NZ: The Final Chapter

West Coast Beach

The Wild West Coast finally has sunshine!

It was only fair that the next three days would be brilliantly beautiful.  We awoke to clear blue skies.  We waited for the latest report on road conditions (which was suppose to be posted by 8am but wasn’t).  Gay called the Transportation Department and they told her the road would be open by 9am but to expect delays.  We had breakfast and decided to take a nice long walk along the beach.  To finally see these beaches and mountains in full sun was such a treat.

Afterward, we packed up and headed back to Westport and grabbed another cup of coffee for the road.  The Buller river was still running pretty high, but the road was open.  Hwy 6 followed the Buller river and the way the road was carved into the canyon made us wonder how this road ever stayed open.  There were multiple areas where it was obvious they had to clean up mudslides, tree slides or rock slides (called ‘slips’ here).  The closer we got to Nelson, the less damage there was.  However, there was one road still closed (the one from Nelson to Blenheim which we needed to take in 2 days), so hopefully that would not be an issue for us either.

Robert having lunch in Nelson

Robert having lunch in Nelson

We arrived in Nelson, parked, and checked out the city.  It was larger than we expected (a whopping 45,000 residents).  Built around hills, it reminded me of San Diego – but instead of Mexican influence it was very British.  A huge Gothic looking Cathedral towered over the town.  Lots of flower baskets and European style cafes lined the sidewalks.  We had a wonderful lunch eating outside, people watching and just enjoying the weather.  We then checked into our apartment for the next two nights.  It wasn’t really an apartment, but rather 1/2 a house.  It was half way up the hill with an incredible view of the Tasman Bay from our veranda.  Originally built in 1908, it had all the charms of grandma’s house.  Wooden floors, big rooms, stained-glassed windows, unusual light switches, lots of antique furniture, lovely artwork, a cast iron claw foot tub, fireplaces, and a wonderfully stocked kitchen.  Oh yeah, we could live here.  We wondered what kind of discount they’d give for a 3 month stay.  🙂 The only problem was…we didn’t want to leave this place.

our veranda

View from our Porch

After getting settled, we left to pick up some groceries and then came right back.  We popped open a bottle of wine and hung out on the deck the rest of the day eating cheese, smoked salmon, and crackers.  For dinner we sauteed some seafood and made herbed smashed potatoes with fresh green beans.  It was totally awesome.

The next morning, after breakfast, we decided to head to the beach and maybe do a boat ride….everyone kept telling us to go to Kaiteriteri, so we did.  OMG, the whole city of Nelson was there as well as 500 campers that looked like they had no intentions of ever leaving.  There were people and boats everywhere.  This was not the secluded, romantic beach we envisioned, so we headed back to what now seemed like the quiet calm city of Nelson.  We went for a nice long walk around the port, downtown, parks and our neighborhood.  We then picked up some more seafood for dinner and headed back to our little haven for another wonderful evening on our porch.

I was sad when we had to check out the next morning.  I didn’t want it to end.  We met the owners of the place, an older couple who have lived there for 41 years.  He use to be a mountain climber, now he’s a cyclist and a Zen Buddhist.  She was/is an artist….she actually painted all the pillow cases, sheets, curtains and tablecloths in the apartment.  He had lots of stories to tell…I wish we could have stayed and listened to them all, but we had to get going.  We were informed the road to Blenheim was now open (but with delays), so we wanted to give ourselves enough time to make our flight.  While we saw some spots which experienced slips, we eventually drove through a valley in which the road was all but washed away and it looked like the whole village of Canvastown had been under several feet of water.  This area of the island was undoubtedly hit the worst by the rains.  We thought about driving to Picton (to see where the ferry arrives), but Robert was anxious to get rid of our rental car which he felt was about to fall apart.  It had developed rattles almost everywhere and the hubcap was very loose.  No worries.  We made it to Blenheim with plenty of time to spare.

Plane at Blenheim

Time for Departure

We decided to walk around the town, which now looked like a whole different city than it did 2 weeks ago…there were people everywhere.  We settled on a Thai place for lunch and then returned to one of the wineries we visited two weeks ago to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening.   There are NO security checks at the airport here, so we could actually still bring a bottle of wine on the plane. 🙂

The winery was also packed with people.  There was music playing outside, people were hanging out and eating in the courtyard.  After tasting all their wines again and making a purchase, we filled up the car and drove to the airport.  We eventually boarded our small plane (which had no cockpit door) and enjoyed the beautiful views of Marlbourgh Sound, the mountain peaks, beaches, lakes, and volcanoes as we past over them on our flight to Auckland.

We arrived safely in Auckland around 6pm, checked into our hotel and had some dinner.  Since New Year’s Eve is not a big deal to us, we didn’t stay up (we also had to be back at the airport by 7am and I wasn’t in the mood to party).  Robert hates it when I get melancholy.  While I really was looking forward to getting back to Japan (because I do love it there), I loved it here too.  The people were so friendly, the food and wine delicious, and the island is so pristine, beautiful and wild.  I really do hope we get the opportunity to return someday and spend a lot more time.

NZ: The Elusive Mt. Cook & Central Otago

Road to Mt. Cook

Lake Pukaki – on the way to Mt. Cook

Our quest on day 4 was to see Mt Cook, but waking up to rain was not a good sign.  After packing our bags we headed south and eventually the rain stopped and the skies cleared up.  We came to Lake Pukaki whose color is (I kid you not) a fluorescent Carolina Blue.  Even on Google Maps this lake looks freakishly light blue – and fake.  But WOW is it incredibly beautiful!  We drove the full length of the lake into the canyon that houses the access points to Mt Cook.  The closer we got, the windier it got and clouds were forming quickly.  By the time we got into the National Park it was mostly cloudy, and by the time we got to the end of the road it was pouring rain so hard we couldn’t see anything.  We hung out at the resort and drank a cup of coffee and checked out the museum and shopped, hoping the storm would pass, but no such luck – this thing was going to stick around all day.

Shrek the Merino Sheep

The Shrek’s Wool

We left the park and the skies gradually cleared as we continued our way south into Central Otago.  We stopped in the incredibly cute and tiny town of Tarras for a long lunch and to check out the shops. We also learned to appreciate just how crazed people here are about their mountain bikes.  We saw a guy who had his bike attached to the side of his motorcycle – still not sure how he got on and off.  We also got to see raw wool from Shrek (the famous sheep that eluded shearers for six years) which was pretty cool.

We then headed west following a huge river toward the town of Wanaka which is situated on another huge lake.   This is a beautiful and well planned mountain town – with lots of parks and open spaces so everyone can enjoy the views.  Bike trails and walking trails make it very conducive to outdoor activities.  And plenty of shops and restaurants for us to check out on another day.

B&B in Cardrona

Waiorau Homestead – our B&B in Cardrona

Our next B&B was in Cardrona which was 20km outside of town.  This particular B&B is ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for the South Island (so I just had to find out why).  It quickly became obvious as we drove down the driveway.  Not only is it in a beautiful secluded location across from the Cardrona Ski Mountain, but they greet you with a glass of wine and a platter of cheese and fruit.  The house (circa 1928) was restored, retaining it’s charm, yet it is fashionably decorated.  The hosts are extremely pleasant and helpful and they make you feel as if the place is all yours….so we pretended it was and just hung out enjoying the beautiful grounds and views for the rest of the day.  They offered to cook us a lamb dinner, but we decided to check out the historic hotel and pub in Cardrona instead.  Being the off-season for the ski mountain, we pretty much had that whole place to ourselves too.

The next morning we headed for Bannockburn and Cromwell – which some argue has the best pinot noir in the world, so we had to check it out.   Neither of us are wine experts, but we were not disappointed.  As for the best in the world?…well, we still have lots of places to check out before we can make that call. 🙂

The Kea Bird we saw on the way to Milford Sound

We headed back to Wanaka where it was drizzling on and off.  We checked out the shops and Robert was finally able to get his hair cut by someone who could speak English.  The spring rain storm moved out revealing snow on the mountain tops in the distance.  The forecast was calling for some ‘fine’ weather over the next 3 days so we decided to venture into Milford Sound tomorrow.  This meant we’d have to get up pretty early in order to make the long drive.  We ate an early dinner in Wanaka and headed back to our B&B where they had a large plate of desserts waiting for us.

An interesting tidbit I learned is that four National Parks on the South Island comprise a UNESCO World Heritage area (Westland National ParkMt Aspiring National ParkAoraki/Mt Cook National Park and Fiordland National Park.)   Two-thirds of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Park is covered with forest – beech and podocarps – some of which is over 800 years old. The only alpine parrot in the world – the kea – also lives in the park, as well as the endangered flightless takahe, and a myriad unique marine animals.  What an amazing place.


NZ: Marlborough Wine Country

…Typed while drinking a 2008 Highfield Pinot Noir and eating smoked NZ salmon with fresh blue cheese – our pre-dinner/blogging appetizer…

View from Highfield Winery

View from the Highfield Winery

We spent our first two days in New Zealand in the Marlborough Wine Country in the northern part of the South Island.  Our trip from Japan was great – the upgrade to premium economy on the Air New Zealand flight from Tokyo to Auckland more than paid for itself in comfort, food and wine.

We flew from Auckland to Blenheim on a 14-seat plane. The first half of the flight was cloudy but as we crossed the sound to the South Island the weather began to clear and the view slowly became spectacular. The fingers of the Marlborough Sound emerged from the sea as we began our descent. The valley floor was covered with vineyards as far as the eye could see…it was sort of magical.

After finding the woman who came to meet us with our rental car, we left the 1-gate airport/air force base and headed to our B&B. We checked in, showered and changed into our summer clothes – shorts and a t-shirt – and were off to squeeze in some wine tasting before closing time.  We managed to make it to three and purchased a bottle of wine from each.

We drove into Blenheim (about 5k) for dinner and ended up eating an early meal at a Thai/Chinese restaurant – very good.  We were starting to get tired and headed back home where we had a block of blue cheese, an apple and a bottle of St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc on the deck on the backyard.  After that, we had no trouble getting to sleep – even with the 4-hour time change from Japan.

Our Favorite - Seresin Winery

Our Favorite Winery – Seresin

On Day 2, we started out the day with a breakfast of fruit, homemade yogurt and muesli, croissants, and coffee – not a bad way to get going. We made it to our first winery by 11 am. I think I have decided that the wine you have between breakfast and lunch is invariably the best. Maybe we have this whole wine at night thing wrong? We visited 5-6 more wineries during the day and are now fully stocked for the first week of our trip.  My recommendations for best wines in Marlborough are: Saint Clair and Seresin.

Tomorrow our plan is to get up and have another wonderful breakfast and then start our longest drive of the trip (6 hours).  We will end the day in Lake Tekapo and stay at another B&B.  We should have Internet access on a regular basis after that and will hopefully be able to get more pictures posted.

Exploring Downtown Hakata

Enoteca Wine Shop

Wine at the Enoteca

A couple of weeks ago we took the subway to the Hakata area of downtown to check out the Kawabata Shopping Arcade, Kushida Shrine, and some temples we missed the last time we were there. Hakata is a suburb of Fukuoka, but it used to be a separate city.  A river runs through the center of downtown, and Hakata is basically on the east side, whereas Fukuoka is on the west side.

My favorite find of the day was the Enoteca in the basement of Eeny Meeny Miny Mo (yes, there is actually a department store with that name).  It has a great selection of French and Italian wines.  Had it not been 10 o’clock in the morning and our first stop, we probably would have depleted our savings there.  We weren’t going to tote around wine all day, so we passed on any purchases, but at least I know where it is.

Finally made it to the shrine...what a relief!

Interesting Fountain at Kushida Shrine

We crossed over the street and walked through the covered shopping arcade glancing in all the shops.  This is the oldest shopping area in the city.  There is a good variety of merchandise in there as well as some yummy food stalls.  I’ll have to come back some rainy day to do some damage shopping.   At the end of this street was an entrance to Kushida Shrine (which was founded in 757 when Hakata was designated as the base of trade between China and Japan).  On the grounds is a gigantic ginkgo tree (which is so large it is has several supports holding it up).  It is believed to be about 1,000 years old.  I like how some of these really old shires have an eery feeling about them, and I enjoy reading about their history and seeing all the artifacts associated with them.  I think that is why I don’t tire of visiting them.  There were lots of interesting things to see here, but Robert was especially amused by the fountain of the little boy peeing.

Shofukuji Temple

Shofukuji Temple Grounds

Next, we were off to find the ‘grove of temples’.  It’s actually called the Teramachi Area on my Fukuoka Now map.  It was about a 10 minute walk through a fairly busy part of the city, but once we got back there, the streets were narrow and it was exceptionally quiet.  The first temple we came to was Shofukuji Temple, which is Japan’s oldest Zen temple and the place where tea was first introduced in Japan.  The old twisty pines were kind of cool, but I was a bit disappointed that the actual temple was not open to the public.  The second temple, Tochoji Temple, houses the largest sitting statue of Buddha made out of wood (40 feet tall).  We couldn’t take a picture of it (as photos are prohibited),  but it was worth the visit.  The third temple, Jotenji,  is the birthplace of udon and soba noodles.  We never made it to Jotenji because (ironically) we were starving and thus headed back into town to get a bite to eat (and buy lots of those macaroons Robert fell in love with the last time we were there).  Those macaroons by the way…are long gone. : (