Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Rainy Sojourn to Golden Bay

Monday, 25 April, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

We returned a day early from our weekend trip to Golden Bay, after series of SNAFUs and two days of incessant torrential rain drove us back to where our bed is warm and dry. We still had a great time up north, but it certainly didn't go as planned. Our original intention was to meet up with some friends from work, and a bunch of their friends, at a rental house on Westhaven/Whanganui Inlet, which is a long, remote drive from the highway north of Collingwood across to the Tasman Side of the island. We left Nelson on Friday afternoon in good weather and enjoyed the drive over immensely, as the recent frost has made the fall colors absolutely spectacular, and the scenery around Motueka and Takaka (TAH-ka-kah) is already amazing. The microclimate that exists around Motueka makes it perfect for growing fruit trees, grapevines, and berries, so there are loads of vineyards and orchards in the area and it was packed with roadside stands where we bought all kinds of fresh fruit for just a few dollars. Motueka is also the jump-off point for Abel Tasman National Park, so it is packed with backpackers aiming for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and/or picking fruit to earn some money. Anyway, the colors on the trees, the lay of the land, and the amazing light coming through the late afternoon clouds made the whole place absolutely stunning.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

As we began to drive up the pass over Takaka Hill, we got some incredible views back down on the valley around Motueka. The highway over the mountains was so incessantly curvy and narrow that Matt was only driving about 50 km/hr, so I had the window down, snapping photos as we went.

 Motueka Valley. Those aren't vineyards; they're raspberry orchards.

We were both a little queasy by the time we made it over the top of the hill, where the scenery suddenly turned rocky and wild, rugged and alpine. This area is full of caves and sinkholes, and as soon as you get to the top of the pass, it suddenly feels very remote. As we started to drop down the other side towards Takaka and the lush green valley there, we were treated to more amazing light phenomenons (nowhere has clouds and light like New Zealand, I have to say), and a trip down to the next valley on a highway with switchbacks so tight we had to slow down to 15 km/hr to get around them safely. This was only the second time I've started to feel really carsick in New Zealand, and given the twistiness of your average Kiwi road, that tells you how wild this one was! We took a break once we got to the bottom, to get some air and get out of the car, and we were fine after that.

 State Highway 60 heading north down Takaka Hill

 View from the top of the pass into Takaka Valley

Takaka is a small (pop. 1,500) artsy town, full of artisans and hippies, and has a great feel to it. We didn't stop for long on the way through on Friday, though, because we were losing the light pretty quickly and wanted to get to the house before dark. This is about when things started to go awry. We had the directions our friends had given us, and we turned west at Papawau as instructed, and then drove for about 35 minutes on a 1 1/2 lane gnarly gravel track through the northernmost reaches of Kahurangi National Park, crossing through and over Westhaven Inlet several times. We finally reached the landmark we were looking for, and then things went....well, the term FUBAR was used several times (if you don't know what it means, look it up!). Our directions specifically told us to look for the driveway on the right, 400 metres after a particular landmark. There was a driveway exactly 400 metres after the landmark, on the right, with a chain gate and house that matched the description we were given, but happened to occupied by people who were not our friends. We were way out in the wop-wops, far away from cell reception, and were pretty confident we had found the right place, but it was filled with the wrong people, and they were not helpful at all when we asked about other potential rental places in the area. Also, it was well after dark by this time. We spent the next hour trying every possible driveway within a kilometre of the place, even ones on the lefthand side of the road. We drove up several to find private houses, then found one that didn't really match up to the description, and in any event was padlocked shut. After exhausting all of our possibilities, we decided to throw the towel in and do our own thing for the weekend, as something clearly wasn't adding up. We drove all the way back to the other side of the inlet, where we found a boat ramp to freedom camp at, and called it a day. 

On Saturday morning, once we were back in cell range, we tried to contact our friends, as they had mentioned that there was patchy reception at the house. We later got a text saying that they were at the house, and eventually we figured out that it was the gate that was padlocked shut, on the LEFTHAND side of the road (remember how our directions specifically said it was on the right? Yeah.), and also that another fairly large chunk of information had been left out of the directions, which would have allowed us to actually know it was that driveway, had we been given it. Frustrated, we decided to salvage the weekend by exploring on our own, freedom camping, and seeing places we otherwise wouldn't have seen in the course of the weekend. We started by driving north to Cape Farewell, at the base of Farewell Spit, the northernmost point of the South Island. By this time the rain and wind had set in, so we decided not to go walking on the spit, but took in the views from a little cafe on the headland overlooking the spit. With the fast-moving clouds and interesting light, the views were tremendous. We may not make it to the southernmost point of New Zealand, but now we can say we've been the the northernmost accessible point of both the North and South islands! 

 Looking up the spit.

We comforted ourselves with coffee and amazing views. 

Farewell Spit is a really really cool area and geographical phenomenon. Wind and tides are constantly changing the geography of the spit, so it is different every day. Visitors can walk about 4 km out, but the rest of the 30km sandspit is a wildlife refuge, and migrating birds of all kinds flock there in the spring and fall. We saw hundreds of black swans, in addition to shags, egrets, and all kinds of gulls and ducks. The spit is also one of the most common sites for whale strandings in New Zealand, as the waters around it are very shallow for a long way in all directions. 

We found a random cool piece of nature art at the cafe at Cape Farewell, where someone had done traditional Maori weaving with the flax plants growing along the deck of the cafe. Almost every plant had some little artistic touch on it, these are just a few of my favorites:

After leaving Cape Farewell, we explored through the tiny town of Collingwood in the pouring rain, and found a random roadside museum full of antique steam machinery and historical tools, which was right up Matt's alley, so we stopped in for awhile and had a great time out of the rain, looking through all kinds of antiques and memorabilia. 

 A steam tractor from 1948. Note the wooden tread on the wheels. 

 Biggest bellows ever. 

 One of the custodians stoking an immaculately restored English steam tractor.

Driving to the coast again, we parked facing the beach at Patons Rock, just north of Takaka, to read and write, and decided that camping for two more nights in this rain wasn't sounding like too much fun. We had originally planned to spend Sunday night and Monday with a friend of a friend who works on a goat farm near Takaka, and with the way things were going, I texted him to see if we could come there a day early, and he was happy to have us. 

 Light on the sea grass during a sunbreak at Patons Rock. 

Pukekos on parade. They love swampy conditions. 

We drove to the goat farm just as it got dark, met Mark, and we had a great time chatting and talking politics in his caravan (camper/trailer) with the rain pounding down on the roof. He cooked up some pasta for dinner, and later in the evening we all went out to the Mussel Inn to see The Eastern (a great NZ bluegrassy country-rock band). The Mussel Inn is actually a world famous venue, with all kinds of art, local ales, and composting toilets, and despite being pretty much in the middle of nowhere, is absolutely packed every single night, and this particular evening even the rambling deck was overflowing. We didn't stay terribly long, as it was so hot and crowded and loud that we couldn't really enjoy the show, but it was a great little cultural experience.

Yesterday morning (Easter Sunday), we awoke to the bleating of 50 dairy goats being let out to pasture, and then again as they all ran back under cover when the rain started up. It turns out goats hate the rain, and as soon as it begins to rain, they all complain very loudly and hurry back to the shed! We sort of felt the same way, especially when we opened the door of the van to find this three-inch deep puddle completely surrounding Lucy:

As all of our other shoes were already soaked, we had to dig out our gumboots before we could even climb out in the morning!

We spent the morning hanging out with the goats during brief dry spells, and learned loads from Mark as he showed us around the farm office, the factory room where they bottle the milk and produce goat's cheese (they make a fantastic soft chevre, with hardly any goaty flavor to it), and the milking shed. We learned all about milking, the cheesemaking process, pasteurization, and general stuff about keeping goats. Matt and I both completely fell in love with the four leggeds. They are sweet, personable, inquisitive animals, and most of them are very intelligent.

 This was a particularly friendly goat who insisted that I scratch her ears, and put her front hooves up on the fence to come after me if I stopped!

 A swarm of goats trying to taste Matt's clothes. They love to test zippers, tabs, and loops, not for taste but just to see how they feel and how far they'll stretch!

 This one was very interested in the zipper pull on my jacket pocket. 

 This little gal missed getting de-horned, and is going to be culled and butchered this fall. Just part of the cycle, and the business.

The goats on this farm are Saanens, quite a large goat and specifically a dairy breed. 

We had a really great time at the farm, and very much enjoyed the company of both Mark and the goats. We both feel like we learned so much in so short at time, and are grateful to have had the opportunity to visit and learn so much. In the afternoon, the rain still showed no sign of letting up, so we decided to head back to Nelson, as we had pretty much exhausted everything there was to do in wet weather, short of spending lots of money. On the way out, we stopped at Pupu Springs, this incredible huge freshwater springs, one of the clearest in the world, just outside of Takaka. Formally Waikaropupu Springs, it is a sacred (Tapu) place to the Maori, and is very significant in blessings at births and deaths. It was really awe-inspiring to see this huge river just bubbling up out of the ground.

 If you look closely, you can see where the water is bubbling up. This amazing body of water begins from where I was standing when I took this picture. Behind me was solid land- the river begins here, coming up from deep in the ground, then flowing towards the sea.

 This is a reflection chamber that was built to show how clear the water is at the bottom of the springs. 

The minerals in the springs create these amazing colors in the sand and stone.

After leaving the springs, we drove back over Takaka Hill through a thick fog, with low-lying clouds shrouding the entire pass. There could have been huge mountain peaks just above us and we would have had no idea. 

Things cleared off at the top, and we had some great views of the rocky, rugged landscape and the sounds beyond.

We had a great time this weekend in spite of everything, and were proud of ourselves for salvaging the weekend as much as we did. Nonetheless, we were very glad to get back to Nelson and have a shower and a warm, dry bed, as everything in the van was thoroughly damp by yesterday morning. With very few hours at work this week, we are shifting into the work of packing, clearing all of our stuff out of the van, and making a real effort to get Lucy sold. Golden Bay was our last road trip with Lucy, which is sad, but we both feel it was very apt that our last night spent with her was on a goat farm, something we have wanted to do ever since arriving in NZ! Now we're diving into sorting out or travel plans for this, our last month in New Zealand. For yes, we come home to the states on May 24th, and suddenly that is only a month away, and we sure have a lot to do and see before then! So with that, I'd better hop to it, and I'll end this (rather long) post with a few photos of some recent sunsets and views from our place here in Nelson, starting with the wacky and rare advection fog that lay over the bay this morning. 

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