Read about my 3-day visit to the true “heartland” New Zealand, Southland, a region very close to my heart!
Day 1 – Travel Invercargill to Queenstown:
After my Air NZ flight arrived in Invercargill, it was so easy to pop over to the rental counter and pick-up a pre-booked rental car (definitely needs to be pre-booked guys!).
My first visit was at “Bushy Point Fernbird B&B”, a small nature-focused B&B right on the Otatara coastline (hard to believe it’s only a 10 minutes from the airport). This is a nature lovers paradise, perfect for keen birdwatchers.
Bushy Point is the best place in New Zealand to find the extremely rare New Zealand Fernbird and it’s also one of the last remaining native bush reserves in the area. After a warm welcome, owners, Ian and Jenny showed me around their 3-roomed cottage style accommodation. Then Ian guided me around the boardwalk thru the reserve. It was only 20 minutes before we saw our first fernbird sitting in the bush – what an incredible privilege! Ian told me that some birdwatchers wait for literally hours. As my own camera was not up to the task, here’s a beautiful capture from renowned Southland Photographer, Glenda Rees.
After leaving Bushy Point I headed off to Invercargill city to visit Safari Lodge, run by Trish and her husband (who I did not meet). These Southlanders have lived all their lives in the Invercargill area, except 5 years in Mozambique, Africa. So it comes as no surprise that the rooms are named “Lion Room”, “Elephant Room”etc. This heritage-style building has very spacious suites and lovely 4-poster beds.
After my “Safari tour” I hit the road east to a park-like property called Beersheba Estate. Anne, the owner was expecting me and was very busy catching up before the summer season kicks in. Beersheba has 4 acres of pond and beautiful woodland gardens, frequented by native birds. This lovely property provides stylish comfort for travellers wishing to relax after a day’s explore.
Finally, it was time to head back to Invercargill to catch up with my old mate, John, at the ‘Buster Crabb’ family restaurant. What a unique way of present a menu…on a broadsheet newspaper layout. Good food plus a history lesson – great value!
Slept like a log and just as well, busy day ahead.
The Abel Tasman National Park is one of the smallest reserves in New Zealand and covers the shores of the north-western tip of the South Island between Nelson and Golden Bay. Some of the key reasons for exploring the park include the golden beaches, sea kayaking and fairly easy-level coastal walks.
The main starting point for most travellers is Kaiteriteri Beach or Marahau Beach; both of which are located at the southern end of the park. (There’s also the lesser used access from Totaranui/ Takaka from the northern part.) View a location map here.
Where do I stay when exploring the Abel Tasman?
Nelson: Many travellers will make Nelson their base to explore the Tasman region. The southern park entrance is only an hour’s drive away. There are also shuttle services available with hotel pick-up and drop-off ex Nelson.
Bronte – Ruby Bay – Motueka: These areas are located between Nelson and the Abel Tasman Park. Vineyards and fruit orchards make this one of the most scenic landscapes of New Zealand! If you stay here in a vineyard cottage or B&B lodge, it’s only a 30 min drive to the Abel Tasman National Park or back to Nelson.
Kaiteriteri + Marahau – this is just a “stone’s throw” from the Park entrance. It’s generally very peaceful (except for 6 weeks over Christmas) with stunning views over the ocean. Travellers have a choice of accommodation, including B&B’s, apartments and motels. However there is a very limited choice of restaurants and general facilities (e.g. supermarket).
Abel Tasman National Park Day Trips – how to choose
Unguided Walks - start walking from Marahau Beach or take a water taxi to one of the bays along the coastline.
In the peak summer season (mid-October to end of April) you have 3-4 different water taxi companies going up and down the coast 4-5 times a day. In the winter it’s less than half that number.
A very popular day trip is to go from Kaiteriteri with a water taxi at 9.15am or 10.30am to Bark Bay - walk to Anchorage Bay in 4 hours (about 10 kms/ 6.6 miles) – then take another water taxi back to Kaiteriteri at 3.45pm or 4.45pm. For a longer hike, go further north to Awaroa and walk to Tonga or Bark Bay. The cool part is that the water taxi is always an option to get back!
Guided Kayaking and Walks - Again, start from Kaiteriteri or Marahau with a local sea kayaking company either for half or a full day. If you have a good level of fitness, I’d recommend a guided kayaking and walking trip. This will provide you with the best of both worlds. The water taxi will take you to Tonga Bay, which is part of a marine reserve. Here you can start paddling in a double kayak.
All the equipment is provided by the operator. All you need to bring is a sun head, sun block, sun glasses and a bathing costume and towel! A guided nature walk on the Abel Tasman Track is included as well as a lunch. You’ll return to Marahau or Kaiteriteri at 5.30pm.
Sailing or Cruising the Abel Tasman National Park – for those travellers who like a little less physical exertion, a perfect alternative is a sailing excursion or a charter boat with Abel Tasman Charters. You’ll explore the little bays and beaches, go for a swim, have a paddle in a kayak and enjoy local food and wine in style!
When is the best time to visit the Abel Tasman National Park?
Given that the region is one of the warmest and sunniest in New Zealand, you can visit throughout the year. There will be less services in winter, but you’ll probably have a beach to yourself!
How long do I stay in the Abel Tasman region?
I’d recommend at least two nights – three even better! Apart from the Abel Tasman National Park, this area is a classic New Zealand lifestyle destination with lots of stunning wines (including tasting tours), local arts and crafts and other nature and wildlife excursions such as the Golden Bay and Cape Farewell (see previous blog).
You can easily connect the Nelson-Tasman region with a domestic flight from the North Island or other parts of the South Island. For travellers who want to “chill” during their New Zealand holiday, the Abel Tasman region is the perfect spot!
If you’re driving into Reefton from Greymouth, try not to choose the first café you see. Go further down the main road to “The Broadway Tearooms”. Don’t be put off by the word “Tearooms” - you won’t get weak coffee, greasy chips and stodgy pies here! We had excellent coffee, simple great tasting home-baked food and friendly service. The ‘local’ vibe is fantastic…
….this place has a ‘old world’ feel about it with rows of beautiful glass lolly (candy) jars behind the counter and windowsills lined with ornate handmade tea cosies. (Nothing nostalgic about the coffee machine though – state-of-the-art.).
Recently, after finishing our coffee here, we headed across the road to the Bearded Miners Co Ltd and the Miners Hut. You might be forgiven for thinking these guys have come straight out of one of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, but there’s nothing fake here folks, so no pulling those magnificent beards! These bushmen are walking history books,they know their ancestry and they love to chat about the region:
There’s a certain dignity in having lived a hard life and let’s be honest, these ‘national treasures’ have lived life hard. (A miner’s life is only lucrative for a selected few.) We could smell the coal smoke on their clothes and certain…unidentified beverages. But the knowledge these guys have and the stories they’re passing down to future generations, is priceless.
The replica 1870′s Mining Hut you see in the background of the above photo, is made of cedar slabs and packed with memorabilia, complete with a resident possum clutching a can of beer and a cheerful fire burning in the hearth:
…the men are happy to pose for photos..
..but I think the most photogenic of them all, is Max, the resident dog. Little Max also has a world-weary look about him; a survivor with his own story.
The Karamea area is one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand, so it’s ironic to see so many “For Sale” signs. But as one of the South Island’s more remote locations, I guess it must be tough to make a living here. We love this part of the West Coast Region for it’s untouched awesome beauty… and I mean “awesome” in the true sense of the word.
We recently stayed in Karamea for one night; a fleeting visit I know, but we enjoyed a stunning late afternoon walk on a beautiful beach… hey, where else in the world can you get a whole beach to yourself!
We received the friendliest welcome at the Last Resort Restaurant. My chicken curry and Michael’s pasta was delish! Lovely service by the wait staff – no pretension and keen to ensure a good customer experience.
Next morning we drove our 4WD 10 kms from Karamea, then 14 kms down a gravel road to the car park at the start of the Oparara Arch Track walk. It was freezing! Rugged up with layers of woollen thermals, I resembled a small bear. But wow, the beauty that greeted us! Say goodbye to my cares for a while and I’ll collect you on the way back… or maybe I won’t.
With the frost crackling around us, we entered quickly into a lush, native bush environment:
There are NO sandflies on the Arches Track at this time of year. In fact the ‘black water’ here ensures there are NO mosquitos on this track at any time of the year!
This is magical New Zealand; a world which is featured in famous movies about hobbits, dwarfs… and a rather tall elf making his way up the steps to the arches…
..to view the rock forms..
…and me, artfully blocking the arch at the far end to ruin a perfectly good photo!
It’s been years since Michael walked the Heaphy Track and he’s keen to revisit Kohaihai, at the Karamea end of the track. So we headed north, parked our car at Kohaihai and walked a short way to view the spectacular groves of Nikau Palms and the beautiful swing bridge.
We met an English couple who have just completed the 4-day track on their mountain bikes. They were exhilarated after their amazing experience.
The sun has begun to warm our backs, so let’s say goodbye for now and leave Michael to enjoy his moment of bliss!
You might think that getting a rental car in New Zealand is a ‘piece of cake’, but here’s some facts you really need to know BEFORE you make that booking:
1. Consider the seasons:
How often have I heard “gee, hiring a rental car in New Zealand is so expensive”. Well my friends, that depends. Yes, they are more expensive in the peak summer months. Why? New Zealand has a much smaller rental car market and vehicle fleet availability is stretched during Christmas/ New Year and February. In fact, those key months are always fully booked! Car rental firms in Europe, Australia or the USA, have a much stronger corporate (business) market, making it more competitive and less costly. The Good news for travellers, is that in New Zealand’s off-season (May – September), most rental cars will be “parked up” in the yards (except for ski/school holidays).
2. Types of rental cars available?
More good news! There is a full range of rental cars – from ‘Small Economy’ to large 4WD or 12-seater. Most New Zealand rental cars have automatic transmission, but much of the pricing is determined by the age of the vehicle.
Leading rental firms such as Budget, Hertz and Thrifty, offer fairly new vehicles (up to 18 months in use). Their prices will be higher than the smaller local rental hire operators who have older cars. The price difference can be major – like NZ$40-60 per day! If you’re tempted to go with a smaller operator, remember you won’t get the convenience of a large depot network. (Smaller companies usually only have 2-3 depots – Auckland, Queenstown and in Christchurch). For a top-end option, ease your way into the seat of this Alpha Romero Spider V6 from Rent-a-Classic in Nelson!
3. Additional Charges:
Here’s where it gets really interesting! New Zealand rental cars nearly always come with unlimited kilometres (or miles) and insurance with excess. This insurance excess can range between NZ$2000-4000 depending on operator and age of the car. Here are your options:
You can reduce your insurance risk to nil by paying extra at the rental car depot (note: you will need to sign this into the contract). Generally this would be NZ$17-40 per day. Travel hint: check if your overall travel insurance package or credit card insurance would cover this.
Airports in New Zealand are basically run as companies and charge for the convenience of car or taxi pick-up at their terminals. Rental car or taxi operators will pass this cost on to the traveller. This is generally around NZ$50. Currently, this only applies for pick-up, not drop-offs.
Generally if you rent a car for 3 days plus, a one-way charge will not apply (note: there are some exceptions at specific locations, for different operators and different times of year) Check with your reservation as these one-ways can easily be $250-300!
Child Seats etc :
You will be charged for additional extras such as child seats ($15-20 per day), snow chains (same), ski racks and wifi device (about NZ$10 per day). If you travel in peak season, you must book these in advance.
4. Ferry between the main islands:
With the main operators (Budget, Hertz, Thrifty) you can drop-off your rental car at the ferry terminal and then go on the ferry as a passenger (your luggage is check in and out just the same as an airport). You’ll then pick up another car on the other side. Note, you will be charged about $50 “ferry terminal fee”, but you will save about $200 on the ferry cost for the car. Smaller rental car firms don’t usually have depots at the ferry terminal, so you will have to take the car onto the ferry (and leave all the luggage in your car).
More good news: Unlike Australian rental cars, New Zealand does not charge stamp duty and admin fees. Generally one-way rentals are fine without charges (unlike huge charges for long distance, multi-state rentals in Australia).
All rental cars are calculated in 24 hours terms (so to be clear: pick-up at 2pm and drop off 2pm next day = 1 rental day, BUT drop off at 5pm = 2 days! Often rental firms will provide “leniency time” of 59 minutes.
Happy Travelling folks!