Four hundred and twenty kilometres later I arrived in another of the country’s main towns – Nelson. Situated almost bang in the middle of the South Island’s north coast in the centre of the wide Tasman Bay, Nelson boasts the most sun in the country and long, yellow beaches. The weather was fine, my curiosity whet and my legs stiff from the journey.
“I fancy a walk,” I told the desk clerk at the small backpackers I checked into that evening, “Any suggestions?”
Early next morning I stowed most of my things in the hostel’s storeroom taking only the bare essentials in my tiny daypack, my sleeping bag slung on string from the bottom. My destination was Abel Tasman National Park on the western tip of Tasman Bay where I planned to complete a three-day hike beginning at a place call Totaranui, a three-and-a-half hour bus-ride away. We inexplicably changed bus three times on the way, our driver changing with us on each occasion, and stopped for a good half hour for ‘morning tea’ at a delightfully homely place with a spectacular view of forested hills still clinging to the remnants of morning mist. Thus refreshed we arrived at our destination in a leisurely fashion but not a minute late and I eagerly headed for the information kiosk where I had been assured I could obtain a map. The shutters were down, the door padlocked.
“Ah well,” I shrugged at a similarly disadvantaged couple as I secured my pack, “Best foot forward!” And I set out to see what I would see.
It didn’t take me long to get well and truly lost. The path was easy enough to follow, but my imagination, I was sure, had run far, far away. I appeared to be on the set of ‘Jurassic Park’. Thick, lush jungle plunged up and down either side of the track with more plants than I could take in. Some of the trees I recognised, but there were so many different species of fern, some growing exuberantly across the forest floor, others with thick, honeycomb- patterned trunks and broad, feathered leaves spreading high above my head. Green was everywhere in all shades and I was sure I’d never seen such natural opulence or felt such life surging from the earth. The forest was so thick that had there been no path, I would have needed a machete to hack my way through. After the almost Englishness of Christchurch I was quite unprepared for this, surprised and delighted beyond measure. If a Brontosaurus had popped its head through the branches to munch the curling leaves of one of the towering tree ferns, I wouldn’t have flinched. The last thing I’d expected was to find myself foraying into a tropical dreamland and the smile on my face grew at every turn. Little fantail birds fluttered around my head, snacking on bugs disturbed by my passage. I fancied they were keeping me company and tried to mimic their twittering, hoping they might come even closer, perhaps even perch on my hand or head. The sounds of warbling, ringing and complex trills punctuated the quiet – native birds the like of which I had never heard before. Once in a while I stood absolutely still to listen, losing myself in the sounds of nature; wind in the trees, chirruping of unseen crickets, birds singing and the crackle and rustle as they moved between the branches. The air was full of the cycle of life, scent of trees growing and dying, the mulch of leaves red-brown under foot. My self was lost among it, all remnants of fatigue spirited away.