After we got off the boat in Abel Tasman, we had to rush a bit to get to Punakaiki before it was completely dark – it was some four hours on the road driving past hop fields and through Kahurangi National Park. All very beautiful of course and when we stopped to stretch our legs we saw our first wild kereru, New Zealand’s wood pigeon and one of Kristan’s top memories from last time. (Yeah yeah, you’d think she’d remember things other than birds.) After a night’s rest we went for a few walks around Punakaiki, hearing the birds in the bush near the beach, exploring caves with headlamps we remembered to bring from the car and watching the surf surge spray explosively up around the Pancake Rocks. We even managed to have yet another flat white.
Driving south we passed through Greymouth, where we had lunch and a tasting flight at Monteith’s original brewery and happened to meet their head brewer Tony. Their Black Ale is both our favorite and Tony’s, so clearly we have a discerning palate. (So order the Black but don’t get the whitebait for lunch.) Hokitika Gorge was our next stop – it was 35 klicks out of the way, one way, but we had an incredible walk through the bush and over a river fed by glacial flour so that it was the perfect blue, blue, blue.
When we finally tore ourselves away we stopped on the outskirts of the township of Franz Josef Glacier to spend the night, because it was close to both Okarito and Fox Glacier. (You’ll hear more about Fox soon, promise.) In Okarito we went on a very special adventure, a nighttime kiwi walk. Okarito is a tiny town of 30-40 people surrounded by the bush of the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has about 400 rowi, also known as the Okarito Brown Kiwi, which are a subspecies of the Brown Kiwi (that’s what Sartor is!). Our walk was led by a fellow named Ian who works with DOC and Operation Nest Egg and thus has the gear to pick up the radio transmitters of the local kiwi. Ian trained us on the art of quietly walking and patiently waiting in the dark and the cold and then from about 9:30-11:30pm we went searching for kiwi. We ended up getting glimpses of BZ and Beaumont, a mated pair, but what was really incredible was hearing them call and even sing to each other. What a love story!