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It’s nice up north…

So we headed out of Christchurch in hired jalopy, a Japanese import with dents on every panel and a speedo that’s economical with the truth, and began heading north up the east coast. The weather had turned bad, the rain poured much of the day as we followed the coast road. In a way that made it more dramatic as vast stretches of it run right beside the big waves crashed against sea battered rocks only 30 of 40 feet from the road itself. The coastline here is very jagged, a real shipping hazard. We stopped at a camp site just south of Kaikoura, rented a cabin and made some dinner. The camp was just about empty, who’d camp in this weather? The rain carried on all night and into the next day which was a tad annoying. We headed into Kiakoura which is a place renown for whale watching, dolphin swimming and manifest other ocean based activities which the curious tourist is willing to pay for. The grim weather had suspended sea-going operations so we had to settle for a walk along the cliff top and back along the rocks below as the tide was coming in. This was a dramatic walk in itself, aside from the scenery you walked right past a colony of fur seals, basking and flopping about on the rocks. They seemed unperturbed by us and our clicking cameras, here is a couple of pictures I took:

Here's looking at you


From there we drove on up coast and on to Picton, a small port town of 4000 people and on the edge of Queen Charlotte sound, so named by Captain Cook who landed here on his voyage in the ‘Endeavour’ in 17xx when he came by this way and ‘discovered’ it. Claiming it all for the Empire and naming everything of note with often unsuitable names.  Queen Charlotte was apparently a well regarded lady and plant lover so this region became her namesake. The fact that the Maori were already here was of no consequence. The area around Picton was spectacular and we walked one of the local trails up and along one of the high headlands. The views were beautiful, the region looks almost uninhabited and lush forest covers every square inch it seems. Yachts and the ferry from Wellington on the north island are the only things that intrude on the tranquillity here.

A ferry on the sound

The town of Picton is a fairly laid back little place with a lovely foreshore. It had a been a big whaling town originally and the local museum had lot of grim photo’s and whaling paraphernalia such as massive harpoons and whale bones. The owner of the place we stayed in hailed from Stevenage, this was quite a change of scene for her. Outside the place this old car festooned by tree sat waiting to be photographed. So I duly obliged and if anyone wants to leave a comment saying what kind of car it is that would be good. Austin 7 perhaps?

Name that car?

From there we drove on to the town of Nelson, a much bigger town with by NZ standards quite a hustle and bustle. Driving between places here is an event in itself, the roads are all but deserted outside the sparse towns, the roads are small and meander through the countryside serving up wonderful new views of towering hills at every bend in the road. It’s a bit like a never-ending Lake District but with no traffic, no dry stone walls and little rain. Since leaving Kairkoura the rain had mostly disappeared.

Arriving in Nelson we checked into a backpackers which seemed to be a normal house where the owner had built a small annex in the garden for herself and let out the main house to as many backpacker types as could be squeezed in. Not too bad but the ablution facilities were inadequate in number. The town itself though was lovely, Candice Marie took an instant shine to it and we declared it a most agreeable place in which a person could live a happy and contented life. A range of nice independent shops, lovely gardens and wide streets gave it an airy but busy feel. People are generally very polite here in NZ and Nelson was no different, there’s always a bit of chit chat when you buy something, or ask directions or whatever, people have time and inclination to engage with you. The jewel in Nelson’s crown for us was the museum. We spent a good couple of hours going around a special exhibition which used the diaries from four officers from a particular ship and voyage that was bringing early settlers from London to NZ in the late 1800’s. The whole thing was tied together with artefacts from the old ships and mock ups of the cabins and other parts of the ship. The various documents and diary entries revealed what a mammoth undertaking it was to up sticks from sophisticated Victorian London and head off to quite literally the unknown. The voyage took 151 days, the ships doctor was paid a bonus for every person he managed to deliver alive at the destination (Nelson). Babies carried were not even counted on the passenger list so presumably the doctor lost no money upon their demise. Children had to eat from their parents rations or not at all. Water was rationed and the migrant women were encouraged to collect rain water from the sails and spend their time darning and making clothes. The womenfolk had to be kept busy lest they tittle-tattled too much! Many passengers died on the voyage and were buried at sea. The doctor’s diary just said that the person had got sick and died, but never what their illness actually was. Probably because he had no idea! During stormy weather the passengers chose to stay below for days on end. One entry from the captain told how the wind had changed and they had gone backwards 500 miles over a couple of days, those old square rigged sailing ships only really sailed properly with a following wind.

In typical class obsessed British fashion one’s ongoing good conduct on the voyage was critical if one was to find a position, or a job, in society on arrival in the New World. It seemed that the rigid class structure of England also travelled 151 days to Nelson. The movers and shakers in the New World were already busying themselves setting up a local Temperance Society, and of course the missionaries we amongst the first arrivals. On one entry the captain expressed dismay that one of his officers had gone down below and was actually talking to the lower classes in steerage at the bottom of the ship. The captain thought this really ‘lowered the tone of the whole ship’.

Anyway lest I waffle on, you can gather that the whole exhibition was a fascinating snapshot of the dangerous and difficult voyage to somewhere completely alien. Undertaken by so many who clearly thought that Britain had nothing left to offer them, once you boarded that ship your life was about to change forever. I’m sure many such ships sank en route, no sanctuary for those poor souls. One motivator for going seemed to be the chance to own a plot of land and your own house, something unattainable for the working classes in Britain at the time. It seems however that the landed British gentry had already bought up the best farming land in NZ ( It was all owned by the crown after all) and were back in Britain as absentee landlords, something much resented by the new migrants. Apparently resentment was so rife that there was talk of communism, nationalisation, and land taxes to combat the long arm of British aristocracy. In the end there was a watered down solution that tried to appease both the rich and the poor.

All fascinating stuff but I digress; we spent some time wandering around Nelson, including the buzzing farmers market where many stalls proudly boasted that their goods were not made in China! Then it was time to leave this small town gem and head on up to the Abel Tasman National Park on the coast, all good stuff.

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