Abel Tasman – A few Pre-walk days in Nelson
Nelson: My start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk
I’m sitting in a Starbucks cafe in a city called Nelson – a few hours North of Christchurch and halfway around the world from my home, eating a panini and drinking a mocha. I feel a bit bad about this seeing as there are a ton of other significantly more “Kiwi” coffee shops that I could have gotten breakfast/lunch at… but see, Starbucks has the advantage that they have Wifi. Or at least, they should. Here, they do not, but I only found that out after I had already ordered my food and drink. Why am I here?
**Beep Beep Beep! Wake up Ben! I’m your alarm!**
Shove off! Just another seven and a half seconds!
**Beep Beep Beep! No! You have to wake up to catch the bus!**
… Damnit, ok.
I packed the few remaining things into my heavy backpacking bag, since I had left my electronics unpacked the night before so that they could charge. I pulled on my pants, secured my hat to my head, and walked out the door with my pack on my back. Its heavy… but not so heavy that I can’t stand it. Instead, its that weight that lets you know that you’re safe. That pretty much whatever comes your way, you’ll have something to deal with it – from sleeping bags to rain jackets, extra batteries to a water filter and portable stove.
I had decided against hitchhiking the night before, instead booking a bus ride up to Nelson set to leave at 7:15 from a shopping mall about 15min drive away. I know that hitchhiking would have made for a better story, but I just had this horrible feeling that saving $50 on a bus ticket would not make up for loosing a kidney or two. And so I got the Orbiter (Christchurch’s version of the T) and made my way to the meeting point outside the mall.
The bus line was called “Atomic Busses”, which I found ironic because New Zealand has a complete ban on any and all nuclear power. Up to and including a ban on US Naval ships entering NZ waters, since the US won’t guarantee that a specific ship doesn’t carry warheads. Either way, I threw my pack into the storage compartment and found a seat – I chose a seat next to a cute German girl, since my favorite seat (aka a window seat that I could sleep in) was already non-existent. We chatted a bit, but my over-riding lethargy took over after a wee bit, and we both passed out for most of the ride.
A quick note about the bus line – Its cool. I mean… its a bus, whatever. The key point here, was the driver. As it always is. In this case, the driver was a run of the mill guy; slightly heavy and neither excellent nor horrible at the wheel. His true skill lay in his voice – it was AMAZING. Seriously, I started looking forward to his announcements, even though they would wake me up from my nap. Think a combination of Morgan Freeman and Hulk Hogan, with the dry humor of Mitch Hedberg. Yes, its possible. And yes, it was epic.
After a quick stop in a town called Blenheim where we traded our awesome touring bus for a smaller, louder, smellier bus and made the next part of the drive to Nelson. It took longer than it should have thanks to the plethora of construction work (Ohh how I DON’T miss Boston’s obsession with roadwork), but after a impossibly large number of stops and torn up roads we finally arrived in the town of Nelson.
Nelson is small… but not epically tiny. The best way to describe it is Bar Harbor in Maine. Its a main town right near a very popular national park, and so the main road is full of tourist / outdoors stores and all the locals are very friendly… since tourism seems to be the main industry here. My first order of business was to find a room to stay in, which I accomplished in short order thanks to a quick google search for hostels the night before. Yeah $20-a-night beds. After the Hostel (or Backpackers, as their called here) I set about figuring out what the heck I was doing over the next few days – my plans for the Abel Tasman were still pretty vague at this point, and I figured that the best place to look would be the Department of Conservation information station.
The DOC people are amazing, it’s as simple as that. As soon as I explained my situation and my goals, the woman I was talking to, who reminded me a great deal of my Grandma Hutt, pulled out a map of the great walk and broke it down for me.
“You can go either North or South, but I’d recommend Northbound, its simpler since your bus rides will be shorter. Also, I’d recommend starting on Thursday, instead of tomorrow since there’s a good chance of rain on Wednesday. Now, for the trail itself…”
It was excellent, and by the time I left I not only knew where I would be going each day, but I had reservations for campsites and even knew which hut’s I’d be staying outside on the walk back. As a bonus while I was making my reservations I had met a pair of girls from Germany who were doing the great walk too, and had given them a quick bit of help planning their route out – we originally debated going as a team, since they didn’t have any long-term camping gear (Stoves, water filters, etc…), but in the end they decided to Kayak the path instead; a much more expensive route, but one that can be stellarly beautiful from what I’ve heard.
And Now i’m writing while sitting on a bridge-pylon, dipping my feet into the river below me. It’s my second day in Nelson – I stayed at the backpackers the night before, and now I’m just exploring the town before buying up all the last-minute supplies I need for the Great Walk. The current plan is to check out a few places in town, then buy groceries and fuel before turning in for an early night. In the morning I’ll either catch one of the coachlines up to the town of Marahau where the Abel Tasman walk starts, or catch a ride with Katrin and her friend – the German girls I met yesterday. My biggest concern right now is whether or not I want to buy a fishing rod for the walk; fishing is allowed on most of the coastline, and I’d love the chance to add some fresh fish to my meals.
A few of the places I visited while in Nelson are:
The Maitai River: Yes, this river has the same name as the amazingly fruity drink. Not sure why, but meh. Its a very nice little scenic walk that I took, just following the winding curves of the river. The water is perfectly clear in most parts, dipping to inky blackness at a few shaded swimming holes that have whole troops of high school aged kids swinging off trees into the depths. (Ed Note: Don’t forget, this is summer vacation in New Zealand – not winter)
The Center of New Zealand: I sort of expected this place to be a “center”… you know, a building with this cool thing in the center that’s all yelling “Dude! The center of New Zealand is totally right here! Instead, I found a nature walk heading up a series of switchbacks all the way up a mountain at the edge of town. After a slightly-sweaty walk up (Turns out New Zealand finally learned what Summer means) I found the “Center”… not actually the geographic center, but the surveyors center of the country – this really cool arrow pointing at a spot on the ground thats the “center” of every surveying map of the country… or at least it was until GPS started gaining prominence.
Page & Blackmores: A very cool little bookstore that was recommended to me by my flatmate Martha. Its your quintessential small-town bookstore that takes the wind out of Barnes & Nobel or Border’s. Not the biggest rock climbing selection, but they do have a very nice comic books section, which I may have lost myself in for an hour or two. Another amazing part? They play Dropkick Murphy’s and Flogging Molly throughout the store. Win.
Miyazu Japanese Gardens: I saw a sign after leaving the “Center” of New Zealand reading “Miyazu Japanese Gardens: 45min” and accepted that challenge with grace and humility. After approximately 25min of wandering paths, thinking about buying a Mustang, I was at the gardens. Yep… Just TRY to tell me how long it’s gonna talk to walk that trail. I dare you. … Anyways, the walk had been rather pretty, but it was nothing compared to the Gardens. It seems that New Zealand cities have a tendency to have a Japanese Sister City somewhere in the Japanese island… Nelson’s sister is Miyazu. And because of that, they have an amazingly intricate garden set up on the way into town. Its different from the Scholars garden that Carla and I saw in Dunedin, but amazing in its way; more spread out and controlled, with clearer pathways throughout.