Friday, April 1, 2016

Abel Tasman and Ngarua Caves, Nelson

Hello Everyone,

We have had spectacular weather here in the Nelson area.  This area is New Zealand's capital for Breweries and also known as a wine growers heaven.  It hasn't let us down.  Nelson and the neighboring communities are visually picturesque with their deep valleys filled with orchards and vineyards being shadowed by the steep mountains and bush.  This area is also known for its limestone caves.  With all the caves in the hills you get a ton of huge sink holes from where the ground has caved in because of the wearing underground of the limestone caverns.  It is actually something to see and often as you are walking there is a hole in the ground that is completely black and when you toss a rock you can hear that it goes quite a ways down before settling.  Often the farmers have to fence these holes off because the loose their sheep down inside them.  Funny to picture this grazing sheep and then with one step it is gone… but not so funny actually.

Anyway we have been trying to take advantage of the winery and Ian's hospitality.  He has been so generous with his time and not only showing us every step and process in making the wine but actually letting Alexia participate and run the tests and really explaining to her why and what is important to look out for or in many cases to smell.  She has been an excellent student and it has given her more inspiration to become a wine maker and own her very own vineyard... Between theses times we are trying to see what we can of this area.  There are so many spots to take in but unfortunately with many they require a few days hike in or tramping and camping along the way.  Or they are not age appropriate.  With two little ones it really narrows down your choices of what is actually possible.  We try to push the limits when we can but we must keep it realistic and make sure that it is a fun memory we are creating and not one to begin with... "Oh I hated that, do you remember when you made me...!"  So with that in mind we narrowed our choices to a day hike in Abel Tasman.. you can't come this far and NOT go into the park and I have really wanted to take the kids through some caves and it looks like the Waitomo caves are out so the Ngarua Caves are the second best, they say, in New Zealand.  Ian also mentioned if we were going to the caves it is fun to head up the path to the Riwaka Resurgence Center where the water comes out of the caves and where the cave divers start their journey into the caves to explore the vast caverns in the mountains.

We went to the caves and the resurgence center first since you can do this in half a day.  The sun was out and we wanted to try to see the landscape of all the sink holes and the crystal clear water at the source of the river.  The Waitomo caves are on the map and are run by a large company.  I am sure they are fantastic but what I came to realize is a stalagmite is a stalagmite no matter what dark hole it is in and a stalactite is a stalactite.  In order for us to go through the Waitomo Caves it would have cost us around $280nz... The Ngarua Caves are run by an elderly couple that seem to have been doing this for a very long time.  Granite you don’t get all the flash that comes with the big company but most of the time I like the smaller local run operations in New Zealand anyway…. You definitely get a more legitimate feel for the historical aspect when Mike our guide comes walking up the path and starts a sentence with, “Well, a guy otta ….. “  with his monotone voice and nonchalant character of what he is about to do… He didn’t actually say that but to demonstrate the slow character and thought and appreciation of what he gets to talk about is super cool.   These caves were also where they filmed a 10 second clip of Lord of the Rings where Gandolf gets on his horse and runs off… it is extremely difficult terrain for a person to tramp across let alone a horse on a full gallop.  The limestone rocks are jutting out everywhere, not a flat stoneless piece of trail unless man made. Anyway it was really cool and obviously I was the only one really enthusiastic about it.  The kids were being their silly selves but I think got the gist of just how long it takes one these stalagmites to grow, 2 1/2 cm in 80 years!  They also had some bones that were found in the cave of a Moa bird that has been extinct since the beginning of people on New Zealand.  The Moa bird is an Ostrich sized bird with NO wings and so the Maori people found these tasty to eat… They must have fed a lot of people until the last one was killed.  :@(  I am sure they didn’t realize it was the last bird on earth… 

The vines hanging down are
tree roots coming through the ground

coming up out of the cave...

On our way home we saw this little guy on the fence and so I fell in love… He was so sweet and loved the attention… just like a puppy when you scratch under their chin, I thought he was going to roll over and put all four legs up begging to have his tummy rubbed too… Chris wouldn’t let me bring him home but he is a mental note for the farm down the road… So furry and soft.  Just like a big teddy bear.  (Highland breed) incase I forget…

The resurgence center is only a 10 minute walk through the bush and so it was very manageable for the kids to venture up.  It was nice for them to see where the water from the caves come out and the source for the river.  They were just jumping for joy to run up and see it we could hardly hold them back… Hee Hee  It was a little creepy seeing the hole they dive in to go up into shear darkness… No thanks that is one thing that I have zero interest in, too creepy and scary for me.  Plus what is there really to see…Huh?

Always educating....

The next day we started our day early driving up to catch the Marahua Ferry into Abel Tasman.  The ferry is only an hour long.  Abel Tasman is a huge place and what most people do is hike that Abel Tasman trail that is 40km.  There are many additional activities and depending on age and skill and tolerance you can customize your adventure in many different ways.  If I was to do it again and not have small children I would try to combine a 2 or 3 day hike/camp with kayak/camping for 2 or 3 days… also I would try to hit it at the end of summer or the beginning of fall.  I can’t imagine this park and the beaches in the high time.  The trails are very narrow and there aren’t many places to stop and relax until you get to a hut or beach/campsite.  The huts are very clean and on the newer side and the beaches are to die for.  They are incredibly beautiful with crystal clear water and lapping waves.  The only downside are the dreaded sand flies and mosquitos… which in the summer can be prolific and would kill and completely ruin a trip. 

Just some things you see along the way ......

Boats out of water...
We caught the ferry or should I say boarded the ferry in the parking lot… yes.  It is a boat on a trailer pulled by a tractor out to sea.  The kids got such a kick out of this and it was one of our favorite parts of the trip.  There were about 4 boats in a line being pulled out to sea by these huge tractors.  The tide was low so we had to go out a ways to get to the water and then they back up into the water and release the tractor and then drive the tractor through the water back to land. 

Amaia still tired from getting up so early.. not sure what we will do when we need to get up for school.

The tour takes you out to see the famous Split Apple Rock which is the 2nd most photographed rock in the world, they say.  It was pretty cool and I could just imagine that little squirrel from the movie Ice Age dropping a nut and pushing this rock apart trying to get it back.

Then off to our drop off destinations.  We decided to pay for the most scenic walk in Abel Tasman (as advertised) and start from Barks Bay and walk to Anchorage Bay, a distance of 12km.  There are bridges, streams, bays, beaches, a swing bridge, Cleotpatra’s pool… many things to see along the way.  Well, we get dropped off at Barks Bay…  There are no docks to unload on so the ramp is lowered into the water and you take your shoes off, walk in the water and start on your journey on the beach.  At this point I am so glad that we used this company because they are a smaller operation with smaller boats that can get closer to shore.  The bigger operations can only get in so far so the people had a much deeper and longer walk to shore, plus they couldn’t get as close to the rocks and seals on our trip up the coast.  

 What a difference a small boat makes.. can you see above the people getting off the bigger ferry.. 

Barks Bay, NZ where we were dropped off.  Also a popular camping/kayaking site for backpackers.

We were all excited and leading the charge the kids were off to a racing start.  There are many hills and climbs that at points we needed to stop and catch a breath to begin again.  For the most part you are walking down a very manicured well tramped trail among the tall trees and thick vegetation so there really isn’t much to see beyond the bush… The trail never really opens up to see the scenic views of the bay like I thought it would.  We were pretty deep in the forest for most of the 12km of trail.  Only a few times did the view open up enough to take a picture and believe me, I was looking.  

There are huge tide swings here in New Zealand... This guy still has his fishing pole and line out!?!?!

The kids were amazing during our hikes… we got a few of the “are we there yet?”..”how much longer?”..”when can we eat?”…”me legs are tired.” But then they would get it together and march on playing games or just silently run up to look around the next bend. There are definitely some pretty spots but I kept thinking to myself… Okay, now I have seen the bush before how much longer on this trail do we hike until we see something besides a tree…? Maybe we should have done the kayaking for the day…

 This river was really quite stunning!

No smurfs here... I have never seen a blue mushroom.

We took a break when we got to Torrent Bay and had lunch where there was a swing set up for people to use.  It is a private little town/village and so there were many rules and regulations on where you could walk, where you could swim and what you could do… in fact to many for me.  So we enjoyed our lunch and decided to move along.  Oh, and can't forget my sand sample.. 

 You can see the low tide walkway starting to fill in on our way down the hill... It is at the end of the spit and we needed to cross that large sandy bay in the upper right, before it all filled in with water... we didn't think we were going to make it.

At this point you have two trails you can take.  The low (low tide) trail or the high (high tide).  Low tide was at 9 and we could see the water coming in and were told that if it was past 11 we had to take the high trail or plan on swimming.  The difference between the trails are many more hills and an extra hour.  We start our walk and as we are walking along the beach I can see that there is still some beach left that maybe if we skirt the beach we can cut off some of the hills and rejoin the path on the other side.  

Well, this worked for a little while and we had a lot of fun running through the muck of the low tideland.  While we were walking you could noticeably see how quickly the tide was coming in to fill in the bay.  So we scurried along and kept trying to find where we could rejoin the trail safely without falling back down a granite cliff… At one point we just couldn’t get across without swimming or getting my cameral all wet so we had to find a way up to the trail.  The kids had a really good time racing against the water and making our own path.  In the end the people that were behind us passed us while we were climbing up the cliff so it didn’t save us anytime at all but it was definitely more fun than walking the trail.

I just love these green layers of flora carpet draped on the limestone and granite rocks along the trails.

Cleopatra's Pools.. with a natural slide.  The kids wanted to go down until someone else did and they watched as he grimaced and cursed the whole way down... not as smooth as our Taveuni, Fiji slide for sure.

Alexia ended up walking probably 10k in bare feet and the rest abandoned the shoes when we had about 3 miles to go... good thing their feet are tough.

Native Weka bird

Anchorage Bay

We were all waiting to cross the bridge because it is only able to handle 5 people at a time... Hmm I wonder if anyone has every tried to test it???

We finally made it to Anchorage with 40 minutes to spare before our 4pm ferry pickup time.  The kids got to relax and play on the beach for a little while but for the most part we sat there and people watched.  It was nice to be back on a beach again and it gave me thought to our next adventure up to Vanuatu and being in the warm weather and water again.  Also, getting some color again… I feel so pale.

 Joking being grumpy because he had to give up his seat in the wind and sea spray protected front for another male adult that was late to show.... they had to put the kids in the back because everyone could fit that way..

It really wasn't that bad... Hee Hee... we gave the kids french fries at the cafe when we got off the boat for a treat... not sure what we are going to do when french fries aren't a treat any longer.

Just some additional pics... 

 Alina taking a shower all by herself.. 

This one got a lot of giggles going in our car.. can anyone relate???

It is now Friday and a we are having a rainy day school catch up day.  I am trying to rush Tristan through this semester of school and finish it a month and half ahead of schedule so that he has somewhat of a summer break before he starts Campo.  I hope we can maintain this schedule I put him on otherwise he may be completing this year of school during his start of Campo… that would be a nightmare.

We are leaving our wonderful vineyard stay on Saturday to catch the ferry to Wellington and it will end our stint here in the South Island.  We have had an amazing time and I highly recommend an adventure down here if anyone is thinking of coming to New Zealand.  We were fortunate enough to have a month to run around New Zealand and in that time we really only did the South Island, and we felt rushed most of the time.  It would be nicer to have a few more down days between travel days to allow for some relaxing and weather windows.  I know I sound spoiled but in order to be able to see everything we have you really need to take more time.. It is a small place with many, many, many beautiful places and things to see.  We will be heading back to Whangarei and should be there on Friday or Saturday next week…. Hopefully the boat is still floating with all the rain we have been getting.

Hugs and Love to all,


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