A Walk in the Park: Nelson, New Zealand

Nelson, a quaint town towards the top of the South Island, is dubbed New Zealand’s sunshine capital. This was good news because Nelson is also the base for exploring Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand’s smallest, at 23,000 hectares, but most visited park. After the adrenaline of the dolphin swim, I was ready to take on Abel Tasman.

Visitors are spoilt for choice with sea kayaking or walks along the “undulating 52 km of coastal track featuring golden beaches, tranquil lagoons, clear water and forested hills”. Most people take 3-5 days to complete the journey. So, which of these wonderfully healthy option to choose? Sigh. So many walks, so little time. Of course, being the athletic adrenaline junkie that I am, I chose the tour with the least walking and the most food – the Winter BBQ option with Wilsons, cruising along the entire length of the coastline from Kaiteriteri to Totarani, passing by Tonga Island to view the fur seals and finishing with a BBQ lunch on the beach, with three hours in between to laze around.

When I boarded the cruiser, I knew I had made the right decision. I was bundled up in two jackets and a hat against the chilly sea breeze, whereas my fellow park goers were dressed in shorts, t-shirts and looked prime to conquer something. What that “something” was, I couldn’t tell you. Primal urge to be at one with Nature? They could have it. I definitely looked out of place sipping my hot chocolate while reading my Nook. Yes. I’m a wuss. But a very warm wuss, thank you very much. But really now. What did you expect from a guy who got a taxi to take him up to the top of Nepal’s Monkey Temple to avoid taking the stairs?

In the end, it turned out to be a really relaxing day, looking over the clear blue sea while chowing down on a very posh lunch of grilled steak, potato salad, coleslaw, green salad and bread, prepared right on windswept Medlands Beach. But all wasn’t lost. I did manage to walk about 30 minutes to beautiful Bark Bay. Before you get too excited, that’s 30 minutes both ways. With liberal stops to take photos… Wilsons ended being a great choice. They were extremely professional, quick to answer emails, and arranged absolutely everything. With multiple pick-up locations in Nelson, transport to Abel Tasman was a breeze. Staff were irrepressibly cheerful which made for a hassle-free outing.

Nelson is an artsy town featuring farmers markets, wineries and art galleries. Even the water fountains and benches sport their own knitwear. Be aware, though, that shops in these small towns often close very early. Open only to 5:30pm on weekdays and closing up as early as 2:00pm on Sundays. What? It’s like these people have families to go home to or something… My favorite shopping spot was actually the supermarket. Living in Cambodia, a Western supermarket is like entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. So many things to choose from! I’ve been cutting down on restaurant costs by buying quality products like roast chicken, freshly made salads, cheeses and delicious fruit, including peaches, nectarines and plums (all severely expensive in Cambodia!) , saving my restaurant money for special occasions and specialties of the region, like seafood.

Travel tip: With sheep farming such a popular industry here, Merino wool garments are excellent buys. With different grades depending on which part of the wool fiber is used (the softest part is the less wavy bit closest to the sheep), it pays to shop around, as prices range from USD 40 for undershirts to well over USD 300 for thick sweaters. Merino garments are known to be quick drying, wicks sweat away from the body, anti-bacterial and therefore resistant to odors, therefore, a great base layer, often soft enough to be worn right next to the skin. One square inch of merino fleece produces nearly four times as many wool fibers as other breeds of sheep. The most luxurious garments combine merino wool with possum fur (I know! I know! When I heard that, I immediately thought of road kill, but apparently, this is the  Brushtail possum, a brown-red cousin to its ugly step-sister North American variety, specially brought to New Zealand from Australia for the fur trade). The sweater I bought is the softest thing I’ve ever felt. LOVES it.


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