During the second half of our stay in the Motueka area, we were in a little cottage at the Fraser Highlands. We knew if the actual experience at this place was at all like the pictures online this place was going to be fantastic. Turns out it was even better. The hill where the property was located was just a short drive through Motueka toward Marahau. You could not see the house from the end of the driveway where it met the main road but it was well marked with signs so there was no question that we’d arrived at the correct turn. Navigating Zed up yet another narrow winding gravel road the view kept getting better at every turn. Suddenly, the main house came into view.
A large castle like structure with a Scottish flag flying high over the peak of the roof stood prominently overlooking miles of landscape. The sound of bagpipes and a large dog with a bark to match greeted us as we approached the house. Jim, the one who’d been making music with the pipes was soon welcoming us warmly at the door.
The cottage we’d rented sat just up the hill from the main house with panoramic views of the ocean, tidal plain, river valleys and surrounding hills against the backdrop of distant mountains. WOW! To top it off the little cottage was so perfect with its own wood burner, wonderfully spacious shower and porch from which to take in the view. As we stepped up onto the porch you could see how the spiders had decorated it with their shimmering symmetrical woven art creating a kind of valance of nature such as not to interfere with the view of the landscape but to enhance it. I know, some of you are asking, “who is this? Is this the girl who is terrified of spiders?” Well, yes, if they’re threatening. These guys were peacefully coexisting with inhabitants of the cottage, plus they only came out to occupy their webs at night.
I graciously spent many hours inhaling sights and sounds from this porch, a privilege I enjoyed daily for two weeks. I’m not sure it would be possible to get tired of the scenery. A wide variety of birds enhanced the view. Wood pigeons came and feasted on the blooms of the lucerne tree just feet in front of me, while I listened to the distant call of quail or caught sight of hawks soaring gracefully over the valley.
Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of the adorable quails scurrying around with their plumage bobbing. I often spotted and heard Tui, bellbirds and fantails as well. As small as the cottage was, it wasn’t difficult to just hang around the place in our free time, which we did on a several days but there was still more we wanted to see in this area and the time to do them was dwindling rapidly. We didn’t venture too far, at least in the first two days. The gardens surrounding the property were so peaceful and quiet and we meandered through them more than once. I spent time in the kitchen replenishing our stock of granola and trying new recipes for snacks during the days Paul had to work longer hours. One day we took a walk from the cottage up the main road to an unoccupied logging road for a bit of exercise and of course, we enjoyed multiple hacky sack sessions. Warmer weather arrived during our first week on the hill along with more and more buds and blooms bursting out of the bare branches everywhere. Fruit stands of all sizes could be found along the roads all over the region. Jim suggested one just down the hill from the cottage so we drove in to check it out one day. What we enjoyed just as much as the flavorful fruit was that all of these, including the large three-sided structure that we visited, operated on the honor system.
Bags of fruit marked with prices lined the shelves and in the middle was a slot where you dropped your payment. Seeing this level of trust in the community was refreshing. During one night we experienced rather gusty winds and I woke to find the spider’s webs torn and for the next two days the biggest of the arachnids, just hung in the shredded web, but on the third day when I ventured out to the porch, there was a brilliantly repaired web even bigger than the previous one. Simply amazing!
One of the destinations that remained unseen was Harwood’s hole and I remained optimistic we would get to see it. On our second attempt fluorescent orange signs warning of logging trucks on the road met us. Paul reluctantly kept Zed moving forward, straining to see around each curve until, after about four miles we were cowering in the stare of a giant truck looming like a monster over the hood of our miniature Camry. A picture of this would certainly add an exclamation point to the story, but I have none as my nerves overtook any other thought process. To the left a steep rock face, to the right the edge of the road disappeared into a steep valley covered in bush. The only option was to shift into reverse, and carefully roll back the way we’d just come until we found a place to maneuver Zed over perilously close to the cliff edge. As we began moving in reverse the truck pressed on, bearing down as I stared wide-eyed into the teeth of its massive grill. It sure was a long half mile traveling this way. We sat holding our breath as the beast inched by Zed. From his lofty perch the truck driver tossed out a friendly wave. We waved back, no doubt unsuccessful at attempting to look relaxed. “That’s it. I’m done.” Paul firmly stated as he cranked the wheel and followed the load of logs down the hill. Another attempt at the elusive Harwoods hole thwarted. Of course, this only added to my craving to get there and see if it was really worth it. Still wanting to get some exercise we decided to revisit the Takaka hill walkway and managed to get to the top and enjoy the view of Golden Bay without encountering any live wires laying in our path.
Saturday, the weather was gray again but we ventured out to another recommended café, Toad Hall where we discovered a menu of delicious juice and smoothie choices. Oh, I imagined how refreshing any of these would taste on a warm summer’s day. Even on a cool rainy day, my “Berried Alive” smoothie was yummy.
Wharariki beach was another “must see” according to several people we’d talked to including our newest hosts. That adventure we knew would have to wait until the weekend because it was over the hill just a short drive from the Farewell spit. Come Sunday that is where we headed. The beach was well worth the hour and a half drive to get there. Sunshine had returned after a day of rain and clouds and our arrival at the beach coincided with low tide which made it possible for us to walk down on to the sand and through some amazing rock formations.
After strolling the length of the beach, we nestled into the grass on a sand dune and enjoyed apples and granola for lunch. To complete the track loop, it was only a short twenty minutes over the sand and through a strikingly green sheep paddock past some unbelievably adorable twin lambs and back to the car.
Harwoods hole, here we come. We found the now familiar turn off on our return from Golden Bay to find the bright orange signs warning of logging operations still in place. That was it. Paul was not willing to risk meeting another logging truck head on while winding up this one lane road for seven miles. My disappointment showed, but I understood. After all, I’m not even sure I could make it safely across the plentiful narrow bridges found on almost every road we traveled, if I were operating the vehicle from the right, navigating the left side of the road. We opted for a hot drink in the café at the Woolshed just off the main road before we got back in the car. As Paul started the engine, we saw two cars turn in and head toward the trailhead. “Follow them. Then you don’t have to be the first to meet oncoming traffic.” I urged him. He grinned, as he’d had the same thought. This time we followed the two other cars all the way to the carpark and we can confirm that the walk to Harwoods hole was worth it
We found a totally unexpected landscape covered in tall eerie trees in a forest with almost no undergrowth led us to the last section of trail that wound through a dry moss covered creek bed. All along the path there were unique rocks creatively arranged and piled like a toddlers tumbling blocks strewn on the floor. The gargantuan hole known as Harwoods hole was impressive and intimidating. Apparently those inclined for more adrenaline pumping adventure enjoy actually lowering themselves down this deep black hole (176 meters or 578 feet) which they say (they being the internet) ends at a cave where you can crawl, climb and walk through darkness for two hours to reach daylight on the side of the mountain. We enjoyed the view from the top.
The last week of our stay in Motueka, offered opportunities to visit a few remaining sights as well as more time to simply relish the opportunity to enjoy Fraser highlands. Many days, the skyscapes were as impressive as the landscapes and I couldn’t resist aiming the lens higher on a few occasions.
Internet research and locals alike recommended a visit to the Riwaka resurgence. Any place with a name like that had to be fabulous, I thought. This gem was tucked away at the end of a short drive along the river’s edge then a short walk to where the Riwaka river, emerges from a cave in the hillside. Like many of the places we’ve visited, we found that we had ample time to enjoy the attraction undisturbed by any other visitors. It was just us and the birds and the wonderfully soothing gurgling of a creek magically flowing from a hole in the hill. A gem indeed, one of my favorite places so far. I wished to be able to live right at that very spot. Dream on Deb.
From here, our destination was unclear but we knew it involved food. We dined across from the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach and decided today would be a great day to jump on the cruise into Abel Tasman National Park for a walk.
The National Park, of course, was one of the main reasons we chose to stay in this area. Now, three weeks has passed and we have yet to step foot in the park. Today was the day. Booked on a 12:30 cruise, we had a few minutes to wander the beach before departure. The ride was smooth, and the scenery amazing with favorable weather for boating, walking or really any activity. The boat dropped us off at Anchorage bay where we had a few hours to wander as we pleased. One of the recommended walks was out to Pitt head lighthouse and around the little peninsula to Te Pukatea bay. We partly walked, partly jogged the entire trail and paused briefly on the quiet calm beach in Te Pukatea bay before returning to Anchorage beach for a lengthy session of hacky sack and a stroll in the glittery sand. The boat came back as scheduled to carry us back to our car. With that, another day in paradise disappeared into the sea.
The next day, the track at the entrance of the Abel Tasman coastal walkway beckoned us. I anxiously wandered about, up and down, in and out of the cottage waiting for Paul to wrap up his work responsibilities. Finally, we set out, destination Stillwell bay. Cars lined both sides of the road as we pulled up to the carpark. “Wow”, I thought. “must be opening day for tourist season. I was expecting a more gradual transition.”
The timing of a campervan vacating was perfect for us to grab a spot in the carpark. Looking around at all the people it became more obvious that we were about to walk into the middle of some big event not just a busy day at the park. The cars didn’t all belong to tourists. As we stepped up into the kiosk with the map of the trail, people of all ages, athletically built and many with numbered bibs pinned to their chest were milling about. So, that’s what it is, a race. We both figured the trail was probably closed. Not willing to leave because visiting the park was the main reason we’d come to Motueka. I wandered through the crowd of athletes and spectators cheering on a broken stream of runners still flowing in over the trail. I approached a man in the cluster of orange reflective vests at what appeared to be the finish line, assuming he was someone who would know about the race. When I told him we’d just come out for a walk and didn’t know any of this was going on, he laughed, “Oh, no. It’s not closed. You’re welcome to walk, as long as you don’t mind sweaty runners coming at you.” I certainly didn’t mind, I just found myself regretting not doing more thorough research so we could have actually participated. We later discovered it was a 36K (22.5 miles) trail run from Awaroa to Marahau (not sure it would have been within our scope of fitness even if we’d have been able to sign up) We walked on up the trail, greeting each runner as they passed. Almost two hours later we stepped onto gorgeous Stillwell bay.
Blonde sand and clear water shimmering in the sun spread out before us and one other couple. The water turned from turquoise to deep shades of blue as we stretched our eyes out to the horizon. What better place to practice kicking the hacky sack around.
By the time we walked back all the runners had completed the course and we found Zed sitting alone in the parking lot.
Our last day found us at the Jester House café for one last visit before spending the majority of the day packing up our things to move on. As we were packing the sound of bagpipes once again filled the air. We once again were benefactors of Jim’s practice session. Listen here (Bagpipes).