This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Say ‘Eh-Oh’ to Dipsy pt 4 – New Zealand pt 2

Blimey, these titles are getting complicated aren’t they? We’re going to need sub-sections soon I reckon. Anyway, our 1999 tour continues in the South island of New Zealand:

We didn’t hang around in Blenheim, staying just one night. By the time we had got checked in to the motel – in our TWIN room of course – it was getting late and the only food option left was a rather pricey restaurant around the corner, although it did give our bellies a rest from chips for a day, mainly because they didn’t serve ‘em.

Further down the east coast was Kaikoura, a pretty little seaside town noted for being the first place in New Zealand to offer whale watching tours out in the bay, back in 1988. Dolphin watching was big too, but the latest thing, when we were there was the chance to don some scuba gear and be suspended in the water in a metal cage while hungry sharks come and check out their dining options. Not for me but I can imagine it was pretty popular.

We stayed here for a couple of days I think and it was one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand. The main road is just yards from the beach and many of the motels look over it. The streets running back from the main esplanade are named after British seaside resorts – Brighton, Margate, Yarmouth and Ramsgate all get a look in.

One of the nights we were there, having availed ourselves of a couple of beers and something and chips at a boozer on the seafront, we walked along to the local cinema. Now if you are thinking of some big characterless multiplex you’d be wrong.  What we had was a delightful art deco inspired one screen offering bang on the seafront. It was run by, and for the benefit of the locals and showed near as dammit new releases. The nearest alternative would have been to drive to Christchurch – hardly practical at over a hundred miles away, so it was well supported.

As we entered the hall  a young man was reminding everyone to make sure their mobile phones were turned off. He was pleasant and extremely polite but it’s fair to say that he wasn’t, well, quite ‘all there’ if you know what I mean. As we sat down he was remonstrating gently with a man who was playing with something rather large in his hand – a phone, before you get the wrong idea. The man explained patiently, but clearly not for the first time, that he was the local vet and was on call as a number of the local bovine population were heavily pregnant and may soon require his assistance.

The film was ‘Something about Mary’ and was very funny. There was an interval and we all bundled outside - the smokers for a ciggy and everyone for an ice cream. The view across the road to the beach, sea and the setting sun was just wonderful.

The vet’s phone went off at some point through the second half and off he dashed off to do his stuff. It was a great evening.

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The following morning we walked around the coast to the seal colony. A number of flat blubbery leathery skinned beasts basking in the sun lolled around – taking pictures of the seals. We joined them, snapping away - they were either very photogenic or just lazy. I suspect the latter.

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Moving on, we had a night at Hamner Springs, a little inland but I can’t recall that we did anything specific. We’d been here on the last trip two years prior and done some horse riding followed by a dip in the steaming hot pools of the thermal reserve. A great experience which provided some much needed muscular relief after having my legs spread apart for so long. It was a big horse.

Next up (probably) was Christchurch. We’d based ourselves here on our previous visit and didn’t stay for long this time but stopped at the same place. A charming private B & B a few minutes walk south of the city centre. Across the road used to be the Loaded Hog bar, selling their own beer which was guaranteed to be hangover free! We never really put it to the test but it was a nice pint all the same. Clearly things were going well as they had moved to a prime spot in the city centre – and you had to queue to get in.

Whilst there we took the gondola ride that affords great views of Christchurch’s Lyttleton Harbour and beyond.

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Further on we found ourselves in the lakeland area of southern Canterbury and came across a hydro electric power station at the foot of the dam of Lake Benmore. I say, came across, we did make a point of going there as we had seen free tours advertised. The tour wasn’t exactly packed – there was just the two of us and the guide but it was a fascinating hour or so. Thousands of gallons of water hurtle down the massive concrete penstocks to run the turbines and the noise is so great you need ear defenders. We were shown cross sections of the of the massive cables that run between the north and south islands transmitting electricity back or forth according to demand.  On a sunny day, the water in the lakes and contributing rivers becomes a lovely shade of blue thanks to the combination of minerals in the water.

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At some point we crossed over to the west traversing Arthurs Pass on the way. The road was certainly not for the faint hearted. It weaved around the mountainside in tight hairpins and a quick death was assured if you left the road and plunged in to valleys below. That was if you didn’t get hit by falling rocks from above. Again, we already done it on our previous visit, though in the other direction, shifting down the gears as the road climbed steeper and steeper. It was a fun bit of road to drive and afforded some fantastic views but this time they had started building a massive viaduct to cope with the ever increasing traffic. Sensible and undoubtedly safer but also much less fun.

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The next few stops are I’m afraid lost somewhere amongst the clutter in my brain. Greymouth may have been one but if it was it didn’t leave an impression. On the way to Nelson we did stop at Motueka. Our trusty Lonely Planet had mentioned a Gothic Cafe worth visiting. The word gothic piqued my interest of course but It was in fact a former Methodist church painted pink and functioned as a cafe during the day and restaurant bar at night. We stopped for a sausage roll and coffee which to be honest wasn’t great, but having done some research – i.e. google – the place is still going strong today.

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We had one night In Nelson before moving on to Picton for a couple of nights – or last in the south island. Picton sits at the head of Charlotte Sound and a mail boat visits the little settlements scattered around delivering mail and groceries. Tourists can travel on them for a small fee and help to subsidise the service whilst getting a great experience much cheaper than one of the commercial tours. A small farm and the Captain Cook memorial, were just a couple of highlights of a great day out.

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And so our time in New Zealand's south Island was at an end. It really is one of the most beautiful places on earth with a stunning and varied landscape. Our recollections have been patchy but going back through it and looking back at the photos makes me ache to want to go back there. One day maybe.

Look out for part 5 where we journey back up through the north island and finally greet the QE2.

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