Sunday, February 12, 2012


Just a few hours north of Kaikoura is the town of Blenheim, the gateway to New Zealand's most famous wine regions, Marlborough. We took the opportunity to spend an afternoon going from winery to winery to do tastings.
Views from the Cloudy Bay vineyard

The vineyards stretch on for miles 
The tastings were delicious and fun. And they lacked the pretentious aire that might be associated with wine tasting in general. The area also produces delicious cheeses and manuka honey which is lauded for its immune boosting qualities.

The Marlborough region is also the home to the Marlborough sounds. The expansive inlets and bays on the northern tip of the south island. It is in Marlborough sound that the inter island ferry carries passengers from Wellington, New Zealands capital in the north island, to the Picton in the south island. The sounds are also an important aquaculture area where green shelled mussels and salmon are farmed.

Marlborough sound is also the site of the Queen Charlotte track, a famous multi-day hike with great views of the emerald green sounds. We decided to hike a 26km portion of the track in one day. This required a boat transfer in the morning leading to an all day hike back to our car eventually.

The hike was very nice, however, the overcast weather was very disappointing as the water color lacked the beautiful hues that make the sounds so stunning.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Kaikoura is a small pennisula next to a deep water bay on the east coast of New Zealand.  The deep waters around Kaikoura are rich with marine life including whales, dolphins, paua (abalone), and crayfish (rock lobster).  Until recently the town of Kaikoura inhabited by farmers and fisherman and today hosts weekenders from Christchurch and ecotourists.  Claire's parents own a bach (cottage) in Kaikoura so we met them there and spent five days in town.

The penninsula was the site of a traditional Maori Pa, a defensive fortification. In more recent times it has been used as farmland and around the coast there is a lovely and well maintained coastal path. During low tide you can walk around the penninsula in a few hours over tide pools and at other times an alternate path with fantastic views can be walked on the cliffs above. The pennisula is also an important breeding ground for seabirds.
Lucky cows
New Zealand flax on the cliff edge
Life in Kaikoura still revolves around the ocean.  Recreational diving and fishing are popular and fruitful for those with a tolerance for  frigid waters.  I was extremely keen to try my hand at snorkeling for paua and crayfish and fortunately Claire's family had a cache of wetsuits and equipment to pursue such endeavors   Our first attempt at seafood self-sufficiency was a snorkel trip just two blocks from the bach at small bay.
With two wetsuits on and a hood the cold waters were tolerable.  However, the bay was covered with seaweed and visibility was general poor making the job very difficult for novices.  We ended up going home empty handed.

We decided to try our hand at setting out an old lobster trap. We used a small rowboat to paddle out a hundred or so meters from the shore and set out the trap on three consecutive days, each day returning with nothing more than a freshly picked over bag of gleamingly white fish bones.

A sympathetic neighbor was kind enough to give us a large and delicious crayfish for our efforts. We were able to find paua fritters at a local food truck and we fulfilled the rest of our seafood quota by eating fish and chips on numerous occasions. Kaikoura was absolutely one of the highlights of the trip.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Southern East Coast

The drive from Fjordland across the island to the east coast is dominated by the sight of vast sheep pastures.  Miles and miles of green rolling hills covered with sheep.  In this sparsely populated area I was surprised to find that nearly every tiny town, seemingly not much more than a gas station and a fish and chips shop, would also have a golf course.  And Once reaching the coastline the view does not differ a great deal except the rolling hills are replaced by steep cliffs.  But tucked in between these farms is the Catlins National Park.

The Catlins, tucked in the south east corner of the south island feels remote at times.  But in reality is closely connected to the surrounding community that has been using the access roads and watershed to support agriculture for centuries.

Farmers use roads to herd sheep
The beginning of the Catlins River Walk
In addition to the forest tucked inland, the Catlins also encompass a windswept coastal area. Here you can see sea lions sleep the day away on the beaches next to deep sand dunes covered in high grass. The coast also has steep cliffs as exemplified by the often photographed Nugget Point.
A pollen covered bumble bee on a thistle
At Nugget point in addition to the great views you can see yellow eyed penguins nest and seal frolic in the surf.
The lighthouse at Nugget Point
Claire at Nugget Point
Driving north from the Catlins leads to Dunedin, home to the Baldwin street, the steepest street in the world!  It actually doesn't seem any steeper than many streets in San Francisco though.

Oddly spherical boulders