New Zealand March 8-10

Sunday March 8

My level of appreciation for the campervan reached new level this morning. It is the best thing ever for a person with post marathon legs: everything I need is within 2 steps! Today we headed south along the western side of the North Island. The first half of the drive was very hilly farmland, and like most drives here, we saw way more sheep and cows than people. Our first stop was a berry farm outside of Waverly. Food here is very expensive, and the best deals are the tiny produce stands on the side of the road. We've pulled over to buy avocados, kiwis, apricots, oranges, tomatoes, peacharines, and blackberries. Everything is so fresh and flavorful!

This alpaca lived at the berry farm. I named him Brownie.
We stopped in Wanganui for lunch and had a picnic on the riverside. We really liked the town: it had a lot of pretty historic buildings and artist studios. We took a nice stroll on a boardwalk along the river and watched kids swimming and men fishing. Back on the road, we made a quick U turn for a honey place which was a great choice! We tasted so many types of honey, mead, honey liquor, and honey wine. We also got giant scoops of honey ice cream. In Otaki we stopped for a walk on the beach. Like most beaches on the Tasman Sea, the surf was wild. In fact, the beach had been closed for most of the day because of high seas and debris. As we walked we could see whole trees that had washed ashore with the high tide.

Then we headed out to our camp site for the night, which turned out to be quite an adventurous ride. It was a very narrow dirt road, with washed out sections, and a good 100 ft drop off on one side down to the river. As the passenger, looking straight down the drop off I was terrified.
yep, that's a waterfall across the road 
Luckily, my brave husband forged on ahead and we eventually came to a beautiful, remote campsite, nestled in the mountains.

After a glass of pinot noir to calm my nerves, we hiked down to the river and waded around a bit. Only I was brave enough to dunk myself. It was quite invigorating to say the least.

We cooked up a tasty chicken dinner on our little stove, made a dog friend, and admire the view around us. It was a great end to our adventures on the North Island.

Monday March 9

We went for a nice tramp (aka a hike) in Otaki forks, climbing through the dense, junglelike forest before heading down to Wellington. We arrived with time to spare, so we headed up Mt. Victoria to see the view.

Wellington is the windiest city in the Southern Hemisphere and you could certainly tell! Then it was ferry time! It was a huge boat- and it took quite awhile to load and get underway. We were surprised (although we shouldn't have been given that it is NZ) that there were so many sheep being shipped across. We made up stories about the sheep heading south for a family reunion. We were lucky and got a calm day for the crossing and the views were absolutely stunning.
The trip took a little more than 3 hours and we were on the top deck the whole time because it was too pretty to go inside. I really don't think I even have the words to do it justice.

We unloaded in Picton and headed south to camp for a night at a DOC site on Rarangi Beach. The ocean was so much calmer than it was on the west coast. There was still some surf though, and I loved the sound of the rocky beach being tossed in the waves. We took a short walk up and over a cliff and found a very cool cave that echoed and boomed as the ocean rushed in. We ended the night sitting on the beach, sipping wine, and reading.

Tuesday March 10

Another morning waking to the sound of waves and the cheerful chirps of birds!

We went for a hike that started right next to our campground. It was way more challenging than we planned for- it basically headed straight up! We kept going and going hoping to find a vista for pictures, but the trees were always in our way! Nothing reminds you that you just ran a marathon more than trying to hike straight up a mountain. Then we headed out towards Nelson on the northern coast. Along the way we passed though the golden mile of wineries. Marlborough is famous for wine, so I was very sad that it was too early in the morning for any to be open!

The drive to Nelson was very rural, mostly through grassy, hilly farmland. Nelson itself was a cute little city, and we wandered around, got some lunch, and found free wifi (a miracle!). On the way out of town we passed a gorgeous sandy beach with turquoise waters and I wished we had spent our time in Nelson there instead of in the city! Then we headed into the mountains! We are finding it takes much, much longer to get places than we expected because the terrain is so mountainous. The roads are so curvy that the route on the GPS just looks like a giant squiggle.

We stopped at a couple vistas and then in the little town of Murchinson for some ice cream. The towns on the South Island are much farther apart and most of them are teeny-tiny. Luckily, even though they are small, they have ice cream! I've become a fan of the local ice cream favorite, hokey pokey, which is vanilla with balls of honeycomb toffee.

Eventually we finally came out of the mountains and got to the west coast. Like on the North Island, the Tasman sea is wild (but beautiful). We drove and drove some more, stopping only at the pancake rocks. They are these very neat limestone rocks that have been worn away into these cool towers that are totally flat on top. There are also caves and tunnels around them so the ocean booms and echoes as it washes in.

Finally around 8 pm we made it to Lake Mahinapua, our campsite for the night, surrounded by mountains. We were too tired to do anything except make and eat some ramen and go to bed.