The Northern South
When foreign travels feel so far away, it’s a nice break from the tedium of working life to get away for the weekend. The drive north from Christchurch towards Kaikoura is beautiful, especially once the road hits the coastline south of the Kaikoura Peninsula. I’ve driven this road several times and every time the sun has shone on the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean and made it sparkle. On this occasion it was no different. Stopping in Kaikoura purely to pick up food for a packed lunch, we continued up the road, stopping to enjoy our lunch with the sea crashing on the rocks next to us. A few New Zealand fur seals snoozed on the rocks in front of us whilst some seagulls eyeballed us, waiting to see if they’d get a snack.
Ever since I’d found out about it, I’d been keen to get to Ohau Falls. About half an hour north of Kaikoura, the Ohau stream opens into the Pacific Ocean, and upstream from here is a pool with a waterfall cascading into it. The draw for this waterfall is the juvenile New Zealand fur seals that use the pool to frolic, play, learn and build strength in the water. There were plenty of people making the short walk from the car park to the falls, and the reward was about 6 pups frolicking madly in the water. One little pup hopped out the water and then proceeded to haul itself up a near vertical slope to dry off and snooze in the woodland above us. They were adorable, and full of energy. On the walk back to the car, we found an adult fast asleep right next to the track, a large blob of mucus hanging from its nose.
It was a gorgeous day for a drive and we still had some distance to cover to reach Nelson on the north coast. Leaving Canterbury behind, we crossed into the Marlborough region, and after hitting Blenheim, it was completely new terrain for me: a road I had never driven on before. Passing endless stretches of wineries, we headed into the mountains on SH6, stopping briefly at Havelock before the road cut inland to the west, leaving the Marlborough Sounds behind. It was a long and windy road before eventually the sea came into view once more and we reached the outskirts of Nelson. The last time we had been to Nelson it was in the middle of summer but there was torrential rain and visibility was so poor that we had barely been able to see the sea at the side of the road. This time the sun was shining but a high bank of clouds loomed over the surrounding hills, threatening to spill over onto the city. We took a wander round the compact centre prior to heading out to see some friends.
Waking the next morning, it was clear that the clouds had finally rolled in. Not to be put off, after breakfast we headed to the beach at Tahunanui, round the coast from the marina. After a walk in the fresh sea air, we headed back to the city and to the far side where a path led up a hill through the Branford Reserve to a lookout at the ‘Centre of New Zealand’. A marker marks the spot that has been deemed the geographical centre of the country, and from there, there is a beautiful panorama over Nelson and the surrounding hills. We had a quick wander round a nearby Japanese garden, before my partner headed back to the motel to watch some rugby, and I took a walk through Nelson, and back round to Tahunanui beach where I saw a New Zealand fur seal swimming in the harbour. By the time I made it back to the beach, there was barely anybody still there, and I enjoyed the tranquility before heading off to our friend’s place for dinner.
The day we drove home was as beautiful as the day we had driven up. The road took us deep inland, past small towns, villages, and pastures surrounded by rolling hills. At the brow of a hill, I recognised a lookout that we had paused at a couple of years before on our way to Abel Tasman, and we stopped here once more to see the surrounding mountains, this time with their snowy caps. We were the only ones there, a marked contrast to the last time in the height of summer, and it was so quiet and peaceful. Eventually, through the other side of Murchison, we wound our way towards Lewis Pass (altitude 864m/2834ft)) which had stale snow in banks near the road. The snow line was high up due to it being a relatively mild winter, but it was a pretty sight, driving past endless mountains with their snowy caps. Finally, through the other side, we reached familiar territory, reaching the turn-off to Hanmer Springs and the well-travelled road back to Christchurch.