January 23-24, 2013
(Posted by Xavier)

Our bus ride to Nelson was highlighted by our bus driver who doubled as a guide, describing the planted pine forests, and how in New Zealand it takes pine trees 25 – 30 years to mature as compared to 65 – 70 years in Canada. The lumber industry (controlled planting and clearing) around Nelson is big. He also pointed out the areas around the Pelorus and Kanuca rivers, where scenes of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies were filmed — we might have to have an LOTR marathon when we get back home.

Nelson was a bigger city than we were expecting. Keep in mind most of the towns we had been in, besides Christchurch, were small outdoorsy vacation-type towns. Our hostel here — the Prince Albert Backpackers — was excellent, almost to the point of being a B&B, with free waffle breakfast in the morning, and offering wonderful discounted dinner meals in the evening in the attached popular, bright, and clean pub. We soon found out the pub was popular with the locals, with game night (ping pong, darts, and board games) on our first evening there, and the local English Morris dance troupe performing the second night. But our real reason for stopping in Nelson was as a jumping off point to the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

So our next adventure started with our young bus driver and guide, Johnny Boy, telling us about the area and his personal project of completing his self-sufficient farm. He currently has a small house (that he is adding to) with fresh running spring water piped in from the stream, some chickens for daily fresh eggs, a few sheep (you have to have sheep in New Zealand), and some cows. He even talked about the possibility of getting some solar panels; he stated they were a bit expensive for him now but he would like to add some in the future. Kristin and I looked at each other and said, hey sign us up!

He also told us an entertaining story of how the area became a protected National Park. In his version, a feisty old lady tricked the NZ government into turning it into a national park by inviting (apparently on faux government stationery or something) the Dutch Royalty to the opening of a new park named after one of their own, none other than the Dutch explorer Mr. Abel Tasman. Once the Dutch Royalty formally accepted the invitation and announced their arrival, there was no turning back.

About an hour later, we arrived at our outfitters at Abel Tasman, ready for our day of hiking and kayaking. We started off hiking the Abel Tasman Track on a beautiful sunny day. The easy hike quickly turned into a wonderful coastline rainforest hike along crystal clear turquoise ocean waters, sprinkled with many small islands. Can ocean waters possibly be this clear? We continued along the trail marveling at the small secluded absolutely gorgeous inlet beaches, some of which were accessible from our trail and all of them accessible by boat. Our hike was continuously interrupted by the almost deafening sound of cicadas. It seems we had timed our hike to the exact time of the cicada breeding. Let me repeat, it was deafening and amazing to hear.

After a few hours of memorable hiking we arrived at our beachside destination. Craig, our kayak guide, was waiting for us with bar-b-que lamb wraps, salad, drinks and chocolate cake, mmmmmm. Craig then outfitted us with our ocean kayaking attire, gave us a quick lesson on our two person kayaks, and off we went with Craig and one other couple. Our trio of kayaks cruised extremely easy over these calm ocean waters. We kayaked to several islands, watching for seals sunbathing on rocks, floating jelly fish, and listening to the many birds (and cicadas) that populate these islands. Many of the islands had their own secluded beaches and it was at one of these beaches that Craig made sure that I would not miss out on one of New Zealand’s tasty morsels.

While kayaking earlier in the day I had asked Craig if he knew a good place in town where I could finally eat some of those famous New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels. He said not to worry he knew a great place. Well, this was too good to be true. Beaching our kayaks on one of the many secluded island beaches, Craig quickly showed me where the mussels were on the rocks and we went to work pulling off about 3 dozen. Putting them in a bag and locking them in a compartment on the kayak with some seawater, he exclaimed “you’re set Xavier! Cook these up with garlic, white wine and cream.” Are you kidding me? I was ecstatic!

As we set off for homebase on our kayaks we noticed the waters starting to get rough, winds picking up, and cloudy skies looming. Struggling against the elements, Craig shouted to us across the waves and wind, “DO YOU GUYS FEEL A LITTLE CRAZY?” Kristin and I look at each other and shout back a hesitant “YES?” The other kayaking couple shouts the same hesitant “YES”.

Craig motions us to put one kayak on each side of his kayak. We do so as he starts to pull out a large piece of material. He then starts to shout out instructions to us of how he is going to set up a sail and have us take advantage of the strong winds. Craig instructed the front kayakers to hold on to the front of his kayak in the middle with one hand, and with our other hand holding on to the two bottom corners of the sail, then instructed Kristin and the other kayaker to tie the other ends of the sail to the top of each paddle and hold them up high. Craig was now holding on to the back of each kayak, making a make-shift catamaran! With Craig screaming out instructions to us, we quickly gained speed and started to fly across the water. We were all hanging on for dear life but having one truly exilirating time. One last instruction from Craig: “IF EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL, DROP EVERYTHING AND GET BACK ON YOUR KAYAK!” Well, I’m glad to report we sailed that make-shift catamaran like champs. I would have loved to have taken a picture of us flying across those waves, grinning wide grins, shouting with joy as we crashed through the waves and a light drizzle starting to fall from the sky, all the time hanging on to our sail and faithfully following every instruction given by Craig.

Later that evening I followed Craig’s instructions one last time. Sautéing some garlic in butter adding the white wine, mussels and cream. A few glasses of white wine and some good bread were the finishing touches. They were the best mussels I had ever eaten.

It was one more moment for New Zealand. One more “Oh my God”. One more memory that will last us a lifetime.