We thought North Island was plenty beautiful… until we got here. Even the four hour ferry trip from Wellington was pretty stunning. As soon as you get into the Marlborough Sounds you have some beautiful views of the mountains on the way to Picton.
We were off the ferry around lunchtime and waiting for our bags – it’s like a flight; you check in your big luggage and only take a carry on. Blakey’s bag was pretty much last to appear on the carousel but it didn’t hold up the bus too much as the driver was busy cleaning up a spillage of sticky cider someone brought on board. Nothing like a bit of day drinking to get you started.
We spent our first night on the island at Kaiteriteri, a seaside town just outside Abel Tasman National Park. We were staying at a place called the Kaiteri Lodge, which sounded a bit posher than most of our usual hostels. Alas, how wrong I was. The kitchen was cramped, messy and boiling, and they bizarrely gave you a knife & fork set as you checked in. You’d lose $5 if you failed to guard it with your life. Apparently the cutlery thieves are out in force. The room to which we were first assigned was tiny – they’d managed to shove 4 sets of bunk beds into the smallest room possible, with the bottom bunk being too low to slide your big bag underneath, which resulted in an unholy mess of 8 big backpacks and 8 day backpacks crammed into the central isle between the beds. How you were meant to actually walk through the mess to your own bunk was a mystery we never solved, as we asked at reception if they had any other rooms. The reception lady was actually lovely – we just said our room was mega full and she happily gave us a new room which was a palace in comparison. 3 sets of bunks and a private bathroom, with a few sticks of actual furniture in the bedroom.
The beach at Kaiteriteri was pretty empty – it’s used mainly as a pick up point for trips into the national park. We decided to join such a trip – a morning kayaking out to Split Apple Rock, then an afternoon boat trip to Anchorage, a beach in Abel Tasman National Park which can only be accessed by hiking there or by boat. It was quite pricey at £70 each but we hadn’t spent any money on the ferry crossing day so we figured it evened out.
To be honest, the kayaking trip to the rock was good… but the rock itself wasn’t exactly awe inspiring. The kayaking was fun though, a good little workout for the arms! Plus the guide had tea and biscuits for when we arrived at the beach near the rock. Split Apple Rock was just a round rock, split in half. The clue’s in the name. It wasn’t particularly large, and we thought it was quite funny that they run special boat trips out to see it. I guess in the tourism industry you work with what you have.
The afternoon boat destination was more impressive – Anchorage beach was as beautiful as you could hope for, and as you couldn’t reach it by road it meant that it remained reasonably quiet throughout the day. The boat dropped us off and left. We set up our towels on the beach to work on the tans as occasional hikers passed us by, all kitted out with massive backpacks and walking poles. They must have been doing the multi-day coastal trail through the park, which would be pretty cool as in New Zealand they take their hiking pretty seriously – they maintain their trails really well and maintain good toilet and fresh water facilities along the main routes.
If we come back to New Zealand we will definitely travel independently rather than take another bus like the Kiwi Experience – don’t get me wrong, the Kiwi bus is great as a way to get a flavour of the country and meet other backpackers, but there are so many amazing places where we would want to spend more time – exploring, hiking, swimming. Abel Tasman National Park is most definitely one of them.