I said I would update from Christchurch, and here I am actually updating from Christchurch. 368 days after leaving the UK, in less than 24 hours, I will be boarding the plane to head back home for a bit. How long? Who knows! Where next? Your guess is as good as mine. I predict two more blog updates after this one – one to round off the Antill Mob road trip (it will be a long one, it has to cover Tekapo/Pukaki/Twizel, Wanaka, Te Anau/Milford Sound, Queenstown/Arrowtown, Oamaru and Christchurch. I really should have split this one off later, but it seemed like a good place to stop) and one final post to round things off. Judging by my previous posting schedule, you should get those by the start of May…
Where did we leave off? Ah, yes, we left Wellington to make our way to the South Island. In the run up to our trip, I had been quite concerned about the ferry. Living in Wellington, I know how windy it can get on the Cook Strait, and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the crossing in high winds or rough seas. Not being the best traveller on a good day, I was expecting it to be a long and unpleasant three hours. What we got instead was 3 hours of brilliant sunshine, no wind and barely a ripple in the waters. You couldn’t have wished for a smoother journey. Here are some of the pictures I took on the way:
Arriving in Picton at 12.30, we made the logical next step of driving straight to Blenheim and doing some wine tasting (the boring, proper way, as we were driving. No drinking all the samples for us). The reason we did this straight away was not because 10 days of travelling together had driven us all to alcoholism, but because it was a) the nicest weather forecast for our few days in Marlborough; b) the day before Marlborough Fest, so much quieter than the following day would have been; and c) we were staying halfway between Havelock and Picton, so it made for a nice round trip to go there one way and come back the other way. Logic at work.
Deciding only to do three wineries, we did two of my favourites from last time, Huia and Framingham, and one that I hadn’t done before, Bladen (of course, I forgot to take any pictures of that one, oops). To say that both times I have been wine tasting previously, I have visited about 6 wineries and not bought any wine, this time, we visited 3 wineries and bought 3 bottles of wine. We’re on holiday, after all. It’s also a lot easier to finish a bottle when there are 3 of you instead of 1 (not being a fan of drunkenness or hangovers).
As the weather the following day was grey with showers on and off, we took the day as a well-deserved rest stop. We were in a lovely little guesthouse in Anakiwa, a little hamlet along Queen Charlotte Drive. It’s the starting point of the Queen Charlotte Track, and home to an Outward Bound school for adults to learn allsorts of outdoorsy skills… not being particularly outdoorsy, I didn’t pay much attention past “long run before breakfast”. There are probably 50 or so houses in Anakiwa, but only 12 are occupied all year round, the rest are second homes or holiday rentals. After the end of the school holidays, it was the very definition of peaceful. Just what we needed before the rest of our itinerary.
After that welcome rest, it was once again time to move on to the next destination. This time, Kaikoura. It was one of the places that I had missed off the first time I travelled around the South Island, because State Highway 1 was closed following the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016, and it made travelling there by bus on the way to Blenheim too difficult. This time, SH1 was open, we had a car, and it was all good to go… aside from the weather. It had been raining on and off all day on the way down, and when we went to check in for our 3.30pm whale watching cruise, we found that it had been cancelled due to rough seas. Sad face. As whale watching had been Mum’s activity of choice for her 60th birthday 2 days later, this presented a slight problem. Was there a chance that we could book on one of the morning cruises for the next day? Well, we could have the 7.15 am cruise time, but only one of us could go as there was only one seat left. Ah – In that case, was it a possibility to put Mum on that cruise and refund my place? Sure, but would you like us to put you on the waiting list for tomorrow – there’s no one else on it at the moment, and if you didn’t get a spot, we can refund you in the morning? Yes, please, that sounds wonderful.
So there we were, bright and early (well, the sun was just rising), wondering if I would get a place on the cruise. As soon as we walked through the doors to check in, the manager we had spoken to yesterday waved us right over and said she had found me a spot. Perfect! The weather was clear blue skies, so it actually turned out much better than if the cruise the day before had been running. Yes, there was quite a strong swell out in the deeper waters, but I am the Queen of Travel Sickness Medication, don’t you know?! About a dozen people threw up over the 2 and a half hours, and I was NOT one of them. So there.
So was it worth the money and the early morning? Definitely! We saw 2 sperm whales, a humpback whale, a blue shark, a NZ fur seal, several different kinds of albatross and a lot of dusky dolphins. The absolute best you could wish for, really. I managed to get lots of videos that I haven’t even looked at yet, and 2 short videos of one of the sperm whales and the humpback whale’s tails. Definitely a success. As with the dophin videos from Paihia, please let me know if these have come out upside down and I will try to fix them. They seem to play ok on my tablet, but the preview looks upside down.
While Mum and I were whale watching, Dad was doing some sightseeing around Kaikoura. It certainly looked much better in the nice weather than it had in the rain the day before. The bottom left picture, above, was taken in the bad weather, with the top left picture taken the next day. You could actually see the hills, this time. Soon enough, it was time to move on again. This time, to Lyttelton.
I’m using the distinction of saying we went to Lyttelton this time, as we didn’t go into Christchurch at all. Even though Lyttelton is the port for Christchurch, we used it as a base to see the Banks Peninsula, and because it was Mum’s birthday and it had a hot tub. Our AirBnB was lovely, up a steep hill with a really narrow road (think Matlock, Darley Dale or parts of Bakewell), overlooking the harbour. We enjoyed dinner out on the deck both nights, and had 2 fantastic sunsets. A perfect place to spend Mum’s birthday.
On the day itself, we drove out to Akaroa, around the Banks Peninsula. We drove there the sensible way, along the State Highway. It reminded me how flat a lot of Canterbury is, with impressive hills on one side of the road but the other side was flat fields for as far as the eye can see. Then, we got to the up and down hilly bit, which was fine, the road was wide and marked and sealed, all well and good. Driving back was another matter entirely. Dad had the bright idea to drive over to Pigeon Bay and then take the “coastal” route back to Lyttelton. Despite not showing as such on the map, this meant 24km of hilly, gravel, single track road. In fact, in a lot of places, the gravel was long gone and there were just deep tracks of dirt. Well, at least it was dry. Let’s just not mention the sheer drops down the side of the road without any sort of fence.
Dad described it as follows:
“Well, you know the bit in the Lord of the Rings, where they’re climbing the mountain and there’s avalanches? Well, it was a bit like that, only without the snow and the avalanches, but for 24 kilometres.”
Akaroa was lovely. It’s an old French settlement – the French arrived in 1840 thinking it would make a nice place for a colony, only to find that the British had beaten them to it. It still has some French road names, and likes to emphasise the link for tourism purposes, but it’s a pretty little town. It was a cruise ship day, so there were more people around than we would have liked, but we enjoyed our little outing. Until the drive home, at least.
Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to enjoy my last day in New Zealand. If I manage to type up the next instalment on the flight, I’ll post it when I get home. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until I’ve slept off the jetlag. It seems strange not to have any more NZ plans after so long, but I have some great UK things to look forward to in the next couple of weeks. First: I’m taking myself to London for the day on Wednesday to see Julius Caesar. Because I’m the only Shakespeare nerd I know.
Think of me tomorrow, while you are enjoying the freedom of not being stuck up in the air in a tin can.