South Island episode 1

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Back by popular demand – the weekly(ish) blog

Just over a week now in South Island where the roads are much quieter and there are a few acknowledgements when I indicate or pull over to let the locals pass so I am in a better mood about that.

The ferry crossing was very smooth and as we entered into the Marlborough Sounds the sun was shining and I immediately had a good feeling or maybe it was the anticipation of all that wine tasting I planned!

I didn't drive beyond Picton, the ferry port, as I wanted for once to arrive at a campsite early in the afternoon. One of the main activities here is the walking of the Queen Charlotte Track which takes about 3 days – I am sure it would be a worthwhile activity but my reason for stopping in this part of the world was to partake of a few dry crisp Sauv Blancs so walking for 3 days was not part of my plan. Booked the wine tour, having to settle for the half day option as I was the only one interested in the full day, and settled in for a pint at 'The Flying Haggis’. I couldn’t resist particularly when they were advertising Belhaven on draught – false advertising as it turned out, but the barmaid was from Falkirk so I was able to chat without having to speak slowly.

I spent the whole of the next morning on some of the walking tracks around Picton, perhaps to justify spending the afternoon on a wine tour? There were only 7 of us on the bus which it made it easy to chat. One of the couples was from Oz and had won a whole wine tasting trip to NZ and had just come from touring the Hawkes Bay wine region – lucky them. We visited 4 wine makers – Hunters, Cloudy Bay, Forrest and Drylands –all different in style and what surprised me was the range of wines produced – not just Sauv Blanc – I will need to approach Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer with a more open attitude. The Forrest winery had too much choice and the young English chap leading the tasting spent ages talking about them, he was interesting to begin with but went on and on and on……….I wanted to shout just pour the b****y wine.

For anyone interested in a wine tasting holiday I would recommend staying in Blenheim or Renwick and hiring a bike to get round all the wineries – they are all very close and the roads are flat. I did try another winery next day on the advice of the bus driver and it was the best – Mahi – look out for their Twin Valleys Chardonnay 2007, sold in UK by Novum Wines and unbelievably I think it is cheaper in UK than in NZ.

Having opted out of the Queen Charlotte Track, I took the Queen Charlotte Drive from Picton to Havelock and for once I was on the inside for one of these cliff hugging scenic drives so I did manage to enjoy the scenery. Havelock markets itself as the green lipped mussel capital of the world- I am not an expert but is it maybe the only place you get green lipped mussels? Not sure and what is the colour of every other mussel’s lips? Lunched at Havelock on what else – mussels and then headed further north. I had hoped to be able to take a trip to Farewell Spit which is a huge area of sand dunes but as the tours are tide dependent, the next one wasn’t for another 3 days, so decided to go for the water taxi from my next base Kaiteriteri and walk part of the Abel Tasman park coastal path instead. Weather ended up being very cold and wet but my intrepid companions, 2 Spaniards, 2 French a Japanese woman and an Irish woman managed to find a comfy sofa in a camp shelter ( see photo) while we waited for the return taxi. With hindsight I could probably have waited the three days as driving on South Island is much easier in most places and I could cover larger distances

Bit of backtracking next day as I headed back to the east coast to head for Kaikoura which is the main whale watching centre on South Island. The scenery was impressive with huge stretches of beach – with black sand – I assume volcanic? Found the campsite really easily and it was perfectly positioned for the whale watching tours which were just around the corner. These are very popular and for the first time in NZ, I came across something that was fully booked. However there was space on the afternoon tour, which turned out the better option as the weather was clearer and the seasickness warning had been downgraded to mild. The whale watch was excellent, I saw 4 sperm whales and got some really good photos of them diving and flicking their tails – they are not pretty but it is really something to see these huge creatures up quite close. At the beginning of the trip we also came across a pod of dolphins – there must have been hundreds of them because apparently for each one on the surface there are another 4 or   under the water. I took short video clips of them and have tried to include these with the photos – hope you can see them OK.

On Saturday morning the weather was dismal for my journey towards the west coast. But first off I took a wee detour through the town of Kaikoura to the resident seal colony. Most of them were further offshore but there were a few nearer, including one which came right into the car park and parked in the space next to me – it was hilarious. He was not for budging and I had to wait before he eventually moved before I could. The weather didn’t improve so to get away from driving in the rain I stopped at another winery for a wee tasting – it was called The Mud House. I confined myself to their Sauv Blancs and was not disappointed. They are hosting a brilliant concert in December – the B52s and The Proclaimers – that should be a blast!

From the winery I headed inland towards Arthurs Pass which traverses (goodness that’s a word from my Higher Geography classes) the mountains running down the spine of South Island. The drive started out with scenery which was very reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands with scrubby brown colored hills but then opened out into huge wide flat bottomed alpine valleys. The road had been OK but after Arthurs Pass village there was a truly horrible section at the Otira Gorge, the road seemed to drop almost vertically, the rain was relentless but still someone wanted to overtake me – on you go pal I thought as he hurled towards the scenic lookout named Death’s Corner ( says it all) – I have to say I gave that one a miss and concentrated on my descent, with no detours.

 It had been a very long drive so stopped at the quaintly named Jackson’s Retreat – he must have long since retreated as there was not much evidence of any other campers. However the office was open and I had my pick of spots – the facilities were a bit over the top in niceness when you just really need somewhere clean and tidy. However variety is indeed the spice of life and at my next stop I was also one of a kind in that I was the only tourist – all the others looked ( and dressed) like permanent trailer park residents ( sound of banjos in distance) – but it was cheap , the showers were hot and it was handy for cycling into town. This was Hokitika, which I wanted to stop at as it is famous for greenstone carving and I was determined to buy myself something. Mission accomplished at the Artists Co-op Gallery on Monday morning after a very pleasant stroll around town and a relaxing read at the paper with a flat white. I know who carved my pendant and where he gets his stone so that’s more personal than the other options in the larger outlets.

I have to say the west coast scenery is beautiful and I particularly enjoyed my trip to see the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki – they are unique and I was glad to have taken the minor detour and put up with the hairpin bends to get there

Well folks that’s me for now just over a week in South Island, the weather is glorious and my fettle is good – next stop Franz Josef Glacier

PS: also by popular demand a photo of the cardie!
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maddogbert on

This brings back fond memories
I must have missed the first blog about NZ and was wondering what had happened to you - was wondering if we needed to send out a search party. Pictures of NZ brought back fond memories - my whale watching trip was cancelled so you were so lucky. Not sure how you are ever going to settle down again. Me, I have been planning my trip to Cambodia but back to work on Monday.

nettle on

Boring blighty
Loving your blog. JW commends you on your writing style - maybe a new career? I can just see you as the next Michael Palin or Alan Whicker - bout time the girls got to have some fun. Sooooo jealous - life here is depressing - spent 2hrs on the phone last night trying to resolve broadband issues and get Sky+ working. Failed on the first, engineer booked for the second - fingers crossed!

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