By Bonnie and Bill Neely
What a surprise we had as we were boarding the Interislander Ferry from Wellington on the North Island, New Zealand, to Picton on the South Island! We watched the unloading of the in-coming ship we were about to board and off came a full train of about 20 cars from the belly of the Ferry! Full of questions, we learned from the officials that the ship has a railroad track on the bottom of the boat in the carpark area. Often semi-trucks and trains are part of the cargo! Of course, since we are from Texas, surrounded on all sides by land, we had not anticipated what island life necessarily included at the bottom of the world!
After a very smooth and lovely three hours aboard the ship we landed at our destination and quickly rented a car. We drove to the lovely thriving city of Nelson which about 70,000 people call home. We got settled at our lovely Bed and Breakfast Inn and walked with other tourists and locals to Center City where a big music festival was underway. We enjoyed window shopping in the many little stores. The beautiful Nelson Cathedral was built on a high hill, named Piki Mai (“Come Hither”) by the original Maori natives, and has been a place of worship for settlers since 1849.
A small Anglican church was the first building at this place of worship in 1889. The present building was originally constructed as a school and hospital for holistic healing, donated by a philanthropist and later became the Anglican Cathedral facing the central city. With a vaulted high ceiling it is both traditional and modern looking enhanced with beautiful stain glass on both sides. A local artist created the more modern stain glass along the wall facing the city. All the elements of the colored glass scene are not only selections from the surrounding Nelson landscape (grapes, sheep, river, etc.) but are also ancient Christian symbols with deeply spiritual meanings.
Driving from Nelson on a narrow road through a lovely valley with mountains all around, we saw farmers gathering hay and thousands of white, newly-sheared sheep dotting all the soft spring-green meadows like popcorn. They looked so peaceful and were the only things on the landscape except the thousands of deep forest-green pine trees planted up the hillside for export harvest. Neat little farm houses were far apart. After several hours we reached Saint Arnaud and Nelson Lakes National Park which has a nice campground, cabins, and lots of mountain hiking trails. The day was sunny, windy and very cold to us, but many locals were enjoying summer: boating, paddling, wading and some trying to swim in the large, cold lake… a beautiful setting.
We loved our two night stay at Wairau Pass Homestay B&B with Helen Campbell, our very gracious hostess who served tea and biscuits. This is our first Homestay, which means we are living in her home like a friend and houseguest with our own private accommodations. She knows so much about the history, geology, flora and fauna of New Zealand and was fascinating to talk to.
Heading to Westport, we drove through the beautiful scenery with Bullers Creek below and mountains over us on the narrow winding cliff road, State Highway 6. We stopped at the Swinging Bridge Adventure Park to walk across a steel cable swaying bridge over the Buller Creek Gorge with the river and huge boulders below us. We opted for the Circle Loop path instead of a fast Jet Boat ride, which looks fun, but for us it was too cold to get wet. (We Texans are accustomed to 100 F. degree summer instead of South Island 60 F. degree!)
We walked the trail through the Fault Line where the earth had pushed up in 1929, forming two distinct levels with the river about 10 feet below. The path was through the newest jungle of huge ferns and evergreen trees. South Island is still re-establishing itself after that earthquake. We felt a bit apprehensive since we were on an island where earthquakes occur somewhere every day. Locals shrug and tell us they are overdue for the Big One, which everyone knows will happen someday, and that is just life here. Finally our hike ended by way of The Comet. It was really fun to ride a sturdy chair swing on a zip line across the river, and our video was ready for purchase when we dismounted!
In mid-afternoon we walked along the high cliffs overlooking the ocean and saw a colony of sea lions basking in the sun. We arrived in Westport and found our Havenlee Homestay B&B and visited our friendly host couple: Jan and Ian over tea and biscuits. Their home is lovely and we highly recommend their B&B in which we felt like honored guests and were treated royally. In Westport the Maori Art Museum is a Must See.