Mount Cook to Christchurch via Geraldine, Blenheim and Kaikora

The final few days on the south island were great though we have fallen behind with our blogging. So apologies if this is a bit vague in places but we want to get up to date before we get to Argentina.

From Buscot Station our plan was to get as far past Mount Cook as possible. Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand and despite spending a few days within “sight” of it on the west coast we never did see it due to cloud. This time we would be approaching it from the east and driving right up to its base and the small village of the same name.

The drive towards Mount Cook is another impressive drive. Gradually the terrain becomes more and more mountainous with awesome snow covered peaks gradually appearing the closer we got. Mount Cook village is a little alpine town with a few expensive looking hotels, shops and the Sir Edmund Hillary museum. We stayed for an hour or so but as Mount Cook refused to show itself through the cloud we lost interest pretty fast.

Though I had a secondary reason to be there. To get a picture of the elusive Mount Blackburn. It’s one of these three. And one of them is Mount German.

(Sod you then. Argentina has a bigger one!)

(Check out my mountain!)

From here moved on to Lake Takapo for lunch. This was another impressive New Zealand lake. As they all are.

We tracked down a suitable hostel for the night in a place called Geraldine. Geraldine is a small town with not much to offer although we found a very good butcher and a quaint old fashioned cinema. We hoped to see a film but the voluntary staff were unwilling to open just for us. I think they had a band practice planned but they did give us a tour.

The cinema is old and still uses old style projectors. They have some standard old fashioned seating but all around the edges of the cinema and up in the large balcony were old sofas donated to them over the years. We again tried to twist their arm to show a film but they were having none of it. The chap suggested we stop by again next time….if he was joking he hid it well. I suspect nobody comes to Geraldine twice.

(Dull I know, but not for our friend Dave who used to collect cinema tickets)

The hostel we stayed in was an old Maternity Hospital. Having spent a little too much time in hospitals over the past few years it was a weird experience. That aside it was nice enough and the weather was good so we sat outside in the sun for a little while.

The next day we set off on what was to be our final epic drive. It ended being the most epic drive by quite some way. We planned to drive Arthur’s Pass through the Southern Alps back to Greymouth on the West Coast and then from there to drive North East to Murchison.

The Arthur’s Pass road was yet another superb bit of driving. Ruggedly beautiful, undeniably spectacular and great fun to drive. Sadly photographing it wasn’t easy.

(getting the low down on Argentina)

(a diverted waterfall…they have plenty so one less makes no odds)

We reached Greymouth around 4pm. You may remember that this was the place we stayed when I did the Knife Making course. There is very little of note in Greymouth but it is the biggest town on the west coast so we stocked up with food at the supermarket.

We eventually reached our hostel by 7pm after driving 580km. This hostel was one of the highest rating in the BBH Hostel Network and we were intrigued to discover why.

The owners, who were British and extremely friendly sell evening meals for $10. Some were being put on the table as we arrived and they were impressive plates of food. They also cook cakes and let all guests have one slice free.

We suspect the food is what gets them such a good rating because the kitchen was extremely small and the facilities were fairly average. I love cooking but 8 people in a tiny kitchen is more akin to christmas shopping.

At one point I offered a young Isreali chap some fresh rosemary to go with his garlic croutons. He turned his nose up and continued to toss his croutons like some sort of culinary genius. In all honesty he did look like he knew what he was doing…until he produced a box of frozen fish fingers.

Claire shared a bunk bed with a neurotic American woman. She clearly hated everything about hostels so we have no idea why she was staying there. I spent the evening watching a film with the 2 Isreali chaps, the gourmet of the two having proven himself to be ok despite his aversion to rosemary. I did however have to explain around 6% of the words used in the film.

From Murchison we pressed on to Blenheim at the north of the island. We stayed in a small place called Renwick right in the middle of more vineyards and wineries than you could shake a novelty cork screw at. We went for a free tasting at the Cloudy Bay vineyard. All 8 were lovely and it was nice to try them one at a time as for the first time we really appreciated that they did all taste different. Which quashes one of my favourite sweeping generalisations.

(free wines…nice)

That night at our hostel Claire and I played Boulles. She won.

Moving swiftly on…In the evening I got chatting to 3 Scot’s who live in Christchurch but deciced that given their lack of sewage and running water they would come away for the weekend. After chatting for 10 minutes I had a large scotch thrust into my hand and it was made very clear I must drink with them. I dragged the huge measure out as long as I could and luckily didn’t have to drink any more. That said it was quite nice, in a throat burning nasal hair singeing kind of way. It was interesting and harrowing to hear first hand what things had been like in Christchurch though.

That said the amazing good will between New Zealand people was incredible to witness. We listened to some radio stations and they were inundated with people offering services for free. People were even collecting rain water and offering to deliver it by wheelbarrow to those stranded without any water. Some shops in Auckland were pledging all of their profits for a week to the Salvation Army who are doing sterling work in Christchurch too.

Our final destination was Kaikoura. Kaikoura is famous for its sea life, with many tours offering Dolphin Swimming and Whale Watching as well as Seals.

In our tradition of not paying for these things we spotted Seals on the coastline on our drive in and we were able to get extremely close. We stood on a concrete wall above them so we were out of striking reach. Amazingly these incredible animals didn’t seem bothered by us and at one point I held the camera around 1 metre from a seals face as it slept. It opened its eye, looked at me and went back to sleep.

One female seal however seemed a little unsure of us. As soon as we approached she bounded off behind a rock and then spent 10 minutes doing a meerkat impression to see where we were.

(Meerkat Seal)

After this we moved on and checked in to our hostel. Another fairly standard offering and we ended up in dorms for the first night.

Kairkoura is a delightful town with a nice row of shop and eateries. We also found an excellent fresh fish shop (that’s a fishmonger to you lot) and bought some great fish, the name of which I forget.

(a Kaikoura sunset)

We got chatting to a Dutch couple who spoke perfect English and were hilarious to boot. They were going on an early morning Dolphin swimming trip the next morning. We felt a little smug following our free and completely natural experience down in the Catlins.

That night we ate at a famous Seafood BBQ Van recommend by a local.

The fish and shellfish was delicious.

The next morning we bumped into the Dutch and their dolphin trip sounded incredible. The dolphins were the big type (like Flipper) and they swam with them for a long time. The dolphins sounded very interactive. The Dutch chap took a video but he was having problems playing it at the time.

Our day was spent doing a sedate walk around the peninsular via lunch at the Seafood BBQ Van. The coastline was very dramatic with rugged coastline and high cliffs.

That evening we sold our tent and camping gear. A German couple asked about the tent and 2 chairs. I quoted a price of UK£12 but they had to think about it. They returned to offer £11. Which I accepted. There frugelness was rendered strange by the 3 litre Toyota they had hired. This whole process amused the Dutch couple.

The next morning we drove to Christchurch to drop off our beloved Nissan Sunny and to catch our flight to Auckland after a superb 4 weeks on the south island. We bumped into the Dutch couple again and they announced their engagement. We were the first people they told, we felt touched.

Only three days left in the New Zealand Food Eating Adventures of Claire and Mark. But much excitement and drama is to come. Stay tuned!


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