Published: January 11th 2011January 11th 2011
Before giving an update of our travels on the South Island, I want to share some information on traveling in NZ in general. As I'm sure you already know, it is a rugged and sparsely populated country. Our plan was to spend most of our time on the South Island (least populated), but that plan has changed somwhat. Because of the topography and population roads are limited. On the South Island there is a main road running down each side of the island and a few roads connecting the east and west sides in key places. If you change your travel plan, you may need to backtrack – there is no alternative route. Almost all roads are 2 lane. Heading into Christchurch with a population of 373,000 it only becomes divided highway (still 2 lane) about 7 miles out from the city and only becomes 4 lanes about 2 miles from the city limit sign. Roads fall into 2 categories in NZ – curvy and hilly and very narrow, very curvy, and hilly. Taking all of this into account, travel is slow especially in the RV. Our average speed has been about 48 mph. The mileage on the map doesn't look
bad, but the driving time is considerably longer than expected. The second point to consider when making a travel plan is that many of the national parks are difficult to get to; some only by boat. They all have numerous campgrounds, but none are accessible by vehicle. They are all backpacking campgrounds. This country is a mecca for backpackers and I am sure the hikes and such in the back country are fantastic because even on the highways and short loop walks the views are amazing. However, we didn't come prepared to backpack. On the plus side, the roads are all in good condition.
With all this being said, we are having a great time. After leaving the ferry from the North Island at Picton we drove to Blenheim through part of the Marlborough wine country. We stopped at the Johanneshof winery which specializes in Gerswursertrimmer (sp?). Excellent wines including a dry Gerswursertrimmer which we had never tasted before. It was very good. The primary wines from this region are the above as well as savignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling. We spent the night in Blenheim and then headed south along the east coast to Kaikoura, a small,
touisty beach town. Walked through the town and ate at a little sidewalk cafe. I finally got my lamb. Good, but expensive. Kaikoura is at the north base of a large peninsula with a loop trail. The trail begins at the tip of the peninsula where you can see brown fur seals, has a steep walk to the high bluff with amazing views of the rocky coastline, and then a trail around the peninsula ending at the car park. It is about a 3 hour walk. Informational signage along the way identifying geological features and local flora and fauna. Saw blue penguins near South Bay on the other side of the peninsula.
From Kaikoura we headed south to Christchurch where we spent a cool blustery evening. Our original plan was to drive to the southern tip of the island and back up the west side. At this point, we decided doing that would mean a lot of time in the car and not as much time for hiking or looking at accessible sights. Therefore, we headed west out of Christchurch crossing the mountains to the west coast where we would head a little further south to the Franz Joseph
Glaciers. Beautiful drive through the mountains which are very bare, rocky and rugged on the east side and very lush with lots of ferns on the west side. Close to the top of the pass there is a huge riverbed, mostly gravel with little water now, but stretches across most of the mountain valley. I can't imagine the amount of water that runs through there in the spring with snow melt. I have never seen mountain river beds of this size anywhere before. Took a short nature walk at Arthur Pass before heading down the west side of the mountains. Beautiful, beautiful drive. The long hikes in this area have to be fabulous.
Our next stop was the Franz Joseph Glacier which is the lowest lying temperate climate glacier in the world and is still growing. Can park about 3 miles from the glacier face and then hike to it. Can get pretty close to the face of the glacier which is roped off for safety. Pretty impressive to see. Also amazing to be walking through a forest full of giant ferns to get to a glacier. Ended the day by driving to Greymouth on the northwest coast of the south island. The campground is right on the beach so we got to see a beautiful sunset. The beaches on both sides of the south island are mostly gravel rather than sand. Stones of varying sizes all very smooth from the water. As the waves come in and out the rocks rolling across each other makes an interesting, almost musical, sound.
Now to the food tidbits: Lots of seafood along the coast. Green lip mussels are the speicalty. They are huge and delicious. In Kaikoura the specialty is crayfish. The night we ate there I wanted lamb and David didn't want to deal with a lot of little crayfish (also expensive) so he had the mussels. Didn't realize until the next day when we stopped at a roadside seafood barbecue stand on the peninsula that these crayfish are about the size of lobsters. They are split in half so very easy to get the meat. Also explains the price although food in general is expensive here. We will need to try it before we leave.
I had expected to find lamb everywhere since NZ lamb is famous and you see a lot of sheep as you drive through the country. It is seldom on the menu, however, and generally only on the dinner menu. I asked the campground manager about this in Kaikoura. He said they raise much more beef than lamb now and the country is primarily beef eaters since much of the lamb is exported. The reason lamb is usually only on the dinner menu is because much of the lamb served in NZ is lamb shank which needs to be cooked slowly. They start it in the morning and it is ready for dinner.
Since we usually travel by RV we spend time in grocery stores. Always enjoy seeing the similarities and differences from stores in the US. An interesting feature in the supermarket we went into in Christchurch was that it had an entire freezer section devoted to pet food. Contained big packages of chicken scraps and other items for pets, primarily dogs. Don't think I have ever seen a frozen pet food section before.
This has gotten very long so I will end for now. Cheers from the far south!