A beautiful rain-swept voyage to the South Island in the mist, before stopping off at a very English pub for a much needed recharge, beer-tasting, and Sunday Roast.

Saturday 29/03/08

The voyage to the Southern Island was really quite beautiful. I woke up after some ‘shut eye’ on the boat, and went up to the sun deck at the right time (by coincidence) to see the southern island gently rise out of the sea. We sailed between the rounded hills as they gradually increased in size until they met the VERY low cloud-mist that had descended upon us. The mist was a sign that it was going to rain for us, and so it was as we arrived into Nelson, staying at The River Lodge. A big pub really. Not very ‘traditional’ New Zealand you may argue, but this is a holiday.

Plus, there are certain things guaranteed to chill me out and make me happy, and one of them is having tea in a pub, with a fire, when it is raining outside. Plus, I am absolutely shattered from the previous two days’ adventures and drinking. I have signed up for the roast dinner, and hopefully I will make a full breakfast/tomorrow, I’ve missed out on the last few. In fact, I may not have had breakfast as far back as Rotorua!

So, I am now set for a very chilled out evening, which means I may not see much of Nelson if we don’t venture out in the rain to find another bar. From the looks of things, and with nothing planned by Kiwi Express other than a kayaking activity (not my thing) or using this place as a launch point to head into the Abel Tasman National Park… There isn’t much to do. I will have to give Milford Sound (a different National Park, much recommended) my full attention later though, seeing as how I’m not venturing into Abel Tasman.

Nearly fell asleep on the bus again on the way here. We did quickly stop at a vineyard on the way down though. The wine sampling was a bit of a jip - we just got a very quick sip of one Reisling, and a Sauvignon Blanc, and then the main event ended up being me having a bowl of Minestrone soup. Very organic.

Just realised why subconsciously I feel at home here in this pub; there is HP Brown Sauce on every table.

Still, beer tasting at 5:30 pm, and with a load of new people on the bus today, there may be the chance to meet new some new folks. A few guys and girls have already been pairing on (and off again) on this trip. New folks joining or leaving the bus seems to mix things up a bit each time. Luckily, I haven’t been in anyone’s shared dorm room whilst any amorous activities have taken place. At least, I hope not! I’m in with the Manchester lads tonight - will have to get their email addresses later.

Thinking on what Mark (adrenaline guy!) said to me about character observation… Perhaps I should tomorrow try and describe this mostly crew. That would feel slightly voyeuristic, but in the interests of looking back in years to come, I want to capture descriptions of anything and everything I can to keep the trip fresh in my mind. Just wish I had a video camera for the landscape, as I don’t think my still photos are doing this place any justice at all.

While I remember, I must make a note of how much I enjoyed Coyote’s bar last night in Wellington. Doing what we men normally do, eyeing up the birds, but interesting from a “people watching” point of view to see so many people of Maori lineage getting on with it on a normal Friday night. I guess because we had previously been tucked away in backpacker bars, being in Wellington on Friday was a chance to mix with “real people.” Even if we were just getting pissed in an R&B club! I’ve just remembered the magician! Disappearing salt and all that. OK, 15 minutes to beer tasting…

SOUNDTRACK “We Are Sailing” by Rod Stewart, as Steve suggested, because of the ferry.

(Writing on Sun 30th)

The beer tasting went alright, only got a few little sips in here and there, and everyone ended up spilling most of theirs. There was one which tasted horrible and a bit pepper-ish. The group just gathered around and drank in the bar fairly quietly after that. I had signed up for the roast beef dinner, wolfed it down, but I thought that it had a funny taste. Wasn’t until the end that I realised that what I thought was a huge pile of onions, was actually a great big pile of leeks. Ugh!

Got chatting to the driver, Koru, a bit more. I still think he’s nuts though on the whole, in a good way, and he was sharing some cool LOTR stories with me. Went to bed at 11pm, but it felt MUCH later than that. Still, on with today to Westport! Oh, I left my towel in Wellington…


This part of the trip was a momentary slowdown in the full out drink-a-thon, and accordingly, I seem to remember enjoying the next few days before Lake Mahinpua immensely, even though we didn’t do much! The journey to the South Island on the boat was beautiful – I spent as much of the boat trip on the top deck as I could, though it was quite wet and wild at times. Truly stunning, and one of my best ‘landscape memories’ in the whole trip.

The same wet weather continued for most of the day, and so for that reason plus the fact we were all shattered from the previous day’s exertions, we spent most of the day indoors at the pub where we were staying. Evidently it was what was needed; tea, roaring fires, (slow) beer tastings and Sunday lunch. A perfect rainy-day recharge.

I had been looking forward to the Wine Tasting experience, but it quickly became obvious that the vineyard must have hundreds of Kiwi Express buses piling through every year, and the majority of backpackers would not have the budget to splash out on any of the good stuff. As such, the free tastings were ‘small’ even back then with my fairly limited wine tasting experience. I made up for the meagre samplings by treating myself to a bottle of authentic Nelson Sauvignon Blanc, which I would end up hauling all the way back up to Taupo, where it features in a later story.

Typically, I am left most curious about Nelson and the top of the South Island as a whole. Wine Country, a National Park, and picturesque fishing villages – sounds like a lot to be done in these parts, on a very ‘Lake District’ vibe, should I ever get to go back.

A musical note here, prompted by the photo of Rod Stewart on the TV. New Zealand sounded very 80’s. I’m sure there were bonafide new music outlets and acts out there for the New Zealand youth, but as far as mainstream radio and music-TV in bars and restaurants seemed to go, we were stuck in a time warp. I’m sure it’s the same here if you got stuck in a shopping mall for a few hours, and then were forced to drive home listening to Smooth FM or the like. With no obvious way to choose what music we would hear when not on using our own iPods and MP3 players, we were thrown into what seemed to be a Kiwi fascination with western 80’s music at its best.

Koru did mention at some point that Gangster Rap was taking big amongst Maori youth, finding its lyrical style and gang nature as something they could morph and adapt to speak to the troubles they were having as teenagers, but also as Maori. Racism, gang warfare and cultural erosion all being big themes that need addressing and expressing culturally. It’s a shame we never got exposed to all that much of it, or indeed any other type of Kiwi music, whilst we were there.

By now it should be obvious that I write no introductions to the people I meet on the way – they simply appear as if I have known them for weeks on end. I am afraid that this will continue, Dear Reader. I probably thought about writing introductions at the time, but shied away from it for the same reasons I would now. These were real people in real life, and so trying to sum them up when I have literally only just met them, even from a first impressions perspective, seems all at once invasive, voyeuristic and judgemental. I would have settled for a few brief notes at the back of the diary along with some email addresses and the like, but instead I only have photographs, handful of first names and a fair few anecdotes of fun times.

The chap called ‘Mark’ was an English fella, mid 30s at a guess, and he fell in with us from Wellington down to Queenstown. He was a great fella to chat to, and had some worldly wisdom to impart from time to time. His story included the fact that he was training to become a qualified solo sky diver, having done multiple tandem jumps in Australia, and working towards the minimum number of jumps or grades required before he could go solo. I am mentioning this now (in case his sky-diving expertise does not crop up later) as I do seem to recall him being not being very nervous about the Nevis Bungee jump – as an adrenaline junky, that’s totally understandable, and more on that comes later in the tale.