Alpine Pacific Drive to Kaikoura

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Our route is along another of the Great Kiwi Drives, the Alpine Pacific Highway, which we start from Hamner Springs with the intention of finishing the loop at Kaikoura, a small coastal town. The countryside is quite flat and the towns not too inspiring. The Coastal part of the drive is lovely and we stop at some rock formations called The Cathedrals at Gore Bay, along the way. The route finally takes us over the Cheviot hills and along the coast into our destination of Kaikoura, which in Maori translates as "eat crayfish" which, unsurprisingly, are abundant in this part of NZ.

We arrive in the late afternoon at the tail end of a storm and the wind is blowing in off the Pacific and as we drive along the beach road we have a mixture black clouds, blue sky, bright sunshine and the sea seems to be steaming giving an other-worldly air to the place. It is just one of those places that we immediately take a liking to and decide to hole up here for a few days.

We stop at Alpine Pacific Campsite and immediately bump into some friends, Paul and Tina from Hawaii whom we have been bumping into all around New Zealand - it really is a very small world. Paul is having a few problems copying his photographs to a CD so we try, and eventually succeed, copying them on to our laptop. I have stolen one of Paul's videos of some penguins for this section of the blog as we haven't yet been able to see them -Thanks Paul!

This Alpine Pacific site is one of the best we have stayed at. It is close to town and the whale watching centre and, to Carolyn's delight, has a trampoline, which she promptly disapears to play on for ages while I go and have a soak in the outdoor spa pool which is O.K. once you are in, bearing in mind it is winter here at the moment and the temperature is hovering around zero!

Kaikoura is set on a peninsula and the next day we set off on a walk around the whole peninsula which takes us most of the day. Kaikoura is a seaside town and a little bereft of visitors at this time of year, but is no less attractive for that. Our walk takes us back through the town and along the seafront past some really nice seafood restaurants on the way to a seal colony. Just before we get to the colony we are walking along the beach and I see a seal fast asleep on the rocks. I decide to approach to get a closer shot of the seal when suddenly the seal barks loudly and bares his (not inconsiderably sized) fangs at me. I, much to Carolyn's amusement, nearly jump out of my skin. It is then that she points out to me the signs along the beach warning people not to approach too close as the seals have been known to attack and can deliver a nasty bite which often gets badly infected (and they look so sweet!!).

We carry on around the bay,now realising that the map we have been given is not to scale and that we have started out on a walk much longer than we had intended. We stop at a seafood shack on the beach for some lunch and have two cups of chowder, some BBQ scallops and some crayfish fritters.. All are freshly caught and cooked that morning and are all absolutely delicious!

We finally, reach the colony and see hundreds of seals of all shapes and sizes sleeping on the rocks, on the beach and even in the car park.  We witness a couple of fights between, presumably male seals. Fortunately, none of them decide to have a go at me this time!

To continue our walk around the peninsula, we head off up a steep path to the top of the cliffs and walk along the cliff top for a couple of miles. The wind is now really blowing, fortunately it is blowing in off the ocean as the path is right on the cliff edge! Eventually, the path decends and we find ourselves on the other side of the peninsula where it is much more sheltered and where the boatyards are and the boats are launched for the whale and dolphin watching. We get lost and have to backtrack but eventually find the path back over the hills into Kaikoura town.

On the way back to the site we call into one of the shops selling boat trips to swim with the dolphins or to watch the albatrosses (some have wingspans of over 3 metres!) but no tours are running because of the weather. We have now been walking for over 6 hours so we head on back to the site and a soak in the Jacuzzi.

The next day we set off with the intention of catching a whale watching trip. It is possible to see humpback, blue and sperm whales hear year round and the sighting rate is 90% on any of the trips run here. Unfortunately, the weather is too bad today so none of teh whale watching trips are going out today. Instead we drive over to Kaikoura Winery to have a look around and taste a few wines. The wines are great and we buy a bottle or two and find out from the woman helping us taste the wine that this small vineyard was set up as a bit of a hobby/investment by some winemakers from the main Marlborough wine producing region. Nice hobby to have if you can afford it I guess!

The following morning we make one more attempt at a whale watching trip but again, no trips are running so we head off out of Kaikoura for a walk along a small creek to a waterfall we have heard about which is a playground for baby seals. Driving along the coast road we see a sigh adverising some land for sale and, as we like the area so much, we decide to take a closer look. We make a few calls and eventually, we meet up with a Dutch woman who, with her husband, has bought one of the plots to build a house on. This place is a novel way of owning some land in the country. You can actually buy your own building plot but you also get to own a share of the surrounding sheep farm (600 sheep) and the income from the farm is shared between the people owning the building plots.    Anyway, the Dutch lady organises a quad bike for us and off we go up and around the hillside on a guded quadbike tour of the various plots on offer. Most of the plots are on top of rolling hills and provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean to the east and the snow-capped mountains to the west. This place is incredible and it is easy to visualise the most amazing houses being built here. We fall in love with the place and seriously think about pursuing things further. In the meantime we are having great fun zooming up and down the mountains on the quad-bike and add it to the list of transport variants we would like if we move here (alongside a 4WD, a campervan, my Bonneville and a boat. The location is pretty close to perfect in that it is close to Kaikoura, a local town with lots of amenities, 1 hour from Christchurch, a big city and airport. Even better the location means it would be entirely possible to go skiing in the morning and surfing on a world famous surf beach right in front of the property in the afternoon (somewhat academic as we neither of us can ski or surf!!

Having enjoyed our brief dalliance with the world of real estate we get back on the road and seek out the baby seals. The seals are indeed, as cute as we were told. Unfortunately, a back-packers bus made it there just before us so it was a little crowded (a rare occurrence on this trip). The seals however seemed to be having a really good time playing under the water fall and making a great deal of noise. Strangely, there didn't seem to be any adult seals around.
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