Part VIII: Banks Peninsula, Marlborough, Farewell Spit, Abel Tasman and Christchurch.


On Tuesday 4th December 2012 we woke up to more stunning Summer weather. Really love the climate here. It was a beautiful 110km drive to the gorgeous Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula.

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Banks Peninsula and its hills were formed by two giant volcanic eruptions. Small harbours such as Le Bons, Pigeon and Little Akaloa Bays radiate out from the peninsula’s centre, giving it a cogwheel shape.

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The historic town of Akaroa was the main highlight, as was the absurdly beautiful drive along Summit Rd around the edge of the original crater.

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Had to watch out for the sheep and lambs of course on the winding roads.

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Akaroa means ‘Long Harbour’ in Maori and is the site of the country’s first French settlement; descendants of the original French settlers still reside here. Located 83km from Christchurch, it’s a charming town that strives to re-create the feel of a French provincial village, even down to the names of its streets (rues Lavaud, Balguerie, Jolie) and houses (Langlois-Eteveneaux), plus a few choice eateries.

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The Gallic pretence can sometimes be a tad forced, but it’s still an undeniably picturesque spot, especially as we used it as a base for exploring the incredible landscapes and bays of the surrounding area.

We spotted many beautiful vineyards and more beautiful wildlife including the Takihi bird, pretty rare.

Had a lovely lunch at Lake Forsyth and saw loads of ducks and wild chickens.

The hills on the peninsula are stunning and we loved all the view points on Summit Rd. Because we have such freedom with the campervan we explored all the little bays.

We drove to Pigeon Bay which was amazing.


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Lovely colours in the water.

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Then it was onto Okains Bay, Le Bons Bay.

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This area is famous for dolphins which love these fresh and clean waters.

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As we drove to the main town Akoroa via Summit Rd the views of the town were simply spectacular.

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We stopped many times as we could see for miles, including the islands in the bay and out to the Pacific Ocean.

This view was one of my favourites in the whole of New Zealand.

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The landscape was beautiful.

The grass and hills all around were so green, with white sandy bays hidden around the peninsula. This area would be a holiday location in itself to explore, one of the reasons I guess why people from Christchurch come  here so often on their holidays.


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Captain James Cook, normally so meticulous with his mapping, had an off day here in 1769. He failed to circumnavigate what he mistook for an island, quickly named it after Sir Joseph Banks, and sailed on to Botany Bay.

In 1838 the French negotiated the purchase of Banks Peninsula from local Maori and returned to France to form a trading company. With French-government backing, 63 settlers headed for the peninsula in 1840. But only days before they arrived, panicked British officials sent their own warship to raise the flag at Akaroa, claiming British sovereignty under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Had the settlers arrived two years earlier, the entire South Island could have become a French colony, and NZ’s future may have been quite different!

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That night we stayed at Duvauchelle which had great views of the harbour.

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We left the next morning.

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We decided to drive over the Summit Rd again it was so spectacular.

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We loved it here, stopping many times again in awe of the scenery before us.

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It was then off to Lyttleton which had a nice bay close to Christchurch. We had decided to leave exploring Christchurch to our final days in New Zealand as we fly home to Scotland from here.

Although we weren’t in Christchurch City Centre we already started to notice the affects of the devastating earthquakes. The roads have caved in and buildings have rumbled to the ground creating very dangerous crevasses on the road which have been patched over.

We were putting things into the Sat Nav such as Woolworths supermarket, BP petrol station and New World supermarket and they simply were not there anymore. The Sat Nav would take us to flattened ground which was very sad.

Out of respect I have decided not to upload any photos from the devastation that has been caused in Chirstchurch or the surrounding area. I think it’s better to look at the future rather than the past.

That night we stayed at the pretty New Brighton beach which was also hit by the earthquake.

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Damage was evident at every corner and makeshift repairs on the roads proved an extreme hazard which tourists find difficult to drive around, including us.

We stayed right on the edge of the red zone, the area most damaged by the earthquake. It was a sobering experience. I chatted to the manager who was there at the time of the last earthquake.

As she was driving her car the earthquake struck and the road opened all around her. Her car fell into a crevasse but she safely managed to get out. The experience didn’t have much of an affect on her as she felt lucky compared to the hundreds who sadly lost their lives.

She told us the story of a local dog, a cute little Bichon Friese, which went missing for two weeks after the earthquake. The owner’s house collapsed and they thought the dog must have died in there. However, two weeks later the Bichon Friese came back, miraculously escaping the devastation of the house and probably running like hell for safety.

We left the area after lunch and witnessed more destruction all around us. Words can not describe the devastation and we can only hope nothing like this ever happens again.

We drove to beautiful Gore Bay.

On the way we seen the ‘Cathedral Cliffs’.

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 The beach was massive and we couldn’t see a soul on it.

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Had an excellent view from our conservatory.

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Loved it here.

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That evening a tornado struck Auckland and killed three people. We hoped the bad weather would not move South towards us.

On Friday 7th Decemeber 2012 we drove to Kaikoura where marine animals are abundant here due to ocean-current and continental-shelf conditions.

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The sea bed gradually slopes away from the land to a depth of about 90m, then plunges to more than 800m where warm and cold water converges.
 
It was a stunning drive.
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So close to the coast.

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We loved it here with all the unspoiled beaches and fantastic amount of wildlife. The seals were playing right beside us.

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There are few places in the world with such awesome mountains so close to the sea, and such a proliferation of wildlife so close at hand: whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, shearwaters, petrels and albatross.

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We saw about 500 seals and their pups in Kaikoura alone.

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They were loving it in these pristine conditions.

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Plenty of photo opportunities.

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We drove to the end of the peninsula to Point Kean Seal Colony. Loads more seals just sunbathing on the rocks.

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It was amazing here getting so close to the seals.

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Then it was onto Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region, one of the most famous wine regions on the planet. We took the SH1 and drove around the coast, backed by the snowcapped 2610m peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

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Along the roads were about about another 500 seals and an abundance of wildlife. They were having as much of a good time as we were.

Next stop was Marlborough and its famous wines.

The name of the genius who discovered that Marlborough’s cool, sunny climate is perfect for growing grapes has been lost to history, but the wine world is now toasting his (or her) legacy: Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough Wine Region is a world-class winner.

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Marlborough produces some of New Zealand’s finest wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, which is acclaimed throughout the world as the definitive benchmark style for the variety.

More than two thirds of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc vines are grown in the region. Wines made from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes are also highly acclaimed.

We loved it as we drove past hundreds of vineyards.

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Oyster Bay, Cloudy Bay and Wither Hills are just some of the world famous wines we seen.

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On Saturday 8th December 2012 we felt a slight earthquake which was a strange experience.

We decided to explore the grapes a bit more personally seeing as we were in the heart of the Marlborough region. So it was an easy choice where to go, non other than the Cloudy Bay cellar door. One of the most famous Sauvignon Blancs on the planet.

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We wanted to go the Oyster Bay cellar door but sadly they did not have one, which was a big shock to us.

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It was lovely to see the vineyards blossoming and looking beautiful.

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We loved the Cloudy Bay cellar door and it’s gorgeous vineyard.

We had planned on going to more vineyards, but instead we tried nearly every wine under their name, almost 12 different wines on the list *hic hic*

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We started off with sparkling of course. Tried the Pelorus Brut a chardonnay-predominant blend of selected vintages. A fresh, aperitif style sparkling wine with apple crisp flavours, underpinned by nutty yeast complexity derived from two years bottle maturation on lees.

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Then it was onto the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc regarded as the quintessential expression of the acclaimed Marlborough wine region, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is an international benchmark wine noted for its vibrant aromatics, layers of pure fruit flavours and fine structure.

Also tried the 2012 Chardonnay, 2012 Pinot Noir, 2009 Te Koko, 2011 Pinto Gris, 2007 Pelorus Vintage, 2012 Riesling and a 2007 Late Harvest Riesling to name just a few.

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We almost went for a siesta in the garden amongst the famous grapes….

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Loved the book about all the dogs which have helped this wine region as well. Love my four legged friends!!

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Incredible surroundings.

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Very pretty.

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Drove to the actual Cloudy Bay as well which was stunning.

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Next stop was lovely Picton and the sunken valleys of the Marlborugh Sounds.

Picton was very pretty, not like your usual port town. The ferry which connects with the north island was docked in the harbour.

We followed the ferry as we drove along spectacular scenery.

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Drove along a very winding road which provided breathtaking views of the mountains and sea.

Next stop was Nelson, a midsize city dotted with photogenic Victorian houses. It had many pubs, galleries and hip cafés which set the scene for creative discourse.

The Nelson region is the access point for tramping and kayaking in New Zealand’s most-visited national park, Abel Tasman. We couldn’t wait for the Abel Tasman coastal track which we would be walking over five days.

That night we found a gorgeous campsite by the beach at Mapua, beautiful Ruby Bay.

We could see Nelson in the distance.

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The next day we drove to the most northern point of the South Island: Farewell Spit.

It was an incredible drive. One of our favourites as we massed through huge mountain regions and hundreds of unspoiled beaches.

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We stopped at Moutere Inlet which was pretty with all the sand dunes on the way. It was then onto Motueka, a very famous area for cherries, apples, kiwi fruit and most orchards including boysenberries.

We then came very close to the start of the Abel Tasman track as we went to Kaiteriteri, one of NZ’s most alluring beaches.

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Loved the weather here and the golden sand beaches.

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We then drove over huge mountain regions which provided completely different scenery. At Takaka Hill we had a lovely view of where we just came from.

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We then followed the coast all the way to Farewell Spit.

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Stopped a couple of times at Collingwood which was just lovely, with so many nice beaches.

Finally as there was nowhere else to go, we got to this arc of sand which really is something quite spectacular.

Extending eastward into the Tasman Sea, it’s not some boring old bit of beach poking out from a solid land mass. Rather, this 35 kilometre spit is the longest natural sandbar in the world.

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Its huge dunes form a coastal barrier that protects an important staging area for migratory shore birds. A total of 83 species of wetland birds have been recorded at the spit, which is also a breeding ground for colonies of Australasian gannet. This significant location is now protected and considered a Wetland of International Importance.

We then went onto possibly the most beautiful beach we have ever seen: Wharariki beach. Wharariki blew us away. Everything at Wharariki is big. Big waves, big cliffs, big sand dunes and big caves.

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Part of the appeal to me is how remote it all feels.

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The archway islands were massive and looked quite surreal.

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We just couldn’t stop looking it, and wondered how on earth they have survived the ocean to this day.

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The sand all around us was so beautiful and untouched. Hardly anyone here. It felt so wild.

Further along the beach we bumped into some cute seals swimming with their pups in pools of water.

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It was amazing to watch and they didn’t mind us one bit. It was difficult to leave this gorgeous place.

We then drove to Cape Farewell an incredible arch out from the mainland into the sea.

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It was stunning.

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Loads of lambs and sheep also enjoying the beautiful Summer weather.

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On Monday 10th December 2012 it was all about getting ready for The Abel Tasman, one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand.

The most noticeable features of this walk are the golden sandy beaches, the fascinating rocky outcrops (mainly granite but with a scattering of limestone and marble) and the rich, unmodified estuaries and wildlife.

As we picked up our hut tickets from the DOC I was over the moon when I was told I could fish in the national park.

That day we sent our last postcard of 2012 to our family, so sad.

We stayed in Richmond that night praying the fantastic Summer weather would continue for at least the next five days, which was the amount of time we would take to complete the whole of The Abel Tasman walk.

On Tuesday 11th December 2012 our alarms went off at 6am. Quickly stuck our heads out the campervan and were delighted when we saw the big ball of fire above us without a cloud in the sky. We were even more happy when we checked the weather forecast and it was meant to be amazing for at least the next week.

We made sure our swimming gear was definitely packed, and my fishing rod of course!

Abel Tasman is a place of sweeping golden beaches, marine reefs and stunning islands.

We couldn’t wait to get going as we waited at our campsite in Richmond for the bus to the start of the track.

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It was then time to set off…

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The track begins with a causeway that crosses the estuary over the Marahau causeway. We then followed the track through opencountry to Tinline Bay. We were blown away already by the gorgeous beaches.

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We loved all the beaches we were coming across.

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Loads of photo opportunities.

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Plenty of side trips.

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Gorgeous coast line.

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Sometimes it was tough to move on.

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Spot the cute little quail chicks?

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The track then rounds Guilbert Point to Apple Tree Bay which was gorgeous.

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It was then through beech forest with large kanuka trees.

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In the short distance we could see two large islands, Adele and Fisherman Island.

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We then went to Yellow Point where the track turns inland, winding in and out of several little gullies before emerging in open country that overlooks beautiful Torrent Bay.

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We spotted a little blue penguin sloping into the water, so cute.

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We then descended to Anchorage Hut. There were loads of fresh mussels by the thousands, and other shell fish including oysters and clams, in a little beach just off the track.

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We then relaxed on the beach it was just beautiful.

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The sun was out and the water was so clear. So quiet and tranquil. Excellent swimming conditions.

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I did some fishing which was amazing.

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The water was so clear that all the fish looked as if they were floating in mid-air.

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Almost had the whole beach to ourselves.

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It was lovely and warm as we swam in the water as well. This walk is just completely different from anything we have seen before! Loved all the beaches.

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Enjoyed a bit of fishing in the evening and seen the biggest stingray I have ever seen, much bigger than the ones we seen in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Had a lovely night sleep, it was just too hot for a sleeping bag. The tide was in the next morning so we couldn’t do our fist beach crossing.

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But we weren’t that bothered as we would have gone via the high tide track anyway as we wanted to do the side trip to Cleopatras Pool.

Just amazing weather!

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Far too deep to cross here.

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Orange discs show you the way.

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Too deep one thinks!

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Loved all the beaches we could spy through the bush.

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Today was one of our favourite days.

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The days weren’t as long as our ‘Great Walks’ in the Fiordlands so we could relax and enjoy.

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We did a lot of ascending and seen numerous more lovely beaches.

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After about an hour we came to Cleopatra’s Pool. This 1 metre pool is surrounded by smooth rocks that lend themselves to sunbathing. Great to cool off after a day in the sun.

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It was then onto Torrent Bay yet another gorgeous beach. We had seen so many beautiful beaches already.

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Crossed a 47m suspension bridge. Then enjoyed some lunch with spectacular views.

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We headed back towards the sea following the track to the hut at Bark Bay.

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Bark Bay was a beautiful beach.

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Spent the rest of the day sunbathing, relaxing, swimming and of course fishing.

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Bliss!

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We picked up loads of big mussels.

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Very fresh and tasty!

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This walk is out of this world!

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Loved all the sunbathing and swimming!

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On Thursday 13th December 2012 we woke up to more intense heat and the sun was very bright.

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Great wildlife along the route.

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And some nosy birds!

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We did a lot of ascending and descending along more amazing beaches. Just far too many to name. All gorgeous with clear water.

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We continued following a winding track which went over several inland ridges before it dropped even more sharply to Tonga Quarry and it’s gorgeous beach.

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A lovely day.

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We could see Tonga Island in the distance.

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We were now in a marine reserve so no fishing for the next few kilometres. The water was so clear and could see all the fish swimming beside us along the beach.

Soon it was time to attempt our first beach crossing at Onetahuti, which you can only do three hours either side of low tide. We planned to be there at 1pm as low tide was at 4pm.

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The beach is about 1km long and we followed the orange discs in the sand which mark the safest route.

We crossed the Richardson Stream where it was pretty shallow thankfully.

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It was then another ascent to Tonga Saddle and we got a glimpse of the gorgeous beaches ahead.

It wasn’t long until we passed the nice looking Awaroa Lodge with this very tempting sign for Pizza and Beer!

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We then walked beside an airstrip and had to do another river crossing.

As a gentleman I decided Cheryl shouldn’t get her feet wet again. So I took our bags across, then went back and gave Cheryl a piggy back across the crocodile infested river with man-eating monkeys waiting on either side!

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Half an hour later we went along the beach towards Awaroa Hut which was very pretty.

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This was one of the biggest beaches we had seen on the track,  completely unspoiled. We took a walk down trying to avoid the Oyster Catchers which make a racket when you approach them as they are very protective over their young.

Had some fantastic fresh cockles from the beach.

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The wildlife was also stunning.

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Gorgeous birds.

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Lush rainforest along the coast.

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Stunning.

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When we headed back to the hut the tide was still out and we studied the tidal crossings for the next day.

It’s a huge beach crossing here with no alternative route. Annoyingly you can only cross 1 and a half hours before low tide or two hours after.

Low tide the next day would be at 4:30am. It takes 45-60 min to cross so we would have to set off at 5:30am!

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I went fishing that night and couldn’t believe how fast the tide was coming in. The beach which stretched a couple of kilomotres away from the hut was submerged in water in no time.

We had been advised that we would also be unable to cross some beaches and part of the track the next day due to land slips which occurred four months ago. We would instead have to walk along the road for a couple of hours.

As I made my way back to the hut the DOC warden was there. He told us some very amazing news!

We would be the first to access the new track to Totaranui which was just opened a few minutes ago as he was working on it. We would also have an extra hour in bed and said we could leave as late at 8am as the tide can be slower to go out due to the moon and how early it was.

Fantastic we thought, we dreaded the walk on the road and were excited to be the first on the new track. The extra few hours in bed would be a welcome surprise also.

Woke up at 6:30 am on Friday 14th December and after our cappuccino with sprinkled chocolate (seriously!) we attempted the beach crossing.

The DOC ranger said not to leave any later than 8am, so we left at 7:45am to be on the safe side.

As we crossed the beach we could see the river and it looked much deeper than we thought. It was coming in fast and we got a bit worried.

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Again had to watch all the Oyster Catchers that can be quite aggressive.

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As we entered the river we were suddenly up to our groins in water and hoped it would not get any deeper.

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We just couldn’t believe it!

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If we had left at 8am the backpacks would have had to have gone over our heads and we would have got seriously wet.

It took just over half an hour to cross as we moved very fast.

We then had to dry our feet and continued on the track.

We crossed a low saddle and got to a beautiful Waiharakek Bay. The beach was so beautiful and long. Saw more beautiful fish, star-fish and numerous shell fish.

It was then onto Goat Bay, and from here any more beautiful beaches were all completely deserted. We were so lucky! A year ago nearly to the day, this area had some of the worst weather in history and got completely flooded which caused loads of destruction to the track and the surrounding areas.

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From Goat Bay it was a 20min walk over to Skinner Point with an amazing lookout.

We then got to Totaranui, a stunning beach.

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We climbed a low saddle and descended along a forested stream to Anapai Bay, which is split in two by unusual rocky outcrops. A very scenic beach.

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We had lunch here and enjoyed the scenery.

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The wildlife was incredible, the birds in NZ are so forthcoming.

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Amazing forests also.

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This was just a pleasure to walk.

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Incredible coastline.

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So quiet.

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The coastal track continues up the sandy beach, then we headed inland and got Mutton Cove, another gorgeous beach.

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Great beaches to fish on.

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We took another side trip to Separation Point where there is a sea colony and a lighthouse.

On the way we crossed a few beautiful beaches where seals were already present.

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Some of them relaxing in the sun.

Others very close to the stairs which we had to go up.

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Another view of the seal if you can spot how close it is to the stairs.

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We got to Separation Point after about an hour, and we could see a fur seal colony. Loads of them.

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Also a lighthouse.

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It was so clear we could see Farewell Spit in the distance, where we had been a few days ago. It was amazing to see the huge bit of sand going out into the sea.

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It was then on to one last beach of the day at Whariwharangi,  a beautiful curved beach.

We loved the hut where we stayed as it was a restored two-storey farm house built in 1897 and last impermanently occupied in 1926.

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We went to the beach where I of course did some fishing.

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We then found thousands of gigantic mussels which we took back to the hut to cook.

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They were everywhere along the beach and rocks.

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Very tasty!

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We awoke on Saturday 15th December 2012 after a mixed sleep as Cheryl said she heard a ‘friendly’ ghost upstairs. It was bizarre to see the entry in the log book that a week ago someone else had entered that they had also heard a ghost upstairs. How bizarre!

It was yet another beautiful day, we were so lucky with the weather.

It was a short final ascent up through bush and we climbed to a low saddle which had lovely views of beaches and Wainui Bay and its inlet.

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We then descended to the estuary with lovely views of coves and beaches.

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We followed the path along the beautiful shore to the Wainui Car park, the end of The Abel Tasman. It was one of the greatest walks we have ever done.

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Every corner provided a different beach completely different from the other. We had never done anything like this before. The wildlife and views were world-class.

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It was five days of beaching, relaxing, swimming, trekking, fishing and topping up our tan!

It was also a sad moment for our trainers which have been well-worn on our travels now. They have done well doing the West Highland Way, Everest Base Camp, Asia & Australia trekking and of course the Great Walks in New Zealand.

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We loved it.

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We got the bus all the way back to Richmond via the statue of Abel Tasman. Very nice.

The next couple of days was just more relaxation and enjoying this stunning Summer weather.

We also tried some famous New Zealand pavalova with fresh boysenberries and cream!

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On Sunday 16th December we drove up through the Marlbourough Sounds.

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It was a stunning long, winding drive on the Queen Charlotte Rd.

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Endless photo opportunities.

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The colour of the sea was fantastic.

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We loved it here, but a very winding road.

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We drove by stunning beaches with the Queen Charlotte Sound to the right and the Kenepuru Sound to our left.

Very beautiful and quiet.

On Monday 17th Decmeber 2012 we drove back towards Christchurch. We stopped for the night at Blenheim where we went to see the ‘Hobbit 3D’.

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It was an amazing feeling and incredible to see all the fantastic NZ scenery in the background which we have seen in the last three months. Especially loved the scenery from the Milford and Glenorchy. Without giving anything away, my trusted and beloved Kea birds made a surprise entry in the film. I always knew they were so intelligent as they saved the day, again!

Next stop, and sadly our final stop of 2012, was Christchurch.

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We found this a vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively with the aftermath of New Zealand’s second-biggest natural disaster (especially as tremors are still felt regularly).

Traditionally the most English of NZ cities, Christchurch is now adding a modern and innovative layer to its damaged heritage heart.

We weren’t allowed to enter the center of the city, and quite rightly so. We certainly wouldn’t want to as its sadly been completely destroyed!

As we entered the city it was still chaotic. This is the edge of the red zone.

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Most of the streets have been cornered off around the city centre and the roads are quite difficult to drive on as they have been destroyed.

So many buildings have been demolished, but as I mentioned earlier this should be about the future of Christchurch and not its past.

We loved how people of Christchurch are getting over the devastating earthquake. We went to re:Start where all the commerce companies have continued to trade from the shipping containers which they did after the earthquake.

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It’s now stayed like this, very cool!

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We also strolled for a few hours in the stunning gardens. We loved seeing the ‘Punts’ still gliding gently down the Avon River, and the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park were stunning.

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The gardens were among NZ’s finest public spaces.

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It was a huge garden and we loved the Rose Garden.

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Especially the beautiful canals.

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Loved the heather garden as well.

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Nowhere in New Zealand is changing and developing as fast as post-earthquake Christchurch.

New Zealand was amazing. Possibly the most beautiful place on this planet.

We will certainly miss this country and will be back.

This isn’t the right time for a blog entry about all our travels over the last year, as this entry should be about New Zealand.

New Zealand you were one of our favourite countries we have ever had the good fortune to explore. Thank you Kiwis!

It’s Christmas time, albeit in Summer here just now. Soon we will be in Scotland which I believe is still in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore it will be Winter.

*removes mankini and grabs down jacket*

It’s definitely time to pause for a bit and head home to our family and friends to enjoy Christmas and New Year.

Today we will be boarding a series of flights totaling 30 hours!

To help us celebrate our last night, what else would be better than a bottle of Oyster Bay bubbles from the vineyard up the road in the sun!

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So we both wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

About Norman MacPhail

Life is too short to live the same day twice.
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2 Responses to Part VIII: Banks Peninsula, Marlborough, Farewell Spit, Abel Tasman and Christchurch.

  1. Lisa says:

    This has been been a bloody awesome read – in spite of being about travels in my own country. (I normally prefer to read about other countries – ie the places that I want to go! After all, I started following your blog at some point when you were in Asia). I can see from your photos that the weather gods were very kind to you which means you were seeing the country at it’s best (in most cases, anyhow).

    I have an aunt and friend from the US visiting us in NZ soon so I sent her a link. They are now truly inspired. Well one, guys. Enjoy your return to the Northern Hemisphere – although I suspect you mind be in for a cold shock when you get off the plane. 🙂

  2. Superb blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on
    everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused ..
    Any tips? Many thanks!

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