Like to know more?

Read more Travel - NZ articles

NZ Travel Blog: Episode 2

Days 3 and 4 North to Kaikoura then Picton

Days 3 and 4 brought stunning scenery along the north east coast, and entertainment from seals and nervous demolition workers.

Colin was sleeping so soundly I didn’t want to wake him, so it was 8am before we really woke. We took our time then headed off. Decided to take the road out to Le Bons Bay. The road was similar to the other road out to Akaroa, winding around grassy mountains, a few patches of dark green vegetation and pine trees. We passed some with strange square or rhomboid plots of pine forest, and places where a forest had been razed from the mountain, but otherwise they were treeless beige-coloured grassy slopes. Curiously, the guard rails were mostly made of timber, which wouldn’t have a hope of stopping a car. If you rolled, you’d go a long way down.

The colours thus far have been muted, with an emphasis on greys and silvers. The beach at Le Bons Bay was silver-grey, with an emerald green sea. Just a row of houses, an oval and tennis courts, a swing made by a stick tied in the middle by a rope hanging from a tree, and a sheep grazing by the side of the road. A great holiday place for kids, as long as there were other kids to play with.

We travelled north to Kaikoura. For much of the way the road was inland, until a little before Kaikoura it ran along the coast, with just enough room between the mountains and the ocean for the road and a railway track. We made camp at another Top Ten caravan park. There’s lots of them in NZ, it seems. Typically, they are filled with wall to wall campervans and European travellers, but have great facilities – a heated pool, generous kitchen and dining facilities, barbecues, and clean, if unglamorous, amenities blocks. This particular one backed onto the heliport and the railway line, and we could hear heavy vehicles moving around the other side of the fence.

Kaikoura is supposed to be the place to go for whale watch tours. But when we checked it out, the only tour available the next day was at 4pm, and the forecast was for rain and wind. We decided to give it a miss and move on the next day, but some other travellers told us we should at least see the seals out on the point. One of the travellers I’d spoken to while cooking at the barbeque was a German girl with no German accent whatsoever, who was currently living in Melbourne and working as a vet nurse. She claimed she had no accent because she’d been travelling for so long, and she had an Aussie boyfriend.

After dinner, we walked into town, just in time for a dusky sunset on the dark grey beach. The enchanting thing about the town is the way the mountains meet the ocean. When we arrived, there was cloud obscuring the top of the mountain, but for just a little while it cleared and we glimpsed the top. The beach was made of grey pebbles, alternately coarse, then a band of finer gravel, then pebbles again before dropping steeply to the water, which was low tide.

Afterwards we strolled through town, past a restaurant with live music, a pub and a convenience store still open, but mostly quiet, shops shut.

Day 4 To Picton and Waikara Bay

We made an earlier start today. When we went to go for the peninsular walk, we were pleased to find we could drive to the point to see the seal colony. One fur seal thought he was a one-seal circus, posing for photos, stretching his neck and twisting it around, then swinging his head right around to rummage in his hide. More seals lazed on the rocks. A brick path wound to the top of the peninsular and we took the walk to the top, and were rewarded with amazing views in three directions.

After coffee in town we hit the road north. Along the way we saw interesting rock formations and more seals lazing amongst them. We stopped for a walk along a track through rainforest that ran by a creek and finished at a waterfall. Apparently, in winter, seal pups frolic in the waterfall, but not now.

For some inexplicable reason we both felt tired, even though we’d slept well. We pulled over and swapped drivers until we stopped at a picnic spot by the roadside to make a sandwich for lunch.

We were on the lookout for a home wares shop to buy a thermos and some better pillows and the first thing we saw when we reached Blenheim was a home wares shop. When we pulled into the car park we watched with interest as, next door, a team of workers prepared to demolish a large H beam that had previously been part of a house. A driver on a bucket excavator jerked the claw around, attempting to position it under the beam to support it. Another guy wheeled oxy gear under the beam to the other side. He started up the flame of the oxy torch and climbed onto a work platform attached to a huge forklift. Another fellow raised him up next to one end of the beams. He then tried to cut the H-beam with the oxy torch, jumping back nervously each time it sparked.

I went into the home wares shop and left Colin to watch them. I was thrilled to pick up two lovely big firm pillows and a thermos, all of which were on special.

By the time I came out, a fellow and a woman dressed in office clothes, but wearing hi-vis vests and hard hats had joined the workmen. There was some serious discussion between them, then all workers left and went somewhere out of our sight. The claw of the excavator was still poised under the beam. We decided they must have been safety inspectors or council inspectors. Who knows? The work team were probably relieved – we certainly were – as they didn’t look at all confident.

Only once during the day was there a spattering of rain on the windscreen. The sky alternated between cloudy and blue, and now, camped in a much quieter park at Waikara Bay, near Picton, it’s somewhere in between. This time we avoided the Top Ten Park and found an alternative, which I had seen advertised by the side of the road.

We are surrounded by mountains, (or steep hills), but this time they are covered in greenery. From our campsite, we can see a glimpse of the waters of the bay. Somewhere out there, north of us, is the North Island. Now there is a choir of crickets or cicadas singing their hearts out in the field next to us.