After finishing my business in Nelson – five articles in all, not bad for a couple of days' work in paradise – I drove to Picton and hopped on the late-night ferry to Wellington. The only problem with late-night ferries is arriving in a place when most self-respecting citizens are in bed, but 'No worries,' I thought, 'I'll just hit a DOC campsite,' and indeed there was a very convenient camp just 50km from Wellington at the Catchpool Valley in the Rimutaka Forest Park. How on earth I managed to pick the only DOC campsite in the country that has gates that close at dusk, I don't know, so after discovering in the pitch black of night that I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, I drove around until I found a secluded spot, and gratefully fell asleep in the back of Zed, thanking my lucky stars that I'd bought a station wagon.
The Rimutaka Forest Park stretches along the Rimutaka Range to the east of Wellington, and is home to plenty of pine forest, some pretty little valleys, and, of course, the weekend tourists from the city. That didn't cause me any grief, as it was rather pleasant to see all the happy (and unhappy) families enjoying the sun, picnicking away in what they thought was the wilderness, but it brought something home to me. City dwellers, wherever they are in the world, can sometimes come across as quite antisocial compared to country folk, and despite my best smiles and g'days, the vast majority of people looked at the floor, metaphorically shuffling their feet as I passed them on the walking tracks. It seems that New Zealand has a similar but inverse problem to England, in that the further north you go, the more accidentally antisocial the people get (in England it's traditionally the other way around, with southerners being less inclined to talk to strangers).
The two tracks I did in the Catchpool Valley were short and sweet, though predictably tame after the South Island. The Orongorongo Track, one of the most popular walks in New Zealand according to the blurb, was reasonable but not that inspiring; it's popular because of its ease and its proximity to Wellington rather than its amazing scenery, no doubt. The Butcher Track, on the other hand, took me to the top of the hills, resulting in a beautiful view over Wellington harbour, far more impressive than the view from the hills above Eastbourne that I'd enjoyed on my first visit to Wellington, all those weeks ago. In the background I could see the South Island, and on top of the hill I found a peaceful pine canopy where the pine needles were comfortable enough for a Sunday afternoon snooze. My tramping stamina has dropped by a fair amount since Fiordland, no doubt a consequence of a few days' of beery socialising in Christchurch and Nelson; you can't have your cake and eat it, I guess.