After checking out of The Palace I walked the short distance to Bridge Street to collect a hire car from Hardy Cars. At least, that’s what I should have done; actually I took a wrong turning and walked the long distance to Bridge Street instead. On my first visit to New Zealand in 1999 I had sat next to a German guy on the flight from Auckland down to Christchurch and he told me that he owned a car hire company in Nelson and if I ever wanted a car when I was there, to go to him. Almost five and a half years later here I was. He no longer has a stake in the business he started but I still wanted to get my car from Hardy Cars, the main reason being that they were cheap. In fact I was paying barely more than a third of what I had paid in Rotorua. My transport for the next couple of weeks was a Nissan Something called BAR434 and it wasn’t long before I was driving it.
I filled up with fuel in a BP garage on Rutherford Street. The guy who served me asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said that he would try to get as much into my tank as possible because on the West Coast they don’t bother advertising the prices of their fuel in the normal way, they just show a picture of an arm and a leg.
I managed to find the right road out of Nelson straight away, which was an encouraging sign. Highway 6 would take me all the way to Westport without too much hassle, after all, it was going there anyway. It was good to be back on the open road again, though not in a Mr Toad sort of way. It was a fairly uneventful but very pleasant drive and became more scenic as it went on.
The second half of the journey followed the course of the Buller River as it found its path between hills and mountains on its way to the Tasman Sea at Westport. The Buller Gorge is spectacular in the extreme with great towering cliffs above and the beautiful river below. Sometimes the road becomes a single lane which ducks under overhangs to work its way forward. A little over three hours after I set off I was driving up through the main street in Westport looking for the turning that would take me to my next hostel. In truth any turning would have done because Westport is built on, just about, the most perfect grid system I have seen anywhere. Many of its streets bear the names of British Prime Ministers from history, Gladstone, Salisbury, Disraeli, Palmerston and so on, though mercifully none of the more recent ones, but I was staying in Queen Street at the Trip Inn.
After checking in and a quick visit to the small supermarket I was back in the car and heading south, down the coast to do my first walking in the region for over a month. My goal was Cape Foulwind, and I will try to refrain from any jokes from here on. This was the part of New Zealand that Abel Tasman first set eyes on in 1642, becoming the first European to do so. He did not land for a number of reasons, and maybe that’s a good thing because he would have seriously stolen James Cook’s thunder by doing so. In 1770 Captain Cook named this cape because of the atrocious weather he encountered offshore and like so many of the names he dished out it has stuck.
The walk started from a car park, where I saw some wekas mugging visitors for scraps and, bizarrely, a Dutch lady relieving herself on the grass. Wekas are intriguing birds and look a bit like a cross between a pheasant and a chicken and these seemed quite tame. The wide path wound its way up towards a small lighthouse on a promontory. Just before the lighthouse there was a fork and the walkway meandered through giant boulders covered in vegetation, and some without, looking like tors on Dartmoor. The path was very easy to follow as it stood out because light coloured stone has been used for it, in sharp contrast to the dark green vegetation all around, mostly enormous sedges, flax and, unfortunately, gorse.
Once the first moderate hill had been climbed the views started unfolding and didn’t really finish until I turned my back and walked away at the very end. There were offshore rocks and rocky outcrops, gorgeous bays with golden sandy beaches and no obvious way down to them and more enormous boulders right beside the path. There was a notice which suggested that, because the cliffs dropped away beside the path the walker should have children close at hand at all times. I didn’t really understand how that would help break my fall very much and, as there were no children around anyway, I took my life in my hands and plodded on cautiously. At one point, next to the path, there was a replica of Abel Tasman’s astrolabe in a Perspex case; I’m not sure how interesting that is but it was there. There was also a cement quarry a few hundred metres inland from the cape, but it was hardly noticeable and did not detract from the beauty and scenic impact of the headlands and bays, though it was a bit noisy.
In total the walk was about four kilometres long and ended at a lookout over a kekeno, or New Zealand fur seal, colony. They were quite easy to see basking on the rocks below or playing in the pools. In the brief time that I was there I must have counted fifty but there could have been many more as they were a very similar colour to the rocks they were sprawling all over. Just before the seal colony there was one of those signposts indicting the direction and distance to the world’s far flung places. If you need to know how far it is from Cape Foulwind to Zürich or Moscow you will have to go and look for yourself, for the record and just to tempt you, Westport is eight kilometres.
It is possible to reach the seal colony from Tauranga Bay to the south. This is a short ten minute walk but nothing like as interesting and invigorating. I’m very glad that I did the walk I did rather than taking the easy way out.
On my return journey I saw a baby weka beside the path, I could hear its mother but not see her, so I left this rather cute brown ball of fluff to its own devices, it seemed quite happy, and I headed back to the car. It had been a very enjoyable walk, not difficult but certainly undulating. The scenery was incredible and I can only imagine how bleak it must be on a stormy day. I headed away from Cape Foulwind, back to the hostel and cooked myself beans on toast. Sorry, but it’s true.