So, after a few rainy days, the sun returned and it signalled the next quest on the itinerary which was to visit Mount Taranaki and do a couple of walks around the mountain. I wasn’t going to climb to the top – that’s quite an undertaking that I wouldn’t have been happy with doing on my own. However, there were plenty of lower level walks that could be attempted from the Visitor Centre. Getting to the Tahurangi Translator Tower was a reasonably easy affair and got you to where the summit track begins, a fair way up the mountain with stunning panoramic views. It was quite windy though so that’s as far as I went upwards. Descending into the lush, almost sub- tropical forest, the trees were covered in moss giving the place a mystical atmosphere and it was easy to imagine being Frodo Baggins travelling through Fanghorn forest. Spent another day on a similar walk around the Eastern side of the mountain then it was time to move on.
An early start for the big drive down to Wellington which is where I would catch the ferry to the South Island in a few days time. I’m still gobsmacked by how quiet the roads are, even in the towns where you’d expect a reasonable amount of traffic at peak times of the day but… no. I’m travelling down the high street of a small town called Eltham at around 8:30 am in the morning. One would naturally expect it to be a tad busy with the locals going to work, Mums doing the school run, etc. but there was hardly anyone around, it was so quiet. Not that I was complaining. Driving around in NZ seemed almost as stress-free as a stroll in the park. What little traffic you came upon either quickly passed you from behind or let you pass if you came up to it. There seemed to exist this wonderful driver’s etiquette brought about by just wanting to avoid any stress induced tailgating. As soon as a vehicle came up from behind which was obviously travelling faster than yourself, you’d let it by at the first opportunity and they’d do the same for you. Sometimes it felt like you’d got the whole road to yourself because there just wouldn’t be anything else in sight as far as the eye could see. It was wonderful!
After a brunch stop in Palmerston North, a few more hours on the road saw me me into the windy city of Wellington. I’d booked a campervan site at a motel just outside town. It wasn’t particularly pretty and the facilities were OK but it was the closest one to the ferry terminal which was just a 10 minute drive away. Having to check in there before 7:15 am in the morning, that suited me.
Thus, I had a few days in Wellington before heading over to the South Island after the weekend. The first thing I always want to do when arriving in a new place is just go for a walk and get my bearings. A modern, busy city centre but with a nice atmosphere, I love strolling around, having a pint and watching the world go by – you can’t beat people watching. One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a place like this was to book a hop-on hop-off bus city tour. I did this the following day with another good walkaround.
Being the HQ of Mr Peter Jackson (LOTR) and the home of Miramar Studios, it was only right and proper to go and take a look at the Weta Cave where they create all the props and make-up special effects for the films too. Cuba Street was where all the hip young trendies hung out (including me of course!) and it was definitely seemed a central gathering point for island hopping backpackers.
The morning of my ferry trip came all too soon with a three hour sail over to Picton on the South Island. The early cloud dissipated as we got under way and we were treated to a green carpet of gorgeous landscape under a clear blue sky for most of the way.
I was going to head to a place called Nelson for my first stay on the South Island en route to the Abel Tasman National Park. It wasn’t too far from Picton so I’d be there around 2 pm, just right for getting settled in at the Holiday Park and finding a nice place to eat.