We were about 1 and 1/2 hours to Nelson and wanted to arrive in daylight as we had been very fortunate to secure a private home for the next 3 nights. The owners also owned a property at Puponga (Farewell Spit) where we were next going. They were moving there whilst we were in Nelson and then we were exchanging houses. The Nelson house was in Endeavour Lane and with excellent directions very easy to find in the hills behind the CBD. The location gave it a wonderful view down over the city and out to sea across the port. Comfortably setup, it was well fenced, with a pleasant flat lawn area to the rear where Tammy could play with her ball. The house was very dog friendly and Tammy was soon enjoying herself immensely, investigating the belongings of the resident dog. This was a big job, keeping her busy for the next hour or so whilst we to and fro'ed with supplies and gear from the California. Endeavour Lane was a lovely treed area allowing each property a high degree of privacy and an elevated outlook. Our house had everything and more that anybody could want; beautiful, clean bed linen, the kitchen and separate laundry completely equipped just like home. This was going to be the perfect base from which to explore Nelson and surrounds.
The sunset promised a good morning and so it was on waking, the sun just touching the edge of the lawn and slowly creeping across the deck then beaming into the living area. Tammy loved it. Breakfast over and it was off to downtown Nelson. We hadn't visited for a number of years and have good memories of earlier visits, however this time we found that some of the former vibrancy had ebbed - slightly. Its still a great city to visit, the small CBD quite picturesque, especially Trafalgar St leading up to the Cathedral and the few small streets and walkways alongside the river. The so-called 'heritage' street, South street, is a misnomer and could be avoided with nothing much missed. Coffee at Lambrettas on Hardy Street is a must. This great cafe is on the ground floor of the historic New Zealand Insurance building - the name 'Lambrettas' reinforced with 2 original Lambretta scooters parked outside.
Another 1/2 hour or so inspecting the CBD was plenty and we had just enough time before lunch to find the local New World, buy the few extra supplies needed and drive around Wakefield Quay to our preferred lunch spot, The Boatshed Cafe. The Boatshed is on the seaside of the quay, mainly built out over the water so you can look down through the deck boards to the waters of Tasman Bay. We managed to park the California in a nice shady spot where Tammy would be happy for an hour or 2 with a couple of treats and a bowl of fresh water. Lunch was truly excellent; we shared prawns and whitebait accompained by crisp roast potatoes and green beans. They can make great coffee here too, our 2 long blacks were perfect. Halfway through our lunch we noticed what seemed to be a log of wood floating close by. We were thinking with the odd private small yacht motoring by, a nearly submerged log could be quite dangerous, when suddenly the log flipped over and a finned tail appeared, both of us saying together 'Did you see that - a seal?' Not many places you can have lunch and be entertained by a resident wild seal. This was one eating experience we were genuinely sorry to end - the venue, the food we ate and the staff all rate 10/10. Don't miss the Boatshed if you're in Nelson at lunchtime. Just up the road towards town you will find Guytons where some of the best fresh seafood can be found. Some clean, fresh snapper fillets took our fancy which we could keep in the California frig until needed later.
Early to mid afternoon now and over lunch we had decided to visit Ernest (Lord) Rutherford's, of splitting the atom fame, home turf of Brightwater, a nearby suburb of Nelson. Rutherford was awarded the 1908 Nobel prize in chemistry and was engaged overseas in many ground breaking research projects focused on atoms and radioactivity.
Brightwater is a heritage suburb which was really what attracted us. Set to the south west of Nelson we travelled out on the Main Hope road, through Richmond, Hope and then Brightwater. Being the birthplace of Ernest Rutherford there is Lord Rutherford Road which crosses with Ellis and Waimea West Roads. At the southern end of the road where it connects with Spring Grove road there is a memorial to Rutherford commemorating his life's work in nuclear physics, finally erected in 1991. Then we visited St Pauls, down by Snowdons Bush. The Anglican church has an attractive porch built in 1864. Back up the road we found the Brightwater Trading Co store dating from the time when the BTC was the genuine local general store, stocking everything from household needs, clothing and farm requirements. Otherwise there are 9 original homes of various styles in the area, all dating from the mid to late 19th century. Overall a very interesting and historical place.
The next day was another 'sounds' day and we had decided, subject to the weather to take the French Pass road. Unfortunately this involved a to and fro over the rather twisty and tortuous Whangamoa Saddle on SH6. The day was cold and clear as we left Nelson at around 9:30 and we soon covered the 40 odd kms to the Rai Valley where a left turn put us on Ronga Rd to Okiwi Bay. A few twists and turns but generally for a secondary road, not too bad.
Okiwi is a sheltered tight horseshoe shape bay with a few holiday homes scattered along the beachside road. At the eastern end of the bay we found an off-road grassed area alongside a crystal clear stream and pond, the perfect quiet spot for lunch. We were just settling down when a vehicle arrived with a young mother and her 2 children. The mother told us they had been staying in the area for 5 days and came here every day to play and swim in the lovely shallow pool. Our sandwiches and coffee were accompanied by the happy sounds of the youngsters as they splashed about and paddled their coracle like plastic boats.
We had left the decision as to whether or not to undertake the next 30 odd kms to French Pass until now, and of course we continued. Thank goodness we did. Although the Croisilles - French Pass road is soon gravel, there are so many fabulous views, with the 'piece de resistance', the breathtaking view across to D'Urville Is over the passage. The rise and fall of the tide creates enormous currents through the 500 metre wide pass with dangerous whirlpools, eddies and deep holes. Peak tidal flow is about 4 metres per second. The pass was navigated by Admiral Jules Dumont D'Urville in 1827 whose experiences of French Pass caused him to warn other mariners not to attempt it except in an extreme emergency. Although tired from the outward drive, the return was equally rewarding with the falling light creating many photo opportunities. Even so Rai Valley back to Nelson over the Whangamoa Saddle was hard going and we were relieved to be driving up Endeavour Lane to our comfortable lodgings. We were sorry to be leaving Nelson the next day, as it had been a very comfortable stay, but in another way we were excited about the next few days as the road ahead towards Farewell Spit was uncharted territory for us.
We pulled out of Endeavour Lane about 10:30am. leaving the house in the pristine state it had been on our arrival. The weather again treated us kindly, cold and clear. Our destination was Farewell Spit, but our first stop of the day was the WOW (World of wearable art) museum, located at Cadillac Way, Annesbrook, just to the south west of Nelson. The museum had on display many of the extravagantly creative garments from the 2012 Wellington World of Wearable Arts Display. Being able to take our time, looking closely at the clever use of every day items in each creation, made the visit outstanding. Similarly, if you have ever dreamed of owning a Cord or De Lorean you can at least get a close look at one in the flesh during a slow ramble through the car classics gallery next door, which houses one of the largest Australasian collections. At the end of all this we definitely needed the excellent long black and delicious savoury scone served by the museum cafe with inside - outside seating courtesy of floor to ceiling sliders. These overlook a tranquil shimmering pool with a 60s Cadillac, parked alongside. The WOW collection was a great talking point between us as we continued our travels.
As planned, we reached Mapua right on lunch time, intending to visit The Smokehouse cafe again. We arrived to discover the Smokehouse was now separate from the cafe venue renamed Appleshed, with Smokehouse focused solely on creating smoked fish products. The 2 venues were side by side and we were able to sit on the restaurant deck by the estuary with Tammy. The owner's labrador was there to greet us, a youngster so a little exuberant for Tammy at first, but they soon made their peace. The Appleshed was every bit as good as the Smokehouse of old, perhaps even slightly better, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch of fish of the day and prawns, with of course, a glass of local pinot. Unless you know in advance, you are bound to be taken in by the 'friendly' rare white heron sitting on a wharf pile close by. When it stays still for several photo sessions the realisation it isn't real, dawns.
We had decided not to deviate inland to Moutere, having visited this pretty spot before, so continued up the coast to Motueka, a medium size town brought to New Zealand fame by the Talley family who have built up a very large fishing and vegetable processing industry in the area. The big thing years ago at Motueka was scallops and I vaguely remember you could visit a little old fashioned fishshop down by the wharf where scallops, cooked fresh anyway you liked them, were always on offer. I couldn't see anything like this near the wharf today, but Talleys do have a very well stocked shop near their factory with fresh looking blue cod, snapper, tarakihi and scallops in the refrigerated counter. The blue cod took our fancy and the fillets we purchased for dinner were soon safely stowed in the California fridge.
We needed to get on now, although not too many Kms to Puponga (Farewell Spit) we still had the Takaka Hill to negotiate. A side trip to Kaiteriteri renewed our memory of this beautiful beach from the lookout at the western end. About 20 kms return from SH60 then from rejoining the highway, it was straight into the Takaka Hill, which we had heard a lot about. All comments were correct. It is windy and slow yet with some incredible views. Even if you could, it's not to be rushed. Once past Uruwhenua the road straightens somewhat and better time can be made. Just before reaching the town of Takaka we passed the Waikoropupu Springs road on our left. These springs are a must see and as we have to redo this road on our return in a few days time we resolved to take a look then.
A late coffee at the Mussel Inn, Onekaka was on our agenda but another, 'not to be missed' visit for our return trip as it was closed. On up the road to Collingwood, a historic and picturesque waterside village. Not a lot here, but there is a store, a couple of cafes, tavern, a small museum and Rosy Glow chocolates. You can taste and buy some of Rosy Glow delicious chocolates in the pink house, straight ahead and to the right, on the waterfront of Golden Bay. Rosy was closed the day we visited but we did not miss out, spying a Rosy collection on the counter at Mussel Inn when we stopped for a coffee later in the week and we can confirm they are the best. We indulged in a gourmet dark truffle filled chocolate, easily big enough for two.
With the afternoon light slowly dying out we still had 20 plus kms to go to Puponga, with thankfully, a reasonably straight road hugging the Golden Bay foreshore. Through Ferntown, Waikato, Seaford before we arrived at Port Puponga. The directions supplied to Gloria's cottage in Clark Street were easy to follow - it would be impossible to get lost here anyway as the little lane stops at the door, so the only other option is back the way you came.
The Port Puponga house we had for the next 2 nights was perfect for the location. Very clean and basic, yet extremely comfortable and convenient. The California could be parked close to the front door which was a boon as the night we arrived, a persistent light rain had just started. All the necessary gear and food items were soon transferred with Tammy telling us it was past 6pm, her dinnertime. The Tammy essentials taken care of, it was our 'blue cod' time and it was truly delicious. Hearing some unusual bird calls through the twilight of early evening, I speculated they were probably Kiwis, as I knew this location was a kiwi habitat. Everyone was early to bed and slept very soundly as the night hours were absolutely silent.
The early morning greeted us with some rain but from the sky's appearance, we thought a little later, the day should improve. After breakfast we made the short drive to the Farewell Spit DOC visitor centre at the base of the Spit overlooking the beach. No one seemed to be around until, to our delight, we were greeted by 3 friendly young staff as we entered the main room. An espresso coffee was no problem and some fresh carrot cake was also available - perfect. We could sit on the verandah with Tammy and see right out over the beach and down the curving stretch of Farewell spit (Onetahua), the longest natural sandbar in New Zealand. The Spit originated about 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age and is the summer home of many different species of migratory birds which arrive from Siberia and Alaska. Abel Tasman sailed in the area in 1642 and James Cook, in 1770, named the Spit Farewell as he left New Zealand.
After our coffee we walked down the short track to the inner beach from where we could see the vast sweep of The Spit, thinning out in the distance as it curved around from west to east. The shallow beach carried lots of driftwood with dried seagrass matted on high water mark. The water was way out leaving many pools on the sand flats. Having Tammy with us meant we could not venture onto the Spit itself by joining one of the tours, but even from the beach the overall natural wilderness of the area entered our being. Back up the track, past the DOC centre and onto Wharariki road which took us to the Cape Farewell walkway and further on to the Wharariki beach track.
Cape Farewell itself is one of the most spectacular places on the New Zealand coast. The Cape is the most northerly point of the South Island and was named by James Cook being the last land seen before leaving New Zealand. The Tasman sea crashes in against the high cliffs and surges around the Cape arch. The walk and viewing platform are very accessible with the platform positioned for the best Cape view. The cliff edges in this area are quite open and very steep straight down into the sea tens of metres below, so care is needed. We spent some time here, taking in the incredible views and general wildness of the sea which today was relatively calm. Some ominous dark clouds were gathering to the south west and we hoped rain would hold off till we had walked to Wharariki beach.
So settling Tammy down in her California bed with water and treats nearby, we set off on the 40 minute walk to the beach. The walking track from the carpark was quite easy (though we thought could get slippery in the wet) until we got into the sand dunes, when the soft sand made the going more challenging. As we came closer we could make out shiny black bodies cavorting in and out of the waves - the seal pups. There were quite a few, probably twenty or more, as when our eyes became accustomed to watching, we could spot more and more. Visitors have talked about the wind on Wharariki and the sand ripples and bent bushes above the beach show it can really blow, but for us, luckily, there was just a mid range breeze. There are lots of other good walks in the area, some short, others as long as a day, but with our pal back in the California we left it at that, memories of Wharariki firmly embedded.
With so many wonderful, natural and remote places in this area, it is impossible to say one is better than another, but Wharariki is a place which will take your breath away, especially if you get to see the seal pups at play in the surf as we did.
As we pulled out of the carpark the first rain drops started and the early afternoon closed in with a low damp mist. It was either home for lunch or driving down to Collingwood and taking our chances there. After mentally reviewing the contents of our fridge, Collingwood was the best option. The nearly 20km did not seem to take long despite the miserable misty rain all the way. Deciding on the best lunch spot did not take long either and we were soon warm and comfortable at the Courthouse Cafe - you can't miss it on the right just as you enter town. With a cheerful fire crackling, this was a very cosy place to spend an hour or so. Our freshly prepared, tasty lunch choices were washed down with an Otago pinot and followed by 2 well-made long blacks.
On the way back to Puponga the day looked to be improving so we turned inland on the Kaihoka Lakes road at Pakawau. A gravel but OK road winds past the northern end of the Whanganui Inlet, which if you're not watching the map you think must be the lake, but continue on another 2 or 3 kms and you come to the tiny Kaihoka Lake. What a reward to see this little body of water surrounded by thousands of mature Nikau Palms thrusting head and shoulders, above the low bush undergrowth. We enjoyed a very satisfying day in the Farewell Spit environs covering a wide cross section of this less travelled part of New Zealand.
The following day, with the hope for a good weather day for all we had to see on the way, we headed back over the Takaka Hill to Westport.
As hoped, a better day dawned which made loading the California and tidying the house that much easier. By 9:30 we were driving out the gate and away from Puponga, a place we will return to. The Mussel Inn at Onekaka had just opened - perfect for our morning coffee and a delicious freshly baked savoury scone. From a stand of Rosy Glow chocolates on the counter, we also chose an enormous dark chocolate truffle - more than enough for 2. A chocolate lovers delight, Rosy Glow chocolates are located at 54 Beach Road, Collingwood.
The Mussel Inn is well known and obviously from its reputation comes alive in the evening, especially in the summer holiday months. Mid-morning opening time on a short winter's day, it was a shadowy experience, but the staff were friendly, the coffee great and the snacks delicious. Onwards towards Takaka turning off to the right a few kms before the town on the PuPu Springs Road. The road takes you to the Waikoropupu Springs which are the largest cold water springs in the Southern hemisphere and the largest freshwater in New Zealand with 14,000 litres pouring to the surface every second. This is some of the clearest water ever measured at an average of 63 metres of horizontal visibility, second only to Antartic glacial water. To protect its remarkable purity, taking the water and any contact with it is prohibited. The walk from the carpark took us past fast running, tumbling streams and various crystal clear springs, all stunning.
Arriving in Takaka we were immediately taken with its colour, character and vivacity. The main street was very busy and it took us several passes to find a park. The Wholemeal Cafe had been recommended and this is where we had decided for lunch. It's in the main street and you can't miss it. A constant stream of customers kept the staff running, yet our order arrived in good time. The long blacks were an 8/10 finishing a very pleasant lunch break. An after lunch walk up and down the main street with Tammy confirmed our earlier impression of a very pleasant and busy town with plenty going on. It was a stop start walk as so many passersby stopped to greet Tammy who, of course, lapped it all up.
In the California and underway again after a diesel fill and it was up and over the Takaka hill and down into Motueka from where we turned right, off SH 60, heading inland to join SH 6 at Kohatu. A pleasant surprise at Kohatu was the recently created Flat Rock Cafe which has arisen from the defunct Kohatu Hotel. The renovation is very inviting and provides a great facility for passing travellers. Our 2 coffees were well made accompanied by a homemade slice. Tammy enjoyed the break from driving, sitting under the wide verandah, dressed in her little Swanndri which was a good barrier to the single figure temperature. Not too far now for our night stop at alpine St Arnaud. As we climbed more inland, it was getting much colder. The California's external temperature indicator was starting to show us single figures.
We were staying with Russell and Majorie in a Swiss Chalet style bed and breakfast - St Arnaud House. Tammy was welcome and made great friends with the owner's poodle, Ruby. The 2 pretty Burmese cats kept more to themselves. St Arnaud House was extremely comfortable for us with a warm spacious room, comfortable bed with nice linen and an attached ensuite with big fluffy towels. Majorie had gone to considerable trouble to prepare a delicious chicken dinner, followed by a dark chocolate saucey pudding with homemade icecream, and we went to our room much later very content. All 3 of us slept very soundly. Next morning, breakfast was equally delicious and we reluctantly took our leave armed with a supply of Majorie's scrumptious freshly baked vanilla and chocolate muffins for our later morning stop. Before leaving the St Arnaud area it is mandatory to visit the nearby pristine Nelson lakes. Rotoiti, the Buller river source, was just a few kms along the road and, in the early morning presented stunning reflective views of the surrounding mountains. In the winter months with snow all around this would be quite something but even today with the mirror lake and the low mist, it was an eerie, mysterious place. The nearby Mt Robert at 1421 metres gave a wonderful Rotoiti vantage point and at this time of the year the Mt Robert road was quite manageable. We were in and above the surrounding rising mists which changed second by second - on moment a clear, perfect view, then suddenly ethereal and ghostly.