Our first full day in New Zealand and we were greeted by a beautiful blue sky and a lovely warm temperature.
Rather apprehensively given Karen’s reservations about the Hotel we made our way down to breakfast. It was not the best but also far from the worst. I think Karen felt reassured that there were a mixture of other people having breakfast ranging from normal couples, family groups mixed with just a smattering of backpackers. Everyone was friendly and the food was hot and edible.
We went back to our room to pack up and left our bags secure there whilst we went for a rather pleasant stroll to pick up the hire car for the next 16 days. This was all very hassle free and we were given a free upgrade. As we will be taking the car on the ferry to the North Island and leaving it there, I think it was more of a case of them wanting to getting a car moved north rather than generosity on their part. The car is a pale blue Toyota Corolla although much larger than I think they are back in the UK. It seemed fine initially although well loved as it had almost 100k miles on the clock. The car was rented through Apex who are a local company. Unlike the multi national rental companies they include a ferry booking in the cost rather than insisting you leave the car at the ferry port and hire another one the other side, which is a lot of hassle especially with luggage. Also they are much cheaper than the national rental companies although I suspect the cars are much older. We set up the Sat Nav I had purchased on eBay for the trip and made our way back to the Hotel to check out and collect our bags.
And with that we were off on the NZ drive part of the trip. Even though I was driving on the right side of the car, it felt initially as though I was back in the USA and when I did a U turn to start heading off in the right direction I started on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately there was no other traffic about and I soon realised my error. I also soon discovered the car handled like a tank and had the brakes with the stopping power of a tanker.
We set the Sat Nav to take us to Waipara Springs winery. This was the place we had discovered by accident last time and Karen loved the wine. I had even managed to order a box for delivery back home for her birthday as a surprise two years back and so she was keen to revisit the place. We arrived just after opening and it hadn’t changed at all. The staff were all lovely and friendly and we decided to sit out in the garden at the exact same table as before. We both had hot drinks to start with accompanied by some home made bread and dips. The bread was to die for.
It was then time for the wine tasting. I did not imbibe as I was driving but Karen went for it trying all of their 5 current wines on offer. It is a small family run vineyard producing around 120k bottles each year. They only sell direct from the vineyard, to local restaurants, through a wine club and the export market. This time Karen’s favourite was the Riesling followed by the Savvy B. We ended up buying a bottle of each to drink whilst we in NZ.
Rather reluctantly we said our goodbyes as we had another 3 hours of driving ahead of us. The first place we wanted to stop at was Kaikoura which was about 1 hour away.
Karen insisted we had stayed here last time but I could not remember any of it until we walked over a bridge to the beach and that triggered a vague memory. When I managed to get onto the towns Wifi I was able to confirm that Karen was correct. We think though that much of the place was still closed or inaccessible following the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016 which is why I didn’t recognise it. We wandered around looking for something for lunch and gravitated to a bustling Fish & Chip cafe. We decided that the food looked really good and it was incredibly cheap (much cheaper than we pay at home in Norwich) and so we sat outside on the picnic benches and enjoyed our very late lunch sharing a strangely large can of Coke Zero.
The next stop planned was to see the apparently thousands of seals and pups on the beaches North of Kaikoura. We had been driving for a while and Karen was concerned we may have missed them when suddenly we came across them.
Not being a Seal expert, but even I could see that they were different from the ones found on the Norfolk beaches. The pups were much smaller and far more active and playful. The parents laid and basked on the rocks in the sun whilst the pups seemed to hang around in groups getting up to all sorts of mischief in the rock pools. It was fascinating watching them especially when one of them wanted to get back to his Mum but could not manage the climb up on the rock to her. He tried all different ways and was calling to her. Eventually after bellowing back she fed up and leant right over the rock and hauled him back up by the scruff of his neck. She then laid down blocking his way so that despite his protestations he couldn’t go off to play again once she had fed him. I could have stayed there for hours doing a David Attenborough commentary in my head of all the ongoings.
It was then time to get back on the road. Every few miles we were stopped by roadworks or additional safety measures being made to the railway line that hugged the coast. It was easy to see in parts where the old road that had been destroyed by the earthquake had been and it must have been a big engineering feat to get it all back up operational again. Nature can be such a destructive force. Although the roadworks slowed us down it was made bearable by the NZ method of traffic control at roadworks all being done manually. As each car enters or leaves the controlled area, the people doing the traffic control always waves and smiles to you. Some of them even have their own quirky little action for each car. Every time it brought a smile to both of our faces as we went through as we waved back each time.
We then made our way to Blenheim for the night and the daily moment of dread when the place I have booked comes into view. Amazingly it got a thumbs up from Karen which quickly turned into double thumbs up and big smile once we got into our room. It was lovely and also very spacious. Within about 3 minutes Karen had unpacked and was sitting on the bijoux balcony. It was more like a small apartment than a room with everything finished and cleaned to a high standard. We would have been happy to stay here for a week. The lovely owner even delivered a high quality continental breakfast to the room for the next morning which was all included in the price.
As we were still quite full from our late lunch we decided to walk into Blenheim in search of a supermarket to get or make some sandwiches for an early supper. Blenheim itself was a nice enough town which we strolled around before heading to the Countdown Supermarket. We bought bread and rolls along with some nibbles and took them back to the Motel. We ate them whilst I caught up to date with the blog and Karen watched the BBC UK TV channel. It was another early night as we still tried to catch up from the jet lag.