Our vacation was winding down: one more full day in the South Island, then the ferry back to the North Island on New Year’s Eve, then the long drive back to Auckland. Therefore, most of today would be driving to Nelson, a large (by South Island standards) city only an hour or so away from the ferry at Picton. Most of the drive was fairly boring, but we did stop at the few attractions along the way.
The first stop was at perhaps the dumbest bridge we’d come across. One-way bridges were not new to us (we even passed over the world’s longest one-way bridge outside of Haast), but this one had the added feature of having train tracks as well:
M was very amused by this and insisted that we pull over to take a picture. We noted that the train line looked like it might be out of service, but we wouldn’t put it past New Zealand to have a real setup like this.
The second and more impressive stop of the day was at the Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park. In fact, except for a few short walks, these rocks are the only attraction that this park has, so naturally it was packed with people. Once we lucked into a parking space and crossed the busy road, we wandered on the easy paved path to and around these coastal rock formations.
Signs on the path helpfully explained that science has no idea why these rocks look like a stack of pancakes. In addition to the unique layer effect, the sea was in the process of eroding the base of the rocks which resulted in impressive stacks.
By the same process, many caverns, arches and blowholes had formed around the area as well. When the tide was coming in, water blasted up through these holes; sadly we were there at the wrong time of day.
We spent a good amount of time wandering the paths around the rocks and scanning the ocean for birds and Hector’s dolphins, which the signs claimed would occasionally be seen frolicking in the surf below. We did not see any dolphins but our sea life quota would be filled at the next stop.
Driving north, we decided to detour slightly to stop at Cape Foulwind (yes, lots of jokes were made). This cape, named by Captain Cook, would be our last view of the West Coast before the highway turned inland to Nelson. We started the walk out to the point only to encounter this guy stalking near the track:
It’s a weka, which is the flightless bird we’d only seen from a distance on the boat during the Hauraki Gulf pelagic trip. This weka, and the others we saw on the track, were much closer and seemed cautious but mostly unafraid of people.
Further along the path, we were rewarded with views of a seal colony, one of the most northerly ones and the last we’d see on this trip. Beyond the seals were seabirds nesting on rocky islands. This place was nice enough to have some fixed binoculars so everyone could observe the birds.
Once we walked beyond the seal colony, the path became fairly deserted. We stopped at a lookout and ate a snack, admiring our last view of the west coast ocean.
The rest of the trip to Nelson involved a long drive through low mountains and forests, and was relatively dull. The most exciting event was our stop for lunch at a small riverside picnic area: the bugs swarmed us before we’d even made our cheese sandwiches, ignoring the bug repellent, which drove us into the safety of the car where we could finish lunch in peace.
We pulled into Nelson in the late afternoon, just as it began to rain heavily. Nelson prides itself on being one of the most sunny places in NZ, so we were quite disappointed with this weather. To make matters worse, we’d not booked a hostel ahead of time, figuring that Nelson was a big enough place that we’d find something. However, every place we passed had a “no vacancy” sign lit up. We headed to the local iSite and asked if they knew of anywhere we could stay. The lady at the desk helpfully told us that everywhere in town was booked, but that she could reserve us a place about 15 kilometers back outside of town at a motel. Lacking any better options, we agreed and backtracked to a small outlying town. The motel room was bigger than what we needed but happily had an attached restaurant, which served a surprisingly nice curry. We settled down and enjoyed our last evening in the South Island!