Day Three: Learning to Love the Bus
This morning we were all up before the sun, and I managed to make a quick trip outside several minutes before our departure to catch the sunrise. The light was just coming up over one of the mountains behind the hotel, and the sleepy little houses and shops were bathed in a soft rose. Hammer Springs is not too terribly far from the tree line, and although it was still early fall, tiny patches of snow could be seen near the mountain peaks.
In addition to the hot springs, the community offers a range of fun activity options, so visitors can go horseback riding, do some trout or salmon fishing, try out a jet boat tour, and even go bungee jumping. No doubt a return trip during the winter months to enjoy the snow or even in the spring and summer for hiking and camping in the region would be great fun.
Today was our first real long ride on the bus, but that gave us a chance to see a lot more of the terrain. Mountains and thick forests dominated the scenery, interrupted here and there by vibrant green pastureland and swift running rivers snaking through yawning curves. Along the narrow roadway, we also encountered a number of post-card worthy, one-lane bridges that didn’t appear to have been built with our large bus in mind. Happily, we didn’t run into any difficulties.
Shannon spoke a great deal today about the forests in the region and the fact that many have been replanted. After he pointed out an example or two, it wasn’t difficult to recognize them. Bunched tightly in strict rows, almost like an overcrowded Christmas tree farm, the replanted forests are remarkably dense, and it’s hard to imagine anything beneath the canopy getting much sun. Apparently most of the replanted forests are made up of a pine that’s native to northern California, but thanks to all the rain and the incredibly temperate nature of New Zealand’s climate, these forests can grow to a harvestable maturity in about half the time it would take for the same trees in California.
We also got a chance to see a lot of the native rain forests, which reminded me almost instantly of the Lord of the Rings films. Their look is certainly distinctive, much more chaotic and wild than the rigid rows of replacement trees. And the greens of the native forests are more olive in color, almost mossy.
Shannon also shared some wonderful stories about the Maori, the islands’ first inhabitants who traveled to New Zealand around 1000 years ago, and some details about the unusual mixture of animals found in the country. New Zealand was originally home to no large mammals—the exception being a couple of small native bats. There were, however, a number of flightless birds in the islands, including the famous Kiwi, which is nocturnal and actually sleeps 22 hours a day when not out hunting for food. At one point, New Zealand was also home to the Moa, a much larger bird, bigger in fact than an ostrich. The Maori hunted the Moa heavily, and, according to some experts, the bird was the first and only animal to be hunted to extinction by a native people. Rachel, who is of Maori decent herself and was seated right next to Shannon, spoke up at this point to mention that there has been a lot of contention amongst experts on this particular point.
We also learned about some of the pests brought to New Zealand in the last couple hundred years or so. Of those, possums apparently are a real problem. Originally introduced to create a fur trade in the country, the possum population has increased to almost 70 million today—or about 20 per person—largely because they have no native predators on the islands. Shannon described a number of measures taken by New Zealanders to get rid of them, including hunting, poison and also the highly encouraged sport of running them down on the roads with cars or trucks.
Abel Tasman National Park
A few more hours on the bus and we start to leave the wild rain forests and mountains and find ourselves much closer to the coast, where pastureland and farms begin to take over. Shortly after noon, we arrived at Kaiteriteri, which is a sleepy little community wrapped around a beautiful bay lined with what must be expensive homes. Most of us made a quick stop at the local market for lunch, and then climbed on board a small ferry of sorts for a pleasant boat ride along the coast toward Abel Tasman National Park.
Named for the Dutch explorer who was actually the first European to set eyes on New Zealand, the park is made up of more than 55,000 acres of native rain forest. Tasman himself never actually set foot on New Zealand, due in large part, apparently, to what appeared to be an angry collection of Maori locals in boats headed directly for him and his ship shortly after he discovered the place.
Our voyage along the coastline offers some truly striking views, and the water itself is incredibly calm, almost like liquid glass, undulating in lazy swells. There’s virtually no wind, and the only sound is the boat’s motor at the stern and the pleasing hiss of the bow cutting through the bay. Again, I felt obligated to take far too many photos.
The only way to actually get into Abel Tasman national park is by boat. There are no roads or power lines and running water is somewhat scarce. Lined with intriguing coves and sandy beaches, the park’s coastline is a popular destination for visitors looking to enjoy leisurely kayaking ventures. Abel Tasman is also literally filled with beautiful hikes through the rain forest connecting most of the secluded coves and beaches.
After about a half an hour on the boat, we went ashore to have a closer look at one of the coves and take in a little hike. The beach was something right off a tropical island, and as we headed into the trees, the forest was very dense. We stopped at a number of pleasant vista points as we hiked up a slight rise, and from these we all had a great look around. Returning to do some more hiking, and the chance to explore some of the secluded beaches and coves would be wonderful.
On our way back to the boats, we stopped to check out the Wilson’s Abel Tasman lodge. Only a few steps from the beach, the building reminded me a lot of a ski lodge, complete with wood paneling and fireplaces. Home to a variety of unique rooms, all comfortably furnished, the lodge would be perfect for a romantic get away for two. Especially for an active couple hoping to do a lot of hiking and kayaking between countless hours lounging on any number of secluded beaches.
As the shadows in the forest grew, we all climbed back onto the boat and enjoyed a remarkably quiet ride back to Kaiteriteri. Having spent a lot of time in the sun and breeze today, it wasn’t hard to do a little napping on what really seemed like a quick trip down the coastline to the town of Nelson.
Night 3: The Rutherford Hotel
Accommodations : I was a big fan of the Rutherford. The rooms were modern and spacious, fully equipped, and just downright enjoyable to hang out in. I even splurged on a couple of beers from the mini-bar.
Dinner : We ate tonight at the Oceano Restaurant, located on the second floor of the Rutherford. The setting itself was upscale, but not overly formal. I enjoyed an excellent salmon entree, and a wonderfully fruity panacota for desert.