The thought of a Golden Bay road trip beckoned…This part of New Zealand, at the top of the South Island just beyond the city of Nelson, had been on my wish list for quite a while. Time to meander off the beaten track I thought for a camping and ‘bach’ experience with my family. The sun always promises to shine the most in January and February so the last two weeks of the NZ school holidays suited us perfectly, especially as we were planning to spend some of our road trip nights under canvas. After attending the Womad music festival the year before we were already well-equipped with camping gear so it was just a question of fitting it all in the car.
New Zealand has shown me more beauty, generosity and warmth than by rights should be handed out to any single person. Perhaps, then, you would think choosing favourite places would come easily but actually quite the opposite is true. Position me just about anywhere in New Zealand and I’m in seventh heaven – Queenstown, Waiheke Island, Coromandel and of course my home for 8 months of the year – Wellington. So, to make it onto my favourites list you can be certain that the place has to have something super-special about it.
A journey through the Marlborough Sounds from North to South Island on-board the Wellington-Picton Interislander ferry is nothing short of breath-taking. The crossing, sometimes dolphin accompanied, passes remote sparkling beaches dotted with the occasional water-access-only bach and weaves between lush hills bordered by waters presenting every shade of blue.
After a quick stop in Picton bakery to grab a not-to-be-missed pie (Kiwi icon) we set off on our hour and a half drive to Nelson to spend two nights with friends. Named after Admiral Nelson and claiming South Island’s oldest settled city title, mountain-surrounded Nelson regularly comes out tops in national statistics for sunshine hours. Known for its thriving local arts and crafts scene, Nelson sits amid an area of vineyard upon vineyard with the Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Stoneleigh labels being sone of the best known. All sampled and enjoyed along the way by us of course.
During our onward journey we made a raspberry picking stop at the Omahanui Berryfruit Gardens in Braeburn which necessitated a walk across a wobbly bridge, thrilling the boys no end and leaving me feeling a little bit like Indiana Jones. And so on to the absolute beach-front $60 a night Golden Bay Kiwi Holiday Camp where we pitched up right by the dunes and close to the river estuary. Amenities included a playground area and go-karts along with washing and shower facilities.
So followed days of fun in the sun and nights under star-studded skies that included a trip to Department of Conservation managed Pupu Springs which has to qualify as the clearest spring water I have ever seen. It also just so happens to be the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere. Day two was a meet up with our Wellingtonian friends Mike and Nina, Zen and Polly and their children for a memorable day out to the beach at Farewell Spit. Having New Zealand’s natural beauty at my fingertips I have to say the beach here has to be one of the most beautiful I have ever had the pleasure to visit. This natural playground for both the young and the young-at-heart features caves, lagoons, time-sculpted rock formations and sand dunes which simply scream at you to leap down or better still to slide down on a boogie board!
Top picks for food refuelling in between all the adventures included the ‘Mussel Inn’ – great food and own brew, ‘Heat Rash Chilli Beer’ made a great combo not to mention the fun-by-the-bucket-load swinging tyre which proved a firm hit with the kids. Collingwood village – once a contender for NZ’s capital – has great pizza at The Old Court House Café run by the enthusiastic and friendly Kylie who joined us for a drink (perhaps two!) under the stars at our camp-site a couple of nights later. The habit of grabbing one of the wonderful fresh fruit ice-creams at the local ‘On The Spot’ dairy became essential revival after a day at the beach. Being able to take a dip in the refreshing outdoor local school swimming pool was a big hit. So too was their playground and sports field for a few overs of cricket.
Still in road trip holiday mode, but now swapping tents for timber, we settled into our bach at Kaiteriteri, booked through www.bookabach.co.nz Perched on the hillside with stunning views over the secluded Breaker Bay, our days were filled with exploring the tidal beach, bridge jumping and launching ourselves from hot sand dune to sea. Also on the itinerary was an early morning kayak paddle gliding over crystal clear waters full of fish and punctuated with other boats and birds. With no particular schedule we simply hopped ashore when one of the beaches took our fancy and had a swim.
Our one and a half hour ‘Coffee and Cruise’ trip to ‘Apple Split Rock’ may have featured an unfortunately jaded captain Dave but his Wellington brand ‘L’affare’ coffee and choc-chip biscuits went down a treat, especially with Tom & Reilly!
One of the great finds of the Abel Tasman area was the ‘Fat Tui’ food truck located 8 km drive away from Kaiteriteri on Marahau beach which serves the best hamburgers ever. And one of the road trip’s lingering memories – the unbelievably deafening sound of the none-too-bright cicadas which knocked themselves senseless against our windows.
My contribution to the ‘camp-site versus bach’ debate……. I can without doubt say that I had been contemplating with glee the promise of a decent night’s sleep nestled in clean sheets with the chance to take in a movie or two and catch up on world news. And it was wonderful. But, for me personally, nothing beats the thrill of setting up camp, cooking and dining al fresco…..watching the night sky deepen with my hand wrapped around a glass of local Marlborough wine……playing cards and backgammon under the twinkling of stars.
So, how did the top of the South Island rate and would I recommend this road trip? Well that would be a ‘yes, absolutely’ with the highlight of the trip being, without doubt, the wonderful beach at Farewell Spit. And the final all-important question – would we return? Without hesitation – definitely yes.