It takes about 4 hours to drive from Westport to Nelson along State Highway 6. The scenery alongside the River Buller is stunning as we travel through the Lower Gorge and then the Upper Gorge, stopping for the obligatory Flat White and a sausage roll at Berlins café on the way. We passed the rope bridge tourist attraction and the road to the Nelson Lakes, which includes South Island’s Lake Rotorua. We passed through the town of Murchison, came to the flats and moved from the West Coast Tasman region into the Nelson region.
As we descended to Richmond the highway became much busier, and the twenty first century rushed to meet us in the form of commercial traffic and the famous golden arches of Macdonalds. We crawled along Highway 6 as it skirted the coast and found our motel at Tahunanui. We settled in for two nights and explored the beautiful beach in the warm evening sunshine, before sampling pan fried snapper with Niçoise salad at the Smugglers Pub.
The weather was still glorious the next morning so we drove into Nelson to climb the path to the Centre of New Zealand, so named by geographers because the Nelson region is in the centre of the two islands. It was a stiff 20 minute walk uphill in the heat. My knees complained pathetically and I took much longer than that, but I finally caught up with Hubby at the flagpole at the top. The views over Nelson and the port were awesome. On the way down my heart went out to an elderly terrier trying her best to keep up with her owner, who was striding ahead, oblivious to the fact that the dog’s little legs could barely carry her.
We left Nelson and drove back along the coast road, the blue water sparkling on each side of us as we headed towards Mapua. Here we discovered The Wharf, where the ferries cross to Rabbit Island.
This is food and drink country. We browsed the shops and cafes (more Flat Whites, this time with delicious cheese scones), and it is a great place to see the creative side of Kiwis. There were paintings, sculptures, textiles and up-cycled art to admire and purchase. Regretfully our luggage limit and the prospect of Australian customs prohibited us from buying food or drink, but we did manage to leave with a print of a Pukeko bird, which survived in the top of a suitcase. Everywhere you wander in New Zealand there are galleries and studios stuffed with beautiful, ingenious and often quirky art.
We drove as far as Motueka and relaxed on the shore for a while, then back to Tahunanui through the vineyards and apple orchards. As we turned a corner we happened upon a lone camper van café with bunting and a coffee machine, so another Flat White was necessary.
We arrived back at our motel mid afternoon. We had just received an email from Interislander Ferries informing us that our crossing for the next day had been cancelled with no prospect of rebooking in the foreseeable future. The combination of after effects from the cyclone, and a broken boat (with freight prioritised over passengers) meant that everyone travelling with a vehicle was now displaced on the wrong island, whether they be tourists, locals, or students returning for the new university year. Suddenly we, like many others, had nowhere to stay.
We set about cancelling accommodation on North Island (the easy part) and booking short notice accommodation on South Island (the hard part). Availability was dismal. Every stranded traveller was doing the same thing. There were no vacancies in Nelson. We decided to return to Christchurch the following week to fly directly to Auckland, and then we hunted down a flotsam and jetsam of places to stay using an internet booking site. Our journey was entirely controlled by accommodation availability. It was turning into a magical mystery tour.
Nothing like a couple of hours of being glued to an iPad screen with Visa card in hand to work up an appetite. The Hot Rock Gourmet Pizza and Pasta bar obliged. Hubby chose pizza, I chose Spaghetti Marinara with the famous Marlborough green lipped mussels washed down with a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc. We had planned a stroll on the beautiful beach – but the heavens opened and we returned to our room exhausted and soggy. From now on we had to count our blessings as we found them.