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New Zealand - Nelson

We arrived early for the ferry that would take us from Wellington to Picton on the South Island. The weather was pretty miserable until we neared Marlborough Sounds, when the sun came out and showed us the beautiful coastline. From the narrow entrance of the Sound, all the way to Picton, we enjoyed a picturesque cruise.

We travelled the Queen Charlotte Drive from Picton to Nelson and headed towards Mapua to visit Louise (Rachel's cousin) and John.

After a few fun days spent catching up and reminiscing, we headed west to Abel Tasman National Park. New Zealand has 13 national parks, of which ten are on the South Island. Our plan is to hit as many as possible.

The first of many coastal walks was from Marahau, north to Akersten Bay, an 9km up and down section of the Able Tasman Great Walk. The scenery throughout and the coastline was amazing. Although we were not doing the full walk, we wanted to cover as much as we could with day walks, which meant an 18km round trip.

Next, we headed to Totaranui, where we walked the section to Separation Point, a 17km round trip. At Separation Point, we scrambled down the steep rocky path to see fur seals and came across a false Gannet colony. In an attempt to attract the real thing, plastic gannets and a loudspeaker issuing gannet calls have been placed on the rocky outcrop. We were looking out across the huge Golden Bay towards Farewell Spit.

Golden Bay is where Abel Tasman (Dutch) arrived in 1642, 127 years before James Cook. The Dutch just didn't take the advantage of this earlier landing, otherwise Maori and Flemish would be the languages here.

Continuing on, we headed for Wharariki Beach. Access to this beach is a walk across some steep hills, then sand dunes. This beautiful beach with enormous rocks is NZ's most Instagrammed location. For good reason, it is a good looking place.

The following day we headed back to Farewell Spit and stopped to take another walk to a point that overlooked the Spit. Another steep track to amazing views and we were distracted by a Trig Point in the distance and the promise of better views ahead. We kept walking and the views were spectacular - somehow our walks seem to turn into double or triple the distance first mentioned......

We drove to the northern section of Kahurangi National Park, following the coastline of the shallow Whanganui Inlet and Westhaven Marine Reserve, continuing on to an informal campsite at the mouth of River Anatori. Rachel thought it wise to walk ahead of the van, to record events, as part of the road had recently been washed away. She had concerns that the small cliff remaining might give way!

We ended up back in Golden Bay, at Takaka. On recommendation we visited Te Waikoropupu Springs. It was a short detour and as we left, Rachel spotted a sign with the words hydro-power on it. Another detour, as we ended up on a steep hike to an old gold-mining water race, used initially in the 1900's as part of a gold mining project. 2.6km of the water race, which diverted water from Campbell Creek, was re-purposed in 1929, when a small hydroelectric power station was built. The race was used to provide the station with the necessary water supply and brought the first electricity to Golden Bay. The power station operated until 1981, when a fault damaged the generating equipment. Some dedicated volunteers formed the Pupu Hydro Society and restored the station which began operating again in 1987. Rachel loves power stations, especially hydro ones.

It was time to return to cousin Louise for a mid-winter (NZ) Christmas dinner. This time cousin Stephen and his wife Janice were also visiting. Great fun with all the trimmings, paper hats and the obligatory trifle!

We took some time to explore the city of Nelson, before heading to Nelson Lakes, another national park with two lakes Rotoiti and Rotorua, sharing the same names as those on the North Island.

Rotoiti and its surrounds are stunning. Overlooking Rotoiti is Mount Robert. Rachel thought it would be fun to hike up to the look-out, 850m away. There is a running theme in this life of travel and I should know better and be better prepared. That 850m became a 13km hike on narrow and steep paths. One piece of luck though was that we met two serious hikers from Dunedin who made us a cup of tea at one of the huts.

The lakes were beautiful and the night sky always amazing. It was starting to get cold though. On our last morning, before we headed on towards the West Coast, we met Richard Cowan, a 76 year old kayaker, who was heading off across a very cold Lake Rotorua for a few days of solitude. After a chat, we waved goodbye and wished him well, watching as his kayak disappeared into the distance.

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