Route 1: Takaka to Piction
After a couple of days in lovely Takaka it was finally time to head to the North Island. It is approximatly a 3 hour drive from Takaka to Piction, but I knew we wanted to make some stops along the way, so even though we had a mid-afternoon sailing, we got started early, as always. Our first stop was in Nelson. My sister’s boyfriend shares the same name, so I knew she wanted to stop there and see if they had any Nel-related merchandise. It was actrually a really cute town and we stopped and walked around the centre and got some lunch. It looked like a cute, beautiful, hippie town and I wish we could have stopped longer, but like everything in New Zealand, I could spend a month everywhere, just soaking up the atmosphere of every nook and cranny of every cute town. But it was time to move on.
I guess I made a wrong turn (you are never really lost in New Zealand as there are few roads there to start with and you’ll always end up where you need to be, it just might take a little longer) and instead of cutting through to drive along Queen Charlotte Sound, we drove inland through Blenheim where we came across the biggest collection of fast food chains that we had seen in a week. We drove through a bit of wine country, which is beautiful in it’s own right. But I do slightly regret that we missed the ocean road, but it just looked like a tiny little road! I had been in New Zealand long enough, why hadn’t I learned my lesson that the smallest things could take you to some magical places! Damn, I sound cheesy.
Anyway, we still made it to the sailing with time to spare even though we drove about 30 minutes out of the way. There isn’t much to see in Picton, most people just use it as a jumping off point for walks and hikes around Queen Charlotte Sound. Unfortunatly, we were on a tight schedule, so I have yet to really expirence the area. Next time!
Route 2: Piction to Graymounth
The following year, I was back in the area. I spent one night in Picton at Tombstone Backpackers. The place was super clean and the owners were awesome as they picked me up right from the ferry terminal, even though it was fairly late. But to service a town like Picton where your life blood is the ferry, especially for backpackers with no car, not providing this service is unheard of, so I knew this wasn’t even never not an option. Plus, it’s not like the ferries come 24/7 or there even needs to be pick up or drop off every day for every sailing as lots of backpackers do have their own car or are on bus tours like Stray, Kiwi Expirence, etc. Anyway, my only complaint about this place is that since I was only staying one night and for less then 12 hours, I booked a dorm room, specificing a female only room and I was just thrown in with both guys and girls. The room was also pretty small and not good for those wanting to repack their backs before their hikes, so jumping over everyone kind of sucked. Storage space was good and lots of hooks and great full bathrooms, which I always love. And very clean. And for one night, whatever. But this is exactly why I rarely stay in dorms for more then a night or two. The kitchen was lovely as was the free breakkie and even though I arrived late, I wasn’t tired yet from my day so I sat in the den and read for a few hours. And a great book selection too!!
The next day, bright and early, I was back in town to pick up a car at Backpacker Car rentals to get my car for the next 4 days. It was only about a 4 hour drive, but I knew I was going to make some stops along the way. The first part of the drive from Renwick to Saint Arnaud was so lovely. Driving at 100km/hr down the straights, flatest highway, during the week between Christmas and New Years and still not seeing a soul for on either side of the road for at least 6km, I think was the record. Mountains on one side, flat grassland on the other. So fantastic. I stopped in Murchinson for lunch before stopping at the Buller Gorge to walk on New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and watch all the crazy people swing over it. The place was a bit of a bust. I don’t know, maybe I was just expecting more when it seemed like someone just set up a booth on the side of the road and charges people for something they should be able to do for free, such as walk over a bridge and walk on some badly labeled walking paths. DOC does a better job in New Zealand’s free parks. Whatevs, $4 or whatever to take a nice break in my drive. And a few hours later, I was in Graymouth.
Moral: If you are ever stuck on a driving trip and have lots of time, New Zealand is a great place to be. Most towns are very small and not really worth a stop, though most will create something to get people to stop, you just have to decide if what they are trying to sell you is worth your time and money. The sceney is the best reason to be stuck here. It’s a different scene around every turn and you never know what is going to come next. And also, if you make a wrong turn, no worries, most of the time it works out with out having to backtrack. It’s very hard to get lost in New Zealand and if you can read a map with any ease, skip on the GPS and look out the window instead!