Sunday, November 5, 2017


We had a nice ferry ride from Wellington to Picton and the South Island. From there we headed to Kaikoura on the coast. Our plan had been to stop at a couple of wineries on the way, but then we learned the coast road was still closed from an 7.8 magnitude earthquake a year ago that for a time cut off Kaikoura completely in all directions. They plan to have the road open by Christmas, not yet. I should have checked out why Google maps told us to take the long six hour route instead of the two hour trip along the coast. In typical computer fashion, when we actually began the drive, Google put us on the short route and did not offer the long route as an option. Fortunately, the rental car agent and all the signs steered us in the right direction. The road is not only long, but going up and over a couple of mountain ranges, it is also winding and offers some fine views of the terrain. Clouds obscured much of that and our desire to reach the hotel while it was still open precluded much in the way of stops.

A creative name for one of the many hotels for backpackers
Kaikoura’s population of 2000 depends heavily on tourism for its income. The town is filled with hotels, restaurants, and gift shops catering mostly to the tourist trade. Its beautiful setting between the mountains and the sea is breathtaking as we saw as soon as we left our room in the morning. Two sandy beaches offer sunning and swimming. Surfing is popular just up the road. A long peninsula and nearby island mean that only a short trip onto the ocean for a pelagic birding trip will regularly produce a dozen different seabirds. Usually to find that many birds requires a six to ten hour trip heading 30 to 60 miles into the ocean. One of these, the Hutton’s shearwater, nests nearby. Albatross are present most of the year; the boat trip is run by a company name Albatross Encounter. Unfortunately, our late arrival precluded a trip for us.

We did have a leisurely breakfast at the Beach House Cafe watching the hungry gulls who at least had the courtesy to wait until we finished before attacking our plates. They were most interested in the salmon skin from my Eggs Benedict.

The first part of the drive took us along the coast with numerous delays as the road crews continue to fix the destruction from last year’s earthquake. We were fortunate the road has been reopened as this part of the road is spectacular. We passed through the Waipara wine region after leaving the coast, but didn’t stop to be sure we weren’t on the road too late.

After breakfast we spent a couple of hours wandering over the lava beach enjoying the other walkers, gulls, and southern fur seals already out sunning themselves. After a drive up to a lookout point over the town we headed off to Rolleston just outside of Christchurch for the night.

We still managed to arrived in Rolleston in time to visit a couple of wineries before dinner. Our first stop was Lone Goat, a small botique winery that is more or less open every day. I say more or less because during the week one of the workers might show up to provide a tasting. For the weekend they have someone there full time. Good wines as usual. We spent about an hour and a half at the second, The Straight 8 Estate. The Straight 8, a 1935 Light Sports Railton that has been in the family for over 50 years, is a beautiful car housed in the tasting room and still used for special occasions. The wines are excellent, but the best part is James and Mary, the owners and hosts. They were as interested in us as we were in their story and their wines. As we discussed our travels and plans, they were full of suggestions of other things to do and places we must visit on our next trip to New Zealand.
As we left they continued to chat with their other guest at the time, a woman software consultant from Seattle. Traveling alone, she had spent her days hiking the hills and valleys, rain or shine. She was also having a great trip and we are sure she got some good help from our hosts.

In fact, we have found this pride in country and desire to share travel ideas with people all over this country. It usually only takes a hello and perhaps a simple question to get people to open up about their favorite things to do or suggestions as we move on. Often, the conversation is started when we open our mouths and identify ourselves as Americans by our accents. We have never visited a more friendly country.

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