The days get shorter, the sun stays lower and there’s only one way to escape from the Antarctic airflow: heading north. And since I had barely seen more than the central third of the south island (Daniel hadn’t even left Otago), Nelson and Marlborough seemed to be a decent place for spending a few autumn weeks.
Escape from Appleby
After that greatest trail of all it was time to say goodbye to Otago. Lured by promises of harvest season we never doubted getting a job “easy as” in Nelson, the northern end of the South Island. Well, sort of. It took a week of searching, popping into packhouses and dropping CV’s, calling orchards and vineyards to hear it all over again. “You’re too late, darling.” But this city was supposed to be so nice! And it would have been. Except for those two cyclones bringing about the annual precipitation in two weeks. It rained. And rained. The wind howled and no way I could have checked out any of the mountain bike trails that I had come for. At least the culinary soul was fed, meeting a good old friend from Kaikoura times made my day and Daniel’s company kept my spirits somewhere acceptable.
And then the weather finally cleared, the sun broke through and life looked up. A lone apple grower needed pickers on his orchard at last, in a place called Appleby. Half an hour on the bus plus 10km by bike, twice a day, no problem! At this point we were too relieved to have found another income. That lasted until… the guy chased me up a 2m laddder and made me stand on the top without holding onto the tree. No rails, just the world below and the endless rows of apple trees. Pure determination let me get up four mornings to endure the challenge, up and down a hundred times a day. And I would have continued. If it had only paid off… But with $40 for 450kg of Braeburn picked it would barely pay another bike, since mine was gone from the garden one day, stolen. Days of sorrow, looking for alternatives to the device that had made my time worthwhile. It was not our time to be, and we would give it another shot on the North Island, where the apples seemed to be growing more red and everyone screaming for working backpackers. Sure!
At last, reconciliation came as a call from the grocery store. “Missing a red mountain bike? There’s been one thrown over our fence lately…” Sometimes miracles do happen. Please, people, when you want to take my bike to the shop next time just ask?
A Great Little Walk
So after two weeks we left Nelson’s most lovely hostel with the room overlooking the city, with free breakfast and bakery leftovers every day. Since it was Easter I craved for a treat, a breakout from job issues. Picton was the stopover of choice, and on time the sky had cleared to give way for an awesome day in the sounds. We embarked on a little touring boat, along with the eager folks who would walk the entire Queen Charlotte Trail (like my good friend from study times shortly after). That 12km section we walked as part of our sounds cruise was just about perfect, though. Through magnificient coastal bush, dense ferns, along isolated bays to get a small glimpse of the 100% Pure New Zealand that I had almost forgotten about in these weeks of city living. Right, Nelson had a beach and a river and hills… Still. That I didn’t take more than five photos there says it all.
The Very Other Island
It ended up pretty much according to my long term plan, heading to the North Island in April. When the ferry pased the last cliffs of the South I felt a weird melancholy. It is one country, yet different worlds. Goodbye to the Southern Alps, the wet west coast, the dry plains of Central Otago and the cold Southeasterlies on the coast. Goodbye after five and a half months of travel life, work, friendships and experiences made. See you in spring maybe.
Then, three hours later, the first green hills in the distance. Don’t be fooled, the North is far from flat! Wellington, possibly the most hilly capital in the world – especially with two bags each and a bike to shuffle up a ridiculously steep street to the hostel. I had had my reservations to this city but cannot deny its charme! Skyscrapers promising a big town, characterful streets and most of all, a “town belt” of parks making an epic sunset walk. Up on Mount Victoria with Daniel was a special moment. None of us would have believed we’d come all this way together.
Next: Hawke’s Bay. A short story of trails, apples and a day away.