A short stop in Christchurch gave us enough time to organise ourselves and pick up a car for almost 6 weeks. We were both excited to be free from bus timetables and less like pack horses. We easily filled the boot of our Toyota yaris with our bags, camping gear and most importantly food. Then we were off; although our freedom was a little curtailed by the sense that we were backtracking. We were going back up north up the east coast, following a very similar route to the bus we had taken towards Christchurch, but in reverse.
Anyway, we soldiered on and managed to get as far as Kaikoura despite the long coastal roadworks to repair the earthquake damaged road and rails. We had a late afternoon walk around the Kaikoura peninsula where we spotted gulls, oystercatchers and seals. The seals eluded us for a long time but once Matthias spotted the first jiggling blubberball, we could see them everywhere. The walk had some great views of the rocky shore, turquoise bays and also snowy mountains. Despite the overcast weather, we enjoyed the clifftop walk and the fresh air but had to beat the sun to bed.
Our first camp stop was set to be Puhi Puhi, one of the many Department of Conservation (DoC) sites. The access road was a gravel road along the Puhi Puhi river, which we were glad to be driving in daylight. The camp itself had the smelliest bush toilet, which gassed the user with ammonia fumes, but was otherwise good. We found a flat grassy patch for our tent and settled in for the night. We were woken by the birds singing loudly around us and as we cooked breakfast a Weka (bush hen) came to see if there was anything for him. He was a little disappointed when we packed up and left, but we had more driving to do. We were on our way to Blenheim and the Marlborough Sound.
Most wine drinkers have heard of Marlborough as a great wine region on New Zealand. In fact, the Waipara valley is the largest wine producing region and Blenheim and Renwick are two towns nestled within it. We stopped at the Blenheim I-site to get some more information about wine tasting and walking in the region. Sadly, the woman who ‘helped’ us was pushy and not all that helpful. We left rather than being pushed into accommodation we didn’t want and fairly adament we could walk some (if not all) of the Nydia track. Instead, we found a cafe to make our own plans for the week ahead. Plans settled, we were ready for wine.
We managed two vineyards and a nice lunch stop. The first vineyard we visited was Wither hills, where we tasted a range of wines and had a lovely chat with the staff. The most voluminous wine produced in Marlborough is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by a collection of white wine grapes and a small amount of red wine. The second vineyard was one of the most famous, Villa Maria. There, we were whizzed through a full wine tasting by a bubbly lady who obviously needed no excuse to drink wine and had conducted thorough experiments on all of the wines. Having tasted around 10 wines we called it a day and drove to our camp for the night.
Somehow, pitching near the trees saved us from the frost while the rest of the field was covered in a layer of white icing. The ducks woke us up quacking at their friends and generally being annoying, but it was a nice day and soon the sunshine reached us. A group of 10 people turned up to mow the grass 3 at a time, so we escaped the community service gang and went wine tasting. We had time for 2 vineyards and a brewery and since Matthias was driving and had a cold, Zoë had twice as much tasting to do. The wines blend into a blur after a few, but we were impressed by a sweet white and enjoyed some nicer reds. The change to beer was welcome, especially as as we found a Belgian trippel to take away with us.
Moving on to a slightly less alcoholic occupation, we drove to Picton, the gateway of the Marlborough Sound. We found a nice walk along the Snout track did us good, and we bumped into some friends who we had met on the Tongariro crossing. The sun was shining and the water sparkled between the green forested banks. The only disconcerting thing was the number of traps and bait stations laid along the path. New Zealand is targetting any invasive species from rabbits to possums to stoats, and is aiming to be predator free by 2020. This, rightly or wrongly means mass poisoning with 1080 and serious trapping efforts. Not really what you want to be distracting you from the view.
We spent that night at Aussie bay and had our first rude awakening by a DOC warden, who blantantly couldn’t read or use his brain. We had parked up, paid our fees into the box and set up our tent with the label attached as we were meant to. Rather than read our registration plate and look for the tag, the warden shook our tent to wake us and demanded we paid our fees. Only after did he read the registration plate and realise we had paid, thankfully, it was only 9pm but it would have been nice if he had at least apologised.
The next morning we set off to take a walk on our first great walk. The free part of the Queen Charlotte Track which is only 6km before you need a pass to complete the remainder of the 70km. It was a beautiful forest walk with a pituresque picnic spot at the end. We also capitlised on the free showers in the car park, before we continued on our way to our favourite campsite. Moetapu bay is another DoC campsite, but this one is only for tents. There’s a large grassy area and two beaches complete with a driftwood shelter. We had a peaceful night and woke to another sunny day. There was also a large boat moored in the bay. The boat owner was a nice chatty guy who told us the camp floods at king tides and people wake up with water bubbling up into their tent.