The last leg of our South Island venturing was quite a long one which gave less time for lazy stop offs. Out from Christchurch we picked up the somewhat uneventful route 71 to Rangiora then hung a right back on to State Highway 1.
The trouble with New Zealand is that the visitor is spoiled for breath-taking vistas and scenic marvels so that Marlborough county can feel quite banal by comparison. It is important therefore not to compare but always enjoy the view.
Not long before Kaikoura we stopped by the side of a dense forested ravine. I spotted my favourite trees which have the look of trees that belong in a Japanese painting. It was hard to be certain from that distance but I believe them to be the native Black Beech (Nothofagus solandri or tawairauriki).
Kaikoura is a bustling one-road- in kind of town with a good choice of restaurants for lunch and pertinent to its Maori name, lots of of seafood. Seeing it then, I could not visualize the damage it had suffered in the 2016 earthquake since it had been put back together so well but with evident anti tremor structures in place.
14th November 2016: An earthquake hit North Canterbury just after midnight lifting parts of the sea bed by up to 10 metres in places which caused huge landslides. For two weeks Kaikoura was completely cut off by road and rail.
Most visitors do not just come here for a lunch break and afternoon beachcomb. Instead they are drawn to the marine mammal watching spectacles and the seal colonies out on the peninsula of the seaward Kaikōura Range. The submarine trenches just out to sea are home to sperm whales, as well as visiting Orcas and humpbacks.
But no matter how hard I looked, there was no sign of whales or dolphins from the shore. Neither was there sightings of 15 species of Albatross that feed here. Only this loud-mouthed red-billed gull , quite often regarded as a pest, even though its population status is ‘Nationally Vulnerable’.
With its backdrop of blue-grey mountains (in the winter imagine them as snow capped) the semi-sheltered peninsula of Kaikoura almost feels like a Pacific island, surrounded by azure waters rolling in along a spectacular long and (almost empty when we visited) beach of black sand and pebbles,
The day was scorching hot but without the time for boat excursions, I made do with beachcombing and watching the pacific ocean.
But dreamers cannot tarry long when there is more journeying to do and the next several miles along the coastal Highway 1 was an eye-opener as to the sheer immensity of destructive forces that hit this part of the coast in 2016. Both road and the parallel rail had been obliterated and then re-built though the damage was still very evident.
As the road follow the coast, there was plenty of time to absorb sea views and later enjoy a last coffee stop half way at ‘The Store’ in Clarence. At the bottom of its terraced garden is the sea with the Kekerengu river running in to it. As this was summer, it was just a tame trickle but the size of the road bridge over it gave a clue as to how torrential this river would be in full spate
In the late afternoon a sobering feeling of journey’s end came over us as we ate our ice-creams in silence and watched seabirds and waders pick their way over the low tidal beach. Nevertheless our mood was far from maudlin as we had had a whale of a time all through the South Island and more adventures in the North Island were still to come.
After this, Highway 1 turned inland towards Blenheim through wide open landscapes golden with the dry grasses that cover the morains – those rather lovely eroded mounds are so much part of the scenery that it is hard not to develop an affection for them. And if nothing else, they are reminders as to how far and wide glaciers once covered this island, pushing up the land before them much like creasing a carpet underfoot. Many here are grazed or turned to agricultural use, not least grape growing for the renowned sauvignon blanc.
And the other companion to our road trip out of Kaikoura was the Coastal Pacific track with trains running so close to the road, it sometimes feels like collision is inevitable. Nevertheless it made me want to return here and explore the South Island by rail. Then just at Spring Creek the track crossed our path and we parted from it for our final nights resting place.
Next stop: Picton and the Ferry