New Zealand: South Island Coastal Drive

15 05 2009

After a pleasant stay in Nelson, we set off on a scenic drive to Kaikoura, our next destination.  Remember when I talked about how the gorgeous scenery actually got better and better as we traveled south?  Well, this is one of the reasons we came to this belief.  While planning this trip, I was not thrilled that we had to drive approximately 4 hours from Nelson to Kaikoura.  I should not have worried, though, because there are plenty of worthy stops to enjoy along the way.

Just outside of Nelson are some beautiful hilly forests. They reminded us of the Black Forest in Germany. There is one section of road on Highway 6 that is extremely twisty. This narrow road hugs the mountains and includes some extremely white knuckled corners. And the most remarkable thing to us as Americans? There are no guard rails except for the hairiest of turns. When we mentioned this to one of our innkeepers, they laughed and said why should we spend our taxes on something like that? People should just be careful. Then they launched into some examples of people being found in their cars two days after driving off these ravines. Hahaha. Of course we were told this right before our drive. Those crazy kiwis! Of course I know they see us as paranoid Americans!

A particularly winding part of Highway 6 has sheer drops just a few steps from the edge of the road.  Don’t worry, you are protected by these poles every 30 feet or so.  So what if we saw some that were knocked down?  

About halfway between Nelson and Blenheim is a rest stop called the Pelorus Bridge Cafe. Two of our innkeepers suggested this rest stop not because of the food, but because there is a short hike you can do from the cafe that is beautiful. We didn’t actually do the hike, though, because we had a late start but I thought I would mention it for your information. In addition, as we found out, rest stops in NZ are few and far between. If you are craving mussels, be sure to stop in Havelock, the green lipped mussel capital of the world. Since we were not particularly interested in mussels at 10 o’clock in the morning, we unfortunately had to skip it.

Our hosts at the Baywick Inn suggested that we break up our drive by stopping for lunch in Blenheim, which is located in the heart of NZ’s famous Marlborough Sounds wine region. It is also exactly halfway between Nelson and Kaikoura. This suggestion didn’t take much convincing for us. We stopped at the Highfield Estate vineyard for lunch, a good winery that happens to have a tower from which you can see a magnificent view of Blenheim’s vineyards.

Vineyards in Blenheim are surrounded by the coast to the east and mountains to the west.

We also stopped by Cloudy Bay vineyard for a wine tasting. I’m not a wine expert, but the Sauvignon Blanc was delicious!

World famous white wine grapes from the Marlborough wine region.

After our short interlude in wine country, we continued our journey to Kaikoura. Once you leave Blenheim, the drive becomes more and more coastal the more south you go. We were on a schedule because we had booked a dolphin swim early the next morning. 

View from coastal highway 1 on the way to Kaikoura.

About halfway between Blenheim and Kaikoura is a rest stop called THE STORE. Be sure to stop here! Since there is only one road between these two towns and only one rest stop, it’s not hard to find. The Store has a wonderful cafe, restroom facilities, and several nice dining areas you can choose from to enjoy your beverages.

But the real reason to stop at THE STORE is its stunning backyard. THE STORE has a huge deserted beach you can explore, as long as you buy something.

THE STORE has a nice backyard.

We thought we were finished stopping once we began our final approach to Kaikoura, but we just had to do one more stop right outside of Kaikoura.

Coastal waters just north of Kaikoura.

Kaikoura is known for its abundance of sea life, and we had not even arrived before we discovered this seal colony next to the highway! We were able to see a lot just from the observation deck. There is no direct access to the beach below.

Ohau Point Seal Colony 

That’s not just seaweed in the water!

There are not many things in this world that are cuter than a baby seal.

A family of seals at the Ohau Seal Colony just outside of Kaikoura.

Did you know that one of the most unique characteristics of a New Zealand fur seal is that it can stand on its flippers?

Next: Dolphins!


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