Our Fate Was Sealed

Sunday, September 28, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

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.
Nevertheless, a jolt of caffeine seemed like a good idea, so we pulled into the drive-thru at a nearby Macca's (New Zealand's nickname for McDonald's) for a large Diet Coke and a free "senior" coffee.  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.

Soon we found ourselves surrounded by manicured rows of grapevines (pictured above), 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.

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

Journaling and a lovely cup of tea at the Mainline Station Cafe
Statement hedge in front of a Kaikoura home
Nice view of the town from the Maui Street overlook.