Monday 7th May
How many more glorious sunny mornings will there be? Down on the waterfront in Picton harbour for some last minute photos and watching the inter-island ferry from Wellington appear in the distance thru some lifting fog. Just beautiful. We haven't done the ferry crossing, yet, however can only imagine what a stunning sight the passengers on this one must be experiencing! We will do it for sure next time.
We then spent a bit of time walking around the main street in Picton and as usual discover some nice looking shops that we wished we had time to look thru. Early is a nice time to "discover' a town. Just before the shops open and people are going to work and the coffee shops are brewing their fresh aromas and there is always plenty room with no crowds and the streets are fresh and just cleaned....love it. Sadly, it's time to drive out of Picton.
We have been told by Ron to make sure we called into the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim on our way south. Oh! by the way, we are on our way down to spend the night at Hanmer Springs
where we intend to go in the 'hot pools' tonight before we leave NZ.
.....and, just to give Ron a free plug as he has been so helpful to us in our travels around NZ....you too can contact him and ask of his services by Google or direct e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
His name is Ron Laughlin and this is a non commercial endorsement.
It's only a short drive to Blenheim but as usual there are still some steep winding roads to negotiate as well as driving thru some nice vineyard country in addition to deer and dairy farms. Very pretty.
At Blenheim we had to call into the tourist centre to get directions to the Aviation Museum and just as well because it would have been difficult to find the way out to the airfield. Thru the back streets and outer 'suburbs' we were soon back in rural country and saw the airfield and a couple of WW2 fighter planes out on the grass.
The Omaka Museum is a real eye opener. Jaw dropping displays of mainly WW1 aircraft, some flying models and some replicas. The vast interior of the museum is devoted to reconstructions and
displays of actual WW1 aerial combat scenes and the models and replicas are so lifelike that you really get the feeling of "being there"! So much painstaking work and attention to detail is exceptional....lots of actual original exhibits and even personal items from the "Red Baron" (Manfred von Richthofen) are displayed in a special glass case exhibit. The stories of some of the exploits of the fighter pilots of all nations are unbelievable, quite inspiring and sometimes sad that so many young talented lives were lost. The displays depicting the ground crews at work and their workshops are so well done that you thought you were actually in there. The museum is vast and to go thru it properly takes some time.
Back out in the museum cafe over a cup of coffee we see that there is an airshow at Easter in 2013. Apparently the "Warbirds" from Wanaka will combine with this so it might be an occasion not to miss. Some of the flying WW1 replicas from the museum will get in the air with the aircraft of WW2 ...should be a good show! Our photos show only a fraction of the exhibits.
Dragging ourselves away
from the Omaka Aviation Centre we head off south again. This time we are very close to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and winding along coastal cliffs, some at sea level, instead of mountains for a change. Still, as we look out to the west (right hand side) we can still see some distant snow capped peaks! Not a big island, NZ.
Along this coastal road starts to appear little stalls and small hamlets selling crayfish (lobster), mussel pies and whitebait patties. Very big here and even though we are starting to feel peckish we don't feel much like whats on offer....not at the moment.
Further down the coast we go thru little places such as Parikawa, Clarence, Rakautara, Hapaku where the railway line runs along parallel to the road and thru tunnels in the rock faces of the bends and then to the larger town in the area, Kaikoura. Somewhere along this coastal road we are held up by that iconic sight in NZ, sheep crossing the road. The lady farmer stood out in the road, held up her hand and we stopped. After what seemed like ages the sheep were finally across in their new
paddock and we were on our way. We didn't mind as we are country people ourselves and were able to enjoy the break. One idiot, impatient driver however just HAD to speed in and stop in front of us as we held back from the sheep so as to be "1st away" when the sheep cleared the road. What a moron!!
At Kaikoura we stopped at the Bakery just out of town and had a Guiness Pie and an iced coffee and continued on thru town and then opted to take the mountain road thru Waiau to Hanmer Springs. We could have taken the road further down via Culverden which we later found to be wiser but didn't know at the time. The mountain road from Waiau to Hanmer was pretty rugged going in the little campervan. We were down to really slow speeds most of the time and were starting to look anxiously at the clock about 3pm. Still a long way to go and averaging 30kph! We wanted to be in Hanmer Springs well before dark so as to have a go in the hot pools and settle in our camp. Also, we wanted to be off
this pretty scary narrow road as well. At one stage we watched a crop duster aircraft top dressing a "paddock" deep down in a valley and saw him pull up in front of us out of nowhere and after a wingover and half roll disappear back down deep in the valley. We just got covered with drifting super! Then a vehicle roared past us on the gravel road and we heard a mighty "crack" on the windshield! Copped a nice sized stone chip right in the middle. Kea provides a "1st Aid Kit" for windscreens and we finally found a place we could pull over and had to drive up to a picnic parking bench in order to reach up and put on the emergency glass patch. It held all the way back OK much to our relief.
We eventually made better time than we thought and cruised into Hanmer Springs well before dark. Checked into the local Top 10 Holiday Park and immediately set off to the Hot Springs. Our initial impressions were somewhat mixed. We were imagining all sorts of things like open mud pools of steaming sulphur to exclusive places for the "rich & famous". However,
what we found was a large facility like the city baths with change rooms and security lockers and 'normal' tiled pools of all sizes and temperatures AND (happily for us) people of all ages, shapes and sizes enjoying the bubbles and soaking up the hot water. You can start in whatever temperature you like and wander from pool to pool as long as you like. Cheap too...only $14 each. The only real 'sulphur' smell was in the hottest pool and from there you can work down to a pleasant warm bubble spa. The proof that these were really hot springs was sitting out in the open at night with the snow tipped mountain peaks forming a backdrop in the distance. Very enjoyable.
However, hunger finally drove us out and we dried off, went back to the van and tided up and went up to the small town for a "big night out" at the local pub. Monteiths Pub was the place for a feed. Super friendly staff, all falling over themselves to serve you. Tucked into a few pints and the best ever garlic ciabbata followed by huge pork chops & mash in caramelised onion, apple sauce and crackling.
Marvellous what a hot soak does to ones appetite!
Back at the camper and tucked in for the night we finally realised that this was the last night in our dear little Crowded House and we felt somewhat sad. It's been a fantastic trip and we haven't regretted a moment of it.
Tomorrow we will be on our way back down to Christchurch to hand in our little house on wheels......still, a few things to see on the way.
Have left a few photos of Hanmer Springs (incl the hot pools) out of this blog as there are far too many to put in here. Will make them a feature of the next and final leg of our journey tomorrow.
To enlarge the pics, just double click on them and because there are so many you have to scroll down and click on the little boxes 1, 2 and 3.
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