Cable Bay Day, Nelson

We got in the rental car and drove.  I’d never been to the Southern Hemisphere before, and after the crowded horizons of Brooklyn, New York, with buildings bigger than mountains, I couldn’t get over the site of mountains, actual mountains, and stretching past them, the Pacific ocean. 

“Oh,” said my kiwi boyfriend, “that’s actually just Cook Strait.”

Never mind.  We were in Nelson, city by the sea.  “Well, you’ve made it,” the boyfriend said.  “Which way would you like to go now?”

Months earlier, he had sworn to me that the beauty of Nelson was that you could drive for eight minutes in any direction, and arrive somewhere you wanted to be.  He had hired an Omega rental for my visit to the South Island – a trusty little Mazda, which he’d parked in the very first car park of the Nelson airport, ready to squire me anywhere.  I wriggled in the smell of the plane, still sticky on my body.  In my mind’s eye, an infomercial-bright showerhead glistened.  “I gotta wash,” I said.  “How about East?”

My boyfriend smiled.  “I know a place.” 

The little car looped the roundabouts between Tahunanui, the port, and the town.  “So many,” I said, “they’re like clusters of mushrooms!” 

“Better than traffic lights!” the boyfriend protested.  “Traffic lights are so dangerous – you stop thinking.  New Zealanders are good at thinking for themselves.  Hey, don’t hit me, I’m your driver!”

I rolled down my window, as the road widened into the Wakatu highway.  Long and empty, the highway coiled alongside an estuary, at the edge of Port Nelson.  The water was coming in, and was blindingly silvered by the afternoon sun.  The sun itself was just a little bright incident within the vastness of the high blue sky.

“Are there even clouds in New Zealand?” I asked.

“Duh, it’s Aotearoa, afterall – land of the long white cloud,” he laughed.

“Oh yeah.  Wait, I see some.  Just little and fluffy over on the other side of the water, see?”

He looked across quickly.  “Oh yeah, little rabbits almost.  I think that’s Mapua way.  We could go there tomorrow if you like.  Oh and see the trees we’re passing with the red flowers?  They’re Pohutakawa trees, they always flower around Christmas.  Very important to a kiwi childhood.  Look how nice and low their branches are for climbing.  Ideal.”

“Ideal,” I repeated after him, “ideal.”

The little Mazda swooped right, away from the water, and over Gentle Saddle, a long, steep saddle.  Now a river was on our right.  We drove slowly, round tiny bends, watching the sheep grazing on the gold-flecked summer grass. 

“I never realized they were so big!” I exclaimed.  “Look how long their ears are!”

“Ah, well, sit back and relax,” said the boyfriend, watching the road ahead.  “You’ve got a few more of those coming your way.”  I followed his gaze – the bend in front of us was suddenly blocked off by a thicket of sheep, marching, in their knock-knee-ed way, towards us, as one. 

“What are they doing?”  I whispered.  “It’s an avalanche!”

“Shh, just watch.”

The sheep rounded the bend, and swarmed around us, staring at the mazda with wild dark eyes.

“It’s like they’ve never seen a rental before,” I whispered.

Then, miraculously, the herd passed.  And bringing up the rear was the proudest little border collie you ever saw, his tail waiving, with absolute command over his sheepish kingdom.  The farmer, a few strides behind the parade, nodded, and the boyfriend started up the car.

“You know what?” the boyfriend said, still whispering.  “You smell stronger than a sheep after that plane ride.  I’m going to have to through you the biggest bath around.  Hey!  Watch the steering wheel lady!”

We rounded another bend, and there below us was the bay, winking.  The heavy blue of the sea shimmered and skirted a perfect half moon beach, with perfect pale boulders instead of sand.

He smiled.  “This is Cable Bay, my lady.  Are you ready for your swim?”

Just a little stretch of dirt road to go. 

“Am I ready for a swim? I replied, turning to him.  “You better baa-lieve it, lamb boy.”

This wonderful story and its accompanying photos was provided to us by E R Graham, and is a a fabulous account of a first timer's visit to the Southern Hemisphere and a wee insight to driving in New Zealand!

Cable bay hills