The next morning didn’t look good for anyone planning to whale watch. It was very windy and threatening to rain. We’d been told that the best time to visit the West coast was when it was dry. It wasn’t looking good as we left Kaikoura and headed towards the Lewis pass.
The weather forecast turned out to be wrong. By the time we stopped for lunch at Springs Junction the sun was shining and the sky was clear. We visited the i-site to try to book a motel in Greymouth. They said their system was a bit iffy; Susan booked a place using booking.com that was showing full on i-site’s system.
As soon as we reached the West coast we headed North to Punakaiki to visit Pancake Rocks. We arrived at just the right time. The tide was up and the waves were just right to power the blow holes.
That evening, rather than trying to find somewhere to eat in Greymouth town centre we wandered down the road to the Australasian Hotel. It was OK.
The next day it was almost windless. There was a slight swell. A beautiful day for whale watching. Once we’d arrived at the spot where the Captain thought the whales would surface we stepped out of the main cabin to search for spouting plumes.
I believe that this is the only photo of a very rare sperm whale feather taken on this trip. It is the most interesting screenshot from a 12 minute long video mostly recorded in my shorts pocket.
We probably waited for half an hour before a spout was sighted, fairly close to us, so we were the first of the whale watch catamarans to get into position. The whale was on the surface for about 5 minutes then dove back down to the depths for another squid fest.
Most days there are two whales around Kaikoura, which is why they can almost guarantee a sighting. The whales spend an average of 45 minutes below the surface, so most visitors will only get to see one or two in the 2 hour trip.
About 5 minutes later I spotted the spout from the other whale. This time there were 3 whale watching cruises surrounding the whale.
You don’t get the most exciting video from an iPhone SE at 100 yards.
After lunch, back at the motel, we set out for a walk around the peninsula. It was a hot day and Susan didn’t fancy the climb, and we didn’t realise it was possible to walk around the shoreline so she chose to return to the car and drive to the Point Kean car park. I arrived a few minutes after her. Then we went on a seal hunt.
The next morning I made breakfast in the shared kitchen near our motel room before we headed through more winerys and down the coast road to Kaikoura. It was a breezy day. Whale watching would have been uncomfortable.
En route we stopped to look at the aftermath of the 2016 earthquake that caused avalanches that closed the road and railway line for quite a while.
We stopped for coffee and a beach walk at The Store, Kekerengu. While coffeeing I read a photo journal about Neil Finn, his son Liam, grandson Buddy and family’s tour of tiny music venues in small towns in NZ.
On arrival at Kaikoura we had a picnic, visited Whalewatch Kaikoura to check it out and did a bit of shopping. Our motel in South Bay was adjacent to a paddock with three horses. That evening we visited a bar for a drink before getting take away fish and chips.
On Wednesday morning we had breakfast, made a packed lunch then headed to the quay to join the Pelorus Mail Boat as it delivered parcels on its Westward route.
The boat was half full with some people going on the round trip, others being dropped off on the way and more being picked up. It was another fairly calm day again in the Marlborough Sounds. Our tour guide, Catherine, was the postie. She kept us very well informed. But next to Susan was a 90 year old man, accompanied by his daughter. He was brought up in the sounds and had an interesting childhood story involving an axe. I don’t think he was called Eugene.
We stopped for our picnic lunch at a sheep farm where we had a guided tour of the shearing shed, saw some possum pelts and wool, visited the washing machine reverse engineered electricity generator before sitting in the orchard under a pear tree.
On our return to Havelock we took a short journey to Blenheim, past a number of famous winerys. That evening we visited the Bamboo Garden Chinese and Thai restaurant.
An earlier hotel departure than usual for us as we needed to check in for the Interislander Ferry from Wellington ( North Island ) to Picton ( South Island ) from 7:30 am. It’s interesting to note that the MV Kaitaki was once the Pride of Cherbourg. So it’s quite possible that we’d sailed on her before, from Portsmouth to France.
The crossing was calm the whole way. In Wellington harbour we were briefly escorted by dolphins. We didn’t spot any in the Cook Strait or Queen Charlotte Sound.
When we arrived at Picton, Susan went straight to the Car Rental Desk while I waited at the luggage carousel. Soon we were back on the open road, in a white Toyota Corolla that didn’t know about white or yellow lane lines.
We were heading for Nelson, but stopped at Havelock for a comfort break. We didn’t have anything booked for Nelson, so when we spotted the Havelock Garden Motel we thought we’d just ask if they had an vacancies. The garden was full of black kittens, nearly a dozen of them. They were extremely timid. They had a vacancy, at a very good price, and soon we were settled in. We borrowed a DVD from their collection to watch later: Lion.
Then we headed out to find out about the mail boat cruises.
That evening we dined at The Mussel Pot, then watched the DVD.
The next day our drive to Wellington took us through a town calls Bulls, which was featuring in Burger King’s adverts for vegan burgers – the Rebel Whopper.
We also saw signs for Feilding which looked like typos. Coffee break ( pee stop ) was at Kiss and Bake Up, Otaki.
On arrival in Wellington we checked out the Interislander Ferry Terminal, to see where to drop off the car and how to get there the next morning, then checked into the Wellesley Boutique Hotel.
After refuelling we dropped off the car at then accidentally hitched a ride back to the station in an Interislander company car; Susan thought it was the taxi that the ticket lady had ordered for us.
At the station I finally got a photo of the flowers we’d been seeing everywhere. We were told in Taupo that they were called “eggy panthers”. It wasn’t until we got to Christchurch that I discovered the true spelling.
Since the Wellesley Boutique hotel was the first kettleless establishment we bought some coffees and had our sandwich lunch just outside the station, before continuing to the Cable Car, its Museum and the Botanic Garden.
We entered the gardens at the top and wandered downhill until we were outside the Government offices. There was a huge crowd and lots of music.
It didn’t really bother me. Radio reception in the car had been very hit and miss. And we’d certainly never found the Concert channel. Not that I would have listened to it, I’m afraid.
That evening, gagging for a drink because we didn’t have a kettle, we headed to the quayside for a couple of beers at the Dockside Restaurant, then dinner at the Crab Shack. We chose the right time to eat. 5 minutes later and customers were queueing at the door. Susan had the Catch of the day and I had The Big Welly – a fish burger.
With only two days left in the north island it was time to head towards Wellington. Rather than visit the art deco town of Napier, on the east coast, we opted to head south west to the Victorian/Edwardian Whanganui.
At Turangi we changed from SH1 to SH47 in order to visit the Chateau Tongariro Hotel on Mt. Ruapehu.
It was a cloudy day which meant we couldn’t see the tops of any of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park.
We drove up to the cable car but declined a ride to the top for three reasons.
We wouldn’t be able to see anything.
It would be a bit nippy at the top.
Too bloody expensive.
So we visited some more waterfalls.
On arrival at Whanganui we walked along the river bank to the end of the main street – Victoria Avenue. We passed some lads on cycles. The first two did wheelies and offered “high 5’s”: quite a skill. The youngest just said “Fuck off”.
At the bridge by Moutoa Quay I captured a couple of SB‘s. Then we searched for somewhere to eat. Not much open on a Sunday evening. We chose the Thai House Express. Cheap and plenty of it.
Since we very much liked our Dunrovin Motel room and since it was vacant, we decided to stay in Taupo for another night. The next morning we headed south to Turangi to walk along the Tongariro River Trail and watch some trout fisher people.
We sat on the river bank eating our picnic lunch opposite two fishermen. They were discussing packing it in for the day. They were obviously still hoping for a bite, but were now resigned to it not being from a fish.
In total we saw six people attempting to catch zero fish.
We returned to the i-site to visit their small but interesting volcanic display, where we experienced a simulated tremor of similar magnitude and duration to the one that happened in the Christchurch earthquake exactly nine years earlier.
That evening it rained, quite heavily, but briefly.
At Waimangu Volcanic Valley the Waimangu Geyser used to be a pretty powerful beast, killing 4 people in 1903, but nowadays it’s dormant. At the cash desk we were offered Seniors discount, which applies to the over 65’s. We declined. Later I realised I was wearing my “1958 – All origina parts” t-shirt, which is a bit of a give away. We opted for the valley walk, but not the cruise. After coffee and downloading the App, we headed off with our detailed Wanderer guide.
After the Inferno crater I took the Mt Haszard hiking trail ( the high road ) and Susan took the low road. We’d arranged a meeting point but Susan had gone past it.
When we arrived at Taupo, we visited the local launderette, but not because our clothes were sulphury. That evening we went down to The Lake House. We met neither Keanu nor Sandra. After a tasty Mexican themed meal we headed off to Countdown to replenish supplies.
We left the Coromandel peninsula by the same road that we came; there’s not much choice. We stopped for fuel at Tairua then coffee and cake at the Ironique cafe at Te Aroha. Next stop Hobbiton, which is apparently the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand, and is just outside Matamata. Our guide was a student from Auckland who was just coming to the end of his fourth summer at Hobbiton.
I’ve never read the Hobbit nor seen the films and I wasn’t the only one in our group who hadn’t. Apparently some visitors think they’re visiting Hogwarts.
Towards the end of the tour, just before a swift half at the The Green Dragon Inn, we visited a games field where Susan tried the quoits. She managed it on her 4th attempt; the second quoit bounched out of shot.
Then we continued to Rotorua, stopping at Huka falls to watch people getting wet in Jet boats, and upstream of the falls, a duck wondering what people find so interesting.
Out Motel at Rotorua was only a very short walk to the best fish and chip shop in the town (Oppies) . But it was only a slightly longer walk to the Thursday night market, where we found food and drink in abundance.
We couldn’t smell the sulphur at the market but we could outside our Motel.