South Island: Abel Tasman and Greymouth

Anyway, back to my spring break stories! (Thanks for the ANZAC Day digression. I really enjoyed it)
We left Nelson in the morning and headed down the long road to Abel Tasman National Park. There were a lot of winding roads and far stretches of highway that made it almost seem like we were on a treadmill except for the occasional small town that broke up the scenery of rolling green hills, fall foliage, and blue sky. One town crept up on us a little unexpectedly and the lead van got caught going a little to fast through a school zone and got a speeding ticket. My van was following them and noticed the change in the speed limit but there wasn’t much we could do to slow them down. The Officer was really nice, but still gave them a fine. The driver felt horrible but everyone in the van insisted on splitting it. A little more cautiously, we kept on truckin’. We stopped for lunch and to get our barings along the way. I’m not going to lie, tensions were running kind of high today. There was some drama that wasn’t really a big deal but was getting blown out of proportion. It’s hard to get 13 people to agree on something unanimously, especially when they all think that their own opinion is right. But anyway, after some lunch and a few executive decisions we piled back in the vans and kept moving. I had to take a nap because I hadn’t slept great the night before and my stomach was bothering me a lot (mainly nervous but also a little care-sickness). Right before we got to Abel Tasman there was an awesome lookout that had a great view and a trail that led to some crazy caves. Only experienced cavers our guided tours were allowed though so we admired them from afar. I crossed the road and climb some rocks to get a better view and I wasn’t disappointed. The strong breeze (and a little bit of distance from the vans) made me feel a lot better.

The road to our campsite and the entrance into the section of the park that we would be hiking was not easily accessible. There were signs all over the place that said the road was too rough for camper-vans. About half of us wanted to not risk it and head to the information center about 30 minutes away to either fin an alternate route or camp site but the drivers wanted to give it a try. On of the girls had gone on to the website and read that vans could easily make the trip. I wasn’t convinced but I wasn’t driving. As we were entering the driveway a truck pulled up and we asked the occupants if our vans would make it to the park. They enthusiastically said yes and it was done. So I held on tight and closed my eyes. We made it just fine, the roads we scary narrow, steep, and winding but TJ, who was driving my van, is a pro and we made it fine, although we didn’t get to the campsite until late in the afternoon. We had to hurry up and get on the trail if we wanted to hike, so we did! We broke up into smaller groups and tackled different trails. I went up with Jessie, TJ, Dave, Eric, Greg, Amanda, Laura, and Katherine. After a little bit of improvising and blazing our own trail we wound up at the top of a huge hill with this incredible view of the land we had just climbed. After a short break we to enjoy the view we got back on the (marked) trail and continued the rest of the hike. It was one of the harder hikes I’ve done since the footing wasn’t great and I didn’t have hiking boots, just my sneakers. We had to cross a couple of little streams and lots of mud but it was a ton of fun. Eventually the trail looped back onto itself and we wound up back at the hill. The sun was starting to slowly set and everything was gold. The scene we had looked at just about an hour before was completely different. We didn’t stay long because we didn’t want to get stuck in the woods in the dark, even with our flashlights. We made it back to camp just in time as it got dark quickly. As soon as the sun dropped behind the hills it also got a lot colder.
I was pretty thankful to fire up our cook top in the van (cool right?!) and make a nice hot dinner. We had a fun night and actually got everyone into one van! Some people decided that we should split up the next day because instead of sticking to the itinerary we had planned they wanted to see some more of the park. So we did a little shuffling of bodies so that they could get up bright and early the next morning to get to the beach area of Abel Tasman. My van decided to stick to the plan and head to Greymouth and the pancake rocks, and hopefully Castle Hill (an amazing place to boulder) if time allowed. Pretty soon after we got that settled we started getting ready for bed. Unfortunately when 13 American University students get together we can be pretty loud and we ended up disturbing one of our neighbors. He was not pleased. A little bit more aware of ourselves, we settled in for the night. I wound up on the top shelf. I was a little worried that I was going to get claustrophobic up there but it wasn’t bad! Although you are in big trouble if you have to get down in the middle of the night because there is NO way to turn around to get down the ladder without rolling on top of the person next to you. Luckily both Katherine and I slept through the night. I had a hard time getting to sleep with the prospect of finally getting to do some climbing ahead of me. But the pure darkness and cold night air did their job and I passed out.

TJ, Greg, and I decided to wake up to see the sun rise. It was actually freezing when we woke up and I, unhappily, discovered that I was so cold because the window by my head was in fact open and my hat (yes I wore a hat to sleep in it was so cold) froze. You know the bit about not being able to get down from the top bunk… yeah I learned that first hand. I had to limbo/supper stretch my way down from my cave. It was actually really amusing. So once we were awake and layered up we headed out to see the sun rise. It took quite a while since we had to wait for it to get over the hills but it was worth the wait. I’ve always loved watching sunrises. I blame my Dad. Every time we are on vacation or have the opportunity (especially when we are at the beach in Florida) we make an outing to watch our bit of the world wake up. I was thinking about him a lot that morning. It was great being able to do that with TJ and Greg. As it started to get closer to the time that normal people wake up we headed back to the vans to get everyone ready to do one last hike before we left for Greymouth.

New Zealand’s biggest hole is in Abel Tasman National Park. It was a really nice hike to get to it, reminded me a lot of the woods in Massachusetts and there were some really interesting rock formations along the way. It was a great way to really get my blood moving and start the day. Once we got to the giant crater we did a little rock climbing (that was actually terrifying) to get a good view. Of course, the journey wouldn’t have been complete without a little Emily silliness. Jessie came over to me and gave me a little nod. She said, “You know what would sound great in here, right…?” I smiled, waited for everyone to prepare themselves this time, and let out my now trade-mark Tarzan yell. It felt great and had a crazy echo! Katherine recorded it (much to my chagrin) so as soon as I can locate the video I’ll let you know. Invigorated, we hiked back out to the vans eager to stay on schedule so we could do everything we wanted to. I felt bad the other van did get to see the hike we had just done but I knew they were having their own fun.

It was my day to drive so I got to tackle the scary road out of the park. And I’m really glad I did! It was an intense drive that required some pumpin’ tunes and an awesome navigator (Jessie) but it’s one of those things that I will never forget and kind of proud I did. Sorry Mom and Dad (one of the only things they told me NOT to do in the South Island was drive the van… heehee). We decided after we got off of the scary bit of road to take the back way to Greymouth. It definitely took us a lot longer to get there than if we had just gotten on the highway right away but the drive was beautiful and way less stressful than driving on the highway in that tank of a van. After a few hours we found a good place for a break and Greg took over driving. It was becoming increasingly obvious that we weren’t going to make it to Castle Hill today. I was bumming out at first but after a nap and arriving in Punakaiki—just before Greymouth to see the Pancake Rocks—I let it go. There is a little 20 minute walk through the rocks so you get a really great view of them. They are along the coast so at high tide there are blowholes too, but we missed those. After seeing what we came to see we decided that we would rather keep trucking through and get to the glaciers that night rather than waiting and having to drive more in the morning. This way we could get to our campsite and have all day to explore. On our way out of the rocks area we noticed a little cave open to explore. We grabbed out flashlights and took a quick detour. It was so cool in there! We took some funny pictures in tiny crevasses and got pretty dirty while we were at it. After we got back into the vans it started to rain. It was a solid three hours to our destination. We stopped for groceries along the way and played games to keep us entertained until we got there. Again, I was thrilled to get to our POWERED campsite with nice showers. After a quick dinner and showers we got to sleep pretty quickly. What we saw when we woke up, no one saw coming.
Fun Fact: The Pancake Rocks that Punakaiki is famous for are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay. The seabed was raised above sea level by earthquakes to form the coastal cliffs and coastline. The sea, wind, and rain have since etched out the soft layers to form the unusual formations.


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