I'm well and truly back again! Our holiday around the northern end of the South Island was wonderful. One of the best things about living in New Zealand is that it's easy to take holidays around New Zealand.
We flew to Wellington, took the ferry to Picton for a night, then took the TranzCoastal train to Christchurch via Kaikoura --- amazing views of the Kaikoura Ranges and the coast. We crossed over large cracks in the ground near Kaiapoi showing exactly where the recent earthquake had hit. We had a couple of nights in Christchurch; during our full day we walked from Cashmere up into the Port Hills, then east along the Crater Rim track for a few hours before descending into Lyttleton on the Bridle Path --- fantastic 5-6 hour walk with amazing views west to the Southern Alps and south into Lyttleton Harbour and Banks Peninsula.
From Christchurch we took the TranzAlpine train up to Arthur's Pass, where we spent a couple of days. The first day was wet so we walked up the Devil's Punchbowl falls, which were a raging, spraying torrent. Awesome! The next day our big walk took us from the village along the Bridal Veil track, then up into Bealey Valley below Mount Rolleston, then back to the road and along the road to the Dobson Nature Walk before returning back down the road to the village. We saw lots of keas --- wonderful alpine parrots --- and the alpine/bush environment is stunning with snow reaching nearly down to the village.
We took the train the rest of the way to Greymouth, picked up a rental car and drove to Murchison via the Pancake Rocks at Paekakariki and the Buller Gorge (both spectacular). Our day trip from Murchison was to Mount Robert at Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park; another 5-6 hours up, across the top (with lots of snow), down, and back to the carpark. The weather was perfect, the view staggering; we could see at least 100km in most directions. We could easily see all the way to Motueka on the coast. Bush, snow, sun, lake, staggering views --- amazing.
From Murchison we drove via Motueka to Takaka for the last three nights of our trip. The highlight of this section was the limestone country and exploring the caves at the Aorere goldfields and Rawhiti Cave. (Note: documentation says that you can drive a car up a "farm track" to a parking area for the Aorere goldfields walk, but the "road" is very rough. I suggest parking at the first gate and walking the rest of the way.) The initial descent into Stafford's Cave was slightly tricky, given I have no real climbing/caving experience and had children to assist, but then (having a torch) it was easy to make our way through a series of chambers to an area with glow-worms. Wow! We also drove up to the base of Farewell Spit and did a short 1.5 hour walk there; it looks worth spending more time there.
On our last day we drove from Takaka to Nelson airport to fly back to Auckland. Along the way we visited the Stoneridge Cafe and had great fun in their hedge maze.
It was an amazing, wonderful trip. We had half a day of rain in the eleven days we were away, which is completely unreasonable for this time of year. Consequently we did more walking than I had expected, but we made up for it with more eating! Everyone raves about the South Island's scenery, but the superlatives are fully deserved. As a bonus, the areas we covered are very compact; apart from the TranzCoastal train, each step of our trip was just two to three hours of travel.
Accommodations and food were great. All the motels were more than adequate, but Golden Bay Motel in Takaka was exceptional. Even where there were only a few options to buy food, the food was excellent (albeit sometimes expensive).
Cellphone coverage was mysteriously ubiquitous! In particular I made calls from the depths of Bealey Valley and the peak of Mount Robert.
Contrary to the predictions of some, I did not miss my computer one bit, although I did a lot of thinking --- and praying! With no distractions I was able to sleep eight to ten hours a night, which I think was excellent for my health. All in all, it was a great time of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual refreshment.
Now I've dropped straight back into the front lines ... ready for battle again!