We had quite a lazy morning in Blenheim and eventually headed off to the Aviation Heritage Centre at about midday. We were SO glad we made the effort – it really was a fantastic place, brilliantly presented and such interesting stories. At the moment, they’ve just done the displays of aircraft used in WW1 – the Trust that runs the place has a collection of aircraft that runs through WW2 to the present day, but they’re taking the time to present it all properly. Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) is a trustee, and his studios have done a lot of the work on the displays – you can tell, they really are incredibly well presented. The aircraft are all in dioramas in a huge theatre space, with black curtains behind each display, and a hall of memorabilia in display cases. The planes are all set up to show scenes from WW1, sometimes with a specific pilot or story shown – for instance, the final flight of the Red Baron, when his plane was brought down and the soldiers who found it pillaged it for souvenirs. Or a British pilot who crash-landed over the trenches, and managed to survive by stepping out of the plane and flying it from the footboard for the last few minutes, and then neatly somersaulting off when it got close enough to the ground. They had a very balanced collection of British, American, French, Italian and German pilots and planes presented. It really was amazing – it gave such a sense of this small collection of pilots, who saw the whole thing as a match against each other, where they each had a ‘score’ and a ranking in the league of who had brought down the most planes. Incredible. And they had such short careers – the chances of being killed or injured were so high, a lot of the top aces only flew for a matter of months.
Anyway, we had a wonderful time there, and stayed for ages. Then we started driving up towards Nelson – we arrived at about 4pm, about time to be looking for somewhere to stay, so flicked through my list of holiday parks and settled on one just outside the city, then we drove around Nelson for a bit. Chris had a coffee at one of the many lovely cafes, and we wandered up to the Christ Church Cathedral, which was beautiful. We made our way out to the campsite – and if we’d had more time, we probably would have turned around and found somewhere else! It was really scummy – full of long-term residents and really run-down amenities, the loos either had a toilet seat or a lock on the door! We locked ourselves in our van, made supper and went to sleep, agreeing to leave quickly in the morning without bothering with showers or washing up! We mentioned the place today while we were chatting to the crowd on our kayak trip, and the guide told us it’s a notorious place, apparently there was a murder there a couple of years ago!
We left early, and drove towards Abel Tasman National Park. We knew we wanted to do a kayaking trip, and that most of them left from Marahau, but on the way there we decided to stop at Motueka, the last ‘big’ town on the way, as there was a Top 10 Holiday Park and we’ve just bought ourselves their discount card – it’s a chain all over the country, we stayed at one in Blenheim and realised the discount card would get us such a big discount over the ferry to the North Island, it would pay for itself, and you also get discounts on activities at other Top 10 places. So, we stopped at the one in Motueka to see what discounts they could get us on kayaking trips! It was a lovely place, very friendly people, and they organised us a full-day kayaking and walking trip which they said was the one they’re really recommending at the moment. So then it was lunchtime, and we’d achieved our objective for the day – so we decided to drive out to Golden Bay, and pootle around the beaches and walks there for the afternoon.
It was wonderful – we drove up to PuPu Springs, a freshwater spring that pumps 14,000 litres of water a second out from underground, and such amazingly clear water – you’re not allowed to swim, or paddle, or touch the water at all, because of the risk of contaminating the spring with didymo, a water-borne pest that’s a big problem here. So we just walked around and looked at the spring and the rivers running off it. We drove past a sign for some caves, so went down the turnoff, but it turned out the tours were on the hour and it was five past two, so we’d just missed one – so decided not to wait another hour. Then we drove out along the Abel Tasman Drive, which was quite an experience – they had bad floods earlier in the year, and half the road is washed out, with huge chunks just disappeared! They’ve temporarily patched it by putting up orange barriers, re-painting white lines and just turning those bits into one-lane Give Way places! We were glad we made the effort, we drove to the end of the road and stopped for walks on some beautiful beaches.
We came back and had a nice evening at the holiday park – we got a free half hour in their hot tub with our Top 10 club card, so we went and had a lovely soak – it’s outside, but enclosed in a bamboo fence with a roof over it, so you can have a lovely private half hour!
This morning we got up early and were ready for the bus to pick us up at 8.30 and take us to Marahau. There were 8 people in total on our trip, us two, two English girls travelling together, three French guys and a Uruguayan girl. We got to Marahau and got kitted up with all our kayaking gear – splash skirts, waterproof jackets, wetsuits and booties – and had a quick lesson on dry land before we loaded up and headed to the beach! Chris let me take the driver’s seat (the person at the back gets the steering pedals!) and we launched off the beach and were soon paddling along at a rate of knots. It’s great fun, but hard work! It was very windy, so the waves and current were quite strong – when we came round one point, Steve, our guide, suggested that we get all the kayaks together and use a sail for a bit – we all lined up and held onto the boat next to us, Steve unfurled a sail and gave the four corners to the people on the edges to hold, and our little flotilla barrelled along until we came around a point out of the wind!
It was a really amazing experience – kayaking is really the best way to see the Abel Tasman park, with all its little coves and inlets, white sand beaches, bright turquoise water, rocks and islands and seals – it was stunningly beautiful. We kayaked for about three hours and really had a wonderful time. We ended up pulling onto a beach where Steve unpacked a delicious lunch – he used to work at a cafe and made us all the most amazing coffees and hot chocolates, with a camping stove and a portable milk frother! We had ham rolls and raspberry muffins and apples, and wandered around on the beach, and got changed out of our wetsuits into our dry clothes, and felt like we’d been luxuriously shipwrecked! Then a water taxi pitched up, and we all waded out to get on it, and be driven up the coast a little bit to another bay where we jumped off, put on our walking boots and headed off on the walking trail for a 2-hour walk along the coastal trail.
It was a nice walk, but mostly through forest, with only the occasional moment where you turned a corner and came out with a stunning view of a little beach! We walked down to one or two beaches, and spent a few minutes wandering around. We eventually got to the beach where we were being picked up, about 40 minutes before the water taxi was due, so Chris and I and the French guys all stripped down to our swimming cossies and went for a quick dip – FREEZING!!! Then we sat around and ate chocolate and took photos until the water taxi arrived.
On the way back we stopped at another beach to pick up some kayaks – it’s a brilliant service the water taxis run, they’ll drop off or pick up a kayak for you at any of the beaches along the route, or collect or deliver your backpack so you can walk for the day and camp for the night without carrying a pack – very clever! And they’re just tiny boats, but they pile the kayaks on the back and strap them down, and motor off back to the main beach – brilliant.
We got back tonight thoroughly exhausted but having had a brilliant day! We put on a load of laundry, then took the bottle of sparkling wine we bought in Blenheim on the wine tour the other day, and went off for our second free hot tub, and drank our bottle of sparkling wine while we relaxed in the hot tub! A thoroughly luxurious evening.
We’ve decided to book our ferry to the North Island tonight, for Sunday – we’ll spend tomorrow in the Marlborough Sound and then head over to Wellington. We’re going to go out for dinner with Kelly on Sunday, which will be lovely! Looking forward to hearing about her search for a house. Also looking forward to the North Island – we’ve had an amazing time in the South Island, need to start reading the North Island guide book sections and figure out our route there!