Yesterday we loaded up Ze Truck (one of my many names for the bus) from the Abel Tasman National Park (“ATNP”) for our voyage westward to Greymouth.
We’d crossed the Cook Straight by ferry two days earlier, and spent the last two nights in the ATNP. This part of Aoteroa is famed for its sunny Mediterranean climate, vineyards, magnificent coastline, and fresh fruit produce. Brilliant!
The face of our bus had really changed – with many of the crew hopping off to simmer in the cultural melting pot of Wellington, some returning to Auckland, and lots of fresh new faces joining us at the port of Picton; some only just beginning their NZ adventure. The sun was shinning, so we indulged in a spot of casual wine tasting at a vineyards in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds. We also popped in at a small town called Havelock, where I collected some fresh NZ green-lipped mussels (a shellfish) for a tasting session in the evening.
Almost invariably, a lot of Stray crew are on what I call a travel binge: they’re exploring a number of countries in succession, often as part of a year long voyage away from their homeland. New Zealand is just one (very important!) destination on their long and distinguished itinerary. And, true to form, these junkies are stretching their budgets as far as they will go to secure their next travel fix.
Being able to prepare our own meals, (thanks to the daily supermarket stops) are a key way that we try to be budget-friendly for the crew. Another is the group discounts for Stray passengers with the hostel and activity operators. So that we could experience the best of the ATNP (and for cheap!), I managed to arrange for a private charter of a sailing boat. A racing catamaran in fact. The charter came complete with a friendly NZ captain, and meant everyone could sail the ATNP, getting further up the beaten coastline than if just hiking, for about half the cost per person than it would have cost to sail if we didn’t charter the entire vessel. A high level of awesomeness for a low price – that’s what I call value.
The other beautiful thing about chartering our own vessel was the compete freedom we gained. We had our own giant floating toy, and the day’s itinerary was in our hands! We choose where we sailed, where we dived off the boat for a swim, which offshore island we spotted local seals on, and which pristine, deserted, beach we anchored at for lunch. Those wanting a spot of variety jumped off the boat and hiked along the ATNP hiking track back to Marahau, where we met them there for dinner.
We returned spent from a day of action on the high seas and very ready for a hearty group dinner. There’s an old adage that say you don’t know a person properly until you’ve broken bread with them, but we took that saying further as wemucked in to prepare our epic NZ bbq feast together tonight. It was super interesting to hear what brought people to Aoteroa (and sometimes what they are running away from in their homeland!), and the chopping board and bbq grill became improvised travel forums; with travel tips and advice being exchanged as we put the finishing touches on the night’s meal.
Then, we dined like kings! The menu included NZ green lipped mussels in a thai green curry sauce (served on a bed of rice with fresh corriander) – for starters, garlic and chilli sirloin steak, sausages, fresh sweet corn, as well as fresh salad and coleslaw.
As we boarded the bus the next morning, those who had time in their that had fallen in love with the area – and trust me, it’s very easy to do – hopped off the bus a few extra days of kayaking or chillaxing. No doubt we’ll see them soon in Queenstown or later on the circuit!