Well it’s been fun week or so!
As the gallery Laura put up shows, we finally got to see Dolphins! We spent 4 nights (our longest stay anywhere) in Kaikoura, mostly because the weather was so beautiful and we had a great spot in the park for kicking back and relaxing. The town had lots of cafes and restaurants (all of which are shut on Monday, which we had selected for date night. Managed to get Fish and Chips at least). The main purpose for our visit was to go whale watching; the area is famous for it’s marine life, due to a steep continental shelf only 3 nautical miles out.
After about half an hour of searching (co-ordinated with the other whale watching boat and a helicopter) we finally found a Sperm whale. They can hold their breath for 2 hours and dive really deep, then they come to the surface to reoxygenate before heading back down. It was really amazing to see something so massive in real life, even though in reality we only got to see a small fraction on the surface.
We’d managed to find the whale so quickly that it meant we then had time to find a pod of dusky dolphins, which I think both of us enjoyed even more than the whale. They were showboating for us, diving in and out of the water together and just having good fun. We even got to see a couple of baby dolphins to top it all off.
We still had more time after this, so they then took us to a bird watching area where we got to see, amongst other things, an Albatross. They’re very rare, and pretty massive. Fortunately Laura kept hold of her sunglasses this time.
We were sad to say goodbye to Kaikoura but the call of wine was strong; we got to go back to Marlborough, but the east coast side. As the Sauvignon Blanc capital of NZ we were both very excited. Unlike the previous places we’d done our cycle-and-wine combo, there’s no dedicated cycle paths there which means that we were cycling on the roads. This was mitigated by the fact that most of the cellar doors are within close proximity, but it meant that we didn’t enjoy the cycling. We made up for it with more wine of course.
This was our record haul, with about 7 vineyards covered in the day including Cloudy Bay which is one of our favourite wines from when we were in HK. Although all the wine was very nice, there weren’t really any standout places. It was still a lovely day of cycling and wine though.
We moved our ferry up as we’d been progressing through the island quicker than expected, so the next day we chilled out in Picton before boarding the ferry up to the north island and driving onto Martinborough, yet another wine region. Famed for it’s pinot noirs I wasn’t expecting much as I’m not a big fan of the reds but by the end we both agree it’s the best wine area we’ve been too. The vineyards are close enough together that you can walk between them, and the quality of wine was consistently amazing. All the people running the cellar doors were really passionate and not just reading a script, and we had our best meat and cheese platter to date at a vineyard which sells exclusively on-site; unavailable at the shop and run by a husband and wife team. I can confirm that it was the best day of all by how hungover we both were in the evening!
We’ve got an action packed couple of days ahead filled with canoeing in Whanganui National Park and hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I’ll be ready to drink again by the end of it!
Having finally recovered from my encounter with ‘the bird,’ we moved onto Arthur’s Pass, which was fantastic. Such great driving and hiking (even though the weather was crappy.)
From here, we drove to Christchurch. We weren’t really sure what to expect, we’d heard differing opinions about the city but we really, really liked it. Such cool architecture, cafes, gardens and even though the reminders of the earthquakes are everywhere to see, it doesn’t feel run down or eerie. Instead, there’s a lot of building work going on showing how the city is getting back on its feet and regenerating. I found an awesome yoga studio to go to for a few days and so Sam worked on….well, I’m not entirely sure, but it was bound to some something tech related!
We then headed east through the Banks Peninsula, to a teeny town called Akaroa. Again, the weather wasn’t great and this kind of limited what we could do.However, the drive there was spectacular- stunning views everywhere we looked.
Yes, admittedly the weather is great in this particular shot but this was on the way out!
We then made our way over to Hanmer Springs, somewhere I’d heard lots of great things about. It’s basically a small village inland, with lots of hiking and biking tracks as well as there famous Hanmer Springs Thermal Spa (guess which part Sam was excited about?!) The weather finally played ball and it was beautiful the whole time we were there. We hiked, spent hours in the thermal spas and had an awesome date night- if you’re ever there, I’d recommend No. 31 bar and restaurant, worth the splurge. Annoyingly, our camera ran out of battery so we couldn’t take many photos.
This morning, we’ve scooted along to Kaikoura- a great little coastal town, where we’ll hopefully see whales and dolphins on Sunday (not particularly optimistic.) We plan to spend a few days here and then off to Blenheim for more wine!
We realised that we’ve been in NZ almost 10 weeks now- time has FLOWN! We’re feeling strangely attached to Vanatar and are kind of dreading giving him up because then it’ll be back to packing up our bags every couple of days and having to get buses and boats to places. Although these boats will be in Fiji so I guess I can’t complain. Life right now is pretty good for the Atkinsons!
The views just keep getting better and better. I don’t understand how. NZ has definitely wrecked all walks and scenery in the future for us because we’ve been spoilt so rotten.
After Dunedin we headed over to Mt Cook, the tallest peak in NZ at 3724m. Fortunately it’s not something you can walk up, but it has plenty of walks around it. We camped in a simple but beautiful DOC (read: cheap) campsite and used it as a base for 2 or 3 walks, the main one taking us to a lake with actual icebergs in it! Small icebergs, but they count.
As you can see from the photos, the views are incredible. The way the cloud rolled over the peaks and formed a roof over the mountains was something I’ve never seen before and created a really beautiful effect.
Desperately in need of a shower (they tend not to have them on DOC campsites) we then barrelled on to a town called Geraldine. As you can see on our travel map we’ve been covering big distances each day in the last week, which has cost a fortune in fuel but we’ve packed a fair amount of walks in. There’s not a huge amount else to do around this neck of the woods to be honest, as significant towns are few and far between.
We had intended to use Geraldine as a base to go and do a significant day walk at another mountain, Mt Somner, but once we’d gotten there we discovered our guide book had massively undersold the nature of the hike; the path was steep, poorly formed, and slippy. The weather was crap and we quickly gave up and decided to backtrack to peel forest to try some easier walks. Whilst these were perfectly nice, the weather was quickly turning and we were both a bit fed up. After a quick google I managed to find a nice boutique cinema a couple of hours away in the ski town of Methven, and it turned out to be the release day of Spectre in NZ! Highly recommend it, possibly the best Bond yet.
We’re only a day or two from Christchurch now. This morning we did a 4 hour walk at Rakaia Gorge, an incredible river with luminous blue waters that have cut out a huge chunk of the landscape. Whilst being an enjoying and challenging walk, it was slightly marred when, at the big view at the end of the walk, a large bird of some sorts (“The bird equivalent of the Indominus Rex”) swooped down and stole Laura’s sunglasses from the top of her head! Laura is fortunately unhurt, but understandably angry at the bird (Laura: “I hope it chokes on the plastic.”)
For tomorrow, we have decided first to come and explore Arthurs Pass, one of the 3 routes over the mountains from East to West on the south island. Surprise surprise; it has lots of walks, which we’ll embark on tomorrow. We’ve driven over to the West of the pass, and will head back East in the next day or two. Arthurs Pass has to be one of the best roads we’ve driven on the whole trip though, with huge mountain ranges on either side looming over as you drive, along with some fun 16% gradient roads thrown in to test Vanatar’s prowess.