Unlike the American’s who search out storms, we are now officially storm – or perhaps just bad weather – ‘avoiders’…. if at all possible. For the first time in ages the rain was so heavy we opted to take an extra rest day and lay off on the exercise – it was proper nasty out there.
Despite the low cloud and rain we took the scenic route over to Havelock and to be fair the glimpses of Marlborough Sounds through the cloud were stunning – in a mysterious kind of way. As we worked our way over the hills and twisted and turned with the coastline the cloud started to lift presenting us with the beautiful backdrop of the hills and a slightly red-ish sand where the tide had gone out. Havelock was just a quick pit stop to ‘un-load’ all things dirty and ‘re-load’ of fresh water but interestingly it is the World’s Green She’ll Mussel Capital … They are green lipped and huge – and I thought the ones in Spain were on steroids, these are about three times larger!
Forgetting the mussels for the time being, we headed to Nelson to look at options for walking and cycling in the area whilst also reviewing the weather as the next weeks’ forecast isn’t looking that great.
Nelson is a bit of a hub for travellers, some of which use it as a base and a fair number seem to just stop and work – each to their own I guess but it isn’t a particularly pretty place, more of an entry point to the region.
We found a pub/hotel called ‘The Honest Lawyer’ in a little place called Monaco which is part of a nature reserve where they allow NZMCA members to stay for up to two nights for $20 which is refundable if you eat/drink with them. It is roughly 6km outside Nelson, a beautiful location and more importantly for us … close to Pic’s Peanut Butter factory where we had booked on a tour on Thursday morning along with a visit to the Proper Crisps factory. As it would be rude not to, we headed into the pub on Wednesday evening and were not disappointed. Keith had Fish and Chips and I opted for a Chowder accompanied by a couple of glasses of red wine for me and Beer and Mead for Keith …. always like to keep it local!
So when we first arrived in NZ, the wonderful friends that we met in Spain a couple of years ago – John and Lorraine – gave us a huge goody bag filled with all their favourite things ‘Kiwi’. Apart from the recycled/re-usable hessian bag which is a big thing here – almost no plastic bags at all which is fantastic – we had a lovely bottle of NZ Red wine, a packet of Pineapple Lumps, a bar of Whittakers Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate, a book on ‘Instant Kiwi’, a loaf of Vogel Bread, a pack of Proper Crisps and two slugs of Pic’s Peanut Butter …. I don’t think I have forgotten anything but if so many apologies John and Lorraine, it will be something to do with the fact that we probably ate it/drunk it so quickly!!
We started to work our way through the bag of goodies and although the Pineapple Lumps are a flavour burst, I am saddened to say that they aren’t up there on our list of favourites although everything else hit the spot, so much so that Keith decided he wanted to do the factory tour at Pic’s and Proper crisps when we got to Nelson. The only problem being that when he went onto Proper Crisps website he found that they didn’t do tours. Distraught, as you would be, Keith got in touch with them and made a bit of a joke about it and they invited us in to have a chat and take a photo with Ava.
Bright eyed and bushey tailed we got to Pic’s Peanut Butter factory at 9:30, Keith was concerned we would be late for the 10am start so instead we figured we would turn up for their Sales and Marketing staff meeting – they were very welcoming! Pic’s is 100% natural Peanut Butter and it is fair to say that it is tastier than the Meridian that we had been buying in the UK …. must be something to do with the quality of the nuts! The forty minute tour takes you through the process – did you know it takes 18 weeks to grow peanuts and that when they come out the ground as what we know as ‘Monkey Nuts’, they are a legume and not a nut? …. it is in fact a pea in the shape of a nut, which is where it gets the name ‘peanut’ from!
After our initial overview and education on nuts, we went into the factory where they currently still hand fill the jars. We then came back out to make our own peanut butter and taste all the other spreads that they offer…. Crunchy (which was still warm!), Smooth, Almond, Cashew and recently they have brought out a Boysenberry Jelly…. all pretty delicious, although it is a shame that they didn’t offer up tastings of the ice-cream that they make too!!
After topping up our cupboards with another jar of nutty butter we moved on round the corner to go and meet Emma from Proper Crisps. We hadn’t really expected anything but it was lovely that they responded to Keith as it demonstrated that they really believe in their customer feedback. Emma who has only been with Proper Crisps for seven months did an amazing job of talking us through the history of the company as well as the process of making the crisps, of which every element still has some manual input – the company really is still very small. They make eleven different products – two half popped corn, two Kumara (or sweet potato in our world), one Vegetable medley (i.e. beetroot, parsnips and Kumara), one parsnip and five different flavours of crisps – all with natural ingredients. Before coming to the factory we had been doing our best to work our way though the different flavours, happily demolishing the Marlborough Sea Salt and Paprika Crisps, the Chipotle and Garlic Kumara Crisps and The Marlborough Sea Salt half Popped Poporn …. however we now have a new challenge to work our way through over the next few weeks – Thank you Emma and Proper Crisps for your kindness!
Back at the Honest Lawyer, we took the bikes out onto the ‘Taste Bike Trail’ to Rabbit Island, which apart from passing the timber factory was a very pretty 37km ride.
Having looked at the weather we decided to hedge our bets and not venture further towards the Abel Tasman, but instead re-trace our steps a little. The plan, which changed four times within the space of 24 hours, was to go to Havelock for a couple of days, then a Department of Conservation site on Charlotte Sounds, then Picton but as we arrived into Havelock – having stopped briefly at Pelorus Bridge for a lovely walk and lunch – the skies opened and we decided to continue on to Blenheim ….. plans are made to be changed!
Arriving into Blenheim the sun came out and although it did rain a little during the afternoon, it was nothing in comparison to Havelock. We parked up at the Bowls club for $5 donation with the NZMCA along with several others motorhomes and went for a walk into town to explore and stretch the legs.
Blenheim is the main town within Marlborough, the largest wine region in New Zealand. Surprisingly it is nothing like the towns that are at the center of the other wine areas we have visited to date perhaps due to the fact that the vineyards are a little further out, therefore the town itself felt very normal. Whilst we were having a mooch around we popped into Kathmandu and Macpac as Keith was still thinking about buying a new waterproof jacket as his has started to leak. After much contemplation we left with a nice new jacket in hand … hoping that it will keep the rain away for a while!
Blenheim had its Christmas market on Saturday morning so although it still feels a bit odd as it is summer down here and nothing to do with the fact we are not particular fans of them, we thought we would wander in and have a look around and we are glad we did. The market was pretty big, taking up most of the center of town with a mixture of artisanal stalls, food (to eat), food (to buy and take home) and Christmassy stuff – we even bought some wax wrappers for food which we have been contemplating for a while – a good way to wrap up sandwiches and cheese that is re-usable rather than having to use cling film.
After lunch we set off for a nice walk up Mount Vernon and back along the ridge which is just a couple of kilometres outside Blenheim, the round trip being 15km in total with the highest point being 422m – not too high but enough to give great views over the area. Whilst at the top of Mount Vernon we were reading up on the area and found that Blenheim is the closest town to the fault line and has the highest probability of earthquakes in the world… not really what you want to read 422m up and in the middle of nowhere, although I guess it would be a quick way of getting down again!
Before setting off in the morning we headed to the local farmers market where although we missed out on the local blueberries, we managed to get some fresh Strawberries, French Pate and make friends with a baby goat … who incidentally was selling his ice-cream…. and yes it was blueberry!
Cupboards stocked we hit the road heading for Kaikoura continuing to run away from the bad weather, hoping that we would be as lucky as we have been over the last couple of days and avoid the worst of it.
Along the route we were exposed to the fantastic coastline and thunderous waves that we are used into in the UK … oh and lots and lots of seals playing on the rocks!
For those of you who didn’t know/don’t remember, Kaikoura was hit by a really bad earthquake in November 2016 – the second largest to have hit New Zealand since European settlement. The town of Kaikoura was cut off completely for five weeks and on the 1st December (i.e. this last week) the first train ran through Kaikoura which is a huge advancement although the roads are also now open but still in a state of disrepair. Just to put it in perspective – Cape Campbell, at the north-eastern tip of the South Island, moved to the north-northeast (closer to the North Island) by more than two metres – and rose almost one metre. Kaikoura moved to the northeast by nearly one metre, and rose seventy centimetres….. nature is quite incredible but also quite scary, thankfully in this particular earthquake there were very few deaths despite the destruction caused.
After parking up up the Trotting club in Kaikoura (which is an NZMCA site), we headed out for a walk despite it being foggy.
We decided to go round the peninsula rather than just straight into town and got to see the amazing rock formation that surrounds the Peninsula along with even more seals.
The walk ended up being roughly 3 hours which I hadn’t expected but we are so glad that we did it as although it was foggy, on reflection it was actually fairly clear as the following day we could barely see the edge of the cliff, let alone any further…. why anyone wanted to go Kayaaking in this weather – I don’t know!
This morning however was different as we woke and could see blue skies. As I went out for my run I turned back to see the backdrop behind the motorhome of the slightly snow dusted mountains which we haven’t seen since we arrived, a lovely view and as the day went on the views became even clearer.
When we arrived on Sunday we booked ourselves onto a Whale watching trip as from a tourism perspective that is what Kaikoura is known for. Considering the weather over the last couple of days we weren’t that hopeful however that all changed this morning. The sea was calm close to shore but when we checked in at the office the crew had put quite severe restrictions on the boat and its passengers, expecting a rough ride. As we headed out to sea the swell was high for a small catamaran with several people looking green. However, after a couple of false starts we found a Fin Whale and then within a few minutes the star of the show…. a Sperm Whale who we sat and watched for nearly ten minutes before he disappeared again. Sperm Whales apparently come to the surface for about 10 minutes to digest their food and re-oxygenate, just lying there spouting air quietly before slowly ducking below the water and diving down, flipping their tale in the air as they do so to return to the deep waters for another 45-60 minutes before they come up again – silently beautiful in a strange kind of way. After he disappeared we turned back towards shore, finding lots of playful dusky dolphins to watch dive and jump around us for a good ten minutes which was good fun – a well worthwhile trip.