On 5th May 2019, we left Australia for a short visit to New Zealand. The idea is to visit Cousins in Christchurch, and to drive around the South Island, stopping occasionally to walk in the mountains and take in the considerable coastline.
On arrival in Christchurch airport, we were required to declare our walking boots and sticks. This involved a Customs Officer digging around in our cases. The shoes and poles passed scrutiny, however, the Customs Official pounced on my sunhat and declared it contraband!
I was astonished. He basicaly said that it was made of hemp (remember Nimbin?) and as such was a biosecurity hazard. He said that if we had not come clean about our boots, we would have been charged $400 dollars for not declaring the sunhat.
We stroked a nice dog on duty and asked if it was there to discover drugs. No we were told, the dogs are there to sniff out apples! What can I say, obviously these guys take bio-security very seriously.
After a tour of my cousins’ huge garden and their collection of military vehicles, we spent our first day visiting Christchurch.
It was still being massively reconstructed after the devastating earthquake of 2011 which claimed 185 lives and many important buildings in the heart of the city.
We were shown an amazing marble wall along the river to commemorate those who lost their lives and in another part of town an artist had created a mobile installation comprised of 185 empty white chairs, including a child’s car seat and a white wheelchair. A very poignant reminder of real lives lost.
My cousin, Judy Whiting, drove us around the tiny City Centre and struggled to find her way as the roads had been rerouted as a result of reconstruction, and so many familiar landmark buildings have been demolished or shored up with containers following the earthquake.
Sadly both Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals have been very badly damaged by the earthquake and only Christchurch, the Anglican building is scheduled to be reinstated.
The beautiful Catholic Basilica (see photograph below) is a sad loss to the towns’ heritage.
On the occasion of our visit, Christchurch was slowly recovering from a very recent terrorist attack on Muslim places of worship where 51 people lost their lives and a further 50 were injured. Decaying floral tributes were being cleared away with the support of the muslim community and messages were being collected to incorporate into some more lasting commemorative work.
Both these terrible events have only served to bring the community together. And in the very recent hateful attacks, New Zealanders have rallied round in support of their Muslim communities. Judy and Paul were being approached for advice on cultivation of olive trees as part of plans to create a memorial garden, so many people were getting involved and playing their part.
The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jucinda Ahearn has really stepped up to the plate and has quickly worked with government to ban automatic weapons, has determined never to give voice to the name of the attacker and has spoken out against hateful rhetoric.
We visited the Botanic Gardens which reminded me very much of home with the autumnal feel and the bright colours in the trees.
We visited the Arts Centre restored with its fabulous ceiling.
We enjoyed lunch and shopping in the newly constructed town centre CBD. We needed warmer clothes for the colder daytime temperatures! The town centre was modern and well designed but still a little empty.
It seemed as if people were still not ready to flock into town. It was hard to tell if this was fear of the earthquake risk or whether perhaps the recent shooting had had an impact? It was well set out and I felt hopeful that all would be well in this small beautiful town with its peaceful river and parks.
The following day we hired a car and resolved to drive around the beautiful South Island and to include some walking trails to really appreciate what New Zealand has to offer.
We started off driving North to see Kaikoura, Marlborough (yes more wine), Blenheim, Picton, Nelson (which we passed in the dark) and the West Coast.
Kaikoura was a lunch stop and we went to a pub at the end of a jetty overlooking the sea. Lunch was steaming bowls of fresh chowder and crayfish soup.
We talked to a sailor sunning himself outside the pub. He explained that the coast was legendary for sea mammals. The many species of whale, seals and dolphins were described to us and he explained that he could recognise individual whales. This particular local had emigrated to New Zealand from Rotterdam a very long time ago.
As we drove on, we were struck by how green and sort of damp everything was in Autumn. Deciduous trees were changing colour, leaves were dropping and vines were just beginning to yellow.
We were in awe of the vineyards which were so neat and tidy with all the vines exactly the same height and shape and there were so many well known brands.
Jim insisted we stopped at Villa Maria, outside Blenheim and embarrassed me by walking in at 5 minutes before closing and asked to be shown their cheapest wine! He walked out 5 minutes later with 6 bottles of their best plonk.
I asked to taste something which we would regret not buying. They were happy to oblige!
If we had more time, and were not on a mission, more time to savour the local Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc would have been fun. Where there is good wine, there is usually good food and Blenheim would have been a great stopover, however we were booked into Picton.
We had taken a room overlooking the bay to wake up to. This was off season, so tourists were in evidence but not in their hoards.
When we woke up in the morning we could see why we were there. It was really beautiful.
We caught an early ferry taxi, which would take us to Ship Cove on a section of Queen Charlottes’ Walk. The boat taxi ride took us past nature reservations for endangered species of birds. Huge efforts were being made to eradicate stoats, rats and possom which threatened native birdlife. The before and after photos were incredible.
Non native pines were being taken out to allow native deciduous trees flourish. The results were incredibly beautiful.
As we walked along the path, every few meters there were boxes to trap or poison small non native mammals such as rats, stoats and possums. Birdsong rang out in the trees and these noisy Weka (flightless bird) scavengers were never far from a sandwich.
The boat taxi would return and collect us 6 hours later further along the route, when we had finished walking along the coast, through hills, forests with plentiful views of the little inlets, islands and sea coastline.
The autumn weather was fair to middling but did not rain! We walked 16 kilometres and exerted ourselves climbing up away from the landing jetty in Ship Cove, where Captain Cook had come ashore to replenish supplies on 5 different occasions.
A monument to his achievements is located in this amazing sheltered spot, where there was access to water, provisions, and wood to carry out ship repairs.
We finished the walk at Ferneaux Lodge. This amazing place, only accessible by boat was serving beer, coffees and meals, with an outdoor environment which would be the envy of anyone!
Unfortunately our boat was early or we would have lingered longer in this beautiful green place.
In fact we learnt that Bob Dylan had visited and many other rich and famous people had come to visit the remote millionaire mansions tucked away discretely on coastline only accessible by boat or helicopter. We really felt priveleged to be there at all.
That night we drove further on to Motueka, which is located close to the Abel Tasman National Park. This was our next walking destination.
I am not sure we had realised what a drive we had left ourselves to undertake in the dark. A huge number of hairpin bends were involved, which would have been fine, if we could see them! It was quite a relief to come down to Nelson on the coast, even if you could see nothing.
Early in the morning we drove to Kaiteriteri where we could pick up a sea taxi and sample the Abel Tasman walking trail. Abel Tasman actually reached New Zealand in 1642, over a century before Captain Cook, but has been airbrushed from history either because he never set foot on shore or because he was Dutch.
We were dropped off at Medlands Beach and picked up 5 hours later at Anchorage.
I was already blown away by the Queen Charlotte trail and I was knocked out by the beauty of this section of the Abel Tasman trail we walked today.
We were joined by a young Canadian girl, Katie, who had never been on a long day walk before. She was amazed too. I told her that she had now set her bar incredibly high for any future walks she undertook!
For me, New Zealand had not really been a must see destination, but how wrong I had been. For those loving the great outdoors, this is peerless. We travelled to the coastal path drop off, with Wilson’s Catermarans.
These boats were designed to bump up onto a beach and they had a gang plank that shot out onto the sand to board. These guys were so good. We were handed out maps and cheap waterproofs as rain (not in half measures) was forecast.
At the end of the day, every walker was accounted for and we were plucked off the beach as the hard rain started to fall. In the absence of a jetty, we then lurched around in the little cove until everyone they were expecting appeared out of the bushes. (Two guys had ended up in the wrong cove, but we simply bounded in and beached to collect them.) It was all very impressive.
I took many photos on this dingly dell coastal walk which I will cram into this blog.
We returned to our hostel, Hat Trick lodge, where we were inveigled into going to the local quiz night. Safe to say we were not in the top flight but not bad enough to pick up the wooden spoon! The local beer was a good consolation.