. It is an old style villa about a hundred years old. The views from the front look over the mountains and the rear has a verandah that goes right round the house with various spots on the decking to catch sun or shade throughout the day. It was once part of a large orchard and still has plum, lemon and lime trees and a large plot of land to garden. Katie has her herbs growing and Ian has started growing vegetables. Ian also has a large workshop so that he can carry on with his creative work of carving wood and forging bronzes and painting. He is chuffed to have news that one of his sculptures that has been exhibited in a local gallery, has just sold to a couple in Colorado.
We spend a very pleasant evening catching up on old times and filling in gaps while enjoying some local salmon and salad on the decking.
Thursday 2nd…….Around Nelson and a Round of Golf….
Following an itinerary from Ian we stay local and explore Nelson and surroundings today.
Firstly it’s a walk up the hill behind the house that leads to ‘The Centre of New Zealand’, so called because the trig point at the top of the hill was the point from where the local survey started. Locals believe that Nelson is not only the centre of NZ but quite possibly the whole world or even the Universe.
The walk to the top is pleasant and the noise of the cicadas is explosive following recent rain and the promise of more. They are making the high pitched trill I usually associate with cicadas but we also notice a low clicking that we haven’t heard before. We finally manage to see a cicada on a tree and notice the clicking is made by a rapid movement of the wings. We eventually reach the top of the hill and the climb is worth the effort for the wonderful views North over Nelson itself and the Abel Tasman peninsular spreading away westwards as far as the Sandspit. Views south take us to the valleys and mountains that are covered in trees and today are shrouded in ominous cloud.
A half hour later and we are strolling around Nelson. The town has a relaxed atmosphere that is reminiscent of Mediterranean seaside towns with lots of wine and coffee bars spilling on to the pavements and filling with workers and tourists. We meet Ian for a fine lunch at the Suter gallery, one of several art galleries in a town that prides itself on its creative heart.
I enjoy shopping for supper, especially a stop at Phillipe’s butchery where I can spend ten minutes chatting to Phillipe about his home town of Antibes and my youth spent in Cros-de-Cagnes just along the coast. I have to buy one of his delicious homemade salamis and some olives to go with the pork that we will have barbequed later. Like so much fresh food in New Zealand, the quality is fantastic.
Before supper though there is the small matter of a quick nine holes of golf to play with Ian and Jack at their local course just down the valley. Jack, at fifteen, has the measure of us old fogies and with a mixture of skill and a decided lack of fear he beats us easily. Despite the defeat I enjoy a pleasant stroll along a valley course that has a stream running through it. Ian points out a huge brown trout that feeds in a deep pool under one of the bridges.
Marilyn has had a result from Amazon who have been very supportive over the Kindle affair. Having failed in all attempts to cure the fault, they will replace it immediately. It will be sent to England however, and so she will have to return to nose in a real book mode for a while. Luckily there are more books lining Ian and Katie’s walls than even she can cope with during this stay so she is a fairly happy bunny as she chews on her barbequed pork chop on the decking this evening.
Friday 3rd. Abel Tasman National Park……
The last time I was in Abel Tasman I missed the events of 9/11 as I was in the middle of a three day trek and only got back to civilisation on the tenth of September when I learnt of the attack when I emailed Marilyn. The place has a certain poignant resonance for me and I am looking forward to sharing a little bit of the path with Marilyn today.
We drive as far as the start of the trail at Marahau and set off over the footbridges that cross the bay and onto the trail itself. We meet several youngsters laden with 20kg packs who have made the five hour trek from Anchorage and are finishing the three day trail. They all look knackered but exhilarated at their achievement. We are only going to do a couple of hours to Coquille Bay beach for a picnic and we are therefore travelling light and cheating somewhat.
The trail is well maintained as so many of the New Zealand great trails seem to be. It hugs the sea and we pass a few lovely little bays and beaches before reaching the path that descends through the forest and down to our chosen bay. An idyllic little spot, it is almost deserted. A catamaran is anchored in the bay and a few folk share the picnic spot. The forest cascades down to the white sand beach and the sea is that azure blue that I associate with the iconic desert island beach. The cicadas are deafening and the seagulls wait patiently to take off and pick them out of the air should they dare to take flight over the beach.
We return to Marahau the way we came and make the scenic drive back along the coast. I am chatting to Marilyn about the experience when I am pulled in by a parked policeman as we pass through one of the hamlets. He informs me that I am doing 57kph in a 50kph school zone and I know I am done for as they are very strict on speed in New Zealand. My 4 miles an hour excess costs me an instant $30 fine and some shame as I have tried religiously to keep to speed limits and I agree with slow speeds near schools.
As recompense Ian and Katie take us out to a local pub that is in a converted church. It has a fine array of real ales and Ian and I try the Captain Cook Bitter that is allegedly based on a real recipe as used on the great man’s boat. I don’t know whether I believe the hype but it is a lovely pint. It helps wash down a bring-in Pizza that we order from a local firm.
The pub has a large Yurt in the grounds in which they regularly hold live music or dramas. Tonight a local dance school is having a ceroc evening and couples gyrate away in gay abandon.
It certainly all goes on in sunny Nelson!