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Kaikoura and Blenheim
(the road to Nelson)

by Pamela Blalock and John Bayley

We headed up the coast and planned to spend the afternoon in Kaikoura. This area is known for its great scenery as well as whale and dolphin watching. We visited the local tourist bureau and decided to go for a bit of a hike. There were several possibilities and we opted for one that went along the coast to a seal colony and then up onto a headland and back. It was to be several hours. The weather was grand and the views were well worth the pain my feet felt at the end. We are planning to go backpacking, or tramping as they call it hear, in January. Our friend, Susan Lowery, will be travelling over from the States to doing some climbing, and has enticed us to join her for some tramping before her big mountain climbing expedition. We got new boots before leaving the States, and have been slowly working on breaking them in. This was the first long walk - and they are breaking my feet in quite well!



After our hike, we got back in the car and continued north to Blenheim. We planned an epic ride for the next day. We had picked up some nice wide 1.9 inch tires in Queenstown. We found a nice looking loop that would entail some dirt roads, so we decided it was time to try the tires. Our plan was to head up the main road to Picton, then take a small coastal road around to the east by Port Underwood, before heading back to Blenheim. The main road up to Picton was quite busy. Picton the the Ferry Terminus for the south island, so everyone heading up to the North Island was going our way! We met up with a triathlete along the way, and peppered him with questions about riding in the area. He loved the area and thought it was great for cycling, and recommended heading out toward Waikawa, which was already in our plans.

We stopped for a quick lunch in Picton, and then began the more epic part of the ride. Our new fatter tires would soon get a workout. The pavement actually went on a good bit longer than we expected, but the seal did run out, and the hills made it even more challenging. All those twists and turns shown on the map are NOT the road following the coastline, but rather going up and dipping down into coves. We had some absolutely spectacular views along the way, but they were indeed well earned! That said, I must say this was one of our favourite rides. Between the lack of traffic and the trees and views, it was just grand. We were also quite happy to have the wider tires for the loose gravel.

We are slowly learning to carry more water than we have in the past. Points of civilisation are often few and far between, and we've run low on water on more than one occasion. We found a camp and ignored the untreated water signs as we guzzled water.

As we returned to sealed road, we also left the protection of the trees and started picking up a headwind. It was pretty darn brutal, but we eventually made it back to the start.

The next day, we decided to check out some of the local wineries. We learned that the Marlborough region is known for its wines, most notably its Sauvignon Blanc. Our first stop was at St. Clair. We learned lots about the local wines, and really came to love Sauvignon Blanc. If you haven't tried a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you must. We decided we wanted to do a tour, and opted for the oldest and biggest estate - Montana Vineyards, since they offered regular (no appointment necessary) tours. Despite being the off season, the tour was very informative. I definitely want to return during harvest and do a few more tours and lots more tastings. We also got lots of recommendations for the region as a place to live. Everyone talked about the great weather and low humidity. I suppose a job picking grapes might not be bad!

But we still needed to see Nelson, so we headed west over the mountains. The final descent into Nelson, down from Whangamoa saddle was incredibly twisty. I knew John would love riding on this road. And there were trees everywhere. Then suddenly the view opened up and we could see the western ranges all the way up to Farewell Split. We headed into the centre and tried to find accommodation for the night. It took a few tries, but we found a backpackers up on a hill with a fabulous view from our room. Unfortunately the hot water in the showers were on timers, and I got a cold shock 2 minutes into my shower, so we opted for a different backpackers the next night, with less of a view, but a better shower...



Christchurch again