Two weeks in Nelson, New Zealand

In the last two weeks we have used Nelson as a base to do two walks – a two day walk up the old Dun Mountain railway across to the Rocks hut and return to Nelson and a five day walk along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Nelson’s Attractions. Nelson is all about the outdoors. The Dun Mountain railway track was busy with fit Nelsonians spending their weekend tramping, mountain biking and trail running. The Abel Tasman coastline was busier with tourists and backpackers than Kiwis, but they were all still enjoying the outdoors kayaking, swimming and tramping. For those interested in more leisurely pursuits there are plenty of places to eat and drink and for the rugby aficionados the field on which the first rugby game in New Zealand was played. You often hear Australians say, slightly condescendingly, that New Zealand is like Australia was 20 years ago. It is not quite clear what they mean when they say this. Perhaps it is a reference to things like the Nelson markets, which in addition to having some great fresh food also had stalls selling craft objects made from wine bottle sand aluminium cans. More likely, however, is that it is a wistful reference to the friendliness of Kiwis. Since we have been here we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers – from staff in shops, to Dave from Nelson’s offer to loan us mountain bikes, to a couple of Kiwi ladies who we passed on the trail making a u-turn when passing us on the road in their car to offer us a lift and finally to the teachers from Taupo who offered us fresh vegetables on the Abel Tasman track. It’s a little bit disconcerting to meet so many consistently kind and happy people.

Accommodation in Nelson. While in Nelson we have stayed at a Woodsy House (above), an 1865 house converted to a B&B. Comfortable with period features and helpful, accommodating hosts, Shane and Selene. Great value.

A life in huts. The rest of our time has been spent in the DOC hut system. We have stayed in two types of huts – serviced back country huts ($10 a night each or $92 for a 6 month pass) and the great walk huts on the Abel Tasman track ($32 each a night). There has been no real difference in amenity, save for the availability of a cold shower at each of the Abel Tasman track huts. The real difference has been in the people. We spent our first night in the Rocks hut on our own. On our second night, we spent a pleasant evening chatting to Dave from Nelson, who was putting in some training for the Travers Sabine track, and Ana Sofia from Sweden who was attempting to walk the entirety of the South Island from top to bottom. In her late 50s, hiking alone with a heavy pack over some pretty difficult routes Ana Sofia has her work cut out for her.

In contrast the great walk huts have been mainly busy with young backpackers from Germany, France, Israel, Korea and the USA. We have shared rooms with Israelis and a couple of French girls (who didn’t turn in until very late and did so by turning on their lights and sorting out their gear for half an hour). Arriving at the Awaoroa Hut on our third night we were greeted by the sight of 4 teachers and 16 year 8 and 9 kids from Taupo High. Children, particularly those I am unrelated to, are not really my thing. So to say that I was initially disappointed by the prospect of sharing a hut with them is a bit of an understatement. But these kids turned out to be alright. They were polite and well-mannered (certainly much better than the French backpackers) and despite having hiked to the hut spent most of their time playing sport.  The teachers accompanying them were passionate about the outdoors and the positive impact that it could have on the welfare and education of their charges. They and DOC who do not charge New Zealanders under the age of 16 to stay in the huts are to be commended. Our last night on the Abel Tasman track was spent in the Whariwharangi hut (below) by ourselves, at least until we were woken at about 11pm by some backpackers camping adjacent to the hut who had got freaked out by possums. They put their food in the hut to protect it from the possums, only to pack up and take off the next morning without it.

Next Week. We are off to hike along parts of the Travers Sabine track and try our hand at fly fishing in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Whariwharangi Hut, Abel Tasman Track

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