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Dancing on a (hair)pin

Bend that is...
Having got up at an ungodly hour and caught the bus and settled in for a snooze I got an email saying I didn't have a room in the lodge booked after all. This certainly saves me a chunk of money for the room and the boat and I found a place to stay in Marahau on my second try. And given how long a journey it was getting this far I didn't mind stopping when I did. Still peeved but misunderstandings happen I guess. Either that or I'm getting scatty.

Kaikoura is pretty and I'll be glad to get back there. I changed buses at Bleinhem which is a quiet little town with a mall stuck on the side like an eyepatch: it reminded me a bit of Ormskirk. The square has flowers and a commemorative tower and the river is rather lovely (and should be delightful when the builders move out and they have the new waterfront walk). But unlike some of the places I've passed through I don't have any regrets about not spending more time there. In fact I'd have been happy to spend 45 minutes less but the coach was late because the ferry was late.

That meant we took the winding road full of hairpin bends quite a bit faster than usual and we didn't stop anywhere along the way and bundled straight onto the waiting coach at Nelson, which I would like to see at least a little more of. I've ended up in a backpacker cabin on a farm (well, after taking the wrong turn and exploring the farm next door!). It's basic (I'm far too polite to call it primitive!) And very cheap. I haven't found out the name of the guy I'm sharing the cabin with - he's just down in the register as A Stray!

There's a little sculpture garden back by the gate to the park, with some rather nice pieces along with a modicum of tourist tat: I really like the netsuke they have and there's a lovely stone piece that's a loose spiral like a splitting seed husk around a tight barleysugar twist centre that has lovely lines.

Opposite that is the Park Cafe which is so delicious that I'll be back for breakfast and dinner tomorrow and if the breakfast at the b&b tomorrow isn't as good as Lonely Planet promises I'll just come back again. Nice draught beer - Mac's Golden although the bottled Monteith's Summer Ale I had last night had the edge with a crisp, sweet, gingery flavour - and huge plates of lovely food. I had seafood chowder with garlic bread, with chunks of carrot or maybe sweet potato, then roast chicken breast on a bed of risotto (more orange chunks) with veggies - caramelised pepper and courgette, chunks of brocoli and really succulent green beans in a creamy pesto sauce. This went down very well given that lunch was a raspberry slice from the Oamaru bakery that did the nice steak, cheese and bacon pie.

I didn't get to appreciate the rolling hills that come after the Canterbury plain, or the coast views (complete with seals) or the Kaikoura mountain range or the rivers we crossed this morning because I was drowsing away. I'll see them on the way back to Christchurch I hope! The sea past Kaikoura isn't really emerald green but it looks that way when the sun catches it (I didn't mind my usual weather luck of brilliant sunshine for every long coach trip as I have three sandfly bites on my hands and one - but oddly only one! - sunburnt foot).

We crossed a bridge that has no bolts, just rivets, with the train line running on the upper story and huge tracts of forestry land. Double-jointed trucks of logs haul their way along the hairpin bends up and down the hills which the coach was chugging at. The rivers run in tiny winding streams through huge wide beds: in one long riverbed it seems to be the fashion to leave messages spelled out in pebbles: names, humorous comments, expressions of love, cryptic symbols all along the side of the road.

There are more pebbles out to sea - a 13km boulder beach that gives Nelson a good harbour. The entrance is guarded by a rock evenhandedly named for both of the ships that hit it and sank. There's not much of the rock left as boats leaving Nelson used it for target practice - presumably getting their retaliation in first! The mountains of the Abel Tasman park are visible from Nelson when they're not hidden by heat haze but getting here means passing apple orchards (mostly being cut down to build houses) and fields of hops specially bred to have no seeds (and what is this about hops only growing on the 41st parallel?).

I do find the commentaries from the drivers charming: if we pass through a town named after a politician we get snippets from the family history for a hundred years before or after. I've heard so much about crops, elevations, geology and the number of annual sun hours I could pass a geography exam on the place!

The landscape on the edge of the park is rolling green hills and reed marsh to the shoreline with a fascinating island just off shore - time to explore!

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full steam ahead
marypcb
Mary Branscombe
Simon & Mary

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