We took an early flight from Auckland to Christchurch so that we could make the most of our ‘South Island Road Trip’ with an early start.
Maui provided us with a free pick-up shuttle from Christchurch airport to their nearby depot and having pre-filled all documentation online, checking in was quick and easy followed by a briefing of how everything works on our ‘home on wheels’ for the next eight days.
Although there were only two of us we had chosen the ‘Platinum Beach’ Motorhome so that we had plenty of space to relax in, along with the added benefits of a permanent bed at the rear, central galley, toilet/shower and a place to dine at the front of the motorhome. We allocated the top bunk for case storage and all the camera gear. …. Let our road trip begin!
Departing Christchurch our first destination stop was Kaikoura (181 Kms approx 2hrs 30 mins), the scenery along the Kaikoura coastline is stunning, with blue skies and crashing waves. We took a break to view a local seal colony that are quite prolific along this coastline. We ventured on to Kaikoura.
We arrived in Kaikoura about mid-day and checked in for our two & half boat trip with Whalewatch Kaikoura for a chance to view whales and other marine species. After a short video and briefing about the life of the whales also safety brief whilst on board the boat. We departed by bus on a short trip to South Bay where we boarded the whale watch boat before heading out into the deep sea canyons in search of these large and impressive mammals. We were not disappointed, sighting two Sperm whales.
As the whales prepare to dive down to the ocean floor, with camera’s at the ready, everyone waited with bated breath for that famous flick of the tail, a captivating sight and a memory that will stay forever.
Our return trip to South Bay we spent a little time with a large pod of resident dusky dolphins and lots of birdlife.
Keen to have fresh seafood for our first evening meal we had booked a late afternoon fishing charter with local fishing expert “Tomo’ of Kaikoura Fishing Tours along with other fellow like minded travelers.
Tomo operates a 10 metre fishing boat with all the modern gear and onboard technology to find and catch fish. We headed out sea for about 15 minutes before Tomo our skipper circled a small area and proceeded to put down two crayfish pots to be retrieved on our way back. From here it was onto the fishing grounds, with baited hooks we lowered our prey to the bottom, the fish bites were instant with a couple of the fellow fisho’s already having boated their first fish of Red Cod. Over the next hour we had caught sufficient fish for all onboard of different species including my favourite Blue Cod. The crew filleted our catch ready for the pan. On our return we checked the craypots and were rewarded with a crayfish each.
We chose to stay at the Alpine Holiday Park that provides a good standard of facilities, swimming pool, level grassy sheltered site with marvellous mountain and rural views and just a short walking distance from town. We settled down to our first evening meal in the campervan with fresh cooked crayfish and a superb Marlborough Pinot Gris.
Day 2 was an early start, we drove to South Bay to meet up with Albatross Encounters for their 6-30 am trip to see Kaikoura’s incredible diversity of pelagic (ocean going) birds. With everyone on board and an arsenal of cameras and lenses, we headed out of the harbour into open water where the skipper had spotted a commercial fisherman working along the coastline, which seemed to be a good place to encounter our first bird spotting. The skipper threw some tasty morsels into the water which seemed to be a signal for a variety of species of birds to join us within just a few feet of the boat, we were surrounded by Shearwaters, Petrels followed by the sighting of the mighty wingspan of the majestic Albatross as he flew in to join us. All you could hear was the squawking of birds and the clicking of the shutters of everyone’s camera’s.
Saying farewell to Kaikoura our next destination was Picton. Driving along the coastline for the ones that may have missed the opportunity of fishing and pulling a craypot, then just 20 minutes north of Kaikoura is the famous “Nins Bin” a caravan permanently parked at the side of the road and where they sell freshly caught & cooked crayfish so all you have to do is enjoy it.
Further North of Kaikoura (27 Kms) is Ohau Stream a popular stopping point for locals and tourists, a place to view young fur seal pups that travel up the stream from the coast to play. A walk follows the stream for about 10 minutes until we came to a small picturesque waterfall and pool and where we were lucky to see lots of cavorting seal pups.
During their time in the pool, the pups develop social, swimming, foraging and anti-predator behaviour which builds muscle power and co-ordination. They play with sticks and leaves in the water, chasing each other and generally being curious. (Best time to view is April to September.)
On arriving in Picton we chose to stay at the Top 10 Holiday Park located just 1 Km from the town centre and offering good facilities. Our evening meal was yesterdays catch from our fishing trip ( I like fish to be chilled for 24 hrs before cooking), pan fried with lemon pepper and fresh salad complimented with yet again another superb Marlborough Pinot Gris.
Waking up to perfect weather we boarded Pictons ‘Dolphin Watch’ boat for a 3 hour cruise into the Queen Charlotte Sounds in search of dolphins. They managed to elude us for a little while as we cruised into numerous sheltered bays and coves, seeing kiwi baches and lodges that dot the shoreline surrounded by scenery that was simply stunning. Finally we sighted our first pod of Bottlenose dolphins as they swam under our bow, occasionally taking big leaps. A few of our fellow passengers opted for swimming with them but we chose to stay dry and and watch from the deck, we were joined a short while later by a second small pod of common dolphins…our morning had become a success.
As Marlborough is noted for its premier wine growing region offering more than 80 wineries we decided to join a guided wine tour with ‘Marlborough Travel’, that offer tastings in several exclusive wineries. What a great insight into the local producers of the region and a chance to mix and mingle with fellow travellers sharing lunch and a few laughs along the way. A great way to round off our afternoon in Marlborough.
Exploring more of what Blenheim had to offer we started at the Marlborough Museum in Brayshaw Park, an inspiring collection of items which tell the story of Marlborough and the history of the wine making in the region.
Next stop was the ‘Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre’ that exhibits Sir Peter Jacksons own collection of WW1 aircraft and artefacts, this is an incredible display of an historical past with impressive displays and lighting. even if you have no airplane or war history interest the displays were incredible.
Next door houses an interesting collection of classic cars from the 1950’s to the 1980’s and although Ruth shared some of my enthusiasm for this and to ensure our house on wheels stayed a happy place we visited ‘Makana Confections’ where we watched the making of hand made chocolates and partook of some lovely free samples before purchasing a selection of our favourites for the coming days ahead.
We had pre-booked an overnight at a chosen Maui Campervans Winery haven ‘Forrest Winery’.
Parking the campervan amidst the vineyard and setting up our outdoor table and chairs, it was a chance to relax with a wine tasting of Forrest wines accompanied by a delicious cheese platter.
The staff presented us as part of the ‘Maui Haven’ package, a gourmet hamper full of local delicacies & goodies including lamb rack, vegetables, cheeses, pickles and a bottle of selected Forrest wine to suit.
We had heard of a nearby English type pub aptly named the “Cork & Keg” so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to check it out, we received a warm welcome from the staff and gave us a chance to have a laugh with the friendly locals and fellow travellers. The Cork & Keg provides a menu of good pub tucker which we washed down with yet another local Marlborough Pinot Gris.
…… a very relaxed evening in a perfect spot.
(Images: Cork & Keg)
We woke again to clear skies and sweeping views of the Forrest Wines vineyard with the stunning Wither Hills as a backdrop. Along with another couple we had the chance to meet the owner/winemaker John Forrest who gave us an interesting tour around the vineyard, explained the processes of winemaking, blending and some early morning tastings from the barrel.
Leaving the Forrest vineyard behind, we decided to head for Pelorous Bridge (Approx 60 Kms) taking the opportunity to relax in this scenic reserve with its forest and river scenery, watching some ‘Outward Bounds’ participants warming up after a kayak on the river.
Keen to try some local green mussels we decided to head back to Havelock to the ‘Slip Inn’ that sits on the waters edge of the Marina …. With such a great menu to choose from we opted for the ‘The Mussel Kilo’, steamed with white wine, garlic butter and herbs…they were spectacular and I definitely ate the most.
Renowned for its outstanding scenery we returned via the ‘Queen Charlotte Scenic Route’ back to Blenheim via Picton (Approx 65 Kms) not a fast road and with all the scenic stops it took us over 2 hours, the views are incredible, it’s well worth the drive. Tonight’s dinner: tasty meatballs in a pasta sauce with mashed potato.
We were off to an early start meeting up with 4 wheel drive experts Geoff & Lee Swift from ‘Molesworth Tours’ heading for a full day in the high country and possibly the highest road/track in New Zealand.
We drove through some local sheep stations before starting to climb the steep gravel tracks and as we got higher the views just kept getting better, we couldn’t stop snapping away but Geoff assured us it was only going to get better.
Eventually we arrived at the top of Blackbirch Ridge some 5300 feet above sea level, with patches of snow on the ground and time for a coffee and some home made fayre that lee had lovingly made the night before. We took in the 360 degree views from the mountains to the sea. What a fantastic experience and we would definitely do this again.
After this great adventure Geoff and Lee offered for us to park our motorhome on their property for the night … Awesome day out with lovely, entertaining Kiwi hosts.
Sunday is Marlborough’s Farmers Market day in Blenheim and we were keen to have a peek. Here they sell local produce, boutique sauces and pickles, a range of handcrafted goods, various yummy foods, coffee, and lots of friendly locals with areas to sit and talk to others and to people watch.
We took time to wander along the picturesque river that flows through Blenheim’s township with its café’s, restaurants taking the time to stroll along the river bank and through Queens Park.
We spent the remainder of the day cruising and enjoying the surrounding scenery of Marlborough’s vineyards, visiting some more of the local vineyards, stopping at Wither Hills winery for lunch and yet another Pinot Gris
Wanting to see a great sunrise and following advice from several locals we headed to Rarangi Beach just North of Blenheim for the night….. Our first overnight freedom camp!
Our last morning of our trip we were up before daybreak, and with a plunger coffee in hand we waited for the sun to peak over the horizon. We got chatting to a local couple and their three legged pooch who had also arrived to enjoy the sunrise which didn’t disappoint and which re-assured us that we had definitely been camping in the right place.
More coffee and toasted muffins for breakfast with our new found friends and pooch.
Our journey back to Christchurch took in ever changing scenery from the vineyards of Marlborough with their rows of vines, to farming pastureland and onto the magnificent coastal scenery as we drove down the Kaikoura coastline once again. with a backdrop of the snow capped Kaikoura ranges.
We pulled over on a beautiful spot on the waters edge and sifted through what food we had left and manged to create a very colourful and tasty omelette from the ingredients. We tidied up our home on wheels, packed the remainder of our bags and headed on the last leg to return to Christchurch….. What an awesome week, with so many things we saw and so many things we didn’t have enough time for……. We definitely we have some more Must Do’s for our next road trip of the South Island!