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!


New Zealand: Nelson and South St

27 04 2009

While we only stayed one night in Nelson, we wish we could have stayed longer.  We had not heard much about this city before our arrival. In fact, we only stayed in Nelson so that we could save an hour on the next day’s drive.  What we found, however, was a small but vibrant city that had a lot to offer. Not only is Nelson known for its art and music scene, but it also has a walkable and interesting historic downtown with beautiful Victorian architecture.  Did I mention that it is also one of the sunniest places in NZ?

Trafalgar Street in Nelson, NZ

You can take a relaxing stroll down Trafalgar Street, where we saw many inviting food stands and cafes.  Strangely enough, we saw a falafel stand, a German sausage stand, and a Japanese food stand.  We also saw lots of interesting shops, galleries, and boutiques, many housed in restored Victorian buildings.  We stopped by both an exotic knitting store and a wool outlet shop, among other places.

Trafalgar Street looking towards Church Hill.

We saw this cute coffee kiosk downtown.

Believe it or not, but this quaint Victoian building near Church Hill houses a law office. 

As always in NZ, this side street was clean and tidy.

On the recommendation of our B&B hosts, we made sure to take a walk down historic South Street.  South Street is famous because it is New Zealand’s oldest fully preserved street.  The cottages on South Street were built for local trademen and date back to 1863.   South Street is located just to the right of Church Hill.  

The houses were mostly wooden framed cottages, tiny by modern standards, but adequate for the 19th century tradesmen.

I loved the framing around the roofs.  Many cottage had what looked like steeples on them.

It’s amazing how a few decorative slats can transform a boring wooden house into a beautiful cottage reminicent of a gingerbread house.

Next: A Scenic Drive Along the Coast, some wine, and Kaikoura

Review: A Charming Inn in Nelson, NZ

22 04 2009

Over the course of our visit to NZ, we stayed at a multitude of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and apartments in a variety of price ranges. All of our experiences were extremely positive. From the high end B&B on Waiheke Island, to the gigantic apartment in Queenstown, to the very hospitable B&B in Kaiteriteri, everyone we encountered was ultra friendly, helpful, and contributed greatly to our NZ experience. Our favorite place to stay, however, was the charming Baywick Inn bed and breakfast in Nelson.

The Baywick Inn in Nelson, NZ

The Baywick Inn is an elegant but comfortable bed and breakfast located in a beautifully restored Victorian house in Nelson. The B&B is owned by a Kiwi and Canadian couple, Tim and Janet, who have poured their hearts and souls into the restoration of this beautiful home. Everything we saw was well maintained, clean, and wonderfully decorated. We loved the B&B from our first glimpse.

Janet was a chef in Canada, and it shows! Her breakfast was superb, and only enhanced by the interesting and lively conversation we had at breakfast. I can personally attest that her homemade Muesli is awesome. Be sure to ask her about all her Princess Diana tins and other memorabilia!

The Breakfast Room

We stayed in the Parkdale Suite, which in my opinion, is the best room in the B&B. The bedroom is beautifully decorated in a Kiwi Victorian style. Everything was placed for both looks and comfort, including the inviting bed. After hiking all day, this little piece of civilization was a dream to come home to.

The Parkdale has a modern ensuite bathroom that includes both a shower and a claw footed tub. LOVE!

The Parkdale also includes a private enclosed porch with a wonderful view of the middle of New Zealand. I am being serious – the white pole you see at the top of the mountain is the geographic center (centre) of New Zealand. 

We wish we could have spent more time just sitting on this porch contemplating life with our cool drinks. We slept with the windows open and it was divine.

Should you wish to relax outside, the Baywick Inn also has a nice outdoor area for guest use.

Now for the practicalities – the Baywick Inn is located about a 10 minute walk from downtown Nelson. Being in Nelson, it is close to the area wineries, art, and shopping, and about one hour from Abel Tasman National Park. As mentioned earlier, you can hike to the center of New Zealand, which is supposed to be a nice scenic walk. The inn provides a computer for guest internet use for a small fee, but there is also free wireless internet throughout the house.

We only stayed a night at the Baywick Inn and we wish could have stayed longer. We felt truly relaxed at this B&B. In addition, Nelson has enough sites and activities that a visitor could easily spend 2-3 days here and never be bored.  Next time we are in the Nelson area, we will definitely be ringing up Janet and Tim for another stay here!

New Zealand: Abel Tasman National Park

20 04 2009

After arriving in Picton, we drove straight to Kaiteriteri Beach, our home base for the next two days.  The plan was to kayak the entire length of Abel Tasman National Park, which is located on the beautiful northern coast of the South Island.  Abel Tasman National Park is a pristine coastal wonderland, featuring hiking trails, camping grounds, and a multitude of beaches along the clear turquoise waters, and that’s just on the land.  By sea kayak, visitors can explore private coves, enjoy inaccessible beaches, and witness a multitude of sealife in their native habitat, including dolphins and seals.  A seal colony resides on Tonga Island, located just off the coast on the northern end of the park.  The park is also serviced by frequent water taxi service that pick up and drop off at various points in the park.  

Abel Tasman National Park, as seen from the sea.

We decided to stay in Kaiteriteri because it’s as close as you can get to the park.  There is a tiny hamlet called Marahau that is even closer to the park, but boats and kayaks launch from both places.  Another alternative for a place to stay near the park is Motueka, a small town 15 minutes south of Kaiteriteri.  Many of the sea kayaking operations offer van service from Nelson as well, but you have to wake up earlier to catch them.  We elected to stay at a friendly B&B called Robyn’s Nest located on the hill above Kaiteriteri.  

Kaiteriteri Beach is a crescent shaped white sand beach located just ouside of Abel Tasman National Park.  We arrived in Kaiteriteri right in time to see this magenta sunset.  

Kaiteriteri Beach

Unfortunately, that first glimpse of Kaiteriteri Beach was the only time we would have clear skies for the next day and a half.  On the first day of our planned sea kayaking excursion, our trip was cancelled due topouring rain with strong winds.  We lost an entire day because the weather was too rough for any outdoor activities.  Although it stopped raining for most of the second day, our sea kayaking trip was cancelled again due to continued high winds.  We were able to salvage our visit, however, by going hiking (or as the Kiwis call it, tramping) instead.  

We were still able to see part of the park from the water, however, because we made use of the water taxis to deposit us in the park.  The water taxi is an easy way to arrange hiking expeditions in the park because they drop you off and pick you up.  The companies do this all day long and can arrange hikes from short to long.  We chose to hike the trail between Bark Bay and Torrent Bay, said to be the one of the most scenic parts of the trail.

On the way to Bark Bay, our water taxi stopped by the famous Split Apple Rock so we could snap some photos.

Split Apple Rock, Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

We started our hike at Bark Bay, which is the site of one of the campsites along the trail.

Bark Bay is a white sand beach with crystal clear blue water.

The trail between Bark Bay and Torrent Bay takes about 2.5 hours to hike. It takes you along the coast, where you will catch glimpses of the glittering sea, and inland, where you will feel like you are walking in a primeval forest.  The trail is well maintained and while it has steep sections, it is not a difficult hike.  We were mostly distracted by all the natural beauty on the way.

Because of the rain, the park was especially green on the day of our hike.

Along the first half of the trail is a fork that leads to an ocean view. The sign will say that it is a 10 minute detour. Take the detour because the view is FANTASTIC! Be advised that the trail is 10 minutes each way though.

We had a picnic lunch here.

It was hard to gauge how long the trail would take us to complete because there are not a lot of signs. However, I believe that if you walk at a normal pace, you will be able to make your pick up time easily.

According to the map that was given to us by the water taxi company, this bridge over the Falls River is about the midpoint of the trail. There is a sign there that says Torrent Bay is still an hour and 45 minutes away. This is an overestimation. It did not take nearly as long to get back to Torrent Bay. We rushed a bit from here and got to Torrent Bay in about an hour. You could easily walk from the Falls River to Torrent Bay in an hour and 15 minutes.

You have to walk across this swing bridge to meet your boat!

The Falls River

Finally, we reached Torrent Bay.

Another gorgeous beach awaits at Torrent Bay.

We were picked up at Torrent Bay by water taxi and driven back to Kaiteriteri. I believe the water taxi will wait for you if you are a little late getting back to the meeting point because the driver asked for us by name. We also learned a funny Kiwi saying from the driver when he was giving someone directions. He said, “First you make a left at X, go two blocks, take a right, then Bob’s your Uncle!” Apparently, it means the same thing as “good as gold,” another common Kiwi saying.

The ride back to Kaiteriteri was also very scenic.

When we got back, we finally got to see clear skies on Kaiteriteri Beach.


While we were disappointed that we didn’t get to do the two days of sea kayaking as planned, we were happy that we were still able to see the beauty of Abel Tasman National Park on foot.  In fact, now that I have hiked Abel Tasman, I would recommend seeing it this way as well!  This is especially convenient for those who are short on time.  Hopefully next time we will be able to explore the park on a sea kayak.

New Zealand: Passage to the South Island

17 04 2009

The best way to travel between the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand is by ferry. This three hour sea passage is both convenient and incredibly scenic. Passengers and cars sail out of Wellington Harbor out to sea and enter the South Island through the Marlborough Sounds and majestic Queen Charlotte Sound.  Just thinking of this sea passage makes me sigh.

View Larger Map

We booked the Interislander ferry through our hotel a day in advance. Visitors can also take the Bluebridge Ferries, which take a little longer. Both ferry companies sail with large multilevel ships that are full of amenities such as lounges, cafes, bars and observation decks. Some even have children’s play areas and movie theaters. There are 5-6 crossings a day, depending on the season.

We left Wellington on the 10:25 AM ferry.  Click on any of the pictures below for a larger view.

View of Wellington from the Ferry

Passing another ferry going in the opposite direction.

We passed by these lighthouses and land formations as we left Wellington Harbor.

After leaving the harbor, the ship is out at sea for a while. I passed the time reading the NZ gossip mags since there was nothing to photograph for more than an hour. NZ gossip magazines are almost as good as the British Tabloids. I read all about Prince William’s relationship with Kate Middleton.

It was obvious when we reached the Marlborough Sounds because we began to see green and yellow islands and peninsulas rising out of the sea. A dense fog rolled over the Sounds, which only added to the grandeur and mystery of the Marlborough Sounds. It also had the effect of making the colors of the land more intense.


Against the backdrop of the high cliffs, the sailboats looked like white birds fluttering across the water.


After cruising through the waters of the Marlborough Sounds, the ship made a big turn into Queen Charlotte Sound. Since we would not be able to do the Queen Charlotte tramp, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, we were happy that we were able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful area from the water.



Finally, we reached our destination, the port city of Picton.

Although Picton is a small town that serves mainly as the south terminal of the ferry, it does this job well. We were able to pick up our rental car without any problems right at the ferry terminal. There are several rental cars companies to choose from, but if you want a choice in what you rent it’s better if you book ahead of time. We drove into town to have lunch before embarking on the beginning of our South Island adventure.

Next: Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand: Wellington

15 04 2009

After our short stay in Auckland, we flew straight to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and home of this country’s film industry.  Wellington is the third largest city in New Zealand with just under 400,000 residents.  We spent a day and a half in Wellington, primarily just wandering around the city on foot and visiting Te Papa, the excellent National Museum of New Zealand.

We began our walk at the Parliament Buildings, right around the corner from our hotel.  We passed by the famous “Beehive” parliament building.

New Zealand’s Executive wing of the Parliament Buildings is nicknamed the “Beehive.”

We then headed toward Lambton Quay, the main shopping street in Wellington.   We walked past the historic  Kirkcaldie & Stains department store.  As you can see from this 1909 photo, the appearance of this department store has not changed much since it was relocated here in the late 19th century.

Strangely enough, I was reminded strongly of Singapore while strolling down Lambton Quay. It was probably the spotless streets and gleaming shopping centers combined with tropical trees that gave me that impression, although they are both former British colonies. The fact that these two places both use the word “quay” quite often only added to their similarities.

Kirkcaldie & Stains department store on Lambton Quay

Speaking of shopping centers, I was fascinated by this former bank building that was converted into a very elegant shopping arcade.  The building has been beautifully restored.

The Old Bank Shopping Arcade in Wellington

Inside, you can clearly see how the teller stations were converted into individual boutiques. There is even a little cafe in the middle of the lobby of the bank.

Inside the Old Bank Shopping Arcade

I even found the old vault! It was in the basement near the bathrooms.

The vault at the Old Bank Shopping Arcade

When we came to the end of Lambton Quay, we walked down Willis St towards Civic Square so that we could get to Cable St, home of Te Papa.  

We spent the rest of the morning at Te Papa. Translated loosely as “Our Place” in the Maori language, Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum.  This excellent (and free) museum has science, history, and culture all combined in one interactive high tech space.  We were particularly interested in seeing the Maori exhibits, but all the exhibits are top notch.  We highly recommend this museum, even if it’s the only museum you go to in New Zealand.

We first visited the “Mountains to Sea” exhibit, which explores the animals and plants native to New Zealand.  This was a great exhibit because it allowed us to identify a lot of the unique wildlife we had seen that was unfamiliar to us.  We saw a stuffed kiwi, the famous flightless bird and emblem of New Zealand.

The kiwi, the flightless bird of New Zealand.

Funny enough, we also saw the fish that Charles ate for dinner the night before, the John Dory.  We had no idea it was so ugly.  You can see the fish in the photo below.  It’s the ugly brownish fish in the lower right hand corner with the black “evil eye” on its body.

Exhibit at Te Papa showing different marine life present in the waters surrounding New Zealand.

The primary reason we went to this area of the museum was to see the famous Collosal Squid.  This is not the LARGE or even GIANT squid, but the COLLOSAL squid.  There is only one complete specimen on display anywhere in the world, and it’s at Te Papa.  Found in the waters off Antartica, this collosal squid is over 13 feet long and weighs more than 1 ton!  You can find out more about this amazing catch on Te Papa’s website.

Te Papa’s Collosal Squid

The flora and fauna section of this exhibit was outdoors, where the curators had put together a living collection of the unique plants and trees found in New Zealand.

A waterfall found in the outdoor flora and fauna exhibit at Te Papa.

Following the “Mountains to Sea” exhibit, we focused on finding The Marae.  A marae is the customary meeting place of the Maori people.  The Marae in Te Papa is a functioning marae and was designed and built by the leading Maori artists of the time. Not surprisingly, the marae reminded me of a popular Western meeting place – church.

The beautiful Marae at Te Papa.

The artistry and color was exquisite.

Stylized art on the ceiling of the Marae at Te Papa

After our tour of the Marae, we saw the rest of the Maori exhibit. I have always been fascinated with Maori art, even when I didn’t know it as such, and it was exciting to be able to see the real thing, even if it was in a museum.

We saw a model of the boat that brought the Maori across the Pacific to New Zealand. The Maori were superior sailors and builders, and were able to navigate very long distances across the sea. It is said that Hawaiians and the Maori originated from the same group of Pacific seafarers. There is even evidence that most Pacific Islanders originally came from or at least came through Taiwan!

Scale model of the Maori boat that brought the Maori to New Zealand.

Life size version of Maori boat

The Treaty of Waitangi, the document that details the relationship between the Maori and the British settlers. It is considered the founding document of New Zealand.

English Translation of the Treaty of Waitangi

We saw a few other exhibits at Te Papa, including a wonderful area called “Awesome Forces” that focused on the geological forces that created New Zealand.  There is even a little house inside the exhibit that simulates an earthquake!  

After Te Papa, we resumed our walking tour of Wellington, stopping at a few places that we had passed in the morning. We ate at a local pizza place for lunch, but the most interesting thing we noticed was the Thai restaurant across the street. Let’s just say that the restaurant name and what is written on the steps would never fly in the ultra-PC United States. Go ahead, click on the photo below for a closer look.

The un-PC Thai Restaurant across the street from where we ate lunch.

Following our lunch, we walked down Manners St, which has a lot of interesting looking stores, restaurants, and cafes. While looking for caffeine, I found this Taiwanese cafe! I have this talent where I can find the one Taiwanese place wherever we go.

A Taiwanese Cafe in Wellington

I also spotted the Embassy Theatre, where Peter Jackson premiered all three Lord of the Rings films.

Embassy Theater, Wellington

We moseyed our way down Manners St until we reached the alternative Cuba Street. This funky pedestrian only street is full of stores, cafes, public art, and street performers. It is said that the LOTR actors spent quite a lot of time hanging around this fun area. I can certainly see why!

Funky Cuba St in Wellington

After exploring the “downtown” area, we walked back to Lambton Quay so we could take the cable car that takes to up to a fantastic view of Wellington and the Wellington Botanic Gardens.

From the top of the Cable Car is a view of Wellington.

We spent a relaxing couple of hours walking around the Wellington Botanical Gardens, where I was able to blissfully snap away with my camera.  Well paved paths led us from hilly forests to formal flower gardens, pretty ponds, a fragrant herb garden, and lastly to a beautiful rose garden.  We loved seeing all the native plants and trees, exotic to us, in a natural environment.

This tree trunk had an interesting pattern in the pith.

Fern frond

The silver fern, the national symbol of New Zealand.

We walked through this fragrant herb garden on top of a hill.

At the end of this path, we found the large rose garden.  

This pink and orange rose is called “The World.”

The Wellington Botanical Gardens were a real delight for an amateur photographer like myself. I had a blast just flitting here and there taking photos while Charles enjoyed the sun and the breeze. Wellington residents are truly lucky to have such a wonderful outdoor space to relax and walk in just a short distance away from the city. 

Overall, we were really impressed with Wellington. For a small city, Wellington has a surprisingly number of cool boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. We would have loved to spend a few more days in the area to explore even more.  As we were beginning to understand, New Zealand just has extremely liveable cities that strike a good balance between the modern and natural world.

New Zealand: Waiheke Island Part 2

8 04 2009

After spending the night on Waiheke Island, we had the entire morning and most of the afternoon on the next day before we had to go back to Auckland in order to catch our flight to Wellington.  Since our flight was in the early evening, we planned to take the 4 PM ferry at the latest back to Auckland.  We decided to explore the largely uninhabited east side of Waiheke Island by car followed by a late lunch at Mudbrick Vineyard.  

There is only one road in the eastern part of Waiheke Island and it goes in a loop so it’s hard to get lost.  The drive itself was very scenic, with miles of rolling hills, happy sheep, and terraced vineyards dotting the landscape.  First we passed by several hilly pastures.

We often pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures. Here is one tip that is useful for all of New Zealand: if there is a picnic table or park bench set up in a random location on the side of the road, stop because there is a 99% chance that it is a scenic location.

Once we reached the coast, we saw lots of pretty harbors.

We passed by several vineyards on our drive, including this small one.

In addition to sheep pastures, there are several cattle fields.

The plant life here is almost tropical, and very green.

Back around the top part of the loop, we get back to farmlands.

While most of the roads were paved, be aware that parts of the east side of the island are dirt roads. The rental car agency is aware of this and allows its cars to drive on non-sealed roads.

After our scenic drive around the island, we were more than ready for a hearty lunch at Mudbrick Vineyard.  Mudbrick grows all of its own vegetables in a garden on the premises.


Mudbrick is considered one of the best restaurants on the island and in the Auckland area in general, and the food lived up to its reputation.  I thought the local olive oil and mixed green salad was especially delicious. While I know it’s a cutting edge restaurant, I thought the use of foam for every course was a big much though. LOL!

The views from the restaurant were spectacular though.


After our leisurely lunch, we returned our rental car and took the ferry back to Auckland.  

We had what turned out to be a surprinsingly fancy getaway within a vacation at Waiheke Island.  Between the beaches, our B&B, the sailboats, and the town, we couldn’t help but feel that Waiheke is very similar to a Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.  There was even a little bit of that snootiness that comes with these sorts of island/seaside towns.  I kept expecting someone to order some Clam ChowDA.  At the same time, the green hills and vineyards evoked a vibe straight from Sonoma Valley and the hot weather, palm trees, and beaches looked like they would be right at home on the Big Island in Hawaii.  Aucklanders should count themselves lucky that this jewel of an island, an instant classy holiday, can be found only 40 minutes away from the city.

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