The drive from Nelson takes you past Motueka through lovely fruit orchards all in blossom, before you hit the forbidding Takaka hill. Holy moly, that's some hill. We have the Rimutaka hill just out of Wellington which is bad enough, but that's nothing compared to this hill. You get up to 800m above sea level and have the most incredible views in one direction of the Abel Tasman before hitting the summit and seeing gasp-worthy mountains coming into view on the other side.
We broke up the journey with a stop at Ngarua Caves on top of the hill. Before we even found out that it was actually true - you could imagine that this where some scenes in Lord of the Rings were filmed - Gandalf galloping on his horse was filmed here we were later told by the guide at the caves. We could completely understand how, looking at the amazing rock formations all around us.
The journey through the caves takes about 45 minutes and it's pretty cool to see the preserved moa bones - they got trapped in there after falling through one of the large number of sinkholes that exist in the area. The climb back out of the caves is not for the fainthearted - up a fairly steep ladder and then suddenly you emerge out in the middle of a rocky paddock. It's fascinating countryside with fairly dangerous sinkholes that can open up without warning as one lady found out the hard way when up here earlier in the year after falling down an unmarked 10m sinkhole. Best we all stick to the track then!
A little further along the road before we headed back down the hill, we stopped at the Harwoods Lookout for an incredible view over towards the mountains of Kahurangi National Park - still with a surprising amount of snow on them - and Golden Bay spread out before us. Apparently this road is in the Top 10 of NZ roads - click on the link to see one of the hairpin bends!
After stopping at the only decent supermarket for miles in Takaka to stock up on food for the next few days, we carried on driving another half an hour to our bach. It was situated in such a great spot away from it all, with an estuary at the end of the back garden on one side, and a 2 minute walk to the beach through the bush on the other. It was windy when we arrived, much more than it had been even in Takaka, but that didn’t stop us taking a ball down to the beach for a kick around. One thing that utterly blew me away about this whole area was how far out the tide went at low tide – we estimated a good kilometre – much more so than we're used to from visiting the east and west coasts of the North Island. I tried to find my way out to the sea but in trainers I couldn’t pick a good path through the pools of water that still lie in the sand at low tide – which is a haven for shellfish and little sprats. And an incredible setting for sunrise shots as I would find out in due course! Although these shots below are actually sunset shots as I took a chance to nip down to the beach through the bush for a quick five minutes that evening!
That night we were treated to a once in a blue moon spectacle – well actually it was a red moon in this case – the blood moon eclipse. We were fortunate enough to be here (rather than in Wellington which was mostly cloudy) to see it and sure enough the bright light of the moon gradually disappeared over the course of an hour or two leaving this crazy, dusky red moon in its wake. It was very cool to have seen it but it made for a bit of a late night having to stay up till nearly midnight to get the full effect!
I also tried my hand at some Milky Way star shots for the first time! I was only slightly pleased with how they turned out, they are a little blurry - the wind was blowing something crazy so I couldn't get the tripod totally still and the light of the bright full moon from behind would have reduced the impact of the stars but you can get a sense of the night sky at least, not bad for a first effort I guess!