We travelled the 7 hours’ drive from Queenstown to Kaikoura stopping off at Cheviot along the way for lunch and a spot of wine tasting at Mt. Beautiful Vineyard. They offer an assortment of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir; 5 samples for NZ$5 – now that’s what I call a bargain and delicious wines too. For those wanting to stop over and make further vineyard tours, the manager runs the Ribbonwood Country House – go on, you know you want to.
Although it’s a long drive day, the changing scenery doesn’t disappoint. Rolling and dramatically contoured hills dotted with vineyards and under the New Zealand sunshine, colours so vivid that I was forced to pull over constantly for ‘just another picture’.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura was the underdog in my itinerary. Not to say that I expected anything less than perfection which Kiwiland delivers with a satisfying smugness, more that I hadn’t researched it as much as I should have. Even before arriving into the town proper, the coastline and sight of the sea with crashing Pacific waves gives a warm and earthy welcome.
Kaikoura has a laid-back surfer charm and lies in a crescent around the ocean where whales and seals are spotted daily. This ensures two things; that wherever we went we could either see or hear the ocean which is a massive plus in my book and also that the seafood is fresh and simply delicious.
With only one night in Kaikoura I knew two things before arriving; the first was where we would be staying and the second that we were booked on a whale watching tour the following morning. I travelled to Alaska in 2014 and was spoilt by the sight of two whales fully breaching so the chance to do this in my own country was a personal highlight.
We pre-booked a night at The Factory, complete with BBQ facilities so stopped off to pick up freshly caught king prawns and squid from one of the many fishmongers, as well as a meaty feast for the main course, all accompanied by a bottle of New Zealand’s finest pinot noir that we’d purchased earlier from the Mt. Beautiful vineyard, but that goes without saying really.
On every trip I think it’s important to sample something extravagant, something outside of our typical trip broad. My rational is that we work all year so when we holiday, why not enjoy to its maximum potential. The Factory is in Hapuku which is less than 10 minutes’ drive from Kaikoura. After driving a short distance down an unsurfaced road we were confronted by a further two things; a historic dairy (once a cheese factory) restored lovingly to maintain the period exterior whilst complimented by a modern and exquisite interior. The second pleasure was the welcoming smile of Janet the proprietor who lives with her husband Paul in the adjoining main property. The acre or so of land is complete with heli-pad, chickens and a couple of beautiful cats. Kiwis, Janet and Paul fell in love with this place during a holiday whilst they were living in Australia, spontaneously snapping it up. The location and accommodation are stunning and for those considering a visit to Kaikoura it is a great place for a romantic getaway or quality time with family and friends.
Staying at The Factory provides all the home comforts you could possibly want as well as a few added holiday bonuses like the veranda hot tub, BBQ and a delightful outdoor relaxation area which is perfect for enjoying your favourite tipple whilst stargazing, accompanied by the sound of the ocean as your selected playlist. Only once previously have I been so impressed by accommodation to the point of jumping up and down and that is the Beijing Grand in…you guessed it, Beijing, where I sat in the hot tub and watched an electrical storm rage over the city.
Kaikoura is world renowned for the variety of marine mammals which can be seen, not least of all the giant Sperm whales and the acrobatic dolphins. Operated by Whale Watch, we set sail in search of these majestic mammals with one of the most comically entertaining and informative guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to who gave a fascinating commentary on Maori beliefs as well as all wildlife we were likely to spot, in particular the Sperm whale. As we played the waiting game, on board experts tracked a series of clicks made by whales using cutting edge technology, pulling us closer for the inevitable surfacing which typically happens every 50 minutes, with the whale surfacing for 10 minutes or so at a time. There’s definitely enough spectator time to get that memorable camcorder footage and photographs as well as simply gaze at the awe and size of these incredible animals.
Cameras at the ready we saw gigantic shoots of water, exhaled from the ocean’s surface before the back and dorsal fin rose to the surface. The whale studied the two boats surrounding it, eyeing these strange human beings the same way it was in fact being observed, turning and surveying life above water before aiming his nose downwards and with one elegant and fluid movement, arched his back and dived to the 2000 metres depths of the canyon. The ocean canyons here in Kaikoura are some of the deepest in the world. The Sperm whale’s final gift was the curving of its tail before collapsing its lungs ready for the descent. It’s a humbling experience to see the kings of the ocean, who briefly leave their home under the waves to greet the warmth of the sun’s rays- they are gigantic and quite magnificent.
When visiting New Zealand’s south island and specifically the east coast, this experience is an absolute ‘must’ and we were incredibly impressed by the professionalism and care of Kaikoura Whale Watch.
On the way out of Kaikoura we stopped at a roadside caravan called Nin’s Bin, for fresh crayfish, New Zealand green lipped mussels and beer battered chips. For 37 years I haven’t eaten seafood finding the salty taste overpowering, until last year during a holiday in Greece when like a pregnant woman who experiences strange cravings, I was instantly cured. The mussels were cooked in white wine and garlic and the crayfish was meaty and delicious, as we sat by the crashing of the waves whilst fighting seagulls scrapped over every discarded morsel.
After visiting the seal colony at the point of the Kaikoura Peninsula (just 2 minutes’ drive from Nin’s Bin), we left with full bellies, having experienced yet another side of New Zealand’s magnificence.
Trying to Out Run the Feijoa Curse!!!
New Zealand grows a fruit called a Feijoa, which is green, oval and when cut in half has a translucent clover shape inside. To describe the taste is tough but if you held a gun to my head I would say it’s a cross between a pear, an apple and a secret ingredient you just can’t put your finger on, like an explosion of sweet and tart simultaneously. Anyway, it’s best not to over analyse these things but the taste is out of this world I assure you. The last time I tasted one of these magnificent gems was before leaving New Zealand 16 years ago; ladies and gentlemen this is far too long for anyone to be deprived of such luxury. The only other time I have seen them is in Harrods, London but at £1.50 per fruit, I just can’t justify it.
So, the story goes…every time I return to New Zealand on holiday it’s either “A little too early in the summer”, or “Sorry you just missed the season” so this time I was on high alert being smack back in the middle of the two danger zones. Everyone I spoke to told me once again I was “Just a little bit too early and would probably miss the season”, this only accelerated my search and low and behold, after arriving into Kaikoura, there they were. My fists grabbed as many as I could possibly manage, dropping a few carelessly like an over-zealous teenager opening his first can of larger, and after arriving to The Factory I quickly split through the waxy green skin, hollowed out the soft centre and exhaled said contents. Pure heaven, flavours bursting and taste buds ignited with the familiar.
Having been deprived for so long and against better judgment I was cautious not to devour them in one sitting. Instead I opened a bottle of red wine, only to check out the following morning taking everything but…my bag of feijoa treasure. Janet and Paul, I suspect you may think we are the best guests ever who leave goody bags as a thank you but I assure you, they were left in haste. I had underestimated the power of the Feijoa Curse and paid dearly. I hope you enjoyed each and every bite with punctuated enthusiasm the way a first year drama student does when offered the lead role, I hope the juices ran down your face and that there was a party in your mouth and everyone was invited!
Happy travelling folks!