Nelson and the Richmond Forest Park

 Nelson (yes, named after that Nelson, however little he had to do with this part of the world) is a pleasant coastal town with hills stretching up behind it. Many streets are named after his ships and victories... My backpackers hostel was on in the town centre, on Trafalgar Square! After a shuttle bus service to Saint Arnaud, 90km away inland, I set off walking back towards Nelson, through the Richmond Forest Park. The relatively modest mountains (topping out at around 1700m) are largely covered with forest, from the river valleys up, with just the highest peaks and ridges jutting up above the treeline. In this respect it reminded me of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. There's a well-maintained network of back-country huts, which at 5 NZD per night are really quite a bargain. They're not dissimilar from Scottish bothies, but they come equipped with mattresses, wood stoves, and normally a good stock of firewood. Where they're not near streams, they have rain-water collection tanks to supply water. Linking them up are well-sign-posted paths - though how easy these are depend on how recently they've been worked on: the forest does its best to grow over them. In the first three days I saw only one person. After that there were a few more: trampers, hunters and one guy from the Department of Conservation repairing a hut window.

The weather treated me well for four days, but less so for the final two - a windy and misty day up on some of the nicest ridge paths was a bit of a shame, although didn't spoil all the views, but the drizzley final day made for a damp descent down to Nelson's neighbour Richmond.

I loved the birdsong - which sounded quite different to that in Europe, often almost tropical - and some interesting species of plant which were unfamiliar. Not much in the way of animal life, except for a few goats and deer. Flightless "weka" birds made an appearance on a few occasions... seeming surprisingly unafraid of my presence.