Before we hit the North of the South we had to arrive at the very South of the North – better known as the capital or Wellington. We had to spend at least a night here as my dear Spatzl was in urgent need of expert treatment for her beautiful hair. After she had researched on the drive down already all of the options available in Los Angeles and specifically Beverly Hills it was questionable if Wellington was up to the challenge without even knowing that the pressure was on. The scarcely populated South Island is for my city lover quite scary anyway and one needs to be well prepared before entering the wilderness. It is just a saying but so true – happy wife, happy life. I guess it will always remain a mystery to us men why hairdressers and Spa treatments have this magic that can cause deepest frustration or the greatest pleasure ever. Anyway – it all went well and the day was even a bit brighter. Welli – as it is affectionally called by the locals – is a typical capital with a lot of ministries around, office buildings shaping the downtown architecture and of course nice dining options for the stressed government officials. Buildings are exceptionally high rise for Kiwi standards, however, overall Welli is small in size. The waterfront is beautiful and I took a run in the morning watching people bike, walk or run to work. I still have this bloody bet going with Spatzl, that I will run a half marathon till year end and of course I will – I say it to myself every day.
The action here happens around Cuba Street and the name is well chosen with its hippie and leftwing feel to it. It reminded us quite a bit of San Francisco, however, opening hours are not like this at all, as shops here in downtown close between 5:30 and 6:00 pm during the week. What has happened to late night shopping in New Zealand or are the working hours really that short here? Anyway who wants to shop makes time during the day for that whether at the expense of working hours or not who knows.
We left Welli on the Interislander with destination Picton on the South Island. To cross over with your car you are looking at just under NZD 300 for the passage, that lasts about 3 hours. For this you get a nice boat ride with quite some amenities aboard (unfortunately the video games do not include Pac Man much to Spatzl’s disappointment – as it is such a classic and it still has to fascinate youngsters of this generation in her view), but the best are the stunning views as you arrive at the first sounds of the South Island.
We had to pick our route at the South Island according to the weather and went after a first night in Blenheim down to Kaikoura to avoid the rain and hurricane strength winds. We were only semi successful as our little apartment at Kaikoura in the first night got quite rocked by the gusty winds hitting town in the early morning. Rumour has it there was as well a little quake this night which we did not sense at all – distracted by the whistle blow from our window.
But back to Blenheim first – we got the hint to visit MIA for dinner and what should I say… it is a must when you are here. What a lovely restaurant that features everything what modern New Zealand cuisine is about. Jetti the host and sommelier is pairing great wines with amazing food and everything is seasonal and gives you sensational combinations of flavours. The sweet garlic (fermented garlic base) creme brûlée was a huge positive surprise and the chef himself showed us some of his secrets. We would be eager to go back to try more, listen and learn.
Kaikoura then – well a lovely spot by the sea and a great drive down from Blenheim along the coast. Make sure you stop at “the Store”, roughly half way and enjoy good coffee and the atmosphere of the place. We were fortunate to meet Alessandro there who has quite a journey behind him, cycling with his wife on a tandem from Florence till here. What people do these days to escape the crisis in Italy is quite impressive. For sure only two years on the road later, they are rich in experiences and with well trained calves now as Pantani at his best times! Currently they have to refill their travelling budget with a couple of dollars before they start their return slowly. Check out their Facebook page “Godimundi” or their website. Spatzl was quick on contemplating that she never rode a tandem in her life and that there was probably a good reason for that and why change a habit that kept you happy for so long. In essence we will travel but our way.
We stopped afterwards (roughly 20 min later) at Ohau Point for an encounter with baby seals in the woods. In order to protect them from the predators of the sea they are raised in a river just next to the beach. You can walk up there and join the bunch of happy puppies for a magical experience. These playful and curious creatures will entertain you when you respect that they are wild animals and you are a guest in their home. We loved any minute and in fact returned the other day to say hello for a second time. It was interesting to see how different their mood was this second time round. It was shortly before feeding time and of course that wakes the beast in you. You should see Spatzl when she is hungry – a well fed wife is a happy wife and a happy wife…. you remember the rest!
Kaikoura itself offers great sundowners, a enjoyable walk on the Peninsula and is laid back in style, despite the fact it all looked a bit deserted as we were there as it was off season. It is famous for its whale watching which you can do by boat or helicopter. The days we were there the sea was too rough to do it and with our whale/dolphin encounter already under our belts at Russell we felt not too bad about it. The trip would be NZD 145,- per person – not cheap at all, but 95% guarantee to see them or get 80% of your money back. As a German and insurance person I like probabilities and the security of refund in case of no event is happening. A no claims bonus in kind.
After that we ventured back up north to stay in Nelson with good weather and our chance to get an experiencing in the Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is a very nice city located east of Picton, where you can get to using the Queen Charlotte drive, if you want a scenic option overlooking the sounds on your way. The other way leads you through the wine country Marlborough with the possibility of stocking up on one or the other cellar door on your way. The mind boggles which route we took…. Nelson boasts a great variety of restaurants (our local favourite: the Cod and Lobster – great bar featuring 62 different Gins!), a beautiful waterfront and it is home to WOW – the museum for wearable arts and classic cars. All well worth a visit.
We stayed with Nick and Jenny at Warwick house, the oldest building in Nelson dating back to 1841. We had the Bayview room which was a delight and we had our fair share of royal feeling while we enjoyed our breakfast in the grand room listening to classical music every morning. Day one brought us to Abel Tasman which we explored by boat and on foot. One of the iconic sights is the split apple, which the fans of the Lord of the Rings movies will be delighted to know shows in exactly none of them…
We went on to see dragon shaped islands and were dropped off at Anchorage Bay to have a round walk there.
Really beautiful and the woods are full of “Laser birds” as we named them. They fill the air with a star wars like concert of laser guns shooting above your head. Maybe Lord Vader shows up around the corner or a Ewok crosses. Experience it for yourself, when you are there.
We would recommend as well Mapua, a nice little artists’ town where you can rent bikes and go on a ride. Either you tour Rabbit island or you go to Tasman riding through the country side, which we did. At the end of the ride is a delightful Cafe with living eels, whom you can feed or just feed yourself with the treasures the kitchen offers to you. Eel was not on the menu, despite the fresh supply in the river below. You will definitely enjoy the arty design of the garden and, if you want a special treat, stay at “The Boot B&B” in the private gardens. On your return to Mapua (on Sundays for sure) a live band awaits you at the local craft beer brewery, where you can restore lost sweat with a isotonic Pale Ale.