On Tuesday I drove to Nelson via the Lewis Pass, a beautiful afternoon's drive through stunning mountain scenery with the sun beating down from a clear blue sky. That night I stayed with Mike, the local Acorn dealer, and the next day I visited a couple of schools to the west of Nelson, before heading north to explore the area round Golden Bay. Talk about paradise: Golden Bay is well named, and it's worth the drive up the steep and bendy road just to see those beautiful beaches stretching into the sunset, backed by tree-covered mountains and valleys. I made my way to Pakawau, almost at the northern tip of the South Island, and on the way I visited the Pupu Springs where clear, cold water pours out of the ground in such quantities that it moves rocks. After setting up the tent in Pakawau I drove north up a dirt road to the stunning and wild Whakariki Beach, one of the northernmost points of the South Island. I can think of far worse ways of spending a Wednesday afternoon.
That night, back at camp, I fell into a conversation with this bloke who was staying in one of the cabins, and he ended up inviting me in for a coffee. Robin was a Kiwi who had lived in England for 12 years, and he was spending time away from it all in Pakawau while waiting for a court case to come up; his business had collapsed and he was out on bail for some kind of fraud charge, and despite the circumstances, both he and his cat Floyd were excellent company. Robin even fed me, and offered me one of the beds in the other room (the cabins had two rooms, and he was on his own); it was quite a luxury after a roll-mat on grass.
The next day Robin drove me to a place called Bainham; as he lived in Nelson and had spent quite a lot of time exploring the area, he knew all the interesting places to visit. In Bainham the landscape is beautiful and the rivers have carved deep gorges through the mountains, and one of these gorges is home to a bungee jump and huge swing, so once again I got to see someone leaping into the unknown with only an elastic band for comfort. Our final visit was to the Devil's Boots, strange rock formations that look like a giant's boots sticking out of the earth, and then it was time to say goodbye, hop into Zed, and head off back to Nelson to visit more schools.
And just to rub in the fact that New Zealand is a small place, in Nelson I bumped into my Christmas buddies Ben and Mira for the third time. It had been bizarre enough seeing them again in Fox Glacier, but spotting them walking down the street in Nelson – and not even the main street – was truly freaky. They just laughed when they saw me; they'd already bumped into a couple of other people they knew, even though they'd only just arrived, and they'd been wondering whether I was still around. It's a small place, the South Island...