Salt of the Earth

Monday, September 29, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 26:  Kaikoura to Nelson

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  (pictured above).   It seemed a bit odd to watch the morning sun rising above the Pacific Ocean, which is on the west coast back home.

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.

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

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