I’d visited New Zealand South Island five years previously, but not Kaikoura and the NE Coast. I’d made a fleeting visit to Blenheim at the time, but that was just long enough to persuade me to return and spend more time there.
Stage 4 of my Round the World in 30 Days trip commenced with an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Christchurch.
For the first time I tried the “tag your own hold baggage” facility. However the clever machine only managed to print one of two labels so I still had to queue at the check-in desk. I do love these time-saving innovations!
I again arranged a hire car through Atlaschoice. This involved ringing Jucy Car Rentals on arriving at Christchurch airport and being shuttled to the rental depot. It all went smoothly and within 45 minutes of landing, we were heading off in a relatively new Hyundai Getz.
Since my previous visit to Christchurch in 2009, it had suffered a major earthquake and several smaller quakes. To add to its problems, the day I visited coincided with the highest daily rainfall in 100 years, with high winds and major flooding.
The cartoon in the local paper that day sums up the resilience of the residents. Visit Christchurch if you get the chance – it’s a beautiful city and needs to rebuild its tourism.
My tour of the NE of the South Island took me to seaside town of Kaikoura, then up the coast to Blenheim in the middle of the famous Marlborough wine-producing area. I returned to Christchurch inland via Murchison, the Lewis Pass and Hanmer Springs.
My Ten Highlights
1. Scenery along the NE Coast. Again, forget the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the NE Coast of New Zealand South Island is far better with the road hugging the coast for much of the way.
2. Kaikoura. This small seaside town on the NE Coast has a long pebble beach and the Seaward Kaikoura Range provides a magnificent backdrop. However the town centre is rather cluttered with motels.
I decided to make a miss of the Whale Watch boat trip – £75 for 3 hours seemed a bit excessive (no Senior discounts), even though you do get an 80% refund if no whale is sighted!
3. Nins Bin Crayfish. Although quite expensive at about £30 each, I took the opportunity to sample this locally caught and freshly cooked delicacy. It’s called crayfish here, but strictly speaking it’s a rock lobster.
4. Seaward Kaikoura Range. Not only is the coastal scenery spectacular, but the inland views towards the Seaward Kaikoura Range, including along the Clarence River valley, are also superb.
My journey took much longer than expected because of the many stops to admire the views.
5. Blenheim. The town is reputedly the sunniest in New Zealand and I found it one of the most pleasant to stroll around with an attractive, landscaped river flowing through the centre.
6. The Vines Village. As on our first visit to Marlborough, we again visited a few vineyards to taste their excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines. In the midst of the vineyards, we stopped at The Vines Village to view the artisanal stores stocking everything from merino clothes to gourmet fudges. It is a great place for a coffee break with an open air restaurant looking out over the vineyards.
7. Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. A display of Sir Peter Jackson’s collection of WW1 aircraft and memorabilia is set out in realistic scenes.
According to the local newspaper, William and Kate intend to visit in April; it’s nice to get there first!
Seniors 60+ get a 10% reduction in entry charge.
8. Coastal Pacific train. As I drove along from Christchurch to Blenheim, the railway route seemed always to be at my side with an occasional train seen crossing ancient-looking wooden bridges.
In Blenheim, the railway lines passes through the middle of a roundabout! I didn’t make the rail journey this time, but it’s on my list of must-dos for next time I am in New Zealand.
9. Lewis Pass. This is one of the three main routes through the Southern Alps and whilst not having the magnificent scenery of the Haarst Pass, it does have a darker, wild beauty, particularly the approach along the Maruia River valley.
10. Hanmer Springs. I include Hanmer Springs in my highlights based on what it could have offered if it had not been pouring with rain, namely: Thermal Pools in an attractive setting. Seniors 60+ get a 25% discount.
This goes into my list of to-do next time. At least the rain didn’t stop me enjoying fish (hoki) and chips by the fire in the historic Log Cabin restaurant.
This is not an area for big hotel chains, but that was no problem. I was able to find accommodation at short notice via the trivago website for about £65 a night for a double room with kitchen facilities.
I can happily recommend all three motels I stayed at: Aspen Court Motel in Kaikoura, with an ocean view; Two Tree Lodge in Blenheim, just by the riverside walkway; and Hanmer Inn Motel in Hanmer Springs.
It was a little confusing to be greeted by Susan at the Hanmer Inn Motel with her rich Scottish accent amid scenery that could well have been the Scottish Highlands! She couldn‘t have been more helpful, even arranging to recharge my laptop; I’d managed to leave the charger at the previous motel!
My Driving Tours in New Zealand
With a maximum speed of 100 kph and almost empty roads, the driving was quite relaxing.
Travelling around by hire car should not be avoided by Senior Travellers if the alternative is an organised tour. Do you really want to be shunted around like a schoolchild when you can travel free as a bird, almost, with many excellent motels along the way?
And of course, they drive on the left in New Zealand and have cars with manual gears – unlike my next stop in Vancouver, Canada!