Facing the Tasman Bay, Nelson is the oldest settlement established by English settlers in the South Island. The city is named after, Horatio Nelson, the famed British Naval Commander of the 19th century. Nelson is the base for those wanting to explore Abel Tasman National Reserve, a wilderness park that occupies the northern end of the South Island. It is indeed a beautiful city with the highest sunshine hours in a year, earning it the nickname of “Sunny Nelson”.
The Bug Backpackers’ Hostel had filled up fast in the evening and it was almost a full house. That showed in the common areas in the morning. Most of the chairs and informal seating were taken up at breakfast time. We loaded the luggage in the car and had breakfast of toasts, jam and peanut butter. The spread was sparse and we had to make do with that. Before leaving for Greymouth I got the log sheet signed and attested at the reception. It was bright and sunny as we set out with trees being shorn of their leaves in every breeze that blew.
The Hope Saddle lookout point was the first stop after about 80 km from Nelson. On the way to the viewing platform we came across a couple of absolutely fearless partridges that went about their business as we tried to get close to them for a few pictures. Hope Saddle is over 2000 feet above MSL and is one of the trig stations in New Zealand. There are clear warnings not to disturb the geodetic survey mark as it is used as a referral land survey marking location. The lookout point affords fantastic views of the Hope Range and the walk up to it is through dense foliage. We continued our journey with misty mountains in the distant views and thick pine trees on both sides of the road. Some of the views were so tempting that I had to fiddle around with my phone camera despite driving at the permitted 100 kph.
Another 60 km down the highway my eyes caught the signboard of the Bullar Gorge Swingbridge. Ever ready for adventure and surprises, Hetal seconded my decision to take a break there to explore what that is. It was the correct decision, as it turned out from the experiences. The Bullar River is one of the longest rivers in the country at over 170 km in length and it runs almost parallel to SH6 for most of its course before emptying into the Tasman Sea. It is also one of the rivers with the highest flood flow in the country. The river runs through the Bullar Gorge and the longest swing bridge in the country, at 110 meters, spans the gorge over the river at the point where we visited. There were no two opinions about taking the entrance tickets to walk on the swing bridge. With the river flowing across at high velocity, the walk on the narrow bridge was not a fearless one. If one looks down at the gushing waters one could freeze and remain rooted. The sturdy steel bridge notwithstanding I had to be goaded by Hetal, who was following me, to look ahead and take small steps forward. The walk was one of the longest I ever had across a swing bridge.
The views were grand and in a short while we completed the walk on the bridge. There are a couple of good bush walks thereafter and we took them. The area being susceptible to volcanic actions, a couple of faultlines were marked on the bush pathways. It was interesting to see a few machinery that were obviously used in the development of the region and now left as exhibits for tourists to observe and study. When we were at the point to return on the swing bridge we saw a person taking the Comet Line ride across the river. It looked fascinating. It took Hetal and me no time to decide on that mode for the return journey, while the Shuklas opted to walk back across the river. The young man at the start of the Comet Line announced to the reception that we had chosen the adventure we hadn’t yet paid for and strapped us in. The exhilarating ride lasted but a few seconds and the highpoint of the ride was the breaking of the ride at the end point. The ride is so well marketed that when we were helped out of the saddles we were shown photographs and a video of the entire experience. We didn’t hesitate to get that on a USB.
Onwards to Charleston en route to Greymouth. It had started raining and we were hungry for some hot food. Charleston is another one of New Zealand’s gold rush towns. The Nile River which runs through the town has, over the years, made it a favorite with adventure seekers. I spotted the Underworld Adventures Café just a short distance into town and decided to explore if the café was vegetarian friendly. It turned out to be so, the lady even suggesting that we could order what we wanted and she would do it even if that was not on the menu. We ordered vegetable Panini, toasted Sandwich, pastries and fries and chicken. The food was marvelous and the service sublime. The café is housed in a building that offers adventure tourism specials like limestone caves and cliffs experience, water rafting and such like. When we were at lunch a small group came in after their experience, which had been photographed and videos made of their wonderful time in caves and on rafts. That was played back to them on a TV screen for them to decide if they needed the digital records, at a price, of course. The rooftop of the café offered lovely views of the neighborhood.
We stopped at numerous lookout points on the way, never tiring of the times we had to get out and get in to the car. The drive from Charleston to Punakaiki was glorious, to say the least. The Paparoa National Park was on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other. The rough seas added lustre to the rocks that rose in the sea and the waves ate up much of the beach. On the way we also stopped to observe a few Alpacas that were being reared in a private farm. Unable to resist the temptation of watching them up close, Shukla even suggested that we jump the fence of the private yard!
We had a reservation in the Apostles’ View Motel. It was raining quite heavily when we reached there. The accommodation was quite comfortable. It was a two bedroomed unit within a large property that had different types of accommodation. When the rain eased a bit we set course to the Cobden breakwater, where we were part of a most glorious sunset. The Cobden and Blaketown breakwaters on the Grey River channel the river waters into the Tasman Sea. We walked right up to the edge of the Cobden breakwater an experienced how rough the sea can be. We were sprayed quite a bit despite it being low tide. When the sun went down and a jet aircraft went overhead I got some of the most beautiful pictures that I have ever in a sunset. The breakwater is also unofficially known as Shipwreck Point because of nearly 50 ships that have been wrecked at this breakwater point.
As the light grew worse we set off to find the nearest Countdown store for some grocery. Dinner was cooked by the two ladies and I had a smacking meal of noodles, baked beans and spam after the two customary pints of beer. By the time we were finishing dinner the skies opened up and it became very cold.