Andrea: Our last day staying with Simon and Kelly and we were finally going out to see the farm! We showered (savoring it as it would be our last one for awhile) and ate breakfast and jumped on the 4-wheeler to take us out to the animals. There wasn't much room and I was afraid of falling off so I piled in the back trailer with the two dogs. The dogs jumped out and started running along the side so it was just me in the trailer, being pulled, with my tongue hanging out. There were two dogs with us, Jan, an experienced sheepdog that Simon took from his father to help on the farm, and Bo, a new puppy who they are training as a sheepdog. Bo was so cute as she tried to keep up with the veteran Jan. She definitely couldn't keep up as we had to keep shoving her back in the trailer as we navigated the 340-acre farm. Vern and I tried our hand at farming as we took down and set up temporary fences for the grazing cows. Then Simon ran 8000 volts of electricity through them and I kept my distance after that. There was a variety of cows on the farm, and my favorite were the ones that looked like shaggy dogs. They were the Pantene commercial of the cow world and reminded me of Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. I moved in close to get some pictures and then ran when the herd started moving toward me! I got a few photos, including one of me standing in front of them looking very nervous. Farm duty complete we climbed back in the dog trailer and raced back to the house, our freshly washed clothes and bodies now dirty from the most 'work' we've done in 7 months (ie. 30 minutes on a farm).
After our invaluable help to Simon and Kelly (or, turning a 15 minute job into a 30 minute one), we hit the road and finally left them alone. We were sad to leave their lovely house and comfy bed and hot shower, but it was time to go. They had been very gracious to us and we really enjoyed the time we spent with them, their friends and family. We drove the scenic route that Simon suggested we take to Christchurch. We drove up and stopped at a delicious bakery (another very useful suggestion of Simon's) in Geraldine, a quaint village that had a nice Sunday afternoon buzz. Delicious hot pies for lunch and some goodies for dessert = most worthwhile stop on the whole trip. Vern got Lemon Meringue Pie and I got something called "American Cake" (how could I resist?). We ate the American Cake on the road and we were dripping with chocolate and cream afterwards. We thought the name was fitting because we definitely felt like obese Americans by the time we finished. However, totally worth it. We drove through a lot of green farms bordered by stunning mountain chains. I've noticed there's not much here not surrounded by breathtaking mountains so we're almost used to it by now!
Simon had told us that there wasn't much to see in Christchurch since the earthquakes so we planned to drive through on the way to Kaikoura just to have a look. What we found was worse than we expected. The entire downtown area was fenced off and closed to everyone. Crumbled buildings lined the downtown streets, and gaping holes marked areas where the buildings had been completely demolished. There was even still broken glass in front of some places. Because of the instability of the buildings and the ongoing construction work, it's just not safe to walk around downtown. While we've been in New Zealand they have had the one year anniversary of the first big earthquake that happened last September. That one measured high on the Richter Scale, but nobody died because it happened at 4:30 am and no one was out on the street. The damage, however, was extensive. Then, in February they were hit again by a big one, but this time in the middle of the afternoon. That time 181 people died. It was devestating to the entire region and it will take years to rebuild the city. As we walked along the outskirts of downtown, there were many businesses with signs saying 'We've moved', which we thought was great that they were still going. We also found a store that was making light of the situation with an 'Earthquake Hours' sign that had different Richter Scale readings and what they'd be doing for each one ('6.0-7.0--Put the money on the counter because we'll be under it!'). We thought it was great to be so upfront with the customers. In the same vein, we found a restaurant called 'Oriental Wind', which we also thought was very open and honest for what its customers can expect after eating that food.
After Christchurch we drove the winding coastal roads to Kaikoura, a town known for seal, dolphin and whale watching. We navigated the cliff-lined roads with care as angry logging trucks beeped at us to be more reckless. We didn't listen, but we did find it cool to drive through giant blasted out tunnels all the way into town. We pulled in pretty late so we found our free DOC campsite and set up camp for the night. We had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheese sandwiches were delicious, although the packaging of the cheese was making no promises. 'Can be 100% Delicious' is what the non-committal marketing team had come up with. Luckily they had scrapped the original version which added ('but probably not the way you make it') to the end of that clever slogan. I'd say those sandwiches were about 90% delicious so I guess the packaging was honest if nothing else.
The next day we spent the rainy morning in an Internet cafe skyping my mom for her birthday! The great thing about being on this side of the world is that you can call someone a day after their birthday and it's not late for them! They are none the wiser. Until they read the blog where you brag about it. Whoops! We then drove out to the seal colony which turned out to just be 3 lazy seals on some rocks. Since the weather was bad and the seals weren't moving much, we decided to watch them from the shelter of our wonderful car while eating chips. True nature lovers, we are. We were listening to the radio and jamming along with our chips and I would occasionally jump out when we saw another Jucy car to see if they wanted to trade DVDs. Good day so far. After 10 or 15 minutes (or, when the chips were gone), it was time to move on. That was our opinion, but the car didn't agree. GEM wouldn't start. Our 10 minute stop turned into an hour-long game of asking other tourists for jumper cables (rental cars don't come with them, apparently). It turns out in our haste to open the bag of chips we had left our lights on after we turned off the engine (well, one of us left the lights on and HE shall remain nameless to protect the innocent...and the guilty). Finally, after asking every single car that came in the parking lot, a lovely couple on holiday from Christchurch came to our rescue and gave us a jump. We thanked them profusely (I stopped just short of offering them oranges as that was all we had to give) and left for a long drive to charge the car. We had decided we weren't going to do whale watching the weather was so bad that they had said they probably weren't going out today and we only had one day in Kaikoura. So, we went out to the creek that many locals had suggested as a fantastic place to see baby seals. Ohau Stream and Waterfall houses baby seals while their moms go out to the ocean to fish. It is an area protected from predators and a fun place to be for the pups! We walked the 10 minutes through the pouring rain to see 6 seal pups in the secluded area. Three were lounging on rocks, but the other three were so active in the pool beneath a waterfall (yes, it was a picturesque as it sounds). The three guys in the water were swimming in circles very quickly and jumping in and out of the waterfall. And, there wasn't another person in sight! It was a really special moment standing there watching these three seal pups making a whirlpool in this little stream. We stood there smiling and ahhing and pointing until we were thoroughly wet and trudged back to the car. That stream was worth the trip to Kaikoura! We jumped back in the car and prayed as we turned the key and the car started! We decided to move on from Kaikoura since we were already far from the town and we weren't planning on doing anything else. And, the next stop was wine country and we were both keen to duck out of the rain for some tastings!
On the outskirts of Blenheim is the Marlborough wine region, known for its supurb Sauvignon Blanc. Although NZ produces most types of wine, 82% of its exported wine is Sauvignon Blanc. We stopped at one of the best known wine estates in New Zealand and official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, Brancott Estate. The woman behind the counter instantly offered us bubbly because 'it was open' and it was a great way to start the tasting. We drank our 5 wines (Brut sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Merlot Cabernet) and listened intently when she offered information and asked lots of questions. We asked her a few Brancott-related questions when she finally handed us a map and politely informed us that the Brancott wine cellar was down the road. We slowly looked around the room at the Brancott sign, Brancott bottles scattered about and the 'buy 6 bottles and get a free rugby ball' promotion and were thoroughly confused. (Despite the merchandise and signage, this was apparently the tasting room for their premium range Triple Terace). We took that as a sign that she wanted to go home (it was almost closing time when we arrived), did the obligatory walk around the room umming and ahhing at the wines and left empty-handed. We then drove to our free DOC campsite, Robin Hood Bay, that was right next to the beach. We drove for about 15 kms on gravel to get there, but it was a beautiful drive and worth it to get to Robin Hood Bay where we took from the NZ taxpayer and gave to ourselves!