October 31 - November 2, 2016
We didn't get to spend any time in Wellington, since we were a little pressed for time to reach the ferry. We ended up arriving with time to spare, though, and drove our rental car aboard the "Interislander" ferry that shuttles people back and forth between the North and South Islands via the Cook Strait.
We parked our car on the ferry, which was essentially a cruise ship, and headed to the upper decks. The boat was crowded, but there were plenty of windows and decks to look out from. The scenery on the ferry ride was just as good as the rest of New Zealand (read: awesome), so we passed most of our time watching that. The Ferry ride was around 4 hours or so, if I remember right, and there was food and drink available in a couple cafeterias on board.
We first set foot on the South Island in Picton, a smallish town that basically serves as a gateway to the south island if you're arriving by ferry. We checked out a few of the stores here, had lunch and some Monteith's beer at a seafood restaurant, and then hopped in the car and headed for our B&B in Nelson.
Our B&B in Nelson was amazing, but hard to find initially. It was located west of Nelson, maybe 25 minutes or so from the city, along a really curvy road that stretched north until we were almost back to the ocean. The B&B, "Cable Bay Lodge - Treehouse Hideaway" was right on the water. The property was on a pretty steep hill, so it consisted of several small structures and boardwalks that made us think of Swiss Family Robinson. Our host was extremely friendly, and we spent about an hour just wandering the property with our mouths hanging open. It had tons of character.
We didn't know much about Nelson when we chose it as a stopping point on our trip. We had read that it offered a lot of recreation and it had seemed like an obvious choice since we were wanting to drive down the west coast of the south island. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to find out that Nelson was actually the craft beer capital of New Zealand, with plenty of different breweries and wineries to try out.
We made a whole day out of visiting some of these breweries. Some were just breweries, some were breweries with restaurants, and one, Founders Brewery, was actually in the middle of an attraction called "Founders Heritage Park." The park was a sort of replica settlement with a lot of original buildings. Each building was a small museum that documented parts of Nelson's history. Definitely a tourist spot, but worth the visit. The brewery onsite didn't hurt, either.
Other breweries we visited were McCashins Brewery (a medium sized bottling plant with a big tasting room), Eddyline Brewery & Pizzeria (a small brewing operation with wood fired pizzas), Nelson Bays Brewery (A small brewery/bottling plant that served beer out of an open garage door on the side of the building), and Golden Bear Brewing Company. Golden Bear was the most memorable, because we were very warmly received by some of the "regulars" and eventually found out the man sitting next to us was the owner. The owner was an American who had moved to New Zealand a number of years ago and had started this brewery on his own. His "regulars" were retirees from all over the world and they were all happy to chat with us. Very colorful conversations.
On our way out of Napier, we stopped for a half-day kayaking experience in the Abel Tasman National Park. This involved kayaking along the coast near Kaiteriteri, seeing some interesting rock formations (check out the pictures of "Split Apple Rock") and learning about the area from our guide. When we were done we had a quick lunch (and, of course, a beer) and then took off down the west coast of the South Island.