Yesterday and today have felt more like “holiday” than “travel.” I’ve only recently started to understand the difference, and it’s mostly a point of emphasis.
Holiday often, to Kiwis, seems to mean something slower, more laid-back, and less busy. Travel, on the other hand, is action-packed, challenging, lots of movement.
Our time in Collingwood, on Golden Bay on the South Island of New Zealand, feels slower and more relaxed. Not that we’ve been rushing around until now, but this is the first time since leaving Christchurch that we’ve been anywhere for a full week.
The house we’re renting is Bluebird Cottage, right on the bay in the tiny town of Collingwood. It has three bedrooms and one bathroom and an adorable kitchen. Best of all, the front windows and the front porch have views straight out to the bay. You just have to look around the the roses and over the white picket fence to see the water.
It’s quiet. And dreamy.
The house is just about the last town of any size on the way northwest to Farewell Spit, the strip of land that receives the generous deposits of sand from the wide bay to the east. James has a proclivity for islands and peninsulas, so of course we had to make the trek up the road to see what we could.
Weather reports said a high of 14C and chance of showers, so we packed accordingly and had the kids wear/bring layers.
Our drive north and west took us over at least a dozen one-lane bridges. New Zealand one lane bridges give right of way to cars coming from one direction (it varies, depending on visibility, driveways, other intersections, curves in the road, etc.). One of the bridges was over a long stretch of estuary and was a bit harrowing to drive over because it wasn’t possible to see if the other end was clear from the start.
To the left of the car were the tops of the mountains in Kahurangi National Park, to the right long curves of wild sand beaches. Baches and small farms gave evidence that people do inhabit the region, even as a dearth of grocery stores, municipal water supply (every house looked to have rainwater barrels), and places of employment made me wonder how these hardy souls make their lives here.
It didn’t take too long for us to arrive at our first destination, the carpark for Fossil Point. The rain, which had pelted us getting into the car in Collingwood, had ended and the skies looked like they were going to clear.
We set out on a 1 hour return hike. Orange triangular signs indicated that we were to pass through a cow field and then several sheep fields on our way to the beach.
I assumed that none of the many bovine masses in the field through which we were walking were male. But I was wrong, as Evelyn quickly pointed out, indicating a bull nearby.
We moved cautiously and were soon amidst sheep, who, as a rule, are much more skittish (and much smaller!) than cows.
It was an easy walk from there up through some scraggly bush and then down on sandy soil through beautiful, wild bush to the beach! Finally, the Tasman Sea! (James and I had been when we went to Hokitika for a getaway without the kids, and we’ve enjoyed lots of sights of the Pacific from the Banks Peninsula, Kaikoura, and Christchurch beaches… but this was the kids’ first taste of the west coast!)
The beach was wide and had white sand. The wind was brisk, though not cold, and had created interesting patterns and textures on the dunes. Most interesting (to me, anyway) were the beautiful rock structures both further down the coastline as well as standing on the beach itself.
We enjoyed clambering around on the rocks, measuring about 40 feet high and carved into fascinating ledges and tunnels. Evelyn and Charlotte went pretty high, James not quite as high, and Calvin snuck up a tunnel without permission but was quickly found out and made to return to ground.
It was definitely a highlight, and we had the whole place to ourselves! (Price of admission = $0NZ)
Rather than turning and going back the same way we had come, James and I conferred and decided instead to walk up the beach and cut back via another trail that we had noted on the sign at the information posted back in the carpark.
We both have a good sense of direction and time, so we weren’t worried about getting lost and figured that the same helpful trail markers would make for an easy return hike.
#Realness: the walk up the beach went on for longer than we had figured, and we didn’t see any trail markings. Then we spotted a small orange triangle. Bingo! Just like the ones that had littered the way *to* the beach.
We turned there and I veered to the side down a four-wheel road leading the correct direction. But where I expected to see a confirmatory orange triangle posted instead stood a large painted red circle sign.
Keep in mind all the previous signs were orange. Triangles.
I knew a lot of the land around is privately owned, and the trailhead signs had indicated that there were boundaries that trampers needed to respect. Confused, I didn’t want to proceed that way and expressed to James that perhaps the orange triangle on the beach indicating this way was incorrect or we were misinterpreting it.
By now, it was well after lunch time (James had packed lunch but we had left it in the car, not thinking we’d be hiking very long) and quite sunny. We walked further up the beach, scouring for an orange trail marker, before talking to two trampers heading toward us. We swapped information about the way we had arrived at the beach, and they said they had bushwacked it over a hill to get to that point.
They didn’t look particularly hale, hardy, or adventurous, so James and I figured there must be a relatively easy way back over to the carpark. All that stood between us and our car (and lunch!) were a couple layers of hills. Covered in shrubs, brush, flax, flowers, and trees.
We picked what looked like a likely spot and went off trail through red spikey grass. For Ev, James, and me it wasn’t so bad, but it was pretty high on Charlotte and above Calvin’s head!
It was a bit of a slog. Then we got to a hillock, which I climbed to see what was on the other side.
And it was more hills. No sign of a carpark.
Luckily, though, I looked to the south about 250 yards off and saw a small group of people. They were walking. On a trail. That turned out to be the very road/track we had turned on to nearly 40 minutes before but which I assumed was wrong because of the lack of orange triangles and the fear that the red circle meant do not enter.
We climbed back down the hill, getting poked and scraped the whole way by vigorously aggressive foliage and grasses. Calvin started to melt down, at one point sitting down in the tall grasses and refusing to answer to his name. I had to track back to get him.
At long last, we rejoined the trail we should have taken before and it was a relatively quick walk from there back to the car.
We spotted tons of seabirds, and for the first time ever I saw swans (huge, black ones!) in saltwater. It was a flotilla of swans, their long, elegant necks bending and reflecting in the bay water.
Back at the car, we dumped huge piles of sand out of our shoes and socks, then James drove us all up several kilometers of gravel road to Wharariki Beach.
I was not prepared for the stark beauty of this beach. It had it all: towering sand dunes just perfect for sliding/running down; towering rock islands and peninsulas; arches and tunnels through the rock made by pounding ocean waves; huge expanses of sky; beach grasses and flowers; seabirds and seals; and curling white waves coming in like angry ribbons.
The kids were in their element and so was I. Even James, who is not a big beach person, appreciated it.
We wrapped up the day with an amazing meal outside at The Mussel Inn: Captain Cooker beer (so good); nachos for the kids, tasty fish, steak with mushrooms for James, vegetarian quiche for me, garlic bread for James. Best of all, the casual atmosphere, especially the tire swing for when the kids had finished but James and I were still savoring the flavors.