Nelson, New Zealand
We woke up this morning to a good deal of snow on the mountains over in Abel Tasman National Park, across the bay, it's absolutely gorgeous to view, and a mighty chill in the air as well! We're all nursing hangovers here at the house on the hill today, after a 60th birthday party last night for Nickola's cousin Chris, who has been staying here this last week with his wife Saia, as they transition into the house they just bought in Upper Moutere. There were nine people, loads of amazing food (perfectly grilled steak, sauteed mushrooms, roasted veggies, new potatoes in mustard dressing, and Saia's homemade chocolate mousse made with a local lime liqueur were just a few of the offerings), about seven bottles of wine and champagne, and hours of hilarious conversation and jokes, multiple toasts to Chris's good health, and late night singing as the party wound down. It was a really wonderful evening among very good company, just one of the many great social experiences we have gotten by living in someone's home rather than elsewhere.
Now, back to our hijinks down in Kaikoura. On Thursday afternoon we drove to the end of the peninsula to the Point Kean fur seal colony, where the seals have a tendency to sun themselves right in the carpark. All the signs said to stay 10 metres away from the seals, but we found that difficult to do when they were lying only a couple metres from the parking spaces! This guy (or, more likely, gal) was relaxing in the sun and didn't move or even open an eye unless someone came closer than about two metres.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
There were several seals chilling out in the bushes around the carpark. They have been known to lie on the pavement right in the middle of the road as well.
This guy was enjoying his spot on the boardwalk.
The bird on the rock is a Pied Shag, a member of the cormorant family. The thing sticking out of the water directly behind him is a seal fin. Seals have lots of veins in their fins that can soak up heat quickly, so that is how they warm themselves if they don't want to get out of the water: float around o their side, with one fin up to soak up the sun!
After saying hello to the seals, we walked a section of Kaikoura's Peninsula Walkway, up to the top of the headlands from the seal colony, and then along the tops of the cliffs to the south, taking in amazing views of the rugged coast and the mountains behind. The sun was out, and the water was clear clear clear and beautifully blue. We kept our eyes peeled for whales and dolphins, but didn't spot any. The views were incredible, though.
Very shallow rocks just south of the seal colony.
A common New Zealand sight- cattle grazing atop cliffs overlooking the ocean!
Walking through a paddock to get to a viewpoint.
Looking back down at the Point Kean carpark.
Another seal colony, about a 15 minute walk south along the cliffs. All the dark spots on the rocks are seals.
The low hill in the gap between the trees used to be a pa, or Maori fortress. You can see the terracing where the fortifications were, a very common site on hilltops that had a good view and were defensible. The fortifications usually consisted of a stockade-like structure of thick pointed sticks anchored in the ground in several terraced layers.
We ate lunch back at the carpark, with this view:
Apart from the seals on the rock, there are, from the left, a Little Shag, a black-backed gull, and a flock of White-Fronted Terns, with a few smaller seagulls mixed in.
And also spotted this campervan:
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the surf break at Maungamaunu, where the waves were still rolling in beautifully, and Matt took his final surf in New Zealand. It couldn't have been a better one- the waves were easy to catch, and the rides lasted forever, and he did some really epic surfing. I can't tell you how much his surfing has improved since we've been over here, and he couldn't be more stoked about it! I spent the time taking videos of his rides, which unfortunately I still can't post without somehow corrupting them, so they'll have to keep.
We camped Thursday night back at the Puhi Puhi campground. We arrived well before it got dark, so we explored the short bush walk out of the campsite, where the canopy of the native bush was so thick it blocked out most daylight, and we found some amazing huge rimu and totara trees, and wacky vines.
Amazing Rata vines.
Epic Totara (TOH-tar-uh) tree. Totara is very resistant to rot, and they grow huge, so were the favored trunks to use for carving waka, or canoes.
Another view of the Puhi Puhi River Valley.
The clouds that had rolled in kept the night relatively warm, so we were able to sit out in our camp chairs as darkness fell, enjoying a cup of tea cooked with the last dregs of our final butane cannister, enjoying the setting and our final true night of van camping with Lucy. We whiled away the rest of the evening with a game of cribbage in the van, one of many we have played over the last seven months in various remote places!
Our "card table"-- the laptop case balanced on the basket of books between the front seats!
Friday morning saw us back in Kaikoura for a final bit of exploration and a few errands, checking emails to arrange the sale of surfboard and wetsuit as we passed through Blenheim, and poking around the area just a bit more. We explored south of town a little bit, taking a walk along the rock beach at South Bay, and around the marina where all the whale watching tours and charters leave from, with some great mountain views.
Six foot beach break at South Bay.
We headed back north as the clouds broke, and we had a gorgeous sunny drive back up the coast to Blenheim, where I said goodbye to my trusty Superfish, passing it on to an eager buyer, and then we hit the road back to Nelson. The rain closed in as we headed into the mountains, and the twisting drive home was made even more scenic by the low clouds and trails of mist sitting in all the mountain valleys and setting off the colors of the yellow trees. We had such a great trip, everything went swimmingly and we both got everything out of it that we wanted. We now have just one more trip with Lucy, up to Golden Bay over Easter Weekend, and then we will say goodbye to her, for she is now officially for sale as the final preparations are made for our departure from New Zealand.