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Day 28 – Omarama to Geraldine

Our aim for today was to travel to Mount Cook Village in anticipation that we would be able to view Mount Cook NZ’s highest mountain. After a fair amount of rainfall last evening God was incredibly gracious as the weather was good with lot’s of blue sky and high cloud as we set off. However we knew that we had around 100km to travel and that the Mount Cook region because it is so high is notorious for being in a low cloud cover for a high percentage of the year.

Imagine our excitement (maybe you can’t but I can tell you we were) when after travelling on state highway 8 for around 50km with a range of snow covered mountains on our left we turned on to highway 80 which is the only road into the Mount Cook National Park and as we came over a rise to see in front of us one of the most stunning views I have ever experienced. Laid out in front of us was the blue waters of Lake Pukaki with Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the distance with it’s snowy peaks with some cloud but with Mount Cook majestically standing high above those around it.

The satnav was indicating we had about a further 30mins to go before we arrived. It actually took us more like 50mins as we kept stopping to take pictures and admire God’s awesome creation. I kid not I was quite emotional as we drove the rest of that journey thinking about what was laid out before us. We have been blessed to visit some great places through our life and seen some awesome and humbling sights. Today though for me has to be up there amongst the best, if not the best. I thanked God that He had made it possible for us to have this experience.

We parked up at the Whitehorse Hill car park which is as close motorised vehicles can get to the National Park and we walked around 1 mile to the Kea Viewing Point. It is called Kea after the parrots that live there, however we didn’t see any on our walk. The walk takes about 30mins and it was with a sense of expectancy as we climbed the final rise that we were going to see something really special.

Whilst there was cloud around it was moving quickly and in the right direction, away from the range in front of us. I was staggered to read later that there are 19 peaks in this range of mountains that are over 3,000 metres (10,000ft) with Mt Cook (3574m) and Mt Tasman (3498m) being the tallest. They were truly majestic as they stood there in all their ruggedness with the white snow shining out.

In addition we were virtually at the face of The Mueller Glacier which is a 13-kilometre (8.1 miles) long glacier. Its meltwaters eventually join the Tasman River. We had not realised how close we would be able to get to this glacier and the towering Mount Sefton was an awesome sight with its brilliant white snow still covering at least 1500m of this 3151m mountain.

 

As we wandered back down the hillside we kept getting glimpses of Mt Cook and as we finally reached the car park I took this picture.The clouds had cleared and there was Mt Cook standing pristine in all it’s awesome grandeur. We know of some people who visited the area and were unfortunate not to see what we we experienced. God had once again spoken to us through His creation.

So we set off on the next leg of our journey which would take us to Lake Tekapo. We had to retrace 50km of our journey and it was great being able to have a different view of what we had passed on our way to Mt Cook village. We had to circumnavigate around 60% of Lake Pukati on the first part of the route and had a view of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park virtually all of the way. By the time we got to Lake Tekapo we were looking at the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park from the opposite side to when we had been at Kea Point.

So lunch was taken at Lake Tekapo which is at the southern end of the lake of the same name. It has unobstructed and fantastic views across the turquoise water and a backdrop of rolling hills and snow covered mountains.

The remainder of our journey took us through some quite familiar countryside of green hills on one side and the ruggedness of snow covered mountains which are home to countless ski locations on the opposite side. One of the things we have endeavoured to do through our travels is to not only look forward and to the side but to try and look at the view behind us either through the back window or our rear view mirrors. This is one of the best views I have seen so far on the our journey and I doubt if it will be bettered. It is of Mt Cook – not bad eh? (Oh by the way I had stopped and was stationary when I took this picture

After a couple of hours of travel we arrived in Geraldine which our Lonely Planet guide book informed us that it ‘has a bit of a country-village type of atmosphere with pretty gardens and an active craft scene’. Well not sure we would agree with that description as we thought it had more of a small town feel about it.

Geraldine is also home to the worlds largest knitted woollen jumper (thanks to Alysoun Sanders for that bit of information) and we did go and see it.

Another friend, Emma Hayes. told us about a lovely coffee shop which she had visited when she was in NZ. So we made haste for that as we know Emma has excellent taste but sadly it closed at 4pm which is exactly the time we got there. So …. we know where our coffee break is going to be tomorrow – The Verde Cafe Deli. About 3 minutes drive from our holiday park lol.

However, we were able to have our coffee in another lovely coffee shop called ‘The Plums’ which also did some very yummy cakes and chocolates. We bought some of the latter as pressies but I’m not sure they will make their intended receivers!!!

Tomorrow is the final leg of our adventure around NZ. We will travel to Christchurch which is to be our final resting place until we fly out to Oz on Thursday. Christchurch is still recovering from it’s massive earthquake in early 2011 but we have been told that they are encouraging tourists to visit so as to bring money back into the local economy. By the time we reach Christchurch we will have completed close to 4500km (circa 2,800mls) and what and drive that has been!

 

 

Day 27 – Queenstown to Omarama

Our journey today would take us from Queenstown which had been our base since Wednesday – we’ve had a great time whilst there and is certainly somewhere we would have possibly spent longer at had we more time.

Our destination was Omarama which is a small town that lies on state highway 8 and has a worldwide reputation fro gliding because of the strong northwest thermal updraughts. As it is a Sunday we found it a little noisy as the small planes towing the gliders seemed to be taking off at around 5min intervals.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that we had passed the spot on our way in to Queenstown where the birth of bungy jumping in NZ first commenced back in 1988. The bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge is where you plummet 134m (440ft) over the gorge towards the fast running river tied to a rubber cord strapped to your ankles and thighs – not for the faint-hearted. So we decided to stop and see if there was going to be any action and we were not to be disappointed as there were a steady stream of people looking for that ‘thrill of a lifetime’. We watched as a young couple tandem jumped of the jump pod and hurtled downwards before being yanked back up through the tension of the elasticated cord.

We got to chat with them afterwards and it had been their first jump and were still buzzing with the thrill of doing it. They had decided to jump together because they felt if they had gone solo one of them may well have pulled out at the last moment.

So as we left after watching other ‘jumpers’ we looked at each other and said – yup it’s to get to out of here before we have any foolish ideas of jumping!!

Back on the road our journey continued on state highway 6 which took us through some of the wine and fruit growing area of the Gibbston Valley. This area is particularly well known for it’s Pinot Noir grapes and it certainly does taste good as we sampled a bottle with our meal the previous evening.

We reached Bannockburn then Cromwell which is at the junction of state highway 6 and 8 just as it started to rain very heavily. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before we left it behind as we followed the shoreline of Lake Dunstan then through the Lindis Pass. We were really high up at this point and the surrounding vista was stunning. From the summit of the Pass coasted down hill for around 25km until we entered Omarama where the sun was shining as we drove into the holiday park.

Our plan was to get booked in then drive up to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park which Mount Cook the highest mountain in NZ stands (3,754m/12,316ft above sea level). However, on checking in with the webcam that overlooks Mt Cook we could see that we would be wasting our time as it was raining and very cloudy. The forecast for tomorrow is promising so we plan to set off early and hopefully do some walking towards Mt Cook.

So instead we took a stroll around Omarama which didn’t really take that long before returning back to the holiday park and spent the afternoon relaxing.

Days 25 and 26 – Doubtful Sound

Well what a fantastic time we have had during the last 2 days. We left Queenstown at 8.20am on Friday and travelled by bus to Lake Manapouri which is one of the key entry points to Fiordland National Park. It was an interesting and relaxing journey that took us around 3hrs with a few surprises along the way. One such surprise was seeing the Kingston Flyer – an old steam train that has recently been renovated and introduced as a tourist attraction. It starts at Kingston which is at the head of Lake Wakatipu and travels a short distance giving it’s travellers an experience of steam travel.

We arrived at Lake Manapouri around lunch time to commence our journey to Doubtful Sound.  We firstly cruised by a ferry across the lake followed by a short coach trip over Wilmot Pass, an alpine pass to Deep Cove where we boarded our vessel for a cruise on Doubtful Sound. We would spend the night on board our small craft. What a fabulous experience with great views and an excellent crew.

Doubtful Sound is the second largest of the Fiordlands national parks which has 14 fiords (Dusky Sound is the largest) and Deep Cove where we started our journey is around 40km from the Tasman Sea. Though we didn’t get that far there is also a Thompson Sound!! Doubtful Sound reaches about 430m at it’s maximum depth, that’s about 1300ft. It is tidal but the range is fairly moderate generally between 25 and 3m. It was originally named Doubtful Harbour by Capt Cook in 1770 when he skirted past wondering if there was sufficient wind to manoeuvre his vessel in the narrow reaches, he thought it wasn’t worth risk and named it Doubtful Harbour.

It is home to to a variety of marine mammals namely dolphins and seals though we didn’t see any dolphins due to the adverse weather conditions. However we were very fortunate to see one of the worlds rarest penguins the Yellow Crested Penguin along with the little blue penguins. The blue penguins grow to maximum height of 40cm (about 16″) and we were able to see some of these towards the end of our journey.

Fiordland is one of the world’s wettest regions and can deliver very changeable conditions which we experienced during our time there. It is a vast rainforest area though of the temperate kind, being jungle-dense complete with vines. Because it rained most of the time we were  there we saw some spectacular waterfalls cascading down mountain sides 1000m up.

There was opportunity to get a bit closer to the land by going either in a motor launch or in a kayak. Brenda loves kayaking so off she went with a group of other passengers to explore the area. She had a great time even though it started to rain quite heavily and the conditions got rather squaly.

I opted to stay within the safe confines of the boat and helped the skipper keep things in order. Don’t you think I look the part??

There is so much more I could go on about. One of the crew has exceptional knowledge of the geology and nature of the area and throughout the journey was extremely informative keeping us all entranced in what we were experiencing and seeing.

Our night on board was incredibly peaceful only the sound of lapping water and song birds at dawn.

This trip is certainly one of the highlights of our adventure even though we got quite wet at times. We returned back to our camper-van on Saturday afternoon tired but very happy with what we had just experienced.

Day 24 – Queenstown

So today is a special day for me – it is my 26 birthday (oops I got the digits round the wrong way lol. When I got back from the washrooms I opened the door of the camper-van to Brenda singing happy birthday to me. What more could one ask for other than to have my ear plugs back in – only joking she sounded rather sweet!! I had some cards to open which was a pleasant surprise especially the one from Sephi which had a picture of a dinosaur on the front which she had coloured in. Inside it read (written by her mum) – Dear Pops hope you have a wonderful birthday! Sephi chose the dinosaur and I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with your age!! Lots of love Sephi xx

 

I also got a present from our youngest son, Martin. Not sure what message he is trying to give me! Perhaps he is just doing his bit to promote movember. It said on the packaging that a handlebar moustache is a moustache with particularly lengthy, upward curved, extremities. It’s dignified, sophisticated, refined, and above all else irresistible to the opposite sex! (Ah that’s why he got it for me!!!)

What do you think folks? Dignified, sophisticated, refined??? Not sure I needed this as I am all of those lol. Well it was a grand start to the day and did cause me to chuckle a little. Thanks Martin I love you lots.

So the day had started well and it was just going to get better.

We had chosen to take a ride on a jet boat! No just any old jet boat but one that provided a breathtaking ride through dramatic, narrow canyons at speeds of up to 80km an hour. It included 360 degree spins with the aim of course to soak as many passengers as possible each time!!

Not sure what our driver thought as I’m guessing the average age of the 9 passengers would be around 65 with only 2 being slightly younger than myself and Brenda. It didn’t appear to be fazed with this and duly went about his business taking us very close to the walls of the canyon. What a fantastic experience and apart from having pictures to prove it we also have the dvd as well!!  The picture opposite is of the group that went out after us and the conclusion of their ride which ends with a 360 degree spin.

Our little spin had certainly worked up an appetite so we decided to have a brunch in the town and it was lovely sitting out in shorts and t-shirts in the very warm sun. After lunch we were back on the water only this time at a more leisurely 5km per hour on the lake. Lake Wakatipu is a beautiful lake and the people living all around it have unbelievable views. It was a very different experience to the mornings cut and thrust adventure. There are loads of  little coves with small settlements around them. There is one particular area where you do have to be rather wealthy as land prices start at a cool $1.5NZ (around £750k) and building costs for the types of housing there would start at around $4/5mNZ. I caught a glimpse of a golf course at the end of one of the peninsula’s. What a fantastic place to play your golf and only around £40 a round. We really enjoyed the cruise which lasted around 90mins and the sun continued to shine so we were able to sit outside and get a much better view of the area.

Tonight we are off to celebrate my birthday at what looks to be a rather nice restaurant with lots of fish on the menu. We can’t be too late as we have an early start tomorrow being picked up to start our journey to Doubtful Sound which is part of the Fiordland. We are will be staying the night on a boat and not returning till late Saturday afternoon so there will no more posts till then,

 

 

Day 23 – Haast to Queenstown

Our day started with the sun streaming in through our camper-van windows – at 8am the temperature was already at 12c. The vista was superb with the dark mountains washed at the top with glistening snow. Our journey today would take us from Haast on state highway 6 through Mount Aspiring National Park and through some stunning views. We have seen some great sights and we had remarked how complacent one can get when you are seeing such views every day. In my mind I had committed to look for that extra wow factor as we were driving and I was not to be disappointed.

We seemed to stopping every few kilometres to look at the view and take pictures it just got better and better as the journey went on. Our journey took us through a number of passes and gorges which were just awe inspiring. So many different verses of scripture kept flooding into my mind about the awesomeness of God’s creation. The Sandy Patty song – The majesty and glory of your name also kept jumping into my mind as well. Here is a link to the lyrics – http://www.lyricstime.com/sandi-patty-the-majesty-and-glory-of-your-name-lyrics.html

Our coffee break was taken at Makarora – what a place to live and work. Here we were able to sit in relative silence and look all around us at the magnificent sights – the coffee and apple and cinnamon muffin were rather yummy as well. We hadn’t got much further on the road when we hit a traffic jam!!! Well not really I think there were 10 vehicles in the jam – all because the road was blocked due to a major rock slip. There are probably no better places to be held up for around 20mins than where we were – alongside Lake Wanaka. The picture opposite is the view we had – not bad eh??

We got chatting to one of the workmen and we learnt a little of what had happened and how they were dealing with it. He explained that this is a common occurrence all the year round and that every day someone drives this particular route to check out potential for displacements. He said that not that long ago the road was closed for 2 days due to  big rock fall and the guy who had been checking the route that day ended up on the wrong side of the fall and didn’t get home for 2 days. The 20mins seemed to go very quickly and we were on our way again.

Lunch was taken at Albert Town which is about 8k outside of Wanaka. The picture opposite is the backdrop to this growing township. The whole of the area is seeing an increase in real estate with property and land prices very reasonable – you would get quite a lot for an investment of around £200K with outstanding views thrown in.

Our journey on from Wanaka took us through a very large wine growing region – it must be the second biggest in the South Island after Marlborough. We then entered a journey through a long gorge which lasted for around 30km. This area was very rugged and river below us was fast flowing. We passed Kawarau Bridge which if you are brave enough you can bungy jump from a suspended jump pod over a gorge. You’ve guessed it I just kept driving as this is just not my type of adrenalin seeking thrill.

We passed through the relatively fast growing conurbations of Cromwell and Frankton as we arrived in to Queenstown. Queenstown is situated on the northeast shore of Lake Wakatipu backed by the Remarkables range. I can quite understand why they got that name as the sight is remarkable.

After settling in at what will be our stop over for the next 4 nights we decided to take a trip on the Skyline Gondola. The ride goes up to Bob’s Peak and rises 450m (1,476ft) in just 730m (2,400ft). The views were breathtaking (literally for me!!!) of the panoramic vista of the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. I don’t know what it is but I did find it quite scary as I looked out beneath us! At the top there are a range of other things you could do such as go even higher on the ski lift and ride downhill on a luge or not for the fainthearted a bungy jump from The Ledge – a pod overlooking Queenstown.

If you look close enough at the picture you will see someone was brave enough to literally run and throw herself off ‘The Ledge’ and hurtle earthwards until the bungy yanks her back up. I don’t know what she felt like but I can tell you my legs became a bit like jelly and I felt a little cold sweat come over me as she jumped.

 

Time for us to go I said to Brenda knowing that we still had the journey back down in the gondola to contend with. So after some purchases in the gift shop it was back to the docking station to climb aboard our gondola. Was I scared – of course not. I think Brenda was really unkind taking this picture and making me include it in this blog lol. In all honesty the ride in the gondola was a great experience and I’m glad I did it as the views were worth it.

The weather has been outstanding today with temperatures peaking at around 22c with little breeze around. It has been our most memorable journey to date and one we will not forget quickly.

Day 22 – Franz Josef to Haast

Our plan for today was to stay around Franz Josef and chill out and maybe do a short walk around the area. Well we decided to take ourselves off to Fox Glacier and walk that area and we are so pleased we did. It is quite different to Franz Josef and we got much closer. In fact we got to within 100m of the end of the glacier and it was an awesome sight. Fox Glacier is the largest of the glaciers in NZ. It is possible to walk on the glacier but only with guides and it takes most of the day to undertake this hike. The other alternative is to go by helicopter and you get to land on the snow at the top of the glacier. There are only a few flights each day that do this and these are generally booked up in advance. Anyway I have an innate fear of flying in a helicopter so this was out of the question.

The walk through the glacial valley was more amazing than yesterdays was at Franz Josef. The landscape is quite different and there was evidence of recent rock and ice falls as well as what the river surges have down as water hurtles down at the peak of when the snow is melting. The colours and shapes of the boulders and rocks was fascinating. The picture opposite probably doesn’t do justice to the colours this piece of rock had within it.

Both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are unique in that they descend from regions of perpetual snow to rainforest that is close to coastal areas.

The panoramic view looking down from the Fox Glacier through the glacial valley is awesome and is quite reminiscent of pictures I’ve seen of the moons landscape.

It was after we had completed this walk that we decided to change our plans for staying around Franz Josef. We set off for Haast which was going to be our next stopping off point tomorrow. It was going to be about a 2hr drive and doing this today which would allow us the opportunity to do one or two other things that we would have liked to have done but thought we might be short of time when we got to Queenstown later in the week.

We drove through rainforest for around 60km without seeing much other scenery and then as we rounded a corner there in front of us was a fantastic view of the Tasman Sea. It was like a mill pond and we pulled across to have lunch overlooking Bruce Bay. It was so peaceful and tranquil.

Something we have noticed about many of the beaches is the amount of tree roots, stumps, branches and in some instances whole trees that litter the top end of the beach, and Bruce Bay beach was no exception.

We continued our journey along state highway 6 which predominantly hugged the coast though we did do a bit of twisting and turning and climbing up and descending down but the views from time to time were spectacular.

We arrived in Haast which is at the top west end of Otago and Southland region. Haast is a tiny community on the coast where the wide Haast River meets the sea. In our guide books it is described as little more than a stopover and supply point for people travelling between the West Coast and the southern lakes. Apparently it is a good area for river fishing and surfing (not at the same time of course). We were also advised to fill up with fuel before driving over the Haast Pass to Wanaka! So I duly did though at $1.74 a litre it was nearly 20cents a litre more than we were paying elsewhere!! I wonder if the petroleum companies are sponsoring these guide books! The holiday park we are staying at is by far the most remote we have so far experienced. But as the guides stated it is little more than a stopover for us as we travel through to Queenstown tomorrow.

Day 21 – Greymouth to Franz Josef

Our journey today would take us 170k further down the west coast of the South Island to Franz Josef where we plan to stay for a couple of days to explore the area. It was a fairly uneventful journey with the Tasman Sea on our right and the Southern Alps on our left. The sea was much calmer than yesterday and quite blue. There was little in the way of mountainous driving only one significant pass though the descent was rather twisting with a number of ‘s’ bends which saw us literally doing 360 degree turns.

Our coffee stop was at place called Harihari one of the many one street towns that we have driven through over the past 18 days. We had a rather delicious cake which was a mixture of bran and muesli topped with a butte icing – very moorish but we were good and only shared one piece.

Our purpose for stopping off at Franz Josef was to see the glacier – so after checking in at our appropriately named Mountain View Holiday Park we set off in search of the glacier. The Franz Josef glacier is one of 2 with a 35km of each other. The other is the Fox Glacier. For some years the glacier has been retreating, however in 1985 it began advancing again. We had about a 15 min drive before we set off on foot for a 45 minute walk to the base of the glacier. This walk was amazing as you really get to experience the scale of the breadth of what the glacier would have been like tens of thousands of years ago as the walk is on the glacial valley. All along this walk there were large and small waterfalls streaming down from the mountains that rose above these were at times really spectacular.

We were able to get within 500m of the end of the glacier – its depth is enormous! It’s hard to describe in words the awesomeness of this part of God’s creation. The faces are roped off to prevent people being caught in icefalls and river surges. After spending around 15 minutes at this veiwing point we made the return journey back to the car park. Whilst the temperature was around 13c it was quite warm walking so I decided it would be good to cool down a little under one of the waterfalls. The water streaming down was powerful and very very cold – I think some of the people around thought I was mad standing under this torrent of cascading water but it was a great experience (and I really don’t care what people think anyway!!).

Day 20 – Kaikoura to Greymouth

Before we bedded down last evening we skyped with Martin and Sephi (our gorgeous and chatty granddaughter). It had been 2 weeks since we had last chatted on line. It was great to see them – Sephi had so much to tell us and was proudly showing us the postcards we had sent her. She also took photo’s of us on her dad’s iphone – she is so IT savvy! Martin and I tried to hold a conversation but there was little we could do to make ourselves understood with Sephi and Brenda in full flow!!

Well the wind and rain had subsided during the night and we woke to  beautiful blue sky day. We had wondered what the backdrop to Kaikoura looked like as it was enveloped in heavy cloud on our arrival and throughout the day. Well we were stunned when we emerged from the camper-van and saw the view opposite – we had no idea that this is what was covered in the clouds! The air was crisp but the sun was helping to warm us up.

The first leg of our journey was to take us to Hanmer Springs along state highway 70. What a fabulous route to follow. We had views like the picture opposite on our right hand side whilst on the left hand it was totally green but as spectacular.

We arrived in Hanmer Springs which is a thermal resort and made for the hot pools to indulged ourselves in the hot springs. The thermal pools have been in existence for over 100yrs – Maori’s call the springs Waitapu (Sacred Waters). It was lovely to relax in the warm waters with the air temperature at around 14c and the sun shining. The hot spring water mixes with fresh water to produce pools or varying temperatures. I remarked to Brenda that it is like relaxing in a bath but with water staying at the same temperature and not cooling down.

After a lovely healthy lunch, well it was for me, we set off on our next leg of the journey which would eventually take us to Greymouth. We had no idea what to expect as we were traveling over and through Lewis Pass. The only way to get to the west coast from Hanmer Springs is either across Arthurs Pass of the Lewis Pass. We chose the Lewis Pass as it was a much shorter route for us to take.

The Lewis Pass is at the southern end of the Southern Alps and ‘snakes’ west from Hanmer Springs to Mauria Springs and Springs Junction. Our guide book informed us that the Lewis Pass is not as dense or steep as Arthurs Pass but we found it to be spectacular as we first climbed slowly up to the summit following the river which was slowly disappearing below us then driving downhill for around 30km. We took a quick refreshments break at Springs Junction before embarking on the final leg of todays journey.

We have had to contend with lots of different things as we have been on our journey – trying to take in the stunning views, coping with very little traffic on the road (lol), sometimes driving in some extreme weather conditions e.g. rain and wind, steep and winding roads.

However, today was different, we were held up by cattle being moved from one field to another. It was fun watching the stockmen on their quad bikes assisted by about four dogs trying to keep the cattle moving. It took us around 10mins to get through this lot.

We arrived in Greymouth which is the west coasts largest town with a population of circa 10,000. For whatever reason it is known as the ‘Big Smoke’ and has a proud gold-minng history. We thought about ‘panning’ in the river but decided to give that a miss.

The holiday park we are staying at sits right on the edge of the shoreline and we have great views, and sounds of the crashing waves, of the Tasman Sea. It reminds us very much of the north-east coast we were brought up in.

The sea was rather grey and angry and the beach is made up of either shale or pebbles. We did take a walk along it and though it was a little blustery it was nice to be out in the fresh air and rather invigorating. We should sleep well tonight!!

Day 19 – Blenheim to Kaikoura

Well it had to happen after what was probably the sunniest and hottest day of our holiday so far we woke to rain. It was fairly consistent throughout the whole of the day and at times the wind became quite strong especially as we drove along the shoreline. It was so strong at times that I had to drop the speed we were travelling as it was gusting over the hills and buffeting the camper-van.

Our journey today was one of the shortest so far – 130km. We initially did a long climb out of Blenheim then after the descent it was fairly level as we followed the shoreline and railway for the majority of the journey. There was very little in the way of populated areas during the journey. It’s very barren and mountainous towards the middle of where we were travelling.

Had the weather been better the views would have been really nice!! There were some lovely bays though the sand was mainly volcanic so quite black. This coast line is good for surfing though we didn’t anyone out there today as the weather and wind was far to hazardous.

This part of the coastline is also populated with many different birds, seals, dolphins and whales. We saw plenty of birds and seal but none of dolphins or whales. The weather seemed to be pleasing the seals as they where basking on the rocks and generally having fun. It appeared at times that they were having a good laugh at us humans standing in the wind and rain watching them play!!

The purpose for choosing to visit Kairoura was to go whale watching. We have heard so much about this being a special experience so you can imagine our disappointment when we found out that all the trips had been cancelled due to the weather conditions. The sea conditions were dangerous with huge waves and a wind speed of 25 knots out in the area we were to sail in. The conditions for tomorrow morning are going to be similar and we need to be on our way no later than 11am to get to our next destination so looks like we will miss out on this experience.

There was little we could do – we thought about going for a walk but the rain was incessant and it’s not much fun ‘tramping’ in those kind of conditions. So we drove to one of the may lookout points and sat and watched the seals play and the birds using their skills to surf the wind. A truly miserable, cold, wet and windy day. Reminded us of our friends back in the UK who have been experiencing this weather off and on all year!!

So it’s going to be a night of reading etc as the weather has well and truly set in for the evening.

Day 18 – Motueka to Blenheim

For the first time this holiday we had to retrace our journey of the previous day by 110k. However, we got to see the area differently things. Our total journey was to be 160k from Motueka which is part of Kahurangi National Park to Blenheim which is in the Malborough region. We travelled through the Rai Valley which has some stunning sights, through Havelock which is renowned for green lip mussels. These are delicious tasting meaty mussels and Havelock has a massive mussel farming industry. Passing on through Tuamarina and the Wairau Valley we arrived into Blenheim through the NZ’s largest wine producing area.

Blenheim is the largest town in the Marlborough region and has steadily grown with the development of the wine industry. Grape planting was started in the early 1970’s and it is estimated that there are nearly 70 wineries operating in the area. We had booked an afternoons wine tour and were picked up just before 2pm and taken on our trip around 4 very different wineries. There were only 6 of us on the tour, a young couple from Singapore, a mother and daughter from Brisbane and ourselves. At each winery we got to taste around 5 or 6 of their selected wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot.

It was the first time we had done an organised wine tour so and didn’t really know what to expect. However through the skills and knowledge of our driver and each person at the wineries we were taken through a fantastic learning and tasting experience. There were very few wines that we didn’t like. My favourite of that we tasted was a Hunters 2006 Sauvignon Blanc oak barrel aged – I’m generally not a great fan of white wine but this was outstanding. It has a subtle twist of oak to its taste. It has consistently been selected as one of the top wines by those in the industry .I duly bought one to bring back home, along with another couple of wines that were up there with this one.

On our return journey the driver suggested that we could call in at a chocolate making factory – it wasn’t a massive production unit at all but a small concern. This was a delightful place although you only get one tasting chocolate. These chocolates are all hand made and we could see them being manufactured, hence the price reflected this!!

So we finally arrived back at our holiday park with our purchases having had a great afternoon. Another massive benefit of going on such as tour is you don’t drive and therefore any restrictions on what you drink is eased.

We wound down by having a relaxing spa before taking ourselves off to eat at the local pub – having a drink or two of beer as well!!