Sunday, 30 October 2011

NZ South Island - Picton to Methven

I took the Interislander ferry across to the South Island. It was a blissful 3 hours of sailing on the Marlborough Sounds and through the Cook Strait over to Picton. That's the famous Capt James Cook, if you were wondering. He passed through the Strait as he circumnavigated North Island. On his third voyage around these parts, he sent 10 of his crew to collect scurvy grass from Arapawa Island in the strait but they were ambushed, killed and eaten by local Maori. Thankfully the locals have since lost their appetite for cannibalism after introduction to Christianity (though some missionaries took one for the team).

Marlborough Sounds
If you're expecting a city like Wellington on the other side of the Strait then be disappointed. The ferry terminal at Picton is the only real attraction if you exclude the bizarre Dutch bakery. There are more rental car agencies than any other business, ideal for people who needed to pick up a car directly from the ferry. Once I got my Nissan Sunny (again... but this time brown/gold and manual transmission) I headed straight for Renwick in the centre of the Marlborough wine region. Wasting no time I hired a bicycle and made a bee-line to the nearby vineyards for free tastings. There are tens of wineries within cycling distance producing everything from the standard Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (by the end I was tired of hearing "this is not your typical Malborugh Sav") to the more unusual Montepulciano, Syrah and fake Champagne. Being an almost exclusive red wine drinker I took this as an education and the tasting staff were happy to oblige. Later in the afternoon my bike started wobbling and wouldn't go in a straight line. Obviously a mechanical fault.

The next day, nursing a delicate head, I drove the short distance down the east coast to Kaikoura. I thought the North Island scenery was spectacular but it was nothing in comparison to the South. You don't have to expend any effort to get to the most beautiful places. Merely travelling down the main highway you see snow-capped mountains rising almost directly from the sea, and deserted black-sand beaches.
East coast beach, near Kaikoura
Kaikoura was a whaling station from the mid-1800s but before that the Maori had built stepped defences (pa) on the peninsula. Along the peninsula you see geology at its rawest. Over time and lots of seismic activity, the seabed was bent, buckled and lifted to form the peninsula, and in the last 125,000 years or so has been cut by wave action to its present state, with layers of sea-floor shunted into unnatural angles.
Seafloor uplifts, Kaikoura peninsula
Kaikoura peninsula - can easily see the two major seafloor levels here
I drove south to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula and on to Christchurch. I'd originally planned on staying in the city for a night, people were telling me that the city was slowly rebuilding after the recent earthquakes but once I got there and saw the damage I decided against it. The city was  heavily damaged in the Sept '10 earthquake and is still reeling from aftershocks, the most deadly was back in February this year where 181 people lost their lives. National radio stations are all still broadcasting messages of support and there are plenty of fundraisers for the reconstruction. Many roads in the city centre are closed while dangerous buildings are being torn down, and city streets have become a maze, making navigation very tricky. I stopped in a mall for a coffee and only half the shops were open, the rest pending refurbishment. While I had a morbid fascination with the place I decided to head inland to the little town of Methven, which would be dead were it not for its proximity to the slopes of Mt Cook. As the ski season was coming to an end, the town was a little quiet. I asked around if there was any free wifi in town and was told that the only cafe that did it fell down in the earthquake. I tried in the pub:

"Do you have wifi?"

"Not heard of that, ay. We've only got what you see on tap".

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