Temptation Island

After spending so much time in the mountains it was time to explore the rest of the South Island of New Zealand and check out what else it has to offer. For that reason I was heading back to Christchurch where I picked up Kayoko and we hit the road in a rental car. Our first stop was in Kaikoura, a little town about 2 hours north of of Christchurch. This place is well-known for its picturesque setting on the ocean with some mountainous backdrop and the whale watching. However, we also discovered there was great seafood and steak to be had and enjoyed it over a glass of local wine. Next morning we tackled the whale watching and when I noticed they had a sea sickness alert we popped some pills. Turns out we were cruising on the ocean for well over two hours without spotting any whales. Instead we got to see lots of sea sick people (unfortunately including Kayoko while I barely managed to keep it together), at $150 that’s really a bargain… We finally did spot one whale before returning to the shores. It was great to be back on firm territory and we celebrated it by doing the Peninsula Walk, a 3 hour hike with beautiful coastal scenery.

We next headed to Blenheim which is a city in the famous Marlborough Wine region. Again we enjoyed some fantastic food there (I guess the great thing about NZ is that there is lots of organic food from domestic production) and of course headed to the wineries. Marlborough is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc but they have also started to produce some other white wines like Riesling, Chardonay, Pinot Gris, Gewuerztraminer etc. They are even producing some light red wines, primarily Pinot Noir. The wine tasting experience was very similar to the one in Australia. Lots of wines of good quality but most of the wines seem to be very similar. It was really difficult to find something outstanding and sadly it probably comes down to the marketing strategy to decide over success or failure. Our personal favorite was Mahi Wines, a boutique producer (www.mahiwines.co.nz).

Our next stop was Nelson, a city close to the centre of New Zealand (but confusingly it lies at the Northern end of the South Island…). It is also a centre for arts and crafts and hence it has a very-laid back lifestyle. This is further complemented by the fact that Nelson gets more sunshine than any other city in New Zealand. One of our highlights though were the many well preserved Victorian style houses dotting the streets. Fortunately, we managed to stay in one of these houses, namely in the highly recommended California House Inn (www.californiahouse.co.nz), a B&B run by an English couple. Ray and Janice are very friendly hosts and spoiled us with some excellent breakfast (including Birchermuesli!). So by now, you should really get the idea that the food was so good everywhere that we will return with a few extra pounds…

We spent very little time on the West Coast (basically just passing through) but enough to notice it is a completely different story. The villages are smaller around here (1% of the NZ population living on 9% of the area), the streets more curvy, the territory more hilly and the scenery even greener than in the rest of the island. Apparently the winds down here mostly move from West to East meaning that it is often very windy and a lot of rain gets dumped on the West Coast (some places have an annual rainfall of 5-8 meters!). Its a very scenic drive along the Coast but unfortunately we had to change directions soon again since we were heading for Mount Cook (we went there via Arthur’s Pass, Methven and the MacKenzie flats).

At 3754 metres, New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (Aoraki) is dazzling, yet there are 27 other mountains in this alpine backbone which peak at over 3000 metres all making up the famous Southern Alps. So we were back in the mountains and of course I was loving it. We got quite fortunate that the weather started clearing up after we got there, so we took a short hike and soaked up the tremendous scenery. While the mountains where spectacular, Mt Cook Village was not impressive at all. Guess I expected a beautiful Alpine village a la Zermatt but was utterly disappointed after we got there. A hotel, a cafe, a backpackers and a camping – that’s Mt Cook Village! So instead of staying there we went back to Lake Tekapo, a small village (population 315) on the stunningly blue Lake Tekapo. This is truly one of the most beautiful turquoise lakes I have ever seen in my life. When you look at the pictures below you will think we have been fiddling with the colours but I can assure you this is real. The other major attraction in Lake Tekapo (and less obvious) is star gazing. Since the place is very small and at least 50km from any other major settlements the skies are very clear. Again, seeing is believing, so check out this website http://www.earthandsky.co.nz/gallery/gallery.html

The last stop on our tour around the Southern Island was the Banks Peninsula, one of my personal favorites. It is only one hour from Christchurch yet a world away. The Peninsula was formed by volcanic erruptions and there is a spectacular drive around the edge of the original crater. The only major town on the Peninsula is Akaroa. Thanks to its French heritage (they got here before the British but did not close the deal) it feels like a charming little resort in the Mediterranean. It definitely has a glamorous feel about it but just over the next hill you can find some beautifully isolated farms, wineries and B&Bs (check out www.frenchfarm.co.nz and www.labri.co.nz). It was soooo relaxing and we had such a great time there…

I definitely had a great time in New Zealand. When you come here you feel a tremendous inner peace thanks to the beautiful nature with wide open spaces, tranquil environment, scarce newsflow (somehow the news seem to happen overnight here), healthy organic food and sparse population. However, when you do meet people, they are soooo friendly and very interested what is happening in other parts of the world. The only negative things I have to say about New Zealand is that the weather forecast was consistently wrong (thankfully in our favour) and steaks are always served well done irrespective of how you order it (a deja vu for Gustavo!).

Anyway, I am now already in Los Angeles while Kayoko has headed back to Singapore. I will update you in due course.

Stunning West Coast scenery

Pancake Rocks

Mount Cook

Lake Tekapo

Sunset in Akaroa

One of those many delicious dinners…

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