Published: September 18th 2010September 17th 2010
Misty fiords and sun drenched beaches. Torrential rain and glorious sunshine. Snow capped mountains and dry flat vineyards. Intense, deep reds and subtle, fruity whites. Alpine meadows and wave slammed rocks. Giant Sperm Whales and tiny Fur Seals. Our first impression of New Zealand’s South Island was that of vast contrasts. Within two days of arriving in Marlborough, home of world renowned wineries, we had experienced more varied sights and activities than many people do in a lifetime.
Our arrival in Picton was mist shrouded and chilly, but following a forty minute drive along a very windy road we were just outside a beautifully sunny Havelock taking photos and admiring some stunning views out into the Marlborough Sounds and down onto the seaside town. We had been told by many people and read many travel guides that said the South Island was visually stunning and thoughts had crept in that surely people were exaggerating and nowhere could be that beautiful, but seeing these sights (which are barely mentioned in the guide books) confirmed that we were in for some treats over the next couple of weeks.
A short drive from our wonderful vantage point brought us into the village
of Havelock, where a sign informed us we were in the ‘Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World’. With Rachel being a huge fan of mussels (not muscles, otherwise she would have surely found a better equipped husband - in that department!) she was looking forward to lunching on some of the town’s delicacy. Unfortunately, both Lonely Planet’s recommended eateries were closed for refurbishment. We left Havelock mussel-less (welcome to my world!) and had a charming drive through flat vineyards to Blenheim and our base for the next two nights.
Before we entered the small town of Blenheim, the gateway to Marlborough wine country, we stumbled upon a place that had been sent by God! (And I mean stumbled upon, I noticed this place out of the corner of my eye as we stopped to look at the map!) The Boutique Chocolate Factory is a nondescript little cream building in the middle of vast swathes of vineyards, but we are so glad we went in there! Our aim when we walked through the doors was too maybe purchase a couple of presents for people back home and have a nosey round. Well, within 60 seconds of walking through the door,
we were forced into trying some of the confectionery, and my word, it was like crunchy, sweet, delicious heaven! All the sweets for sale in the shop were made on the premises and in fact we could watch them being made in a tiny little chocolate factory (nothing like Wonka's establishment that is for sure). Most of them incorporated chocolate, macademia nuts and ample amounts of sugar, and the two boxes we bought (for ourselves) have been polished off, a mere five days later!
The Marlborough region of New Zealand (the north east corner of the South Island) produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc wine in the world, so we felt it would be very rude to come here and not embark on a wine tour! We booked a half day tour with a company called Bubbly Grape Wine Tours and the owner Kerry picked us up from the campsite at midday on Monday. Our first stop was one of the bigger wineries in the area for lunch and some wine tasting, called Wither Hills. At all the wineries we visited we were offered their main wines, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Rachel
and myself usually choose Old World reds from Spain, Italy and France, so we were intrigued as to how we much we would enjoy white wines from New Zealand. We were pleasantly surprised! Rachel particularly enjoyed a couple Rieslings but she enjoyed the Pinot Noirs more so wasn’t completely converted from red to white! It obviously goes without saying that, being the Princess she is, she enjoyed the sparkling wines at all the vineyards! My particular favourites were a couple of the Sauvingon Blancs from Hunters and also a small boutique winery called Bouldevines. With my love of spicy food, I also found a wine which we were told goes well with it, called Gewurtztraminer which was very tasty. It was my first taste of wine for over three months and the total amount I actually swallowed must have come to one whole glass! We were also treated to a great little fudge shop and an olive oil tasting session which helped break up the wine tasting throughout the afternoon.
After the peaceful refinement of the vineyards and wine cellars of Monday; Tuesday bought wild and rugged coastline and close encounters with some of the largest creatures on the
planet. We departed from Blenheim and drove south along State Highway 1 which hugs and winds along the cliffs of the Pacific Coast and treated us to some amazing views. What was truly unique about the area we were driving through was the proximity of the snow capped mountain range to the sea. It was almost as if on our left side the ground fell away to the sea and immediately to our right the earth and rocks began to climb to form mountainous peaks above us. It seemed as though every five minutes we were stopping for a photo opportunity better than the last and the one hour journey soon became a three hour marathon! Just as we were thinking that the beautiful Alpine Pacific hybrid we were experiencing couldn’t be bettered we rounded a bluff and were met with the site of waves crashing against huge rocks on which were a large number of seals. As we stopped to take some photos of the seals we bumped into an Australian couple we had met on the wine tour, who pointed us in the direction of a waterfall a ten minute walk away. When we arrived at said waterfall,
we were greeted with an amazing sight that will stay with us forever. In the pool at the base of the waterfall, barely five yards from us were thirty or forty fur seal pups frolicking and playing in the water. It was incredible to see these animals, which I don’t either of us had seen even at the zoo, in their natural habitat. I think we both could have stayed all day watching the seals playing, fighting, swimming and some even looked as though they were kissing! The walk back to the car was punctuated by yet more seals playing by our feet, it was so tempting to reach out and stroke them but apparently even at a young age they have sharp teeth and a vicious temper (kind of similar to Rachel in that sense!)
It appeared that Tuesday 14th September was a day that just kept on giving! Within an hour of seeing the seal pup colony, we were on a catamaran heading out from Kaikoura into the Pacific Ocean. Barely half an hour into our trip, we got a glimpse of what we had all come to see. A sperm whale on the surface of the
water. Now we couldn’t see most of the whale as it was underwater but even the glimpses we got showed us just how enormous these mammals are. As the whale was at the surface readying itself for its next dive to the ocean floor, we could see huge spouts of water erupting from the whale’s blowhole and then when it dived down, we managed to capture the picture perfect moment as its tail flicks up and then disappears into the depths. We were told by our guides that these whales could dive down to 3km below the surface and hold their breaths for up to two and a half hours! I struggle to hold mine for two and a half seconds! As the trip continued we got to see this spectacle two more times, each time with the backdrop of the beautiful Southern Alps and surprisingly blue skies. This area of the coast sees various different types of ocean wildlife including Orca’s, Humpback whales and the endangered Dusky Dolphin, and this is all due to a large, deep canyon a few miles from shore where warm and cold currents converge and bring food to the upper levels of the ocean.
You don’t need to thank me for today’s marine biology lesson, it makes me feel good that I have imparted some of my vast knowledge onto you.
Looking back on last Tuesday, and we may be biased because it is still fresh in our memory, but it is probably the best and most memorable day we have had on our trip so far. Seeing these different animals up close and in their natural habitat was absolutely fantastic and once again brought home just how lucky we are to be on this journey of a lifetime and that the things we are seeing are things that we will probably never see again. Whilst we have taken lots of photos, none of them do justice to the feeling and natural surroundings whilst doing and seeing the things we have.
I’ll try and get the next blog up early next week, it will be about our time on the west coast of the South Island in Glacier country where we saw mountains, rainforests and beaches within a few kilometers of each other and where we were caught in a storm as big as any they have seen here for a good
Outside the Cloudy Bay winery
One of the biggest in the region
number of years. You will be pleased to know we have just left that area in one piece!
There are more photos below