Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kaikoura and Blenheim

The weather today was gorgeous, and was the warmest day we'd felt in while. Blue skies with some white puffy clouds, and a hot sun warmed us up and felt like summer. In the mountains it had been nice in the sunshine, but always pretty cold in the shade or when the wind blew.

We headed out of our little roadside camp on toward the town of Kaikoura. The town is famous for it's whale-watching cruises since a pod of Sperm Whales lives there year round. In summer you can also see Orcas and in winter there are Humpbacks. The town used to be based around whaling, but since 1924 it's just been a fishing town. We had no idea the area would be so incredibly stunning. It was like New Zealand and Hawaii, all in technicolor. The water was glowing turquoise and looked like photos we've all seen of Tahiti. The pastures were the greenest of greens and the snow-capped mountains stark against the blue sky. It looked like a tropical paradise meets Colorado and we were impressed.

We pulled into the "South Bay" parking lot in order to do the walk around the peninsula that sticks out from Kaikoura. The walk follows the water and goes up a steep hill to the top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The whole time you're walking in the green grounds of cows and sheep, they seem to have the best views, but it was a popular trail with many people. Once we reached the yellow lighthouse at the end of the cliffs, we headed down to the water and walked back to the car along the ocean.

We passed nesting grounds of hundreds of sea birds, and saw dozens and dozens of the New Zealand fur seals. They are actually very threatening as Erich found out. He had rounded a slight corner in the rocks and was looking down as you had to walk on the rock and over tidepools. He didn't see the seal laying to his right and it popped up and started making a weird hissing sound and showing his teeth when he saw Erich. For the rest of the walk, we were paranoid about getting too close to these guys. In the crystal clear water we could see shells and bull seaweed along the way.

Sweaty and tired from the long walk, we drove into town for some fish and chips and veggie burger takeaway and sat at an ocean overlook for lunch. The fish was really good, and of course very fresh. We did not realize that the drive north to Blenheim was actually two hours, we were guessing about 45 minutes. We were so pleasantly surprised with Kaikoura that we had lost track of time and now would barely make it in time for the vineyard wine tastings that we had planned.

The Marlbourough Wine Trail is one of the must-dos in the South Island according to our book and everyone we had talked to about it. In the most concentrated section of the wine region here, within only 3 miles there are over 25 vineyards. This area is where most of the New Zealand white wines come from, although they do make Pinot Noir as well.

We got there just before they were closing, so we raced into a winery called Mt Rimel for the tasting. The place had a very chic modern feel to it, and the wine was actually very good. We were a little disappointed that everywhere else had closed for the day, but if we are up for it in the morning we might go back to some before taking our ferry back over to the North Island.

After searching out a grocery store, we only had to go about 10 minutes to the beach camping area we had decided on for the night. The beach is beautiful, although the waves are completely flat, and it's nice to sleep on the ocean for our last night on the South Island.

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