New Zealand 10 – Christchurch and Akaroa

Leaving Kaikoura we continued along State Highway 1 to Christchurch, victim of a devastating earthquake in 2011. Christchurch also hit the news in March 2019 when a gunman went on the rampage and killed 51 muslims in two mosques.

We were not staying in Christchurch but I wanted to see it. Last year I felt quite depressed about how Christchurch was rebuilding. In 2011 it had its heart ripped out and I felt its heart was still missing in the redevelopment. All the shops had relocated to shopping malls away from the city centre. Bland, faceless buildings seemed to be springing up with little or nothing to attract people into the centre of the city.

As we walked around the fenced off cathedral, still in the same state of collapse, we decided to catch the tram, which takes you around the most important parts of the new city centre. Some buildings, mostly wooden, did survive, and a lot of money is being spent in rebuilding and renovating some of the historic buildings. A large, impressive convention and events centre is nearing completion and will bring people in to the city. Restaurants and bars have grown with the rest of the buildings and there seemed to be more life about the city, it was no longer a heartless shell. It was a good decision to take the tram as it gave us a much better picture than walking the streets. We ended up in New Regent Street having a drink while John got his hair cut!

Feeling more optimistic about Christchurch, we headed off to Akaroa, a small town on the Banks Peninsula. The Banks Peninsula is formed from an ancient volcano that rose out of the sea just off the coast of the mainland. In the intervening years, through sedimentation, it has become part of the mainland. Having crossed the flat area around Lake Ellesmere, we began to climb steeply up to the rim of the old crater. From the top you look down into the old crater. At some point, the crater was breached by the sea and now there is an enormous haven of safe water surrounded by steep slopes rising up to the rim of the crater in an arc.

Dropping down into the small waterside town of Akaroa we looked for our house for the next couple of nights. Harbour View House was a short distance out of the centre of town, in an elevated position overlooking the water. The single storey building had a completely glass wall looking out at the view. There was also an extensive deck, allowing you to soak up the view wherever you were in the house. It was stunning! With such a stunning view, we decided to eat in and enjoy it for as long as we could.

There was no rush in the morning. It was Chris’s birthday, so we enjoyed Akaroa at leisure. While Chris and John went for a stroll, the rest remained at the house, enjoying the deck and watching small boats going backwards and forwards . What were they doing?

Akaroa is Canterbury’s oldest town. It, and the whole of the Banks Peninsula has a very French feel to it. This is where French settlers came in 1840, and it is said that French interest in New Zealand speeded up the Whaitangi Treaty and Britain annexing New Zealand. Now the resident population is declining and many of the desirable properties are holiday homes. It has some wonderful old buildings behind the waterfront properties, including the library and theatre shown above.

In the afternoon we were due to go swimming with dolphin. Akaroa is the home for the world’s smallest dolphin, Hector’s Dolphin and this is the only place where you can safely swim with them. As we prepared to go out in a small boat to swim with the dolphins, we were given a warning that there was a strong swell out at the mouth of the inlet where the swimming would take place. It was the same swell that we had encountered at Kaikoura. Black Cat Cruises who were running the trip wanted to know if we were confident swimmers and could cope with climbing back on to the boat in such conditions. I had done this trip before when there was a swell, and while I coped with the conditions, we did not actually manage to swim with any dolphins. We wouldn’t have been able to see them had they not disappeared as soon as we got into the water.

I sensed some apprehension on the faces of Chris and Chrissie, so I made the decision that I didn’t want to do it. Immediately, they decided that they didn’t either, so we left John to experience it alone. We chose to do an alternative cruise around the inlet where we would still see Hector’s Dolphin.

Our cruise was very relaxed. There were very few people on the boat and the late afternoon sun was brilliant. As we pulled further away from Akaroa, we could see a cruise ship anchored. That explained why small boats were going back and forth all morning, ferrying passengers from ship to shore and back. The route took us around the northern edge of the inlet before heading out towards the open sea, some 15km to the south. Every-so-often we would be given snippets of information about the history of the area, all the time looking out for dolphin.

It was not long before we came across a pod of dolphins, riding our bow wave and swimming between the two hulls of the catamaran. They were so fast and sleek.

As we neared the open sea the swell became more noticeable. We hugged the shore where we were able to see lots of seabirds on the cliffs and a blue penguin on the water. We crossed the inlet, across the swell, to the other shore and began to head back to Akaroa. As we did so the cruise liner was leaving.

While our cruise had been relaxed, John’s had been a bit exciting. There had been a five metre swell where they came across the dolphins. He did get into the water with them  but he wasn’t really aware of them. He spent most of his time trying not to drink vast quantities of sea water. He wasn’t really feeling on top form when we met up, his body having had a disorientating experience, and he had consumed quite a lot of sea water. While he was still quite pleased to have had the experience, the rest of us were inwardly quite glad that we had opted out.

That evening, we enjoyed some bubbly on the deck to celebrate Chris’s birthday before heading out to Bully Hayes Restaurant and Bar for a celebratory meal.

Akaroa is such a beautiful place and I can fully understand why people want to have holiday homes here. If I lived in the house we rented for two nights, I would never get tired of that view.

New Zealand 9 – Whales

Our next destination was Kaikoura, but we had to return to Picton first to pick up Chris’s glasses. It was only a brief detour off route and we were soon heading down the east coast. The nearer we got to Kaikoura, the more roadworks we came across, work still being done as a result of the 2018 earthquake. There were numerous traffic control points where we could watch the seals on the beach as we waited. Those that controlled the “Stop/Go” signs were a cheery bunch and made sure that they waved a “Thank you” to every vehicle. It cheered us to see people happy in their work, however tedious it was, and we never failed to wave back at them.

At one point the new road construction had included a lay-by where there was a large seal colony. Just how many seals there were was not apparent at first; dark grey or black seals lounging on dark grey or black volcanic rocks, meant you had to allow your eyes to adjust. Then we saw the extent of the colony, too many to count.


Our AirBnB property in Kaikoura was described as ‘The Cottage with Sea Views’. It wasn’t in the heart of Kaikoura but high up on the hill towards Point Kean. As we entered the house, I was greeted with a stunning view out to sea beyond the sliding patio doors. I was so enamoured by the view that I, forgetting the glass door, walked straight into it with a thump. Outside was a deck looking down the hill to Kaikoura, the waterfront and the glistening sea stretching to the horizon and beyond. What a view to enjoy, and what a shame we were only staying here for one night.

With such a view, we decided to eat in, and as Kaikoura is the crayfish capital of the world. John and I went in search of crayfish from a small shop on the outskirts of town, appropriately called Cods & Crayfish. There we bought some fresh, prepared crayfish and fillets of blue cod from an amiable chap who clearly knew his way around a rugby pitch. Conversation told us that he had played hooker all of his playing career, which he had managed to survive without injury.

The seafood, beautifully prepared back at the house was superb. As we ate day turned into night and the moon rose out of the sea casting a warm orange glow over the water. What a tranquil place to be on such an evening. But the house was more than the view; it felt like a home, and one that was well loved.

We were due at the Whale Watch Centre quite early as we were due out on the 8.00am sailing. Having gone through the briefing, we boarded the bus to take us round to the quay on the other side of Point Kean.

We had been warned that there was a reasonable swell off-shore. Angela was losing her appetite for the trip, despite taking precautions against sea sickness in advance. As we emerged from the protection of the quay, we soon realised that we were in for a bit of a bumpy ride. As we powered out to sea we scythed our way through most of the waves but had to adjust our speed whenever we approached a bigger one, that would slap noisily into the twin hulls of the catamaran. We hadn’t gone very far when we were joined by a pod of Dusky dolphins riding the bow wave and leaping clear of the water. They moved so fast that they were impossible to photograph, appearing and disappearing in a flash of glimmering, grey skin.

The dramatic distraction of leaping dolphins failed to stave off Angela’s nausea as she wished she hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

We were looking for Sperm Whales, which live in the waters off Kaikoura all year round because of the rich pickings there. We had seen bright red plankton and krill on the surface, something I had never seen before, but they are a sign of the richness of the seas here. Sperm whales do not eat plankton but they do eat other marine creatures that congregate to feed on them, squid amongst them.

The whale will spend about forty five minutes several hundred metres below the surface, feeding. When they need to take in air, they come to the surface to take thirty or forty breaths before diving again. The give away sign we were looking for was the spout of water on an exhale. Having spotted one we sped to where the whale was on the surface. There isn’t a huge amount to see, just a sliver of its back and dorsal fin, with the occasional spout. Our expert guide on board is able to read the signs and warn us that the whale is about to dive. It takes a deep breath and begins to arch its back. As it dives the tail gradually arcs above the surface, revealing its majestic flukes, before disappearing for another forty five minutes or so.

We were fortunate enough to see a further two whales before it was time to head back. Angela had seen the whales between bouts of sickness. As we returned we were confined to the cabin. I sat with Angela on one side of me and a German woman vomiting on the other. Throughout my career I had always said, “I don’t do vomit!” I certainly got the short straw.

It is a fabulous experience watching these majestic creatures of the deep, as well as the Dusky dolphins and the Albatross swooping over the surface.

New Zealand 8 – Abel Tasman National Park

We took the scenic route out of Picton, following the water’s edge of Grove Arm and then Mahakipawa Arm, both bays of the Pelorus Sound, towards Havalock. Before reaching Havelock the road took us around a headland, Cullen Point, which we decided was worth a walk to the viewpoint. The cicadas were particularly numerous and noisy among the Manuka trees. What is more, they were easy to spot, to photograph and video. It was well worth the stop, providing us with beautiful views of Pelorus Sound immediately in front of us. Looking south and west we looked across to ranges of higher hills with dramatic ridge lines.

On a Saturday there is an excellent market in the main, central car park in Nelson. It is a showcase for local crafts, organic fruit and vegetables and artisan foods. Unfortunately, it winds up at 1.00pm and we had not left very much time to explore. It was very windy and many of the stalls were beginning to pack up, with some difficulty, and we got involved in holding down gazebos as more hands were needed than were available. As a result, the market, which I had been advocating as well worth a visit, became a bit of a disappointment.

After some lunch, we continued our journey to Marahau and the Abel Tasman National Park, making sure that we stopped off in Motueka for a supermarket shop.

Our house in Marahau was a modern house in Franklin Street just off the water front road. We arrived at the same time as the owner, who proceeded to tell us all the things we could and could not do. To add insult to injury there was a whole sheet of rules and instructions pinned to the kitchen wall. If we abided by them we would do nothing but clean the house. When I asked if there was any gas for the BBQ, there wasn’t, and she didn’t seem very enthusiastic to provide us with any.

Once we were settled in, John and I went down the road to Hooked, a restaurant, cafe, shop and bar that had a Happy Hour from 4 to 6. Hooked is owned by an English woman who came out soon after the millennium and stayed. We were served by a delightful girl from York who was on a gap experience, working her way around the world, but was seriously considering staying in New Zealand. Who could blame her? She told us her mother was soon visiting and she would be having a difficult conversation with her. We made the most of Happy Hour.

The following morning, while Chrissie took a water taxi to Anchorage so she could walk back, the rest of us took a couple of sea kayaks out for the day. Angela and I worked quite well as a team, although I found it difficult to keep in sync with her at the front. I also found it quite uncomfortable for the hips and back, which did not help us flow smoothly. We headed up the coast, calling at the beach at Apple Tree Bay. The beaches all along this coast are stunning, with golden sand lapped by turquoise waters, with a backdrop of native forest.

Having rested, we headed across to Adele Island to see the seal colony. For some reason, I managed to get comfortable, found my rhythm and coordinated with Angela well. There were a number of seals and pups on the rocks and cavorting in the water. We had to keep 20m between us and them but it was sometimes difficult to maintain that distance if you were concentrating on taking pictures rather that paddling. It was unfortunate that we arrived at the same time as a number of other kayaks, so it was a bit crowded.

Heading back to the mainland, Angela and I really got our act together and it did not take too long to reach Stilwell Bay, where we landed for lunch and a dip. Getting back on the water proved more challenging on this occasion as we drifted parallel to the beach as I tried to climb in. Needless to say, I did not stay in for long, much to the amusement of John and Chris. The journey back was tough, against the outgoing tide. The only bonus was that we did not have to paddle so far and a tractor came out to meet us and relieve us of our kayaks and associated kit, leaving us to walk back, shower and change so that we could get to Hooked in time for Happy Hour, which we all enjoyed, including Chrissie who had enjoyed her walk along the coast.

Before we left the next morning we did what we needed to do and not all the items on the list. What is the point, when we were paying a sizeable cleaning fee?

New Zealand 7 – Goodbye North Island, Hello South Island

It was with mixed feelings that we set sail on the Bluebridge ferry. We were disappointed that we were leaving North Island; there is so much more to see than we had been able to fit into the time. However, South Island was going to offer us more exciting experiences.

Looking back at Wellington as our ferry drew further away, you realise just how small the city is. The Central Business District of high rise offices only covers a small area but has a backdrop of native bush as the land rises up from the coast. There is more to Wellington that its CBD; it has sprawling suburbs that follow the Hutt Valley heading north. The coastal development fills in bays between headlands, and some lucky people have prominent properties on those headlands with outstanding views that you could never tire of.

Leaving the sheltered waters behind, we headed out into the Cook Strait, where two waters meet and provide a bit of choppiness, even on a calm day. When the weather is really bad, it must be such an exciting crossing. I remember thinking, “Did I apply the handbrake?” Looking down on to the car deck I could see our car and it hadn’t moved. Relax. Enjoy the scenery.

As you approach South Island it is almost impossible to see the entrance into the Marlborough Sound. Gradually you realise you are not going to run aground, that there is a channel of water we are aiming for. Once in the sound the water is flat and a beautiful turquoise blue. On either side the bush rises from the shore line. Small water taxis pass us as they take tourists to remote tracks for a walk, or pick up people who live in remote houses overlooking the water, to Picton for supplies. Fishermen bob up and down in our wake in their minute craft, and cormorants sit on the fences around salmon farms in the hope of finding an easy meal.

It takes almost ninety minutes to travel up the sound to Picton. At the quay the ferry is deftly turned around in very limited space and we are soon disembarking. From the ferry we drove through Picton along State Highway 1 to a small airfield a few miles south, belonging to Pelorus Air. Having seen Marlborough Sound from the ferry, I had arranged for us to now see it, and all the other sounds, from the air.

We met Johnny, our pilot, who seemed remarkably young. We hoped he was also competent. Having assessed our weights, we boarded the six-seater Cesna 206. We took off and flew over Picton before heading north west over Kenapura Sound and Pelorus Sound. We looked down on to perfect blue waters and untouched bush. The coastline was so varied with many little coves, inlets and headlands. The route took us to the outer limits of the sounds before turning SE. We began to lose height as we approached an inlet called Port Gore. Soon we could see the reason why; there was a grass airstrip rising up from the beach. Johnny brought the plane in smoothly and landed before turning the plane round at the top of the runway and taking us back down to the beach. As we disembarked, a large black and tan dog greeted us, stood at the water’s edge, hoping we would throw stones for it. Tucked away behind some trees was a house and two people emerged from it to join us. It was Cliff, the owner of Perorus Air, and his wife, who have lived in this remote spot since the early 1980s. Cliff used to be a commercial airline pilot but now runs this small company, largely for pleasure. No other house could be seen from where we stood, and, with a good, sweeping beach, it was the most perfect of places to be. To live here might be a bit lonely and to go anywhere by car is a bit of a mission. Cliff did have a plane tucked away in a hanger beside his house.

Port Gore is also the scene of a modern New Zealand maritime disaster. On 16th February 1986, the 20,000 ton Russian cruise ship, MS Mikhail Lermontov, left Picton with, mostly aged Australian passengers on board. The ship was being piloted out of Picton but the pilot, wishing to give the passengers a close look at the beautiful coastline, hugged it as he guided the ship out. As they reached the outer limits of Marlborough Sound the ship needed to round Cape Jackson. However, the pilot decided to take it through a passage of clear water between the mainland and Cape Jackson, assuring the Russian captain that it was safe. It was not safe, and the ship scraped a 5.5m gash below the water line. The cruise ship limped into Port Gore, listing heavily. All the passengers were rescued by passing ships, along with most of the crew. The ship was run aground in the bay at Port Gore, in the hope that, at high tide, they could manoeuvre it further up the beach. Unfortunately, it drifted back out into the bay, keeled over and sank on its side in 39m of water. There it remains to this day, with the one fatality, a crew member, who went down with the ship. Now, MS Mikhail Lermontov is a popular dive site. The pilot who guided the ship into the disaster was suspended for two years.

After about half an hour of conversation with Cliff, we climbed back into the aircraft and Johnny took us, at speed, up to the top of the runway. I thought for a moment, with the speed we were travelling, that we were going to take off into the hill. He just needed the speed to get to the top of the hill. The take off was perfect. As we flew over the bay, I would have expected to have been able to see the shape of the cruise ship on its side, but there was nothing to see.






We flew in a more direct line, back over Picton, to the airstrip. What a superb flight and it only cost us £85 each. Great value, and Johnny was a super young pilot.

Driving back into Picton we were able to check into the Picton Yacht Club. If I am honest, I thought I had booked the hotel next door, the Beachcomber. We had a penthouse suite, which was very good with views out across the harbour and marina. At least it was good for four people, not five. So, when I discovered that there was not another room available for Chrissie, I managed to get her an excellent room in the Beachcomber.

We ate at the Beachcomber. I had eaten there last year and Claire Cox announced she had the best Porterhouse steak she had ever eaten, so it had to be tried. It was beautiful and well worth the year long wait. Bizarrely, despite it being the 7th February the Beachcomber dining room was festooned with Christmas decorations! Afterwards we ventured into town where there was live music being played in one of the bars. A good way to end the evening.

The following morning, we gave a little time to exploring Picton a little further, including an excellent breakfast. Picton really is a very beautiful little town. It has everything you could possibly need. There is plenty to do and there always seems to be a lively atmosphere. Not sure it would be the same in the quieter winter months, but I do get the impression that it is a pretty idyllic place to live, particularly as there is a drinking consultancy that you could always escape to.

As introductions go, Picton and the flight over the Marlborough Sounds was the perfect introduction to South Island.

New Zealand 6 – Wellington

We arrived in Wellington late in the afternoon of 5th February. We were staying in the Copthorne Hotel in Oriental Bay with views looking across the road to the harbour and the Sky Stadium. The significance of that will unfold. The Copthorne was, by far, the most expensive accommodation I had arranged, but there was a reason for that. Until our arrival in town I had assumed that accommodation was at a premium because February 6th is Waitangi Day, a public holiday with lots going on. I felt there was a certain attraction, being in the capital on such an important day in New Zealand’s calendar. That was not the only reason, though, that accommodation had been so hard to come by. Queen were in concert at the Sky Stadium.

Angela had been in touch with the aunt and uncle of our daughter-in-law, Kelly, and had arranged to meet them for dinner. As we left to go to the Yacht Club for an early evening meal with Aunty Kay and Uncle Jim, we left the other three pondering what they would do for the evening. Part way through our meal I got a photo message, “Guess where we are?” As much as I enjoyed the company of Kelly’s aunt and uncle, I think I would have enjoyed Queen more! Having done our family duty we listened to Queen through our open bedroom window.

The following morning, over breakfast, we heard how great it was, what a fabulous concert, great atmosphere etc. etc. etc. I didn’t want to know.

It was only a short walk to Te Papa Museum, and, despite it still being quite early, there was a throng of visitors already there. Te Papa is a great museum, one of my favourites, for the range and quality of its exhibitions. The detail regarding the geological creation of New Zealand, its volcanic origins and its evolution through time is fabulous and makes it very easy to absorb. Its uniqueness in the world is highlighted by examples of all the wonderful species that live there, and only there.

Then there is the human history, the Maori sailing in from south sea islands. What enticed Europeans to venture to the other side of the world, how hardships forced them to take a journey of faith and exploration. The only disturbing exhibition is the two versions of the Waitangi Treaty. The Maori version was worded differently to the English version. By changing a few words, the Maori were cheated out of so much and the English overlords grabbed everything they could. Yet another example of British colonial mismanagement.

Having spent most of the morning in Te Papa, the rest of the day was free to enjoy the free music concert in Waitangi Park (not Queen, but enjoyable all the same), wandering the waterfront, drinking and eating. Wellington has such a relaxed atmosphere and is a great city to chill out in.