It was rather strange packing up all by ourselves after so long in the company of Starcharger and ZigZag. Our time left in NZ had ticked down to a few weeks and with a need to spend a bit of time back Auckland selling the car, we decided we needed to start heading back towards the ferry.
We stopped in Nelson almost by chance. This is next town W of Blenheim. We were very glad we did stop as we arrived to find the town absolutely buzzing. There was a street performers festival on and performers from Europe and the US had made the journey to show and the town centre was full of street market stands as well. The girls were captivated by some brilliant acts and the street market provided both lunch and one of the most extraordinary blue slushies, by the look of the debris, definitely enjoyed by Hannah!
We hadn’t booked a camping ground for that night and directed by a sign we saw at the side of the road, ended up staying in one above a river that rented out gold panning equipment. The last big dig at it had been about 10 years previous and there were lots of photos of the gold nuggets extracted from the river, sadly for the owners not in commercially viable quantities. We tried our hand and Eleanor found one tiny flake but I am afraid the excitement was overshadowed by being eaten alive by the worst concentration of sand flies we had encountered anywhere in NZ. There were some other kids there from a Jehovah Witness group up for a weekend from Christchurch and the girls had a happy time playing in the river with them. They were also impressed by the passion singing of Christian battle songs – definitely militant Christians!
We had tried to keep an eye out for Hobbit and LOTR filming sites and we came across one, used for the barrel running scene as the dwarves escaped from the Forest Elves dungeon. We had a great time jumping from the rocks into the deep pools, the girls shaming some teenagers into following them off the high ledges they used.
We kept moving, stopping briefly in Havelock, proclaiming itself “The Mussel Capital of NZ”. We found an excellent little chandlery where I finally found the wire mesh I needed to fix my water-maker. It is a good little store with helpful staff and a big section of the place put aside for second hand stuff which is well worth a rummage. To our surprise, on the other side of the road was a proper, traditional UK pub, the first we had seen. The place was newly re-opened and was very smartly done up. Owned by an ex sailor, the old photos and ships reliefs detailing his time at sea on blue water trawlers was fascinating. The beer was pretty good too.
We stopped at our last campsite on S island, just an hour away from the ferry. Smith’s Farm is a neat, well run and sheltered campsite, now the main endeavour of a farming family that just couldn’t make end’s meet with the moderately sized dairy herd they had. They sublet most of their land out but have held on to a few acres for the campsite. They still keep a few sheep, cattle, goats and rabbits but it is as an campsite attraction only. On your arrival you get a bag of pellet food and a muffin each. The muffins go down well and the petting animals are nearly round, so successful is the campsite! Its other attraction is a waterfall about a 30min walk into the hills where you can see glow worms once the sun has set. It is a easy walk up and back but remember to take a torch each as the ground in the forest is rough and it is pitch black under the canopy. We surprised a couple of possum on the way back down. I hadn’t realised how dumb these beasties are and was surprised at how close they allowed us to get to them, presumably dazzled by our lights. The farm has made a real effort to kill them off as they devastate local bird numbers but they aren’t been helped by the next farm down refusing to do likewise. Classed as vermin, it is stated NZ government aspiration to clear NZ of possum by 2040.
We met a Belgium family at the camp site with three kids are travelling the world by plane for a year. We helped them move their camping equipment in our car for the ferry crossing. They had been stuck with the need to change cars (bizarrely rentals needed to stay on the island they originated on – none too helpful when you are loaded down with camping equipment) and our poor beast was down on its axles as I drove on to the boat. The family had to walk aboard as there was no room for anyone but me! The crossing was benign and we parted ways with the promise of meeting up at the Wellington Museum the next day.