The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand

Nelson

  • Hop from café to café in central Nelson making sure you leave room for the odd art gallery and museum break. The World of Wearable Art and Classic Car museum and the Nelson Provincial Museum are both fantastic.
  • Time your visit with the weekend to catch the eclectic Nelson market.
  • Hop over to Rabbit Island for a picnic.
  • Potter around Mapua Wharf and take a boat trip out into the estuary where wonderful birdlife abounds.
  • Shuttle by sea taxi to Abel Tasman National Park or settle into a sea kayak and navigate your way through clear waters, around intriguing granite outcrops and into secluded sandy bays. Eyes peeled for seals and split apple rock (a giant round rock that's split like a freshly-chopped apple).
  • Dig out some hippy threads and immerse yourself in Golden Bay's laid-back alternative vibe. The inspiring area, filled with artists, sculptures and musicians, is a honey-pot for creative types.
  • Ramble around the excellent walking tracks in Kahurangi, New Zealand's 2nd largest national park, and trek the Heaphy Track to Karamea on the West Coast.
  • Spot wildlife, jump off sand-dunes and check out the lighthouse on a Farewell Spit eco-tour. The gargantuan sand bar is a designated wetland of national importance.
  • Pick up a paddle/fishing rod in Murchison and kayak, raft or fish the rapid waterways of Nelson Lakes National Park.

Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit sweeps from the northenmost tip of the South Island forming a protective shield to the curve of Golden Bay. It was the last part of New Zealand watched by Captain Cook as he drifted out to sea - hence the 'Farewell' (although Maori know it as Tuhuroa). The spit stretches for roughly 26km above sea level and a further 6 km underwater and is made of fine, mineral-packed golden sand. Strong currents running through Cook Straight whip up material and deposit it on the stable southern side (that faces Golden Bay) while the northern side is continually stroked by high winds and the Tasman Sea, causing it to lick round into a thin arc. The sand bar is constantly dynamic and is expected to grow a further 2km in the next 5 years! It seems most bizarre and anomalous land formations are usually rife with wonderful wildlife and Farewell Spit is no exception. Designated a wetland of national importance, the restricted access wildlife reserve is teeming with black swans, Canada geese, Australian gannets, oystercatchers, Caspian terns and an umpteen-thousand strong squad of migratory waders. It has also been occasionally problematicfor the odd whale.

The only way to visit the actual spit is via guided tour with one of Collingwood's licensed tour operators. Farewell Spit Safaris run a good selection of eco tours. Allow a whole day as trips are between 3 and 6 ½ unforgettable hours long. Expect to jump off dunes, drop in on the gannet colony and check out the lighthouse.

If you don't have time to go the whole hog it is possible to drive yourself as far as the Farewell Spit visitor centre. The scenic route passes through rural farmland and ends at the visitor centre, Paddle Crab Kitchen (incidentally a great spot to refill whilst pondering views of the worlds' biggest sand bar) and Puponga Farm Park, which is crisscrossed with walking tracks and dotted with viewpoints.

Rock Snot

Didymosphenia geminata or 'rock snot', nicknamed for its slimy bogey-like appearance, is a mysterious, problematic algae found in some of the South Island's braided rivers. The algae attaches itself to plants and stones forming strands of yellow-brown goo that are like cotton wool to touch. One of the worst hit waterways is the Buller River (loved by didymo, people and fish alike for its beautifully clear, fresh and shallow water) that runs through the Nelson Lakes region. This is white-water-heaven Murchison's main kayak spot and is fantastic even with the rock snot. Dydimo spreads on footwear, fishing gear and boats, which must be cleaned between rivers with saline solution to avoid further contamination (morning sessions rolling kayaks in a chlorinated swimming pool works wonders). Make sure you do your bit.

Try the Rock Snot Café in Murchison. They're proud of their Buller-side location and great for cheap eats (they do a mean pizza which goes down a treat after a hard day on the water).

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