Tuesday, January 27, 2009

South Island--East Coast

January 27, 2009—On January 19 our Bluebridge Ferry pulled into Picton at 11:18 a.m. We made a quick stop for gas and then drove south to Blenheim. The main business in this area is wineries, and the vineyards go on for miles. Makana Confectioners is also located here, and it was all that we could do to get past its shop with its wonderful Toffee, Chocolate, and Macadamia Nut bars—they are to die for. Brie and Tim introduced us them when we were in Kerikeri, and we loved them just a little too much. We succeeded in getting through town without stopping and continued south down the eastern coast.

The mountains were rocky and barren with minimal foliage; however, about half way to Christchurch the highway began to run along the coast. This gave us the prettiest scenery on this portion of the drive. At one point we pulled off the road to check out the beach. Steve walked out onto a large group of rocks while Zelda walked on the beach. She was walking along looking at the ground when suddenly she was just a few feet away from a seal that was sunning itself on a large rock. She jumped back a bit, but the seal did not seem too upset about being disturbed, and I was even able to get quite close to get a picture.

We continued driving along the coast going through towns such as Kaikoura, Cheviot, and Kaiapoi. These communities are summer resort areas, and they were all packed with people on holiday. We arrived at Christchurch around 4 o’clock and found Mount Pleasant Homestay where we met the host Jan Nielson and received a very warm welcome. Her home is located on the hill overlooking the bay, and we had wonderful accommodations—two rooms with separate baths and a family room with a kitchenette. Jan shared with us a wealth of information about the area and also served us wonderful breakfasts of fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants, cereal, juice, and coffee. Her loving dog Molly put the finishing touches on a perfect stay.

We cleaned up and went to dinner at the Thirsty Mariners Pub where we all enjoyed Butter Chicken Curry, which was delicious. On Tuesday we decided to take a drive up into the mountains to Arthur’s Pass, and this trip took us by miles of farmland and fields filled with sheep and then up into higher mountains. There was an area of large limestone boulders that covered one hill, so we stopped and took a walk to get a closer look and take some pictures. It was quite interesting.

We stopped at a campground for lunch and then continued on our way. The road became steeper as we began to climb higher. We were now driving beside the Waimakiriri River, which has a very wide riverbed. It appeared that during the spring runoff, the river could become quite large. It wasn’t long before we reached Arthur’s Pass where we stopped to take a picture of the sign to show that we made it. A family named Arthur pulled along side us and got out of their car to take a picture, so Steve offered to take their picture with the sign. We realized only later that we got a picture of the sign but no pictures of us with it. Oh well.

We returned in the afternoon and decided to go to downtown Christchurch. Christchurch Cathedral, consecrated in 1881, is a spectacular church that is open to the public. It has an impressive rose window, wooden-ribbed ceiling, and tile work emblazoned with the distinctive Fylfot Cross. We also rode the cable car tram for a tour of downtown where we went by the former Canterbury College that is now the Arts Centre. This was the filming location for Harry Potter’s school in the movie. Dinner that evening was at the Speight’s Brewery where Zelda and I enjoyed chicken Caesar salads, and Steve had monk fish over risotto.

The next day we were off to the east to see Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The beautiful drive down the spine of the peninsula was the highlight of the day. The road was steep, narrow, and winding for miles with no, at least none that we can remember, guard rails along the way.

In 1838 whaling captain Jean Langlois purchased the Banks Peninsula from local Maoris and then returned to France to form a trading company. With the government of France backing him, 63 settlers headed for the peninsula in 1840. However, only days before they arrived, panicked British officials sent their own warship to raise the flag at Akaroa, claiming British sovereignty. Had the French arrived two years earlier, the South Island may well have become a French colony.

We made a stop at the Barrys Bay Cheese Factory and purchased some delicious cumin Gouda and some Masdam, which tastes very much like Swiss cheese. When we arrived, it was lunch time, so we enjoyed lunch at a small café located on Akaroa Harbor and then did a little shopping in the local gift shops along the waterfront. The French influence was evident in the street names and much of the architecture, and it was a lovely and quaint little town.

On the morning of the 22nd, we said goodbye to Jan and Molly and left Christchurch headed south on Highway 1. Most of this trip was driving more inland through farmland. Sheep are everywhere here with cattle coming in a close second.

We arrived in Dunedin around 3 o’clock and checked into the Aberdeen Motel. After getting things put away, we decided that we would go tour Larnach Castle. This castle was built by William Larnach beginning in 1871, and it was finished three years later. The castle was bought in 1967, and a large restoration project began. The views from the top of the castle were breathtaking, but I imagine that they were even better in the 1870s before the large city and commercial properties along the shore were there. The thing that amazed me was that, while the castle looked large from the outside, the rooms inside were quite small. The furniture (beds, chairs, etc.) was all quite small as well. Unfortunately, the story is a sad one as his first two of three wives died, and he eventually committed suicide in 1898.

After the castle tour we were hungry so we decided to go downtown to get some dinner and stopped at the Reef Restaurant. Zelda and I split a delicious flounder meal while Steve enjoyed their seafood chowder. While we were walking back to the car, we passed a lovely old church and took some pictures. That then led us to the First Church of Otago—a stunning old church built in 1848. From there we went to the Railway Station, designed in Flemmish Renaissance style and built between 1873 and 1906. The building is listed as one of the top 200 places in the world to see, and we absolutely loved it. We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Dunedin and wished that we had more time here but tomorrow it is off to Te Anau.

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