New Zealand,  Oceania,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Hokitika, Punakaiki, Abel Tasman and Picton (New Zealand): What to do when it rains?

It was a difficult night, with a siren calling the city fire department, sounding several times. The alarm clock has another surprise in store for us: torrential rain is falling on central New Zealand for several days. All the other vans seem to have the same problem as us, so that instead of leaving at 10 am (the standard time of the check-out), everyone leaves around 10h30 at the earliest

The road we took the day before (between Haast and Fox Glacier) is closed due to earth flows until further notice. We can at least console ourselves by saying that at least, we will not be blocked and will be able to continue our way towards Abel Tasman (one of the sunniest zones of the country)

It’s a very long road so we plan to make some quick stops first in Hokitika, Punakaiki and sleep somewhere on the way to Abel Tasman

Part 1: Travel Diaries


Hokitika is one of the most important stops, especially for travelers coming from the North Island. It is the last stop where gas and food are at a reasonable price before reaching Fox Glacier. For campers traveling the other way (north) like us, it’s just a nice stop, for those who have time (or are hungry)

What we visited
(1) On the beach of Hokitika, there are several funny woodcarvings including one forming the name of the city: Hokitika. One wonders how he still manages to stand upright despite the wind and rain like today
(2) We go to New World to fill up our fridge before going to Glowworm Dell. Unfortunately, in the middle of the day, we can’t see thousands of glowworms hiding at the end of the driveway
(3) Fortunately, the excellent Fat Pipi Pizza Pizza offers delicious pizzas for about ten dollars per person



What we would have done if the weather was nice
(1) Hokitika is also known for its “Hokitika Gorge Walk”, giving a more than nice view of the blue Hokitika River. Unfortunately, we will not go there today because of the rain


We make a stop in Punakaiki to see its famous “pancake rocks”, the unavoidable attraction of the region. At high tide, the waves rush into the caves to gush out via blow holes. We are there at the moment when the tide starts to rise, some shy waves spout out via ONE blow hole, it’s less impressive than the pictures of the guides, but the 30mn visit remains nice, despite the rain. Especially since there are less tourists than usual



It is still early, we continue our way to Abel Tasman and we stop only when we are tired, that is to say in Murchison. The Riverside Holiday Park Murchison Ltd is a good compromise: not too far from the road, well equipped, for only 25$NZ for two. There’s a reason for that: it’s right next to a cemetery. Well, at the time, it did not bother us, but at nightfall, I was not very reassured. The owner is particularly interested in my ethnic background and the number of languages I speak. She’s the only Maori landlady we’ve come across so far. She asked us if we didn’t want her to open another kitchen just for us, since the French love to cook in general. We will spend the whole evening to follow the results of the American elections. So we will learn about the election of Donald Trump next to a cemetery, hopefully it will not be a bad omen

Abel Tasman

Here we are in Kaiteriteri, one of the gateways to the Abel Tasman National Park trek. JB is slammed after hours of winding roads with tight curves, always under a torrential rain. Under the rain, the beaches of Abel Tasman lose all their charm, despite the characteristic orange color that makes the reputation of the beaches here. To enjoy Abel Tasman, everyone advises us to pay for a kayak rental for the day or to be dropped off by a water cab on a beach. We didn’t plan to do that (too expensive) so we just do some view points and mini-visits, to see what the area looks like

What we visited

(1) Split Apple Rock: A huge rock that looks like an apple cut in half. Accessible by car + 20mn walk in the forest. The path is tarred but the curves scare me a bit (I’m driving this time), fortunately there is nobody on the road, I can drive at 20km/h without stress. We arrive on a deserted beach that invites to swimming, the sand half orange half black is very fine, at low tide, we can walk to a second beach on the right. We will just explore the caves on the left side of the beach and look at the small mussels hanging on the rocks


(2) Riwaka Resurgence: we come here to see a natural swimming pool at the bottom of a small waterfall, where the water is super transparent (and blue when the weather is nice). We can swim there and go up to the spring. But we will just have to watch



What we would have done if the weather was nice
(1) Golden Bay
(2) Anapai Beach: one of the most beautiful beaches of Abel Tasman, 1h30 round trip from the parking lot
(3) Pupu Springs: it is like Riwaka Resurgence but much larger, the water is purer and more sacred: you can’t drink or swim in it

Richmond Motel and Holiday Park

We spend the night at Richmond Motel and Holiday Park, near Nelson, a very nice campsite with two adorable dogs. We buy on the internet the tickets for the ferry two days later

The next day, still under the rain, we visit the beach of Tahunanui, Cable Bay, Elaine Bay (failed attempt due to fog), Pelorus Bridge (uglier than on the pictures), Havelock and its mussels coming from the farm on the side (we recommend The Mussel Pot Restaurant and Cafe). To finish at the Waikawa Bay Holiday Park and Park Motel while waiting for the ferry the next morning

We stumble upon a strawberry grower who sells apples via honesty box (the price is displayed and money is left)

Cable Bay (there is a campground next door)

Giant New Zealand green mussels (yum): the menu explains mussel farming very well. Normal, there is a mussel farm 10m from the restaurant.


Part 2: Practical Tips

In the rain, the trip we made in this article is the most boring of the South Island. But under the sun, I’m sure it will be much more interesting. Seeing the weather so capricious, we are glad not to have booked activities in advance. If you are visiting New Zealand, book if you are in high season. If like us, you come in spring, don’t make this mistake, we saw two girls “obliged” to go kayaking under the rain in Milford Sound (because they already paid 199$NZ/person!)

For Abel Tasman, the typical route is to do the 3-day trek (taking his tents with him), or, for the one-day visits: water cabs or kayaks. If you like it, the tourist office (i-center) in Motueka is unbeatable for the organization of your visit to Abel Tasman by managing with a master hand the reservation of kayaks, water cab, camping… in 10 minutes

I don’t know about summer, but in spring, the ferry fares, whether booked 2 days in advance or 1 week in advance, are the same. We chose to book at the last minute. We did the right thing because we had to leave initially on Monday. Because of the bad weather, we chose to leave on Saturday. A great chance for us because the earthquake on Sunday at midnight blocked any ferry connection between the two islands. We could have been blocked on the South Island during 3 days…

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