[Words: Janice, Pics: Mark]
[FOLLOW LINK FROM EMAIL TO SEE PICTURES FOR THE ARTICLE]
So Mark tells me although he loves all of NZ,South Islandis where the real dramatic landscapes are (i.e. mountains and snow). Although he’s been to NZ many times before, Mark has never really explored the top of theSouth Islandand the Fiordland and West Coast, so these areas would be new to him too. The plan was for us to arrive on the ferry in Picton harbour, and drive that day along the north coast, through theRichmondmountain range toAbelTasmanNational Park. Although it was a bluebird day in Picton, it was apparently snowing in the mountains and the surrounding areas closer to sea level and as a result, the roads to Abel Tasman were closed.
NZ rarely gets snow (other than in the mountains), so many of the roads, schools, public services and businesses, etc. across theSouth Islandwere closed and the local news was going nuts reporting the freak snow fall. In turn, we changed our plans and decided to spend those couple days instead exploring the Marlborough Sounds in Picton and take advantage of the great weather in the area. Most people come from theNorthIslanddown to theSoundIslandby ferry and think they’ve seen all there is from the window and move on, that was what we were going to do, but we would have missed out on some absolutely gorgeous scenery if we did. We enjoyed a scenic drive along the Queen Charlotte Road with a lunch stop in the small town of Havelock where we pigged out on fresh NZ green-lipped mussels, we got some playtime with NZ fur seals and enjoyed lunch on one of the secluded bays on a kayak trip into the Sounds, and we took a decent walk out along a peninsular to an amazing viewpoint (The Snout Walk). The Marlborough Sounds is possibly one of my favourite spots in NZ.
Moving on from Picton (but the great weather followed us), we headed south to Bleinhem, which is the town centre for one of NZ’s largest grape growing and wine making regions. Sauvignon Blanc is the region’s specialty, but every white wine we tasted was really good (with the exception of the Chardonnays which Mark and I have determined we just don’t enjoy). We visited about 5 or 6 wineries, and I was probably drunk by the second one – the white wines were just so good. We bought a few bottles as gifts for Mark’s family that we’d soon be visiting down inChristchurch. We recommend Wither Hills,SpyValleyand Villa Maria based on the wineries we visited and others would beCloudyBayand Dog Point; which we did not visit.
The road from Bleinhem down to Kaikoura had some of the most spectacular coastal scenery I’ve ever seen. Just north of Kaikoura at the Oahu Seal Colony, we pulled off the road and took too many pictures of the sunbathing NZ fur seals. The town ofKaikouraitself is on a peninsula overlooked by snow-capped majestic mountains and the deep and plankton rich sea at its doorstep provides an ideal habitat for marine mammals and sea birds. We joined a whale watching tour in the morning, and were lucky enough to see a couple of sperm whales deep dive for some food, hundreds of dusky dolphins spinning and jumping, and some giant albatross flying around fishing boats. I would have loved more time in Kaikoura, but we were due inChristchurchthat afternoon to return our rental car and meet Mark’s Uncle Bede.
Most of Mark’s family lives inChristchurchand fortunately, Mark was able to catch up with almost everyone, including his Uncle Bede and Aunt Carmel and cousins Brynn, Ryan & Nicola (and their adorable kids Mason and Cameron); Aunt Michele and Uncle Patrick and cousins Michael and Claire; and Aunt Nicola and Uncle Barry and cousins Liam and Rebecca.
We saw a bit of the residual snow across the city, but most of it had melted away as the weather was warming up. Neither were sure of what to expect since the big earthquakes of Sept 2010 and Feb 2011, but when we went into town there was nothing but rubble left and the entire area was fenced off. It was really a sad and desolate sight. Some of the businesses that could relocate to the suburbs have done so already, but others are just out of luck as they wait for the city to rebuild, which will take quite a few more years.
The Earthquake Commission of New Zealand (in conjunction with private insurance providers) is generally covering all damages caused by the earthquakes. All buildings and houses inChristchurchhave been classified as being in either a green (the repair/rebuild process can begin), orange (hold, further assessment required), red (where remediation would be prolonged and may be uneconomic) or white (unzoned, unmapped) zone. Fortunately, all of the homes of Mark’s family, with the exception of one, are all green.
We took a drive to the most damaged areas ofChristchurchincluding Lyttleton,Brightonand Sumner and the roads were all uneven and warped, sandbags lined rivers to prevent further flooding, shipping containers banked along the road offering protection from rock and landslides from cliff faces, and portable toilets were scattered throughout the neighbourhoods. On a brighter note, we visited a few really good weekend markets in the suburbs (Christchurch Farmers Market and Riccarton Rotary Sunday Market) and had lots of quality time with Mark’s family.
FromChristchurch, we ventured on a couple of day trips – one to Akaroa and the other to Hanmer Springs. Akaroa is a beautiful historical French and British settlement situated in the heart of an ancient volcano in which the ocean has filled in. We had a brunch in the quaint village and then took an afternoon walk through fields of sheep and flowers with an amazing view of the bay. The key attraction, Mark participated in 5 years ago, was swimming with the smallest dolphin in the world, Hector Dolphins, in the long harbour. At Hanmer Springs, 3hours north of ChCh towards the mountains, we basically spent the entire day at the famous thermal pools, which had dozens of rainbow, rock, sulphur and freshwater pools to choose from, ranging from 36 to 42 degrees. They were too hot for Mark, but I loved them!
South IslandBlog – Part 2 – To Be Continued…