We thought we would maybe spend 1 or 2 nights in the area but ended up staying 5 nights, plus 2 more in Nelson, which we didn't think we'd go to at all. It was just too beautiful to leave.
Once over the mountains and through the woods, we did a whole array of things. We went to the Tasman Memorial, which is Abel Janzoon Tasman, the person who "discovered" New Zealand.
We visited Te Waikoropupu Springs or Pupu Springs, the World's cleanest water! Well, besides some water that is under a glacier in Antarctica (but does that really count?). Ironic how the world's cleanest water is called Pupu Spring.
Next, we went a place called Mussel Inn.
A very famous tiny pub in the middle of nowhere, right off the road. Everyone said that we had to visit it. Glad we did. It was so cozy and cute and very unique compared to other bars in NZ. They brew their own beer so it was fun sampling. The Mussel Inn was, in fact, the best bar we have come across yet in the country. The bar scene is quite different here. For starters, all bars look exactly alike. They all are made with the same construction materials, similar colors, the same beers on tap and the EXACT same overall atmosphere.
The next day we went up to Farewell Spit, which is the northernmost point of the south island and is basically a huge sandbar with sand dunes covering it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farewell_Spit
When we arrived we found out to really experience it you have to do this 2 hour walk. So, okay, no problem we were up for it and were off. We walked along the beach for quite awhile and were supposed to see a red pole telling us it was okay to cross to the other side of the spit to another beach. After walking for about an hour, we decided to head over on our own. We just had to cross over a few sand dunes. Let me tell you, sand dunes are a lot harder to cross than one would think and what doesn't seem very far away really is! It took us about half hour to cross and get to the other side to the beach. It was once again, an absolute stunning beach! One of the best. We wondered on there for quite awhile thinking there was another pass up ahead to take us back over to the other side and back to our car. So we were a little surprised when we couldn't find it. We tried multiple paths all which lead to the same conclusion...huge prickly bushes, tall grass, and numerous other plants and animals, meaning there was no way we would get through it.
The way we had originally crossed over was way behind us and a really long walk back to the car, so we kept looking for other ways to get through. You would think following other peoples footprints in the sand would lead you somewhere, but not the ones we followed. After many dead-ends we were tramped. Then another couple came wondering up. "Oh" we thought, "lets follow them". When they got closer I started talking to them and they looked down at my shoes and started laughing. They said they were following our footprints and had been for awhile. Ahh! So we walked back the way we came and after nearly starving to death in the "desert" we made it to our car. I don't know who ever said it was a 2 hour walk, but there seemed to be plenty to people lost out on those sand dunes that day. It took us 3+ hours total.
Believe it or not, we still had a little energy left to see another beach that was nearby, Wharariki Beach.
It is a really popular beach that we heard was worth a visit. So we headed there and hiked for about 20 minutes. And...WOW...what a beach! We stayed there for nearly 2 hours just wondering about. There were huge rocks climbing out of the sea. There were also caves that we got to explore.
What an amazing place! We saw most of the sunset there and then left. We hate finding a place to stay in the dark. We loved this beach, so leave it up to us to not know there was a seal colony there as well and to not even know it! Right by where we were. This beach really does have it all, even if you don't see it all.
Our accommodation while staying in Golden Bay couldn't have been better. Every night we stayed someplace different, yet every night we were literally on the beach. They really know how to take advantage of the waterfront here.
The next day our main objective was to hike to Harwood's Hole in the Abel Tasman National Park, which is the deepest vertical hole in the Southern hemisphere at 357 meters! That's really deep.
That's 1,071 feet - so for those of you who knew where we lived in Chicago, in The New York building, 50-some stories high - this HOLE was TWICE THAT!!! There were signs everywhere about not taking children to it and how dangerous it is and how there are no guardrails (which there wasn't). It was a 45 minute walk and when we arrived to it, we saw that you had to climb up a huge pile of enormous boulders to even be able to look down a little bit into the hole. So, be happy we are alive, because it was REALLY dangerous!
One slip and away we would go, but I didn't walk 45 minutes to see nothing, so I started climbing. Turns out, I didn't see much of it anyway, but at least I tried. Crazy as it was, it still didn't compare to how dangerous parts of Machu Picchu were - that was just plain crazy. But overall, we are really glad to went to Harwood's hole, what a site.
After the Golden Bay area we drove to the city of Nelson. It's a gorgeous city surrounded by mountains on three sides and the 4th side is the Tasman Bay. We stayed at a really great little backpacker. The hosts live above and leave their doors open to people staying with them so we can use their internet and they had Hokey Pokey ice cream in the freezer for us...yum. They really trust people. The first night, it was just us and another man who was staying with them for 6 weeks. The second night, 5 young kids arrived and we were suddenly award how small this house was. We spent our time wondering around the city. They have a really great river walk and stuff like that around town.
After Nelson, we went on our way towards Picton to catch the ferry over to the North Island. Before we left Nelson we got a Wwoof book from the guy that was staying in the backpacker with us. Wwoof (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) book has names of people in different regions around NZ that invite people (travelers) to come and stay with them, usually on a farm. The visitors work and do anything the hosts need in exchange for room and board. So, we spent the day contacting people in the area hoping that we wouldn't have to leave the South Island just yet. After no luck, we decided we need to keep moving and we headed to Picton.
WE REALLY DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE THE SOUTH ISLAND!!! It's soooo incredible!
The next morning after Hanmer Springs, we left and kept heading north towards Golden Bay. Golden Bay/Abel Tasman National Park area is truly amazing and one of our absolute favorite places we have seen yet. It's the sunniest spot in NZ and the weather was fantastic. To get to Golden Bay, you have to drive through some serious mountains and crazy, twisty roads. At the top of the pass, they have some unbelievable lookouts.