Sunday 15th November
Farewell Spit to Kaikoura
As predicted, it rained heavily all night, so we felt even cosier than usual in the Madge Beach Bar.
It did at least stay dry until darkness fell so that a)we could enjoy our view across the sand flats to the spit, and b)the car campers sharing our bit of beach could cook, eat, wash up in the stream and dive under their duvets before the downpour.
We expected to wake to heavy rain, but no. There was a warm glow in the horizon and only fine drizzle over the water. Actually a lot prettier than it sounds.
We drove back to the Farewell Spit Cafe and sat on the veranda, in the sun, surveying the beach with our binoculars. We watched two men with long poles, probing the wet sand and making their way tentatively towards the shoreline.
Our early arrival at the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve information centre and cafe must have surprised the rather pallid Eastern European girl at the desk (she would have made a good stand in for Alice the verger in the Vicar of Dibley). After a pleasant while at our table, she announced that the coffee machine was not switched on and would take 15 minutes to get going. Having sufficiently enjoyed the views and ambience of this lovely spot, we opted instead to move on yo the Cafe Madge for coffee and breakfast at Farewell Cape and watched the surf pound over the rock arch at South Island's most northern point.
From here, looking north and overhead, we could see blue skies and sunshine. To the south we could see menacing grey clouds.
We decided to return to the beach at Puponga, where we camped overnight, to watch the birds there, ever hopeful of spotting the barred godwit or long-billed curlew. No luck, just plenty of black swans, South Island pied oyster catchers, banded dotterells, pied shags, and white-faced heron.
The beach was empty apart from the rather hairy hippy, presumably living in the camouflage painted bus parked under the trees (I believe known locally as a 'crustie'...). Despite his rather alarming appearance, he was very affable and we chatted for a while about birds and weather ( more rain on the way) before we set off for the South.
The first bit of road had a lot of single track bridges, usually with arrows or lines on the road to advise about priority. It was amusing to watch different drivers' attitudes to these. The German drivers, grim faced, white knuckles visible on the top of the steering wheel, first over the bridge regardless. The British drivers, timidly waiting on the other side, passenger buried under a pile of maps and guides, both smiling and waving politely to thank you for going first. The Gauloise smoking Frenchman and his elegant wife, look disdainful and pretending not to care who got over the bridge first. The local Kiwi in his bobble hat and parka buzzing along on his moped grinning and waving madly, loving the world and everyone in it!
In Takaka it was time for housekeeping, ie internet/fueland water as well as the necessary trip to the 'dump station'.
Coffee first to fortify us.
The Wholemeal Cafe doesn't sound altogether exciting but the brightly coloured lettering on the blackboard outside and the whacky film-poster themed interior looked fantastic. It was buzzing. In proportion and layout it was similar to the Marisco Tavern on Lundy, high ceilings with a balcony and lots of different areas to sit. It was full of local families having brunch as well as tourist like us. It was a typical kiwi 'can-do' place. They served breakfasts (eggs benny), cakes and coffee, all manner of juices, take out lunches, curries... You name it, they did it. We had coffee and took some hot savoury pinwheel pastries for lunch.
After Takaka we disregarded the sat nav's pleading to take the narrow winding roads back through Nelson and Havelock to Blenheim, and struck out due south onto the very scenic Motueka Valley Highway.
This turned out to be a good plan. A quiet riverside road, with little traffic and no other camper vans. It was a beautiful flat green valley, planted with hops and vines. The sun shone. Bright azaleas bloomed in cottage gardens and Australian harriers circled overhead. The mountainsides above were covered with yellow-flowering broom.
At the end of the road we joined State Highway 65 heading east, dark clouds gathered and the rains came.
As we drove, we are the lunch we bought at the Wholemeal Cafe. Now I know all about low carb diets and I know it's naff to photograph your food (so I didn't) but these savoury pinwheels were something else. Essentially a Chelsea bun containing spinach, feta and cashew nuts (me) and cheese, mushroom and bacon (Bill). Scrumptious!
Out plans for the rest of the day were fairly flexible as we had learnt that driving seems to take a long time in NZ and any predicted sat nav times should be taken with a pinch of salt! This time, however we seemed to have covered the ground pretty swiftly and arrived in Blenheim just after 4pm. Just in time for a spot of wine tasting!
On arrival in the Marlborough Wine district we were spoilt for choice. We rang ahead to Cloudy Bay. Closed at 4pm. Hunter's however was not only open but welcomed us with open arms to join their free cellar door tasting. We zoomed up Rapaura Road, past fields of vines, overshot, reversed back and rolled in. To our surprise there was quite a crowd of people in the cellar door office, all quite jolly, presumably after an afternoon of wine tasting. We crept in apologetically... 'HI!!!! YOU MADE IT! COME ON IN!!!' Boomed the larger than life hostess in her sequinned top.
We had some catching up to do and dived straight in with a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc (herbaceous with tropical fruits - their signature wine) followed by a Pinot Gris (nectarine, peach, honeysuckle and spice). They had run out of Chardonnay and so we moved to the Rose 15 (Strawberry and raspberry) before moving the reds.
The whole place was very lovely. Vineyards at the front, gardens full of birdsong, arbours with benched and chairs and an artist in residence producing oil seascapes whilst his ginger cat lay in a fur lined nest, watching.
The reds were good - Pinot Noir 2013 (ripe plums and berries with forest floor aromas). Then our favourite the Merlot 2010 (red plum, mulberry, blackberry and rosemary). Odd - as Bill usually can't drink Merlot, but he took a chance and we bought a bottle.
There was then chance for a wander in the gardens and vineyards before we continued our journey down the east coast towards Kaikoura. The rain started again as we drove, obscuring the mountains to our right but having no adverse effect on the dramatic coast immediately to our right.
We spotted a number of freedom camping spots on the beach as we drove, selected our favourites ( the camper mate app mentioned the appearance of seals, dolphins and even penguins on the beach here) before driving on to explore Kaikoura peninsula.
The place is rather lovely, with sea views all along the Main Street and s good range of bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. Our initial choice from the guidebook - the Green Dolphin- was fully booked, but this turned out to be a blessing as our second choice - the Strawberry Tree was so much better. The former did good seafood but in a cafe style setting with upright wooden chairs, polished floors and bright lighting. The latter had a roaring log fire, a big leather sofa in front of it, locally brewed beer and fish in the menu. Perfect! We flopped on to the sofa and toasted our toes. It was 7 degrees outside and I was wearing flip flops!
We can now thoroughly recommend white bait patties - a local speciality rather like an omelette or frittata full of crispy white bait. The seafood chowder was also excellent, and it was with some reluctance that we stepped back out onto the windy rainy streets, glancing up st the snow covered mountainsides, not so far above us....
The spark box free Wifi in Kaikoura was working particularly well, allowing a decent early morning chat with Elmgrove and Barwood. We didn't ring Brock as last night was The Bonfire Party and we didn't think a 7am call from the parents would be appreciated....
We drove back to the Paparoa Point camping area, bumped and bounced our way across the rough and rutted beach to park facing out to sea. In the dusk we could hear and see the surf crashing onto the rocks just a few feet from our wheels.
Time to turn our central heating on, close the blinds, pour a glass of Merlot, and settle down with our book - we are both reading and loving 'The Wild Places' by Robert Macfarlane.