Monday 16th November
What a dramatic change in the weather! After last night's freezing rain, today dawned with clear blue skies and dazzling sunshine across the water. There was still a pretty chilly breeze but from our nest we could see the waves breaking over the rocks and pebbles of the beach next to Madge's wheels and, moreover, a dozen or so New Zealand fur seals swimming, playing and lolling on the rocks.
Having decided that this was probably one of the most scenic and peaceful places that we could possibly be, we abandoned plans for an early walk on Kaikoura Peninsula followed by driving on, up into the mountains. Instead, we stayed put for an hour or two, having a leisurely breakfast and watching the antics of the seals and birds.
Mid-morning we drove into Kaikoura, and picked up some maps from the i-site. As usual there were numerous activities on offer - we could have sailed or kayaked to, swum and snorkelled with, helicoptered or flown over a variety of marine mammals. Instead, we opted to keep our dollars in our pockets and our feet on terra firma and walk the coast path around the peninsula with our binoculars - especially in view of the climatic conditions (aka blowing a hoolie with a significant ocean swell).
We face-timed Brock, where Mike and Chris were looking mellow after a successful bonfire party, big breakfast and day of restoration.
The South Bay car park in Kaikoura had the most incredible scenic views south down the coast towards Christchurch, and inland towards the Southern Alps that form the north-south spine of the island. There was a lot of snow still visible despite the hot morning sunshine.
We set off to walk the Peninsular path following the coast and along the limestone cliffs. The bay is unusual for its spectacular tidal limestone platform giving a beautiful vista of aquamarine sea, green and brown kelp, backed by white cliffs and sand.
There were many seabirds to watch. We saw caspian terns, red-billed gulls, Hutton's Shearwaters, pied shags, variable oyster catchers, sky larks, and heron, but no penguins....
We did see Dolphins, leaping and diving ahead of a raft of gulls and shearwaters, but no whales. There were fur seals everywhere!
The Kaikoura peninsula is famous for its sightings of sea mammals because of the Hikurangi Trench, a deep underwater canyon system that comes unusually close to the shore here to form the Kaikoura Canyon, which is about a kilometre deep and forms part of the Hikurangi Marine Reserve.
Further along the cliffs we came to an area protected against predators by the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust. This species of sea bird is unique to the Kaikoura area and numbers have been falling. There are just two colonies left and the trust are establishing a third on the peninsula by hand rearing and releasing fledglings from the reserve, hoping that they will adopt this area and return to breed and form a new colony. The project started in 2004 and they have already recorded a large number of adult birds, returning here from migration to Australia, in order to breed back in Kaikoura.
We descended the cliff down into the beach at Whalers' Bay, and wandered along the beach. Back up on the cliffs we followed the coast path north along the end of the peninsula. It is hard to keep finding new descriptive superlatives, but this walk and the sea views really were very beautiful indeed. Long shallow beaches with the smooth limestone shelf and numerous irregular rocky outcrops scattered throughout the bays. There were fur seals everywhere and crowds of seabirds either nesting on the beaches or forming huge rafts out at sea. The sky was a bright dazzling blue and the sea bright turquoise - better than any of the postcards that we had seen on sale.
At the far end of the coastal path, the circular walk joined the marine parade at a car park. Here there were throngs of people crouching next to and posing for photographs with seal pups lost on the paths and tramping along beaches where sea birds were nesting. We overheard one American couple discussing where it would be best to look for dolphins and whales - 'Do you think the pink ball is for the dolphins and the blue ball is for the whales?' (They were looking at fishing buoys attached to crayfish pots 100 metres off shore ....). We re-traced our steps up onto the cliffs and to the relative peace and quiet up there. We walked back the way we had come along the exposed and beautiful cliff path.
Back at the motor home we made some sandwiches and ate them on the beach before driving along to the harbour area where the i-site lady had said we might see blue penguins. No penguins.
We enjoyed another stroll on the black pebble beach before setting out for the next step in our journey, up into the mountains and to Arthur's Pass.
The drive south in the evening sun was lovely. The ocean looked silvery with rafts of sea birds and seals everywhere.
At Amberley we turned inland through more fertile plains, the steep hillsides covered with the golden flowers of broom and gorse.
Finally as we turned west to start climbing up into the Alps towards Springfield, we watched the sunset behind the mountains ahead, their silver blue silhouettes contrasting with the apricot coloured sky.
Finally at about 9.30 we rolled into Kowai Pass Reserve campground, ready to flop!