Thursday 11 February 2016

NZ Roadtrip Kaikoura: seals, seafood and spectacle

Right, so now the proper scenery begins. We took the ferry today to the South Island (not the InterIslander, above - Blue Bridge, which isn't quite as good, I have to say. It's old, crowded, and the café service should be better). We were blessed with a calm crossing of Cook Strait - which can challenge the strongest of stomachs, on a bad day - and had a superb glide through the Marlborough Sounds, through radiantly blue waters, past salmon pens and enviably isolated houses, into Picton.

We shot straight off (sorry Picton - but my! Haven't you grown!) and made a bit of a detour to one of our favourite Marlborough vineyards for spot of lunch: Cloudy Bay. As it happened, the tasting plates that we had with our wine were very accurately named that, and I came away still peckish - but the wine was excellent, and it was very pleasant to sit in the garden and look out over the hills that feature on their label.

We got into the scenery proper as we drove south down the coast to Kaikoura, mountains to the right, ocean to the left, and in between a ribbon of road edged with sandy beaches and rocky outcrops. Though it was the wrong time of year to see the pup crèche up the stream at Ohau Point (which we proved by going up there to look anyway), there were plenty of seals sunning themselves all along the coast - as well as some (sigh) Chinese tourists getting much too close to them.
Of course we'd been skiting to the Poms about Kaikoura crayfish, and so we stopped at Nin's Bin, which is an institution, the old roadside caravan predating the food truck phenomenon by years, to buy one. I remember paying soemthing like $13 back in 1980, but these days you have to cough up at least $50 for a taste of that delicate flesh - never mind, worth it. Now, what we should have done, authentically, was to sit down straight away at the picnic table right there by the shore, and rip into the cray. I mean, sunshine, fresh air, seagulls screeching, the cray still warm and coming with lemons supplied - not to mention stomachs still complaining after the short commons at Cloudy Bay... That's the proper way to eat a Kaikoura crayfish, up to your elbows in it. But it was too basic for the Poms, who wanted chips (chips!) and salad, and, especially wine and cutlery - so we ended up eating it indoors, in the formica glory of a 1960s motel. What a waste.
Whale-watching was suggested, as the other Kaikoura classic - there's the Hikurangi Trench close to shore that's hugely deep and brings nutrient-rich cold water welling up to the surface, so there are resident sperm whales here as well as frequent visiting humpbacks. But the Poms decided against it - and were rewarded, as we carried on driving south, by our spotting, and being thrilled by, a marvellous display close to shore by an enormous pod - 200, easy - of dusky dolphins, leaping, somersaulting and generally showing off, for ages. 

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