The drive from Blenheim down the coast to Kaikoura only takes about 1.5hrs. It took us closer to 3 hours as we had to stop a thousand times. The eastern coast is stunning. The Pacific Ocean slams against the rocks with all its fury. The road winds close enough to the sea to get the car covered in the salty spray. And the further south you drive the more picturesque the scenery becomes; before long, huge white-capped mountains cast their shadows in front of you. We jumped out frequently to snap photos.
At one stage we had to pull up as a drove of sheep were being pushed between paddocks. It was actually incredible to watch authentic sheepdogs in action. The herd finally found their way and we manage to get around them and continued the trip south, but it wouldn’t be New Zealand without a forced pitstop due to sheep on the road.
Alyce and I were hoping to see seals along the coast of Kaikoura. We weren’t sure when they would be visible, whether they just hang out, or if it was even an appropriate season. We pulled over prematurely a few times to inspect some slick-black figures on the coastline, only to be disappointed when our seals turned out to be washed-up seaweed and debris. Finally, just before we were to round a bend and head through a small tunnel, we veered off the road to inspect another blob and were amazed to see a dozen lazy seals basking in the sun. They were hilarious and so cute. And seemed quite tame. We stopped a few times along the coast and each time there were even more seals! At one point, we trekked a short distance to a waterfall that frequently houses seal-pups while the parents fish off the coast, but were not lucky enough to see them splashing under the waterfall. Nevertheless, we got quite close to some pups and juveniles on the rocky beach. We tried to get the GoPro nice and close to a big guy sunning himself on a rock only to be shown what a territorial seal sounds like.
Kaikoura is a beautiful little seaside town. Like many towns on the eastern coast of the south island, it was initially a whaling community. The tall coastline and close proximity to the intercontinental shelf gave it a great vantage point for spotting whales from land, and the sheltered bay was an ideal location to process hauls. Kaikoura is still famous for seafood and we made it our mission to find the best ‘fush n chups’ in town!
Alyce and I went for a long walk along the coastline in the hope to spot some sperm whales ourselves. We were not lucky enough to see any, but we did see thousands more seals. When we got back to our van, we even had a cheeky seal under the car! We took some great photos in Kaikoura and really enjoyed our time there. To top off our stay in Kaikoura, the campsite we booked into had a private little outdoor spa that we booked for an hour (for free!) that made unwinding after the long walks and drives oh-so-easy.
There are a number of roads you can take to cross the south island from Kaikoura. We picked a route that took us past Hamner Springs and into Greymouth. Hamner Springs is a small alpine town best known for its large geothermic water park and day spa at the base of a small ski field. The stories from the old Hamner make it sound really exciting. At one stage, there were only two natural hot springs that were separated by sex. These days, a small fortune gets you access to about 10 different pools – all set at slightly different temperatures and heated from geothermic activity. The pools themselves just look like ordinary built-in pools, but there is a slide or two as well. Instead of swimming, Alyce and I decided to stroll around town before enjoying a large hot chocolate and muffin and moving on to Greymouth.
Other than being a good distance from the glaciers (tomorrows post), Greymouth itself doesn’t have much to offer. I took control of the planning in Greymouth and made sure we sampled some of the highly acclaimed white-bait patties (over-rated) and visited the Monteiths brewery before heading out for a lovely dinner at the local restaurant. We relaxed before another day of driving at sightseeing.