Wine tasteing, whale watching, Mount Cook and my favourite Beach in the World

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March 8th 2009
Published: March 24th 2009
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I carry my trainers onto the ferry in a plastic bag. They are still wet and caked in mud from the Whanganui river. They stink and I am sure that I cannot be the only passenger who can smell them. The crossing takes place mainly at night so we do not get to see much and when we arrive in Picton at nine thirty most of the dinning establishments are closed. A few remain open but they are full of drunken backpackers and I am not in the mood to deal with them. We drive out to the hostel that we booked earlier that day. Our room is in what looks like a shed in the back garden. It is about ten by six foot and contains two bunk beds on of which has a double bed for the bottom bunk. So theoretically five people could sleep in this shed. There is a sink in the corner and the shared bathroom and shower are in the main building. It's only sixty dollars which is just under thirty pounds. It is cheap and clean and sorts us out for the night. We have a lovely breakfast in a cafe looking out onto a sunny Picton bay where yachts rock lazily on their moorings, kayakers oars glisten and in the distance the morning ferry sales for Wellington. The bay is surrounded by lush green mountains, there is a blue sky and it feels like a little picturesque slice of paradise.

We head south towards the small town of Renwick in the Marlborough wine region picking up Matt, a young skinny Canadian hitch hiker who is a cheerful young man who, apart from requiring a wash and spray on deodorant makes for pleasant company. We drop him in Blenheim and continue on to our motel in Renwick. We check in at the bar which doubles or quadruples up as a restaurant, bookies, bottle shop and motel reception. Lou gets changed, apparently two hours sitting in the car has made her less than presentable, we hire some bikes and cycle off to the first of may excellent wineries. The wine is free to taste and the pourers are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about their wine. My favourite winerie was Te Whare Ra in particular the Resiling and Tour, a blend of Gew├╝rztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris.

The next day we continue south towards Kiakoura about one hundred kilometres along we turned off the main road onto Beach Road. A twisting and turning gravel single track that crossed the railway line behind an old shack. After parking we walked down to the pebbly beach and cross tiny ground up stones smaller than peas. Out feet disturb the surface revealing darker wet stones that line just beyond the reach of the suns drying warmth. Walking onto smooth grey, black and creamy white pebbles I notice sun bleached driftwood white as bones and the deep reddish brown of dead seaweed. The sea swirls and swells all cloudy green around biscuit coloured rocks washing huge flat blades of glistening brown seaweed like the long flowing locks of a beautiful woman's hair in a milky sweet bath. I look back around the curve of the bay, across lush green fields to rocky, jagged mountains that stand magnificent, strong and silent against the deep blue sky that is caressed with little fluffy clouds. I take a breath and fill my heart and soul with the beauty that is laid out before me. I love this place.

We drive on past a cute little church following the coast to Kiakoura. The Red Hot Chilly Peppers album Blood Sugar Sex Magic blasts from the car stereo. The sun shines down on me and my woman. What more could you want?

We stay in a wonderful little motel that afforded fantastic view of the mountains. After doing some shopping and the laundry we took a walk around seal point along a cliff path and looping back around into town before cooking dinner and going to bed.

The next day we booked to go whale watching but unfortunatly the sea was too rough so we booked again for the following morning and went to the visitor centre to investigate alternatives. After finding that the whale watching flights had been cancelled due to the weather as had the quad biking we settled on a round of golf. I tee off with a lovely stroke and watched by ball sail down the fairway at a good heigh before it was caught by the strong sea wind and blown sideways into the rough. Things didn't improve much from then on. Lou and Jo opened a bottle of wine which they sipped whilst careering around after stray balls on their golf cart. Brett got a call from his office and had to go to sit in his car to write a letter. We got to the sixth hole before the heavens opened and drove us from the course. We retired to an Irish pub as advertised in the lonely planet where our ears were abused by a Danny O'Donal video for the amount of time it took us to gulp down a pint before we beat a hasty retreat to eat in another hole of a place as bland and characterless as lemon sorbet before giving up and going home to bed before anything else could go wrong.

In the morning the alarm woke us early and I cooked up some veggie sausage sandwiches whilst Lou showered. We packed up the car and drove to the Whale watch centre where we were told the boat was sailing and we were coached down to the harbour. We sailed out to sea over one and a half meter swells our eyes on the horizon looking for little white clouds of sprayed water from the whales blow holes. After around an hour a sperm whale was spotted and we sailed over, cut the engines and drifted closer. It was an amazing site being just a few meters from the fifteen foot sperm whale as it's huge mass bobbed around on the surface for twenty minutes or so before it graced us with the site of it's magnificent tail and diving deep down in search of food. Dolphins swam and played around the boat. We were lucky enough to see two more sperm whales before heading for shore.

We eat some lunch and started out on our journey to Mount Cook and low and behold standing by the side of the road is our skinny blond hitch hiking friend Matt. He's heading for Christchurch which is on our way so we pick him up. Much to his delight and our amusement he finds Old Crow Medicine on my Ipod and we drive along to their broken country sound. Our journey takes us down the East coast to Christchurch, where we drop Matt off before heading East. It takes us the rest of the day to drive to Mount Cook and it is an interesting drive. We stop around seven at Lake Pukaki and take a walk down to the edge of it's beautiful blue water and standing on the black rocks on the shore we watch the sky begin to pink over snow capped mountains. We buy pizza for dinner and drive on burning the tops of mouths with hot cheese. It grows dark as we turn north up the side of the massive Lake Pukaki. Hundreds of bugs splat into the windscreen making a gooey mess and several rabbits narrowly avoid meeting the black rabbit of death under my swerving tyres. We arrive around nine thirty and an envelope with a key and a note is there to meet us. I sleep badly my mind probably too sketched out by all the driving to rest.

We wake early eat some porridge oats for breakfast in the communal area where two young fishermen compete for bore of the year with their fishing tales and tactical advice. We wash our dishes and head out along the Kea Track through fields of tall yellowing grass on wooded board walks. We then wind our way through a tiny wooded area it's low thick bushy trees packed tightly together provide us with shade from the burning sun. The path exits the wood and the terrain turns rocky at the foot of the mountain just before we take a left fork off and up Selley Tarns Walk. Once more we find ourselves winding through thick and densely packed trees before we clamber over some boulders and find ourself's at the foot of a mountain looking up a very steep climb. We clamber and scramble up the path which zig zags up the mountain around boulders between dense vegetation. Little flowers poke their coloured heads up out from rocks and the mass of greenness. Mostly the path is stepped but sometimes we have to climb and it is very hard going made no easier by the heat of the afternoon sun. I am stripped to my vest with trouser legs rolled up past the knee and my T-shirt on my head looking very cool as you can imagine. We haver plenty of fluid, food and extra clothing and the views of Mount Cook imposing itself on the valley below keep getting better as we climb higher and higher. There are some pretty scary thin ledges to cross as we get closer to the top but obviously not that bad as we pass two separate couples on their way down carrying babies on their backs. We reach the Selley Tarn or lake which is disappointingly more of a puddle than a lake but this does not diminish the sense of achievement. We catch out breath and look across at the white, pink and blue snow of Mount Cooks neighbouring mountain before turning around and walking back down the path.

Our legs are aching by the time we get to the car start our drive towards Queenstown. The drive is not too long and we arrive at our motel which has a balcony overlooking a lake and a mountain range called The Remarkables. Although the accommodation is a little on the grubby side the view makes up for it and we sleep well looking forward to the excitement that awaits us in Queenstown the following day.


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