It was Boxing Day and I was now in Nelson, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Tomorrow evening my boyfriend, Jonny would be arriving to join me for eleven days and I was extremely excited! I spent the day preparing for his arrival, buying birthday and Christmas presents (his birthday is 28th December) and relaxing after a fun-filled couple of weeks on the North Island. It also felt luxurious to have my own room and a double bed after countless nights spent in hostel rooms.
When Jonny’s transport pulled up outside the accommodation, I ran to greet him and he was pleased to be on solid ground after more than 24 hours in transit. Despite his apparent and unsurprising jet lag, we enjoyed a takeaway Domino’s (not quite as good as the UK’s!), exchanged Christmas presents and watched Love Actually (although we fell asleep during Hugh Grant’s infamous Prime Minister dance and never got to the end. Luckily we’ve both seen it many times).
The following morning, I prepared a birthday breakfast and bubbly and managed to drag Jonny out of bed for a jam-packed day of surprises.
First we went to the Queen’s Gardens, a beautiful botanical garden just a short walk from our hostel. It was very tranquil and we read that it had been created to honour Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The most-recently designed Huangshi Chinese Gardens were especially picturesque and these were commissioned in 2001 to celebrate Nelson’s sister city, Huangshi.
We then explored Suter Art Gallery. Opened in 1899 in honour of the Bishop of Nelson, named Andrew Suter, it is the oldest gallery in the country which is still in continuous use. It is registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and it had an excellent display of contemporary art for no entry fee. We ended our trip here with a drink in the museum’s café, which overlooked the gardens.
For the rest of the morning, we walked around the city centre and stopped for lunch at another café. Our lunch was great but obviously the birthday breakfast I cooked was even better… (in my dreams!)
The birthday surprises continued, as our afternoon activity was a trip to Cable Bay Adventure Park, on the outskirts of the city. Here we took the world’s longest flying fox across the forest and soared at speeds of between 80-100 kilometres per hour (depending on the wind speed and the weight of its passengers). We started facing forwards and then once we reached the end we went back to the beginning, except this time we were backwards. It lasted for ten minutes and provided us with wonderful views of the native New Zealand forest, hearing just the birds chirping and the trees rustling far below us and seeing only spectacular greenery.
Jonny’s birthday ended with dinner at East Street Vegetarian Restaurant, which had excellent veggie food and a cool, hippie vibe. The menus were even tucked inside old record sleeves. The food was delicious, but the company was sadly waning as the jet lag started to hit him hard. We went for a quick drink at a quirky bar called Rhythm and Brown and called it a night when Jonny started to struggle to even keep his eyes open (he has since told me that it was the most tired he ever felt in his life!). He did travel to the other side of the world to see me, so I could hardly blame him, could I?
The subsequent morning, with Jonny feeling marginally more rested than the previous day, we ate leftovers for breakfast, napped (perhaps I should retract the comment about feeling more rested!) and walked to town for lunch. We were then due to take the Kiwi Experience Bus to Kaiteriteri, and although I had confirmed with them that they would pick us up from the hostel, they hadn’t passed this information on to the driver and so when we were not in the city centre, they drove off without us! Luckily, I managed to get hold of head office and they agreed to pay for us to take a taxi to a nearby town where the bus had stopped at a supermarket, so that we could join our fellow travellers.
En route to Kaiteriteri, our driver asked how many of us wanted to take a ‘water taxi’ to Abel Tasman National Park, but unfortunately there were not enough people who wanted to go and so they couldn’t run the trip. We were absolutely devastated as Abel Tasman is supposed to be stunning. We also thought that this was quite poor planning on the part of Kiwi Experience, as they should be able to assist any willing passengers who wish to see such a landmark of the country.
We eased our pain with a walk to the beach, a fish and chip dinner, a game of mini golf and some Friends edition Monopoly (which I had bought Jonny for his birthday).
I was also reunited with some of the friends I had made previously and I introduced them to Jonny. Sadly, we were leaving Kaiteriteri without having the chance to see Abel Tasman and the next day our bus drove to Westport, stopping en route at Nelson Lakes National Park.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Here we saw views of mountain ranges in the Southern Alps, separated by forested valleys. We also fed the eels who inhabit the lake and saw some black-billed seagulls, who are unfortunately the most threatened gull species in the world.
Once we arrived in Westport, we were shown our room, which was enormous and even had a few extra beds. We got changed into wetsuits (which we both put on backwards at first, as seen in the pictures below and had to turn them around!) and we went paddleboarding on the Buller River. This was so much fun; our guides were really friendly and we enjoyed pushing each other in, safe with the information that we were wearing wetsuits to protect us from the freezing cold water. Jonny seemed to think he was invincible as he kept managing to stay upright, so when I eventually succeeded in propelling him into the river with the help of the guides, we all felt triumphant. It was a tricky challenge to stand up on the boards at first, but once we got the hang of it I’d say we were pretty good! I found it especially easier than the surfing I had tried in Australia.
Before removing the wetsuit, I actually recorded a video to be played at my grandma’s 80th birthday the following week. Though I was gutted not to be celebrating with her, I hoped she’d be pleased to receive a message from me at her party, whilst I was on the other side of the world.
Cold and exhausted, we were delighted to return to our hostel after a full afternoon of fun. Here we were cooked rustic-style pizza in stone ovens and we were also thrilled to find a DVD collection which included Little Britain Abroad, so we could relax with this home comfort before bed.
On the last day of the year, we departed our hostel in Westport and drove towards Lake Mahinapua. We were both feeling a little coldy, but we wanted to make sure we still enjoyed all of our limited time together. Our first stop was to Cape Foulwind and Pancake Rocks walkways. We strolled along the clifftops and saw fur seals below us. It was a very pretty walk and we even witnessed a weka bird. These large, brown, flightless birds are endemic to New Zealand and are known for their feisty and curious personalities. They are protected throughout the country as their conservation status is vulnerable.
A weka bird
We then ate pancakes with maple syrup in honour of the rocks, a speciality in this area.
Later, we were dropped off in Hokitika, where we were staying for New Year’s Eve. Though we were separate from the rest of our Kiwi Experience friends, it was lovely to bring in the new year together.
Find out about our New Year’s Eve adventures and how we spent the first few days of 2019 in the next blog post. And watch this space for more New Zealand fun!