Monday, September 29, 2014

Salt of the Earth


Day 27:  Kaikoura to Nelson, NZ.  A cold morning greeted us in Kaikoura as we saw the temperature dip down to 35°.  A fresh coating of snow graced the peaks of the nearby Sewards and collaborated with a brilliant sun to create a stunning backdrop for our continuing drive north on SH-1.   It seemed a bit odd to watch the morning sun rising above the Pacific Ocean, which is on the west coast back home.

Our inadequate attempt to capture the beautiful scenery
About 14 miles north of Kaikoura, we pulled over at the Ohau Point Lookout to spy on the breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals that live there.  Judging by the air temp, the water sloshing into the rocky shoreline at high tide this morning must have been icy.  But these guys have a double fur coat and were not bothered, especially the young ones.  Dozens of the little guys were having a grand old time diving and frolicking in a semi-sheltered rock pool.  When an occasional high wave surged into their play area, it only seemed to jack up the excitement, like kids on a roller coaster.  In the fashion of their human counterparts, the adults lounged in the sun on nearby rocks, occasionally taking time from their napping to observe the antics of their children.

Seal pool at Ohau Point
As the road wound inland and then back to the coast, we entered yet another splendid area of plump verdant hills peppered with thousands of sheep.  A major center of sheep farming, New Zealand has the world's highest sheep population density.  According to a recent report, New Zealand is home to more than 30 million sheep, almost seven times its human population.  Ewe couldn't prove it by us and we're not trying to fleece you or pull the wool over your eyes, but we herd that a farmer near Christchurch rammed his way into the Guniness book with a world record flock numbering 384,143 sheep.  (Please don't lambaste us and forgive the baaaad puns.)

Have you any wool?
Nearing the town of Blenheim, our attention was diverted by signs to the Lake Grassmere Saltworks.  Snowy mountains of salt lured us down a side road to the plant where more than 60,000 tons of salt are harvested annually.  Sea water is pumped into the 1,700-acre lake during the summer when the Marlborough region's long hours of sun and strong winds begin the evaporation process that increases the water's salinity.  As nature does its work, the water is transferred to a series of concentrating ponds for further evaporation.  When the brine reaches saturation point, it goes into crystallization ponds for the final stage of dehydration.

Lake Grassmere Saltworks
At the crossroads in Blenheim, we turned west on SH-6 toward Nelson, our destination for the day.  We had entered yet another New Zealand wine-producing area, this one called the Wairau Valley region, New Zealand's premier and best known, with 130 wineries.  As in the area north of Christchurch yesterday, vineyards lined both side of the highway.  These were industrial-size wineries with multiple massive storage tanks and significant processing plants.

Wither Hill Winery
The further we drove into the Marlborough region, the higher the roadside views became as we drove through the Richmond Range.  After miles of pastured hillsides, we stopped for lunch in Havelock, the self-proclaimed 'Green-Lipped Mussel Capital of the World.'  We struggled to decide whether we should eat at the Havelock Cafe, the Havelock Lodge, the Havelock Inn, or one of the other creatively named restaurants, finally settling on one that offered some vegetarian options in addition to all those emerald shell mollusks.

Green-Lipped Mussels
Arriving in Nelson in the early afternoon, we decided to go seek a couple of letterboxes west of the town after checking in at The Sails hotel.  Our search for the first box took us to a park at the end of the narrow, twisting Riwaka Valley Road, where we set out on the Riweka Resurgence Trail.  The path was sheltered by a very dense, very moist rain forest.  Moisture was so thick your exhaled breath could be seen as vapor.  Near a picnic area off the trail, we followed a narrow track into the forest seeking a head-high stump leaning toward the river.  Though we located the stump, no treasure was hiding within or nearby.  Its close proximity to the river may well have been behind its disappearance.Though the letterbox was AWOL, we continued out the trail to a platform overlooking the cave where the Riwaka River bubbles up from its underground journey.

Riwaka Resurgence Trail
Our second letterbox target had not been reported as found in more than five years, so we held out little hope of locating it, but it had been planted in the popular beach town of Kaiteriteri (kie-teery-teery), just a few miles away.  With a name that charming, it was a must-see.  Alas, the box was also MIA, but the beach was quite attractive with a caravan village that looked to be at maximum capacity.

Kaiteriteri beach
Though our innkeeper's rapid fire list of recommendations when we checked in included a couple of restaurants that were not seafood-centered, we opted to continue our self-catering habit and picked up dinner supplies at the local New World supermarket on our way back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we have a short drive to the quaint coastal town of Picton, where we'll end our stay on New Zealand's South Island.
Daily Stats:
  • Started in Kaikoura, ended in Nelson
  • Mileage -  254    (Trip total: 14,908)
  • Weather - 35° to 62°, sunny
  • Grains of salt - 452,752,967,021,489,111
  • Missing letterboxes - 2
  • Green-lipped mussels - 18,402

More Photos from Today

The morning sun over the Pacific
Ohau Point
Really?  Outside the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim
A collection of new Toyotas parked in a pasture near the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our Fate Was Sealed


Day 26:  Christchurch to Kaikoura.  As we were sleeping last night, New Zealand implemented Daylight Saving Time and "sprang forward" one hour.  Thus when I awoke this morning and saw 6 a.m. on my watch, I was mistaken in thinking I had two hours to drag around before our agreed upon departure time from Christchurch.  A few minutes later, Ken awoke and looked at his phone.  "Already after 7?" he remarked.  My "extra" hour evaporated and, though we both had plenty of sleep, we were just a little out of step.

By the time we packed up and moved out of our stylish apartment, checked out, and bid farewell to the charming innkeeper Carol, it was 8:45.  We asked the GPS to take us to the coastal town of Kaikoura, and off we went,  Less than a block later, we discovered just how disoriented we were.  When directed to turn right onto Peterborough Street by the GPS, we did, driving in the right lane.  Immediately, both of us sensed that something was amiss, but neither figured out our error until we reached the end of this short block and realized that we had just executed the error of wrong-way driving, something we've struggled to avoid for the past month.  Fortunately for us—and potential victims—there was very little traffic that early on time-change Sunday morning.

The scene of our confusion (image from Google Maps)
Nevertheless, a jolt of caffeine seemed like a good idea, so we pulled into the drive-thru at a nearby Macca's for a large Diet Coke and a free "senior" coffee—a long black, so called because it is equivalent to a short black (espresso) plus added water.  Thus fortified, we drove north on State Highway 1.  Leaving the Christchurch area, the road split into a divided, limited-access freeway, the first we have experienced in New Zealand, but fewer than ten miles later, we were back on the familiar bumpy two-laner with occasional one-lane bridges.

Chardonnay on the left of us, riesling on the right
Soon we found ourselves surrounded by manicured rows of grapevines, lining both sides of the highway.  We had entered the Waipara Valley wine region, renown as a premium area for its pinot noir, riesling, and chardonnay wines.  With the highest summer temperatures of the New Zealand wine regions, Waipara produces more than 100,000 cases of wine each year.

Past Waipara, we drove through the lush fields and pastures of the Greta River valley and stopped for a break at the cozy Mainline Station Cafe in the modest hamlet of Domett.  Over a cup of tea and a freshly baked parmesan and spinach scone, we chatted with cafe owner John, a veteran of the cruise ship industry.

Yummy scones inside
Having trained under a talented chef in his native Christchurch, John indulged his yen for adventure, securing work in Amsterdam and later Perth, before hiring on with Crystal Cruise lines.  After he had sailed the south seas for a couple of years, fate intervened when the young woman who would become his wife joined the ship's crew.  When the two of them later decided it was time to return to dry land and raise a family, they opted for the relaxed pace of a small town cafe.  During the winter months, they shutter their doors, pack up their two little ones, and feed their adventurous spirits again.

Later in the day, as we approached Kaikoura on the east coast, we entered the Seward Kaikoura Coastal range, winding our way on SH-1, as it skirted the rocky shores wedged between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  A cold rain began falling a few miles south of Kaikoura and continued as we checked in at the Aspen Court motel.

After perusing the handy collection of local restaurant menus at the motel, we decided on the Black Rabbit Pizza Company and sloshed back to the cafe on Highway 1, only to find the door locked and adorned with a post-it note indicating "Back in 5."  The awning gave us the time we needed to notice two other signs posted on the Black Rabbit's front window:  'TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence' (for consistently high reviews) and 'Free Wifi.'  Before we had time to even consider getting back into the rain to walk away from those tempting offers, a small white hatchback zipped up to the curb nearby, and out jumped a breathless young lady, jamming a key in the door as she thanked us for waiting.  This was Laurel, who owns the shop with her husband Josh, and her pizza, made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients with an aim toward full flavor, was well worth the minor delay.

 By the time we polished off the entire large pizza and caught up on email, news and football scores, the rain had taken a breather, so we drove out Fyffe Quay toward the southeastern tip of the Kaikoura Peninsula to visit some popular town residents. Along the way we paused to check out an isolated chimney along the shore.  This lonely sentinel was once part of the local customs house in the days when Kaikoura was port-dependent with no rail or road connections.

Kaikoura Rocks
Near the chimney was evidence of an earlier history.  Much earlier.  According to geologists, about 180,000 years ago, a rapid seismic uplift raised and twisted layers of limestone and siltstone from the ocean bed to the surface.  Today these vertical versions of the "pancake rocks" we saw on the west coast decorate the shore line of what is now Kaikoura.

As interesting as these intermediate stops were, what we really wanted to see was at the end of the road. In recent years, Kaikoura has become the epicenter of New Zealand's marine life tours, but today's weather had kept the whale and dolphin watching boats in the harbor.  Our only opportunity for a close encounter with a marine mammal was offered by the Fyffe Quay seal colony.  Undaunted by the fog and rain, these New Zealand fur seals were out there performing for their paparazzi.  They yawned and lolled and even posed for the tourists who made the pilgrimage to their rocky shore home.

Long a target for fur harvesters, these seals were brought back from the brink of extinction by protective legislation.  The population has rebounded, and Fyffe Quay hosts one of several thriving colonies in the Kaikoura area.

By the time we pulled ourselves away from these winsome hosts and drove up to the town overlook at the end of Maui Street, the rain was back to stay.  We yielded to a stronger foe and called it a day, returning to the hotel for the night.

Tomorrow we'll continue up the South Island's east coast before turning back west to Nelson on the northern shore.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Christchurch, ended in Kaikoura
  • Mileage -   130  (Trip total: 14,654)
  • Weather - 41° to 46°, overcast, windy, rainy
  • Grapevines - 34,910
  • New Zealand fur seals - 62
  • Sheep - 7,241

More Photos from Today

Lovely cup of tea at the Mainline Station Cafe
Kaikoura shore
A fishing ban offshore allows Kaikoura to maintain the bounty of fish that attract whales and dolphins to the area.
Statement hedge in front of a Kaikoura home
Nice view of the town from the Maui Street overlook.

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