South Island Nostalgia

January 10, 2017

We arrived in Picton on the ferry – even before we arrived, actually – we were entirely struck with how similar everything felt to home. To look out on Picton was like arriving in Snug Cove on Bowen Island. To look back out on Cook Strait from the comfort of our hotel room was like being transported back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver – somewhere we boarded a ferry home from the mainland countless times. The sailboats, the ferries, the fish and chip shops. It was uncanny.

The view of Picton Harbour from the Interislander Ferry to the South Island

If you’ve ever been to Horseshoe Bay in British Columbia, you know what I’m talking about.

We weren’t sure how tough the ferry ride was going to be, so we had booked in a hotel in Picton so that we could organize the upcoming days of our South Island tour from the comfort of a dry room. The next day the weather on the road towards Nelson looked favourable, so we set out on Queen Charlotte Drive that heads up and around the north coast. The sights from up high, like the views from the ferry before them, were unbelievably like the Southern Gulf Islands that are scattered on Canada’s Pacific Coast near Vancouver Island.


Children viewing Picton Harbour from the deck of the Interislander Ferry

If you’ve ever lived on Bowen Island in British Columbia, you know what this kid is thinking.

We had initially planned on stopping in Havelock, but the amenities were limited with the summer season rush of campers, travellers and vacationing Kiwis. After some ice cream and a quick look at the map, it looked like the flat ride to Pelorus Bridge was going to be camping spot for the night, especially after we learned of the swimming in the river that runs through the campground. Yeah. A River Runs Through It. It runs powerfully through but is extremely refreshing. Cold though it was, there was a hot shower on the other side, so we simply had to jump in.

Bronwyn about to jump into the Pelorus River

Now doesn’t that look tempting?

The campground also boasts one of the best campsite showers I’ve ever had. Parks Canada: take note!

In the morning we stopped at the campground office cafe (yes, a campground office that doubles as a cafe!) and ended up meeting a lovely young couple from The Netherlands who were also cycle touring through New Zealand. Léon and Tessa, currently travelling on their gap year after high school, WWOOFing when they can and generally living a life congruent to ours. It should go without saying that we clicked right away.

While they had set out from Pelorus Bridge Campground about half an hour before us, Léon and Tessa were a bit put off by the trucks racing their way to Nelson along Highway 6 and tried to get booked into an Intercity Bus pickup from the campground. When they discovered that it was completely full, we offered to cycle with them in order to double our convoy (and visibility) size to capitalize on the safety-in-numbers approach to touring. They agreed and we hit it off.

Bronwyn, Léon and Tessa on the road into Nelson

Three fourths of the safety-in-numbers convoy.

There were two big climbs before we would arrive at the seaside flats along the Nelson Cycle Trail.

Along with some friendly snack breaks (and a stop to do a little communal bicycle maintenance), we eventually decided that we’d all book in at the same campground in Nelson. It was a lovely connection to make. We chatted some more over dinner in the modest campground kitchen area and said our goodbyes the next day when they set out towards Kaiteriteri without us.

Léon, Christian, Bronwyn and Tessa at Nelson Top 10 Holiday Park in Nelson, New Zealand

Léon, Christian, Bronwyn and Tessa. The team that conquers mountains.

We had initially expected to follow right behind them, but the poor weather gave us an excuse to stay a second night in Nelson and check out the town. When the weather got really bad, we opted for an evening at the cinema to see the new Star Wars film and enjoyed a quiet night in a warm motel room on the other side of town. We would later get a message from Tessa to explain that they wouldn’t be seeing us in Kaiteriteri that night because they had also opted out of the rainy day cycle. We had a feeling we’d be seeing them again soon…

Bronwyn and some bikes inside a hotel room.

Abort the mission: we couldn’t leave Nelson in the pouring rain, so we got a hotel room. On to the cinema!

Author: Christian

Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of

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