Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the road again to Greymouth

Day 6 (Fri, 25 Nov 2011)

Nelson to Greymouth: 324km

In the South Island, due to its vastness, some days are spent simply driving from town to town. This was one of those days. After the difficult drive to Nelson yesterday, Kenneth was a little apprehensive about the long drive today but his worries turned out to be unfounded. State Highway 6 is a terrific route. We're discovering that the roads in NZ are generally in excellent condition. In fact, we passed by many road works on our drives, seems like they are constantly maintaining the roads.

We started out later today, so we could enjoy the Mercure Nelson to the fullest. It was hard to say goodbye to this lovely place.

Morning was mostly uneventful, except the further south we went, the more beautiful the landscape became. Gushing rivers, lush foliage. It's no wonder Peter Jackson decided to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy here.

We made a pitstop at Murchison. Not much to see here but this is considered a larger town as it has at least a few streets centred around the highway. Some of the small towns are simply drive-throughs, with just a cafe and toilets.

Our pitstops are mainly opportunities to stretch our legs and use the toilet but often, we can't resist getting a hot drink or a bite to eat. Even though it's late Spring, the weather has been chilly and gusty. Temperatures have been averaging about 14 degrees celcius in the day time, so a cappucino or hot chocolate is always inviting.

The kiwis also make fantastic chips - hot and mealy on the inside, and crisp on the outside. I think it's the type of potato they use. Even better than their potato chips though, are their kumara chips (sweet potato). We order it whenever it's available.

Enroute, we drove to Tauranga Bay to see the seal colony in its natural habitat. The kekeno is the NZ fur seal and from mid-November, you're able to see the pups in this windy part of the west coast.

There's a short easy walk just 15 minutes to a viewing platform overlooking the seal colony. Along the path, we passed by some fantastic scenes - wind-swept scape and waves crashing against the rocks.

We were there at about noon, so there weren't many seals about. According to Kenneth, the adult seals were probably out at sea hunting for their pups. We did see quite a few pups though, sunbathing on the rocks. It's really something to see the mammals in their natural habitat.

Close-up shots along the trail.

Also along State Highway 6 was the Pancake Rocks, located at Punakaiki. A natural phenomenon, the Pancake Rocks are strange limestone formations caused by the solidifying of dead marine creatures and plant fragments into compacted rocks.

It's a 20-minute round walk to several platforms to view the rocks and blowholes. Unfortunately, it started to rain quite heavily so halfway through, we had to make a run back to the entrance.

Finally, our rest stop was the Apostles View Motel just 2 minutes outside of Greymouth. It appears to be in the middle of nowhere, just one motel along State Highway 6.

To get to the reception, we had to drive past this one-lane bridge. The external of the motel is very modest and we were questioning whether we had made the right decision to stay here.

Then we opened the door and... WAH! It's very inviting, with 2 bedrooms containing 1 queen bed and 3 singles beds. Electric blankets on all the beds, a large living room and a fully furnished kitchen. It looks very new, like it's just been recently built or refurbished. Fabulous!

The living room window overlooks a quaint, rural scene.

We find that motels in NZ are generally very comfortable, spacious and well run, much better than the ones in Australia which tend to be more basic, run-down and sometimes, not too clean.

Greymouth is a city with a history in coal and mining. It's quite large by NZ standards, with supermarkets, shops and restaurants. Not much to see for us here though, it's purely a drive-through stop.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The long and winding road to Nelson

Day 5 (Thu, 24 Nov 2011)

Wellington to Picton (via Cook Strait): 92km
Picton to Nelson: 113km

Today, we crossed over from the North Island to the South Island via the Interislander Ferry. From our motel, it was a 25-minute drive. Don't believe the "15-minute drive to ferry" sign on the AA Mana Motel billboard - we kept to the top end of the speed limit and didn't face any jams, yet it took us almost half an hour to reach the terminal.

We crossed over with our car and Apex Car Rentals is great cos they give you a free ferry ticket for your car, worth over $100. This means you don't have to disembark and change cars at the South Island, just drive on board and drive off after. A great bonus especially if you have lots of luggage.

The trip takes about 3 hours and the Interislander is a large liner, with restaurants and entertainment. Something like a smaller cruise ship. It is one of the most spectacular ferry rides I've ever taken, past the Marlborough Sounds.

I thought we had quite good weather and reasonably calm waters but still, Kenneth and Lesley-Anne managed to get slightly seasick, even though they had taken motion sickness pills. Both of them, Kenneth especially, have quite severe motion sickness problems.

Driving off the ship.

The disembarkation point was Picton and we decided to stay here for lunch. It's a beautiful harbour town with lots of beachfront cafes.

We then drove to Nelson via the Queen Charlotte Drive. This turned out to be a very winding road up and down the mountains, quite unnerving for those of us unused to driving through mountain passes. Even though the distance was only 1/3 of what we covered yesterday, it felt like a lot more and took a lot more concentration.

It was very, very scenic though. I think for this trip, I will run out of adjectives. There just aren't enough words to describe the beauty of NZ. Everytime we think it can't get more beautiful, we see another scene that blows our mind. I took lots of photos but nothing you see on the screen comes close to reality.

We made lots of stops whenever we saw photo opportunities. That's the advantage of going free and easy.

We saw quite a few of this bird, not sure what it is.

Throughout the drive, we passed by majestic, towering walls of conifers. Awe-inspiring.

A couple of hours later than scheduled, we finally reached Nelson - a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay and oldest settled city in South Island. It's not a common tourist stop because there's not much to do here.

To be honest, I planned this as a pit stop only because I was so taken by the hotel where we're staying the night - the Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco Resort. It's a little pricey and it's not conveniently close to shops or the city, but it was so pretty I had to stay here.

And if you think the pictures in the website look fantastic, the resort looks even more gorgeous in real life. It's like a dreamy English village, postcard-perfect sights at every turn.

This is our cottage. Isn't it sweet? It's like something out of a fairy tale.

The inside is very luxurious. 2 bedrooms upstairs and a posh bathroom, heaters in every room.

Downstairs, it had a self-contained kitchen and every appliance we could ever need, including a dishwasher and washing machine. It even had a fireplace! We couldn't stop taking photos.

Too tired to go out for dinner so we treated ourselves to dinner at The Orangerie, the hotel restaurant. We had scallops, angus beef and lamp chops.

Sunset view from our cottage.

We love this hotel so much we're going to leave later tomorrow so we can enjoy it for as long as possible.