Enter the South Island

14/05/2010

Ron Pass

After recovering from my Tongarrio race I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. I checked into Nomads, which I recommend, and spent a week working and in between checking out the city.  I didn’t spend much time exploring but the highlights were the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s national museum.  Also Cuba Street was cool, very alternative with lots of quirky shops and cafes.  Wellington is much more my kind of city compared to dull Auckland.

With work stacking up I wanted a hassle free tour of the South Island so I could get back on top of things without halting my travels.  I’d heard of a bus travel company called ‘Stray‘ – Stray Travel have set routes around New Zealand with a hop on hop off bus service.  I booked the ‘Ron Pass‘ which is one of their South Island routes.  Apart from taking away any travel planning, Straying would mean I’d meet a group of people instantly and after hitching alone in the North Island I was ready for some group banter.

I was sceptical of whether I’d enjoy Straying.  I’m normally against pre-arranged tourist trips, preferring the uncertainty and adventure of unplanned travel.

I took the early morning ferry from Wellington to Picton to begin my Stray trip.  At the meeting point in Picton everyone was silent – I thought to myself, if this group sucks I’m hopping-off asap!  That’s the beauty of Stray, if you don’t like the group you can hop off and there will be another bus to hop on in a day or so with some fresh humans.

Baggins our Stray driver, nicknamed after Frodo Baggins for obvious reasons soon livened the mood.  I noticed that the majority of the group were already aquainted having traveled the North Island leg together but this wasn’t a problem and  I was soon mingling with the other strays at our first stop; Hunters Winery.  What better way to start a trip with strangers than to have several glasses of wine at 10 in the morning.

First overnight stop, Abel Tasman.  With the majority of the group having gone through the hectic procedure of dashing for rooms they filled up in a flash.  Me lingering from the bus with my backpack trying to chose which room to go  for when a geordie voice piped up from one of the huts – it was a chick offering a bed in their room (a room of all girls) – why not!  These girls were later to adopt me and be my regular roomies for the rest of Stray; Danielle, Lynsey, Natasja and Cheryl.

Our first night in Abel Tasman and we had a group BBQ, followed by one of my all time favourite movies; Point Break.  Bed time soon arrived and I was to find that my top bunk was against the hut’s heater, this may sound beneficial for heat but it was like sleeping next to a bloody helicopter and the next morning the girls found it hilarious to find me sleeping on the floor.

Stray offers activites at each stop and books everything for you.  Out of the many Abel Tasman activities I’d booked the 1/2day walk, 1/2 sail.  After a beautiful 4hour walk through the Abel Tasman national park we reached the beach where we were to be picked up and we were greeted by an awesome 33ft catermeran.

A pleasant sail back in clear but chilly weather and I talked footy (The World Cup) with the Irish boys.  Stray was proving to be a cushy way to travel.

Punakaiki is the gateway to the dramatic limestone country of the Paparoa National Park. The Pancake Rocks that Punakaiki is famous for, are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago. When conditions are right, heavy ocean swells thunder into the caverns beneath the rocks and huge water spouts blast skywards through the blowholes in a truly spectacular sight.  The following day after Abel Tasman, it was one of many stops on route to our destination, but the most memorable.  We arrived in time for sunset which was gorgeous.

Barrytown, population of about 40 people.  With nothing else there other than a pub which incorporates a hostel I wondered why on earth we had stopped in this small isolated shit village hamlet until I found out that the pub and hostel were owned by Stray Travel.  It was time to get to know my Stray friends a little better.  In preparation Essex Andy and I had purchased some booze.  I happily cracked on with the booze knowing the Stray monopoly weren’t getting by ‘drinking’ business – which turned out to be quite substantial that evening.  Everyone was required to wear fancy dress from the pubs fancy dress room, I somehow ended up in a small girls PJs.  After many drinks we were all starting to bond well, I liked the group and was loving the Stray trip!

Booking the Barrytown Bone Carving the previous night seemed like a good idea at the time.  But I can tell you sanding cow bone at 8.00am feeling like someone had shat inside my head is not fun!  The idea behind bone carving is to experience a bit of Maori culture.  Each shape has a specific meaning – I went for the hook which means strength and determination, but I chose it because I thought it looked pretty cool and it looked like a wave.  Three hours later I had my own pretty necklace.

Next stop.. Franz Josef!

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