Monday, November 23, 2009

The North of the South...if you know what I mean...

The south island of NZ has a way of expressing itself!I've not typed a word for nearly a week now, the reason being a touch of chronic tooth ache. Thankfully that has now past, but those of us who have had such things know there are few bodily complaints so effective at blocking out good vibes from the brain. Anyway, back to positivity and a few very recent recollections from New Zealand...
...Pulling out of Wellington harbour on a shrill blustery morning. So blustery in fact that Uwe and I had some enjoyable but embarrassing Kate Winslet Titanic moments (of the leaning against the wind rather than the sinking variety).
Impressive views of cliffs crashing into the sea, our last sights of the north island, gave way to even more impressive views to the south. As we entered the Cook Straits proper, a lonely snow-capped mountain rose on the horizon and foretold of what we were to see in the next couple of weeks.

Dozens of sea-birds swooped through the gale on either side of the sturdy Scottish boat. A sea-stack fostering a colony of some type of gull showed the subtle entrance to Marlborough Sound. A place that I'd not even heard of took my breath away with its stark beauty. Fjord-like green hills diving into the glittering blue sea. A base pleasure to sail through its meandering channels to the little port town of Picton.

A simply stunning walk up and over one of those hills gave us high panoramic views of the coastal corrugation. Everyone had said that the north island is nice, but the south island something else and within an hour or so I was speechless in agreement.

It was bonfire night – for those not of a British persuasion, this is when we set-off fireworks and burn straw “Guy Fawkes” to celebrate Guy's failure to blow up Parliament many a moon ago. Some cheep vino and crumble added to the atmosphere of Villa (a truly top-notch hostel), where the owner tried to explain the oddly blood-thirsty traditions of this night to confused people from the four corners of the earth. He was a bit stuck on why they still celebrate it in New Zealand, but heh, any excuse to have fun and bring out the inner-paromaniac.

Wine Country

A day to remember started rolling out of Picton to the Marlborough wine region, world famous for its sauvignon blanc. I would have thought the south island of New Zealand would have been one of the last places to grow award winning wine, but these are hardy clever folk and the nosh is good bosh (I am so sorry for typing that)...

Hills rising on each side, once you have driven through the fairly non-descript town of Blenheim the vineyards multiply on all sides. I think we visited five in the end with numerable sips and gulps at each. You can't help but enjoy pretending to know what you're doing – tilting the glass, sucking the oxygen in and muttering shit about a buttery taste or the slightest hint of gooseberry. This is half the fun. I am quick to admit that I am largely ignorant on the wine front, but they had some beautiful Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, of course, sauvignon blanc to lubricate the smiles of the day. A quite delectable lunch at an Austrian vineyard surrounded by worry-melting scenery gave me a warm glow inside (or was that the wine....) that required another couple of winery tastings.... I think my favourite was Cloudy Bay, but a special note has to go out to Grove Mill for their boules pitch right out in the basking vines.

Coastal road

The road out of the valley, cutting across the rolling sheep-filled green hills and along the coast to Kaikora was accompanied with numerous groans of satisfaction and amazement at the vistas. Part of this was, no doubt, the twenty plus different types of wine swishing around our arteries, but looking back at the pictures our's seemed like a fair reaction (plus Chris, as the driver, was sober and also made sounds of awe though perhaps with slightly less extenuated enthusiasm then the rest of us).

Towering snow-capped mountains falling to mile upon mile of black volcanic beach between rugged headlands. At one view break, Uwe and I had to go and do a silly jumping a rail track to run to the ocean thing and at the next we had the best surprise of the day.....fur seals.
Not true seals (but that it is meant that they have outtie ears and are, along with the sea-lion, part of the dog family rather than the cat family like “true” seals – an amazing bit of animal trivia), but had to pinch ourselves to think that we were so up close and personal to the large playful aquatic mammals. Awesome.

Round a few more stunning bays and we rocked up to the big bit of jutting out peninsular rock that is Kaikora. Backed by the same snow-capped ranges, this is quite simply one of the most captivating places on the planet. Seeing the mountains taint red as the sun disappeared was a joy and Chris and I celebrated with spicy crayfish pizza.

A bright and sunny morning promised much for sperm whale watching. Far to early we awoke and boarded a vessel in search of these majestic creatures. To cut a rather frustrating story short we were one of the only 2 per cent of boats that did not even see one. So rare indeed that every local we mentioned it to did a sort of double take of surprise. Oh well, you can't have everything and we were lucky enough to see some albatross and fur seals right out in the open blue.

Our sense of disappointment was massaged away by a great walk over and around the peninsular lined with its squawky bird colonies and down-right showing off fur seals.

To Christchurch...

Out and away again we headed a couple more hours south. It was Saturday and we had tickets to a rugby final in the land of rugby...
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