Day 38: Wellington to Picton
We awoke early to catch the 8.30 am Ferry from Wellington to Picton. Although we were sad to be leaving the North Island, we were excited to see what the South Island had to offer. Interislander is the only company currently offering ferries between the two New Zealand Islands. They leave 5 times daily with the exception of Christmas day. Ferries book out fast so we would recommend booking as far in advance as possible. The price of the tickets also increase closer to the time. We booked 3 weeks in advance and paid NZ $267 one way. The cruise is to be one of the most scenic in the world, with the route through the heart of the Marlborough Sounds. If you are looking to purchase tickets you can do on the website here.
After three and a half hours we arrived in our first stop on the South Island, Picton. As all ferries go through here we were expecting a bustling city, however Picton is a quaint town mostly used by travellers as a stop over before heading to Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds. We spent our first day wandering through the town before heading down the road to our campsite for the night. The Marlborough Region is famous in New Zealand and across the world for its production of wine, historically Sauvignon Blanc. Wine is extremely cheap in New Zealand due to the vast quantities produced here.
We stayed at the Collins Memorial Reserve only 6 km outside of Picton. It is right beside the main road and train track so was a bit noisy at night, but the bathrooms were clean and you have beautiful views of the mountains. However, there are only 12 spaces that fill up by 3 pm so ensure you are early.
Day 39: Picton
Picton has a number of walking tracks around it which takes you through great views of the Marlborough sounds. As the weather was poor, we had a planning day in the library, picking out the best routes for the South Island, and also planning for Róisín’s parents trip next month. This is a tip that we got off fellow travellers and is useful for anyone planning on road tripping in New Zealand. Nearly every town in New Zealand has its own library with free computer use and WiFi, so they come in very useful to save mobile data and have planning days when the weather is not so great. Although it was not the most exciting of days, it was productive and we managed to plan the remainder of our New Zealand trip. We stayed there until closing time, 4 pm, before heading to the campsite.
The Collins memorial reserve campsite was full when we got there so we ventured twenty minutes further down the road to the Wairau reserve. Although a bit of a nuisance having to drive further away from Picton, it turned out to be one of the most scenic campsites we stayed at. To get to the campsite, we drove through vineyards with views over cloudy bay. We were surrounded by mountains and less than 100 metres from the beach.
Day 40: Picton
After breakfast by the beach, we took a chilled stroll along cloudy bay beach. The weather was looking much better than yesterday so we decided to head in to Picton and do a short hike after spending a couple of days doing little to no exercise. We ventured on the Tirohanga Track, a 6.5 kilometre return walk through thick bush before coming out at a hilltop view point that offers extensive views over Picton, Waikawa and the Marlborough Sounds. The track is quite easy with a gradual climb to the top. Ideally we would recommend trying to do this walk on a bright day to get the most out of the views.
After a final trip to the library to finalise some accommodation we headed back towards the Wairau reserve to enjoy another walk and sunset along the beach.
Day 41: Picton to Anakiwa-The Queen Charlotte Track
Today we had an early start to finally leave Picton and head towards ‘Anakiwa’. This 20 km drive was beautiful, with loads of viewing bays on the road to pull over and enjoy the views over the Marlborough Sounds. Our plan was to do part of the Queen Charlotte Track, one of the most renowned walks in New Zealand. It is a 70 km long track between Queen Charlotte Sounds and Kenepuru Sound. There are 2 start points, Anakiwa or Ship cove. The latter can only be reached by a water taxi from Picton. If you want to do the full track, it is recommended that you do so in 3-4 days and you will require a multi-day pass as most of the track goes through private land. Multi-day pass tickets are NZ $25 per person. As well as this you will need to pre-book accommodation or tent campsites along the route.
For anyone on a backpacker budget there is a one day option which is what we opted for. This track starts from Anakiwa and goes as far as Groves lookout. This was a 3 hours return walk along the bay and through forestry that offered brilliant views over the Marlborough Sounds. There are benches at Groves lookout that are the perfect spot for lunch. To get to this point you do not need to obtain a day pass. This was a mistake made by quite a few people that we met along the way. Although we were slightly disappointed that we couldn’t do the whole track, we still managed to get great views of the sounds without blowing our budget. If you’re interested in the whole Queen Charlotte walk, including day passes, accommodation, and boat taxis, click here!
At the start point for the walk there are 6 spots for freedom camping. You get access to the public toilets and cold showers and views over Grove Arm bay. We decided to spend the night here before heading further west tomorrow.
Day 42: Anakiwa to Nelson
We left our peaceful surroundings of Groves bay to head to our first ‘big town’ of the south island. We drove an hour and a half west to Nelson, a popular base for New Zealand’s most famous national park, Abel Tasman. This would be somewhere we will be visiting next week. The town has an outrageous amount of art galleries and gardens, as well as being a popular wine region of New Zealand. The town centre is compact, with everything within walking distance. We used today to take up free parking in the city centre and do some much needed laundry and shopping.
There are a number of freedom camping within the city centre, something not usual for a town the size of Nelson. Despite the accessibility, we were reluctant to stay because of the negative reports of vandalism towards campervans staying in the Freedom sites. We actually met a couple recently who stayed in the town centre and confirmed this issue.
We instead drove a short distance south to the town of Richmond, a suburb of the Nelson region. The town was small but lively, and offered the same amenities as Nelson. We were 15 minutes walking distance from town and settled in for the evening with a bottle of local wine and a dominos.
We stayed at Fittal Street Carpark, a 15 minute walk from Richmond town centre. We had views of the bay as well as access to toilets and a water supply. It was lovely and quiet at night despite being a bit cramped with campervans.
Thanks for reading,
Róisín & Bernard