Punakaiki/Blenheim/Wellington

Sunday, March 4, 2007

We left Fox Glacier on Wednesday, February 28th and drove up the west coast of the South Island.  The scenery was pretty average by New Zealand standards until we were just north of Greymouth.  The coast then became rocky, and stayed that way until we reached our destination, the Punakaiki Rocks Hotel, where we checked in for one night.  Our room has a balcony overlooking the Tasman Sea and the surf is pretty loud.  We took a sightseeing trip a few miles north where we walked the Truman Track.  The walk took us through a subtropical forest to a rugged coastline with caverns and interesting rock formations.  We got caught up in a group of tourists from Germany and would have had a guided tour of the forest if only we spoke German.  On our way back, we stopped at the Pancake Rocks, just a short distance from the hotel.  We saw them at low tide this afternoon and will go back tomorrow around 10:00 am to see the difference a high tide will make.  At high tide these caverns become blowholes as the waves surge in and create plumes of spray.  We ended the day with a great dinner of steak and salmon at the hotel restaurant.  We went back to the Pancake Rocks the morning of March 1st and got a little wet from the blowhole spray at high tide.  We continued our drive up the west coast, following Hwy.  6 along the rocky coastline.  The highway then turns inland and we were in forest and mountain country.  We walked across the Buller Gorge Swingbridge, the longest swingbridge in New Zealand.  It is about 360 feet long and 56 feet above the water.  It was a bit of a thrill.  We drove to Nelson, which was out of our way.  Maybe we needed some exercise, as we decided to visit the Centre of New Zealand.  It was a steep 20 minute climb up a hill and not much quicker going down.  A few days later when we were online, we googled “Centre of New Zealand” and Wikipedia reported that the location “on a hilltop suspiciously convenient to the centre of the city” is not the geographical center, but the center is actually in some dense scrub about 20 miles from Nelson.  Oh well.  We hope the sign that said the first rugby game in New Zealand in 1870 was played on a field at the base of the hill we walked is correct! From there we continued on to Blenheim where we checked into the Stonehaven Homestay.  It’s a beautiful home owned by John and Paulette.  Paulette is a great cook and made homemade muffins each morning.  They have a wine cellar with a capacity of about 500 bottles of wine.  Our room, the Nikau Room, has a balcony that overlooks the pretty vineyards.  We had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Gibbs, one of the best meals we’ve had in New Zealand.  On the morning of March 2nd we had breakfast with the other homestay guests. Anne from Bend OR teaches a college wine appreciation class and is mainly visiting New Zealand wineries. Also staying were John and Wendy from Berkeley CA, making it an all-American group. We haven’t met many tourists from the U.S., as the majority seem to be from England and Australia. We talked first about wines and ended up talking about U.S politics. Our New Zealand hosts were very knowledgeable about our politics and also familiar with our candidates for 2008. After breakfast we toured seven wineries in the Wairau Valley that our host John recommended. This area, the Marlborough region, specializes in white wines, and the grapes from the vineyards surrounding the homestay are used to make sauvignon blanc. We tasted quite a few wines and thoroughly enjoyed the day, as the owners/experts at the wineries were all very friendly and answered our numerous questions. We wish we had scheduled a similar wine-tasting day on the North Island where they make red wines (the weather is warmer there) because it was so relaxing. We had lunch at the Highview Estates winery and climbed up their tower to take pictures of the area.  On March 3rd, after going online and reading about all the snow in Minnesota and Iowa, we congratulated ourselves for escaping the winter weather.  We drove from Blenheim to Picton and boarded the ferry to go back to Wellington.  The ship was larger and newer than the one we took to Picton a few weeks ago.  The Cook Straight was smoother, too, so it was a much more pleasant three hour trip.  Back in Wellington, where the driving is challenging because of poorly marked streets, we found the Nikau Palms B & B where we will stay for one night.  We had gotten used to the better roads in the South Island and are sad to leave it for that reason and also because the scenery there was so spectacular.  There are more campers and larger vehicles on the roads in the South Island, but less traffic so driving is easier.  We had a relaxing evening tonight because we had done all our Wellington sightseeing earlier.  We had dinner at an Irish bar in nearby Petone.  Everyone was watching a rugby match on a very large screen, but New Zealand was not playing so it wasn’t very noisy.

Truman Track walk

Truman Track walk

Pancake Rocks Blowholes Walk

Pancake Rocks Blowholes Walk

Pancake Rocks Blowholes Walk

Pancake Rocks Blowholes Walk

Pancake Rocks Blowholes Walk

New Zealand's longest swingbridge

Buller Gorge

New Zealand's longest swingbridge

Nelson from Centre of New Zealand

Stonehaven Homestay - Nikau Room

View from room at Stonehaven Homestay

Stonehaven Vineyard grapes

Blenheim Seymour Square

From Highfield Estate Winery tower

Leaving Picton on ferry

View from Nikau Palms B & B

© Jay Deitch 2020