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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feb 4 – 7, 2010 – Top of the South Island; Picton to Nelson

Wednesday afternoon we arrived in Picton, which is a charming little
town that reminded us of a US eastern coast seaside town. It is a
popular jumping off point for trekkers going out to hike the Queen
Charlotte Track. The track is a hiker's dream, and can be done in day
trips or in a four-day backpacker jaunt. The primary means of getting
out to the beginning of the Track is via the mail boats. We only
allowed ourselves one full day here, and booked ourselves to make the
one day hike at the beginning of the Track, a 15k hike. We found
rooms at The Admiral, a boutique hotel within walking distance of the
wharf where we were to board the boat for our excursion. We pretty
much had the run of the hotel, being the only 4 guests the 2 nights we
were there. They gave us full use of the kitchen and fed us breakfast
everyday, giving us free Internet and access to the great room. Nice
place – nice people who run it.

Thursday morning we boarded the boat, which first gave us a tour of
the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound through which we had cruised the
previous day on the ferry ride over. We made a first stop at an
island that has been designated a bird sanctuary. The mail boat
dropped us off to take a 45-minute hike up to the top for a fantastic
panoramic view of the Sound, while he made some mail deliveries,
luggage drops and people deliveries to nearby areas. All natural and
introduced predators such as rats, stoats and possums have been
removed from this island and it literally sings with birds. There are
even a few man-made penguin burrows to allow a safe hatching area for
the little fellows. When we finished our hike and wandered back down
to the pier to await the boat, we saw a couple of penguins swimming
around underneath us, diving and fishing. What a thrill to be able to
just sit here and watch these incredible creatures in their natural
habitat! The boat came along, picked us up and then resumed its
general business of the mail. After a few more mail drops and luggage
deliveries, we arrived at our destination. He dropped us off at our
starting point for the hike. The first half was mostly uphill and
very rocky and "trippy". Although it was hard on the old feet, trying
to be careful to avoid roots, sharp rocks and other debris in the
trail, it was a great hike. At times, it the vistas were
breathtakingly beautiful, making it all worth the foot pain. We
stopped at a halfway point to eat our lunches and were soon overcome
by Wekas! They are these funny looking flightless birds that resemble
a cross between a chicken and a kiwi bird. They are obnoxious! They
kept trying to get to our food and because they are protected, we had
to be very careful attempting to shoo them away in case some locals
came upon us in the process. For some reason they loved to harass
Frank, and were very persistent about it. He kept growling and
scowling at them, and if I didn't know better I'd swear they were
taunting him personally. Finally we threw the rest of our lunch back
into the backpacks and continued the hike. We had been told to expect
to give it at least 5 - 6 hours to make it over to the pick up point
at the 15-kilometer mark. We laughed at them, thinking they must use
really old, decrepit people to set the pace for this deal. We had
seriously underestimated the DOC (dept. of conservation). This was no
walk in the park. It was a great physical challenge for us, and not
one to easily describe to someone who has not done it. We were
absolutely exhausted by the time we reached the bay at the end of the
day. We had just enough time to sit down and have a cool drink before
the mail boat arrived to take us back into Picton. Needless to say we
had an early dinner and then lights out!

Friday, we drove over to Nelson. Marsha and I told Frank and Earl it
was their turn to find a hotel, so they dropped us off in town.
Nelson reminded us somewhat of Boulder's Pearl Street. It is a great
city for walking the street mall, dining and shopping. We happened to
arrive during the Busker's Festival, bringing street performers from
all around. After watching some of the performers and window-
shopping, we met the boys for lunch at an outdoor café. Just as we
were finishing up we realized that a large stage about 30 yards away
was being prepped so we stuck around to see what's up. It was a stage
adaption of a circus act combining acrobats and actors. The theme was
nautical: a ship in peril on the high seas. The weather was
beautiful, the town charming and the day was perfect. The hotel the
boys found was a luxury surprise. We thought that they would go for
something very basic and cheap. Actually it was very, very nice!
Somehow they managed to finesse the price down to $130 NZD per night,
and we got huge connecting rooms that included full kitchens and great
bathrooms. It was across the street from a grocery store, so we went
shopping and stocked the fridge, then settled down to watch The Sevens
(the big rugby tournament) on TV.

Saturday we went to the street market and then loaded into the car for
a drive to the beach. We drove into Golden Bay, through the "hippie
settlements" that are little towns along the way trapped in the 60's.
As we drove along we literally saw lots of dreadlocked, barefoot or
otherwise Birkenstock and tie-dyed clad flower children. Frozen in
time this area is beautiful and quite unique. We walked along the
beach, which was amazingly covered in what looked like river stones,
yet no shells were there. Very different indeed. Back in Nelson we
had an early dinner and then prepared for an early departure for the 7-
hour drive down the west coast to Hokitika.

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