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Touring New Zealand 2000
We crossed to South Island on the first Lynx of the day. The Lynx is a high speed wave-piercing catamaran capable of 42 knots and providing an unbelievably smooth ride in all but the roughest of seas. There is insufficient traffic in the winter so she makes the trip half way round the world - through the Suez canal - to ply the cross channel trade for half the year. The demi-circumnavigation takes only 25 days. The trip across the Cook Strait to South Island is even faster and took under 2 hours and, unless one went outside and looked back at the massive jets of water arching into the air, there was little indication one was moving - much quieter and smoother than a train.
One lands at Picton and we dropped into the DOC office before leaving - it is not in town but is on the left as you leave the dock area. It was barely 1000 as we left Picton and stopped at a Dairy for another typical, and huge, New Zealand Ice-cream. Dairies are not quite what one would expect from the name - they are more like an English corner-store selling most provisions and, most importantly, usually have big cabinets with 20 or so different icecreams which you typically have a couple of huge scoops of for a dollar and a half. They are often sited on roads as you leave towns and you can just pull in and sit at their outside seats or tables.
It was then on to the wine area of Marlborough, home of some of the most famous New Zealand wines such as Cloudy Bay, whose Sauvignon Blanc is now a cult wine in most countries and strictly rationed in many wine shops. We went there first to see what the new vintages were like and found they have a new sparkling wine - a non vintage sold under the Pelorus label. It is quiet different to the Vintage Pelorus which we served at our Silver Wedding anniversary - the vintage is mainly Pinot based and is full of body and taste. The new non-vintage is predominantly Chardonnay and is much lighter - more an afternoon wine - we bought a bottle and tried it latter that day which confirmed our view that it is very pleasant but rather over-priced both in its market and compared to the vintage.
Cloudy Bay have always been known for their white wines and have largely left their Australian parent Cape Mentelle to the reds, although they used to have an excellent Cabernet Merlot. The last vintage of the Cab Merlot was 1996, they told us they could not get meet the stringent standards they set with every vintage so they have removed all the vines and replanted with Pinot Noir. Unfortunately we were too early by 4 days to try it the first vintage - we will have to drop in as we pass back through.
We then went onto another favourite vineyard - Alan Scott - which not only has excellent and award winning wines (which you can sometimes get in the UK) but also has a very good vineyard restaurant called the Twelve Trees after the trees that shade it. We tasted some of their Prestige (Reserve) Chardonnay they have started making in small quantities and only sell from the winery. We confirmed our first impressions with a glass at lunch - they recommended the lamb fillet in choux pastry to accompany it. Both were excellent, in fact Pete had tried the lamb two years ago and I think there may well be a picture of it in our 1998 write up. We also went to Hunters, another Vineyard within a stones through of Cloudy Bay and Alan Scott's. It has an excellent reputation and their wines are freely available in the UK but we were slightly disappointed. It could well be that the sample bottles had been open for a while - at Cloudy Bay they always open a fresh bottle however little has been used (and taste it just in case). Unlike the others Hunters sold us none. Another winery to visit is Cairnbrae - like Alan Scott they are alleged to have started as contract growers for Cloudy Bay then set up themselves. We had a pleasant visit and cold lunch platter at Cairnbrae a couple of years ago when we spent more time in Marlborough.
We spent the night at a DOC camp site at Marfells Beach (not marked on many maps but next to Lake Grassmere where there are enormous salt pans). The site was fairly empty and we picked a site only a couple of metres from the beach and settled down to try the Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV followed by a cold supper. Unfortunately the peace was shattered shortly afterwards by a large group with many children arriving as dusk fell and setting up almost round us with their friends - I suppose you must expect that on a Friday evening in Summer. The site is under threat as TranzRail are hoping to build a new ferry port and where the camp site is at present could be a set of railway sidings in the future so check with DOC before going there.
We packed up early in the morning, fortunately it had been a very dry night and there was non of the usual condensation in the tent, and headed for our next vineyard - a lunch stop scheduled at Pegasus. It was a lovely run down the coast road to Kiakoura and we stopped to look at a seal colony right beside the road and we picked up one of the regions famed Crayfish from a roadside stall. As we took the road out of Kiakoura we looked across at the sea and in every direction one could see Dolphins playing, leaping out of the water and turning summersaults - boats full of tourists trying to swim with them were out in force but the most spectacular displays were, as always, well away from the boats - just like when we went out a couple of years ago. It was a magic display to watch and lasted for at least twenty minutes and there were still some playing when we drove on.
Lunch at Pegasus was as good as ever - they have now opened up a large new building with big restaurant with mezzanine floor and you now sample the wines at the bar. We had glasses of their Pinot Noir, one of our favourites, and the Cab Merlot with lunch - Pete did well as it was Pauline's turn to drive. We tried the Maestro (their reserve Cab Merlot) and the late picked Chardonnay before we left - neither are usually available for tasting but we were recognised from earlier visits despite the two year gap!
Having stocked up it was on to Christchurch where we stayed in a motel just within walking distance of the centre - there are no close-in camp sites and it is nice to be able to walk round and have the odd beer in the evening. The Crayfish was as good as we expected and we had it with Kumara, the local sweet potatoes - Pete has created a special way of doing them which is particularly appropriate for fish - Lemon Kumara. The Kumara, preferably the red Kumara are cooked till soft with the peel of a lemon coarsely cut up. They are then mashed with the juice of half the lemon, the remainder being reserved to go squeeze on the fish. The recipe works quite well with the sweet potatoes one can obtain in the UK.
We stayed two nights in Christchurch because we wanted to explore the Banks Peninsular - a very self contained area with a rugged coastline to the south-east. It has a lot of associated history and was originally a French settlement. For a period the French laid claim to it and had the Treaty of Waitangi not been signed it is likely the French would have extended their claim to the whole South Island. As it was word got out and a couple of magistrates were dispatched to the area and took up residence only weeks before the official French party came to lay claim for France with the French government's support.
The road down the Peninsular to Akaroa is winding and has lovely views - one needs to allow a good hour and a half for the 80 kms, even without photo stops. Akaroa itself has a small but interesting museum covering the French background and also Whaling, the original activity in the area. Other than the museum we found the French influence disappointing little in evidence. Akaroa is the departure point for a number of Dolphin watching and Whale watching trips which need to be booked well in advance. Otherwise the town has no more to offer than many other places - the scenic drive is the highlight and there were many side roads to small ports we failed to explore.
In the evening we went into Christchurch and ate at Baileys, the Irish pub - Lamb shanks and Speights Old Dark out of taps so cold they were covered in ice. It was a Sunday so there was none of the live entertainment from Irish groups we have enjoyed in the past but it still made a pleasant break from cooking ourselves.
From Christchurch we headed South down Route 1 through the Canterbury plains and made the decision to change our itinerary round and head first for the mountains bases on the weather forecast. We stopped at Geraldine on route for shopping because Pauline remembered they had an excellent bakery. On arrival we also recalled their butcher and bought some fresh vacuum packed venison. They also have a useful hardware shop where we bought our first camping stove after our first night under canvas at the nearby DOC camp site at Waihi Gorge - it seems a long time ago but it can only be our fourth year with the tent.
We stayed at Lake Tekapo - we were looking for a cabin because the winds were very strong but ended up paying the extra for a tourist flat on side of lake because it had spectacular views out over the lake which one could not get from tent slots or cabins. The lake is a most unusual pale blue colour because of the suspended particles from the glaciers and melting ice and is ringed by mountains leading down to the central alpine range. We had a walk along the west side of the lake and part way up the longer of the loop tracks to Mount John - we could not go the whole way because it was getting late in the day and storms were coming through. I rushed out to get a picture of the tractor in the evening light, bright against the forbiding clouds.
In morning long chat at Church of Good Shepherd. The church is small, only serving a population of 300 but is unique in foregoing the stained glass or other decoration behind the alter and has instead a window showing the view over the lake to the central mountains - better than anything man could ever create. I have turned an earlier picture into a Christmas card.
The volunteer who was manning the Church was a mine of information on the area and we were persuaded to do the full climb up Mount John which was well worth it for the views - it was a relatively easy walk with about 800 foot height gain and took a couple of hours and gave magnificent views in all directions including into the central Alps and Mount Cook - we finally departed at 1300.
We followed parts of the Heritage Bullock Trail which cris crossed the man road to Lake Putaki. The heritage trail had parts on private roads followed the canals which connect the various lakes and power stations providing hydroelectric power. There has been much argument over the flooding of the valleys but the results are a number of extremely beautiful areas. There are salmon farms on some of the canals and we picked up some excellent hot cold smoked salmon which was to make an late afternoon meal with a bottle of the Morton fizzy on our arrival at Wanaka for the night after a stop at Omerama for ice cream and to watch the gliders - we did not have the time to visit the airfield and to see our old twin Astir which we sold to Justin Wills and still has the designation JW on the fin.
We camped for the night close to Wanaka at a DOC camp site right beside the mighty Clutha river at Albert Town. The tent was under huge trees and we were only a pace from the drop down to the river. We had a Barbecue on the red devil - Venison and lamb and comparisons of the various Cab Merlots.
The following day we spent at Kidds Bush at the end of lake Hawea, a DOC camp site we had previously stayed at; spectacular views down the lake, the best flat stones we have ever found for skimming and some of the most aggressive Sandflies we have found. Fortunately the Sandflies were not in evidence this year.
The wind rose and the temperatures fell as we returned and, under pressure from Pauline, we sought a cabin at the Top Ten site at Wanaka on Mt Aspiring road. We returned to take down the tent and Pauline was proved correct as one of the fibre glass poles was broken as the tent was turned inside out by the wind as we started to take it down - fortunately Pauline had bought spares.
In the morning the weather had improved and we went out and did a walk at Diamond Lake and in afternoon climbed Mount Iron before heading for Queens town - both were 250 meter plus climbs and we are beginning to feel a bit fitter.
The afternoon had been scorching but as we approached Queenstown one could once more see the clouds brewing up along with the winds so we opted for a cabin at the camp site in the centre - a good choice as the camping slots were heaving and unfortunately with the wrong sort of people, mostly mainland Europeans - we and many others had all our food stolen from the communal fridges overnight two nights running.
One of our main reasons for visiting Queens town is the Earnslaw, a steam boat which has been serving the lake continuously since 1912 and as I write this I hear here horn in the distance announcing her arrival. We booked onto her for a trip across Lake Wakatipu for dinner at Walters Peak station - we were fortunate and they had a tour cancel and when we, as usual, tried for a discount on some grounds or other were told we could have it all for half price. More next week on Queenstown, Glenorchy, the Earnslaw and Gold in the Next Part.