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Saturday 14th October: Picton to Nelson - BILL WITHERS "Lean on Me"

We woke to the sound of the mobile phone alarm. A quick breakfast in the backpackers' kitchen later and we were out in Picton Town with an hour to spare before picking up the camper. This was where the mini gold we'd spied the night before came in. Our early morning round turned out to be a unique way to start the day in Picton. A fairly close game on a bizarre course was won by me, thanks in part to a hole in one on the 18th.

After the game, it was back into town for some provisions before receiving the camper. The supplier turned up bang on time at The Villa with a spartan camper; a converted Toyota Hiace. The man who delivered the vehicle was a rather elderly fellow whose face bore the signs of the outdoor life - Keith Richards-esque leathery skin, for example. He was helpful though, and before long we were driving out of Picton on Route One. It would be clichéd to say that our journey to Nelson was uneventful. It would also be wrong.

Firstly, about 5km out from Picton, a weathered yellow dog stood by the roadside watching the traffic. He wasn't happy with just watching the traffic though when we went by, hurtling out in from of the camper. An emergency stop and a yelp later and somehow we'd avoided hitting the beast, and so we drove on.

The last time we'd travelled this stretch of road, back in 2002, we started with just under half a tank of petrol, expecting every village to have an open set of petrol pumps. That time, it was after 9pm and all such petrol stations were shut. We ran out of petrol just after a village called Rai Valley. We managed to wheel back into the village, mostly due to it being downhill, wake up the local petrol station owner with the help of a drunk from the local pub, fill up, and continue on our way. There were no such problems this time, however, and after about an hour and a half of driving we were passing through the unchanged, very familiar village of Rai Valley with its pair of well used Mobil petrol pumps.

The next distraction en route was provided by a stage of the Silver Fern Rally. Seemingly, a stage of said rally was happening on the Picton-bound carriageway of the main road, in between the normal passing cars. Presumably the 'on road' part was not in the race, but just a link between two off-road sections. This didn't stop a succession of rally cars speeding past us at various intervals. At one point a 'viewing gallery' had assembled, with a congregation of the public in 4x4s and Space Cruisers sat expectantly, waiting for the rally to surge past.

Eventually, the stream of rally cars dried up and we started to skirt round the hills of the Bryant Range, up to the Whangamoa Saddle, just before the descent into Nelson. At this point, we were held up for 10 minutes or so whilst a load of landslide material blocking one lane of the road was piled onto the back of a lorry. Once this had been cleared, the final stretch of the journey to Nelson was uneventful. We ploughed on to the next town, Richmond, for a quick lunch stop prior to reaching our intended destination.

Stonehurst Farm is a riding centre. Neither Jenny nor I are particularly fond of horses, so to us this was as close to 'adventure sports' as we could get in Nelson.

Jenny's horse, Piper, of brown and white colour had a somewhat lackadaisical outlook on the whole rider/horse relationship. Piper seemed to take Jenny's commands to be more like suggestions and often seemed to prefer putting his head down to eat the grass rather than move. My horse, Volvo, was quite different. A huge bully of a horse, the second biggest in the Tasman region at 18 and a half hands in height (if that means anything to you). Presumably, he's named Volvo due to his ability to lug heavy weights around and hit things without any damage being incurred on himself.

Piper at the gates of dawn Jenny and her horse for the day, Piper, with some of Stonehurst Farm in the background
Andy's horse Volvo. A huge, but generally well behaved fellow. Ovlov! Matt! Where's me bleedin' Ovlov?

Our guide was a twenty-something woman called Chi. An Asian girl who'd lived in Nelson for 5 seasons and seemed to know the area well. Also on the trip were two other ladies, one from Kapiti was called Mary. She was about 30-ish and was on her first trip to Nelson (we're both from the London area and have been there twice!). The other girl was called Maja, who was studying in Nelson and was Swiss.

We soon set off on our horse trek in blazing hot sunshine. Starting off on a dirk track, we soon ventured off into shady eucalyptus forest. Jenny and Piper lagged behind and soon had to break into a trot to catch up. The trees soon thinned out into pasture and led down hill towards a river. We rode upstream for a while before veering up the riverbank and up a well-worn path. Eventually, after about an hour and a half, we reached Cherry Flat Hut, a remote outpost where we sat down for a picnic. I was able to show how much I know about horses by removing the whole bridle when asked to unclip the reins. Whoops.

Cherry Flat Hut was a sizeable rural building, made of wood and in need of a little TLC. In such a remote area, you would expect only to hear sounds such as birdsong or the horses eating the grass. However, someone at a nearby farmstead (well, within a couple of kilometres) was playing music so loud that it was audible to us at the hut.

The hut at Cherry Flat. The background shows how remote the area was. Funnily enough, when we arrived at the hut, a tabby cat was in residence - possibly a feral cat. Cherry Barb

Soon, the lunch break was over and we started back towards the farm. On the way, Jenny was soaked by Mary's horse having a stamping session in the river. We also happened to sky a group of goslings, and Chi showed us one of the horses which was used in the Lord of the Rings films (the very famous White Horse if you were wondering)

Now quite saddle-sore, we didn't stick around for long and headed straight back into Nelson City where we set up our campervan at the Nelson City Holiday Park. At this stage, we took a while to set up the bed in the campervan, helpfully constructed by using 3 large planks of wood, which were quite difficult to manoever in the cramped camper van. After this, we decided that we'd keep the bed set up for the whole time we had the van.

After a short walk to pick up provisions and then have a shower, we took what we expected to be a short walk to Wakefield Quay. 45 minutes and about 5km later, we reached the Quay having taken in most of Nelson's industrial estates and a police 'stop and breath test' station. We ate at the first place we came to, the Saltwater Cafe and Bar, where we had some tasty fish meals.

A relaxing cab ride back to the holiday park later and we were tucked up in bed.

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