I’ll be honest – I wasn’t that excited to stop here. I only planned it out of necessity. Wellington is at the bottom tip of the North Island. There aren’t any bridges connecting it to the South Island, so the only ways to get across the channel are to fly or take the ferry.
Luckily, the price of my rental car included the ferry crossing. A ferry ticket for a vehicle is around $200 one way! But it makes sense. The voyage is 3 hours long and covers quite a bit of distance. The ferry is also fully outfitted with restaurants, cafes, and even a movie theater! So each crossing must cost the company a pretty penny.
I booked myself on the 9am crossing from Wellington to Picton. Vehicles had to check in at 8am, so I set my alarm at 7am to check out of the hostel. I had been staying at the Lodge in the City. It was the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in! It all culminated on the final night when a Brit entered our dorm room at 4:35am (I know because he was so loud, it woke me up and I checked my phone.) I listened to him struggle to climb into the top bunk and then try to catch his breath. Not even 30 minutes later, he shouted “Is anyone awake?!” The guy sleeping above me replied “I guess I am now. What do you need?” And the Brit explained, “I’m disabled. I had a stroke and can’t move the left side of my body. I desperately need to use the loo but I can’t climb out of this bunk. Should I jump or will I break my legs?”
Our entire room spent the next 15 minutes telling him not to jump and trying to help him down. We ended up all lifting him out of the bed and placing him on the ground. I assume he complained to reception and got another room assignment because he came back soon after and gathered his things. It was certainly an eventful night.
I caught the ferry in the morning and landed in Picton around 1pm. It was a rocky journey since the remnants of Cyclone Gita were finally hitting NZ. Apparently the storms caused a lot of damage and flooding to coastal towns and roads. Some people are still stuck in Abel Tasman National Park since the roads are washed away.
I drove 4 hours from Picton to Nelson where I had decided to stop for two nights. I didn’t have anything I wanted to see, but I knew I would be tired from the ferry and then the long drive. I am trying to space out my drives and have rest days in between.
Nelson is known as the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Other than that, it’s just a town. The day before I arrived, I was researching things to do and finding nothing other than hikes in the National Park. I knew if I simply drove myself into the park and tried to explore, I’d get bored or frustrated that I didn’t know where to go.
So, on a whim, I booked an all-day kayak tour. I’ve never been kayaking before, but I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. They had half-day tours that they recommended for beginners, but those were only 4 hours long and only 2 hours of actual kayaking. If I am going all the way into the park, I want to be there all day! So I opted for the 7am-6pm tour with 8 hours of kayaking! I’m young and fit. My shoulder has fully healed. I figured it would be a fun challenge.
I arrived in Nelson and explored the downtown area a bit. It is located right on the waterfront with a quaint stream running through the center. There is a gorgeous park with some of the most beautiful flower gardens I’ve ever seen. As I continued to walk, I fell more and more in love with Nelson. Everything was so clean and well designed. There were cute cafes and organic grocery stores. It had everything, including a giant public beach!
In the evening, I met my host, Robbie. He lives in an amazing home on top of a mountain with great views of the bay. Seriously stunning!
I was greeted by his 3 kids since he was out making cookie deliveries for his bakery. When he came home, we sat on his balcony and watched the sunset while discussing travel and New Zealand.
The next morning, I drove into town to catch the bus. Part of my kayak package included a bus ride from Nelson into the park. The drive takes 1.5 hours, so I was glad to let someone else do the driving so I could enjoy the view!
I was expecting a small van driven by kayak employees. Instead, I was loaded onto a giant tour bus that several companies use to haul tourists into the park. I was the only kayaker on a bus filled with elderly tourists destined for a Sea Shuttle cruise that shows them the park without them actually having to walk. I had a really fun bus ride listening to them all complain about their bodily pains.
We arrived in the park and I was greeted by Mark, our kayak guide. Our group for the day was small. It was just me and another kiwi family with 3 daughters my age. The mom was quick to make me feel included by offering to put sunscreen on my back and sharing her snacks with me. The kayaks were all two-seaters and the mom even asked if I wanted to be her partner!
After a quick safety briefing, we hit the water at 10am. Kayaking was much harder than I expected! We would paddle for an eternity but seem to go nowhere. I started to doubt if I could last the entire day. I focused on my form and steering. Two-seater kayaks have pedals so the person in the rear can steer with a rudder. I volunteered to sit in the back, so I had to juggle steering, paddling, and admiring the view all at the same time!
Luckily, whenever my arms started to get sore, Mark would direct us to paddle into a cove. I bet we paddled for 2 hours before we stopped at a beach for morning tea. While Mark was preparing the snacks, I explored the beach and discovered the most beautiful alcove. Mark said that was the spot that early British settlers would shower. Apparently there’s even a painting of that scene!
After snack time, we paddled to Adele Island to see the seals. I’m not a big animal lover, so I didn’t take any photos, but they were fun to watch. After another couple hours of paddling, we stopped for lunch. It was getting pretty warm, so I spent awhile swimming and climbing on rocks. I forgot how much fun it is to just explore!
We headed south and the winds were picking up, so Mark suggested we try sailing. Basically, all the kayaks line up and hold onto each other. Then the people on the ends raise a giant sail and the wind propels the raft forward. It was fun! And saved us another hour of paddling.
Near the end, we paddled around Split Apple Rock, one of the park’s most famous attractions. While we were there, we even paddled through a giant cave!
It was so much fun and I’m glad I pushed myself to try something new. I will definitely be going kayaking this summer in Portland! They’re also fairly cheap if you buy them second hand. Might be a new hobby!
I had an early night since I was so exhausted. The next morning, Robbie invited me to the Nelson farmers market with him. It was giant! All of the other markets on the island were tiny in comparison. He bought some produce while I tried samples of goat cheese and granola.
Afterward, he showed me his bakery. I was expecting a regular cafe, but that’s not it at all! It’s located inside a replica colonial village. The bakery operates as an open museum, but Robbie rents it out so he has access to it 24/7. He said he goes there every Sunday and bakes scones as a way to relax. There’s even an espresso machine, so he made us coffee. It was such a relaxing way to spend the morning!
And with that, I left Nelson. It was the first place I actually wished I could stay longer. I wanted to spend some time hiking in the park and enjoying Nelson’s beach. They have yoga circles there most mornings and stand-up paddle boarding. I have a very short list of cities I’d love to own vacation homes in… and Nelson made the list!