Marks decision to head south and pick up Highway 63 was inspired, we had a lovely drive south from Abel Tasman down through the fruit orchards around Nelson with the blossom just starting to come out. The road east took us along a wide river valley between towering hillsides, it reminded us of the Scottish Highlands. As we approached the town of Blenheim we drove through the Marlborough Wine region with vineyards on either side of the road stretching almost as far as the eye could see. We stopped for coffee in Blenheim, it was another modern low rise, town but it had a nice riverside park. From there we turned south and followed Highway 1 to Kaikoura.
The road to Kaikoura follows a narrow strip of flat land between the coastline and the mountains of the Seaward Kaikoura range, for most of the run the road was right next to the beach. It was a dramatic drive with rocky coves, turquoise ocean and looming mountains. Along one stretch we spotted seals sunning themselves on the rocks, we pulled into a viewpoint and spent half an hour watching them from maybe 20ft away, some on the rocks and some playing in the water.
Kaikoura is on a peninsula, as we approached from the north we ran through a long strip of motels, guest houses, restaurants and bars. The Sat Nav took us into the centre of Kaikoura where we stopped for fish and chips and visited the tourist information office, then out the other side to a quieter residential area with a few hotels looking straight over the bay and back to the snow-capped mountains, this is where we found our accommodation. We had a seafront room at the Anchor Motel and a beautiful view.
Kaikoura is well known for dolphin and whale watching but having seen both at other points on our trip, and not fancying a 3-4 hour trip out to sea in a small boat we decided not to do that. Instead we did the Peninsula Loop Walk, climbing a flight of steps from the road behind the hotel up on to the headland, down to the little harbour at South Bay, then back up and around the end of the peninsula and back down on to the coast road into town. It took us about 4 hours and gave us fantastic views of the sea and the coastline, the mountains and more seals basking on the beaches at the foot of the cliffs. On the road back to town we stopped at a road side caravan selling seafood, Kaikoura is famous for Crayfish which aren’t like European crayfish, they are the size of lobsters but don’t have claws. We had planned to try them but at $45 for half a crayfish on a paper plate we changed our minds! We had crayfish fritters (actually omelettes) with salad and then finished the walk in to town.
After pausing for a rest at the hotel we drove out of Kaikoura to a Lavender farm on the outskirts, I had read about a Lavender Farm in the area before we left home and thought it would be nice to visit one. Unfortunately, the farm at Kaikoura had recently changed hands and was still getting up and running, the shop had very little stock and the café was closed but the owner was able to make us tea and coffee and we stayed and chatted to her for a while. She was Scottish and moved to NZ two years ago looking for a change in lifestyle, she had previously worked writing software for military defence systems so running a lavender farm is a real change of pace!!
That night we booked a table at the Green Dolphin restaurant and had a really good meal, we are so impressed with the food in NZ, it doesn’t matter where you stop, restaurants, cafes, garden centre tea rooms the quality is very high.
Next stop, Christchurch.