Dec. 12-20, 2010 – Picton > Blenheim > Nelson > Richmond > Kaiteriteri Beach > Greymouth > Hokitika > Arthur’s Pass > Castle Hill > Christchurch > Hamner Springs > Kaikoura Beach > Picton …
Kiwi look-alike, Weka, below. These guys are not nocturnal, whereas Kiwis are. There was a group of three of them wandering around the edge of a parking lot of the rest area.
Our South Island crossing from Wellington to Picton began with a drive of almost exactly 3-1/2 hours from Whanganui. We picked up Timo (Cologne Germany) from the backpackers lodge along the way and gave him a ride, too. Of course, he had to stop with us at the Waireki Honey Shop soon after picking him up along Hwy 1! Beeswax for glassblowing …
We queued up for the 6:30 pm ferry just after 5:30 pm – we would have gotten there sooner if we didn’t get lost in Wellington. And, then we waited …
Having gone on vehicle ferries of Seattle before, I wasn’t quite prepared for the HUGE ferry we drove onto. The amazing part was how QUIETLY and SMOOTHLY it departed from the dock! We didn’t even realize we’d left until I noticed the landscape sliding by in the windows. Dinner onboard was a good assortment of meat pies, fish & chips, salisbury steak plate, pasta choices, and even braised mutton, which was delicious and filling! Prices were not outrageously overpriced, and were served piping hot and graciously.
Soon after dinner, we bought tickets to see a movie at the theater – “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” that we hadn’t yet seen. Since we were the only ones, it was a private showing! Amy and I tried to purchase popcorn, too, but they didn’t have any! The sailing was so smooth that we didn’t feel anything while watching the movie.
Driving off the ferry, we debated about staying at Picton or moving onward. A local motel room was willing to charge us $125 for the six hours of sleep we would have gotten there. We ended up at Blenheim, about an hour south of Picton, at one of our first “caravan parks” – where there are spots for mobile homes, camper vans, tents, as well as motel rooms, or basic rooms all with kitchens, and linens optional. “A bed for all budgets” as they say. For $81, we got a large cabin room with a kitchenette (alas no dishes, pots and pans, silverware, etc. however), and a shared bathroom/ showers at the end of the building.
It wasn’t until the morning when we discovered the playground on the other side of the holiday park, and a netted trampoline, the requisite sports equipment in NZ yards, as we were told. We left before Amy would delay us by playing! We reached Nelson, through the misty morning, and then the sun came out in force. Nelson is northwest of Blenheim, and had at least one glass artist we wanted to see – Anthony Genet at Flame Daisy. The drive led us across many bridges as NZ has plenty of rivers and streams of a variety of sizes!
Perhaps due to the number of bridges needed, they are designed to be one lane wide, and there is a predominant direction, where the other direction has to wait its turn if there is traffic on the bridge. Makes for exciting driving.
Which reminds me – there are several signs along the way for safety on the roads. No billboards, just mottos for safety. For example, there were several ones that encouraged pulling over if sleepy, waiting for the passing zone, or slowing down and enjoying the drive rather than passing, and definitely no drinking and driving. But, the way the messages came across seemed gentle, friendly, non-intimidating. It was quite encouraging and practical. Almost campy. They were cool.
Next door to Flame Daisy, is the shop famous for creating and making THE Ring for the Lord of the Rings! Of course, we had to spend at least an hour there – not only to admire the variety of rings and bracelets, but to bother the artisans in the workroom in the back of the shop! Chris talked them into letting us watch as they worked, and a few of them described what they were doing, and how they did their work. It’s marvelous to listen to someone talk about something they’re proud to do, and allows them a level of control and creativity. We could hear the passion and the energy behind their words.
From Nelson, we drove to Richmond, where Hoglund’s Glass Studio is. Unfortunately, they’d just finished blowing for the day, and we were encouraged to return the next day sometime around 11 am, when blowing would begin and go till about 3 pm. Their glasswares for sale are beautifully arranged, and sorted somewhat by color. Their style leans toward the Kosta Boda thick clear glass with transparent color interior, though there are pieces of graal, coldworked etching, sandblasting, and sculpture. In the back is where the studio is, as well as a huge grassy area for picnicking, other workshops, and a wandering peacock to “guard” the grounds! We vowed to return the next day.
We checked into our 2nd Top 10 Holiday Park – and it was even MORE delightful than the one at Blenheim. The kitchenette came with dinnerware, silverware, and cooking utensils, etc! On top of that, there is a HUGE “jumping pillow” AND a trampoline to Amy’s Delight! Amy pretty much lived on the jumping pillow. The weather, however, began to turn, and in a few hours, we were in a downpour. We bunked down and stayed another day at the caravan park. I think the greyness of the weather slowed us down quite a bit.
The visit to Hoglunds the next day during the light drizzle was surprising. Ola Hoglund was blowing glass already, though it was just past 11 am. From the glass trimmings on the bench floor, it looked like he’d been blowing for some hours already. Ola was working on a new style of vase, simple and elegant. When he finished, he talked to a family that was watching when we arrived, then he cleaned up and began to walk to the back. We chatted briefly with him and got his autograph. He was on his way to his son’s wedding rehearsal, for the wedding the next day!
Amy played with his son’s dog, a cattle rustling border collie. It was quite smart and animated – bringing toys and sticks for Amy to toss. It was immensely fast, and could bounce the large somewhat deflated ball on his head back to you! Amy was entertained for hours! It was with great reluctance we headed back to the gallery to leave. I purchased a medium-sized round vase. Chris says that we could have made the same vase, but I liked the colors, and wanted something from another glass artist. We have a small glass bowl from Alice Kim of Whanganui Glass School already.
A highlight was the brief drive to Kaiteriteri beach as recommended to us by Mack MacDonald of the Whanganui Glass School (UCOL). It is a beautiful beach, even through the drizzle. We stayed for a couple of hours, wandering around, collecting rocks and shells, Amy and Chris chasing waves.
From Richmond, we headed to Greymouth, southwest of Richmond. It’s along the coast, and last month had a serious mining accident, 26 miners killed by a blast. It will be months before the bodies can be removed due to the lethal levels of gas. So, the community has withdrawn for a while understandably. We picked up a hitchhiking man, who wore a yellow slicker. He was from Australia, someplace in Queensland, and was over to fix up a rental (“to let”) he owns near Greymouth. He’s learning about being a landlord.
Our stay at Greymouth at another Top 10 Holiday Park was even BETTER than the last two, so we were greatly pleased until we learned that the wifi carrier was NOT the same one as the prior two. Unfortunately, I’d already paid for 100 hours (NZ$90), so we were stuck having to pay for another carrier to have internet access (NZ$25/1-day access, 160MB). This one’s jumping pillow was great, even in the drizzle. Amy made some friends there, and got to practice her gymnastics. The rest of the days it downpoured. Boring, but it allowed us to rest. Hokitika, a 30-minute drive southwestward, was our next stop for glass.
Hokitika is a very small town, and we almost passed through it, except the Hokitika Glass sign grabbed my attention like a tractor beam! It’s a very clean, and somewhat spare place.
The beach is within two blocks of the gallery. Since it was Saturday, the brothers and another glass artist were not blowing, go figure. But, their shop is fantastic, and they sure do get their wares out over NZ galleries. Their prices are also decent. We bought a small brown glass kiwi, though their glass tops were so well balanced and tempting, too. They spun for the entire purchase transaction, about 5 minutes!
We had a brief lunch at an Indian restaurant – rather authentic as there were Indian familes dining there, too. For less than a pub meal, we got quite a bit of naan, curries, and rice!
Then we walked to the beach – and the sun had come out by this time. Before we knew it, we’d spent hours here, in the black sand, skipping rocks, playing in the water. I think Amy has the most amount of fun at the beach – wading up to her knees into the waves, running along the beach, and practicing skipping rocks.
Chris was anxious to get going – mainly to get to a rock climbing place along the way through Arthur’s Pass – a crossing between Greymouth and Christchurch, cutting across the South Island about 1/3 of the way from the north. Castle Hill specifically was the destination, as Chris Sharma, a noted climber, had climbed there. We found another area that looked similiar to Castle Hill, and spent 3 hours climbing, filming and sweating though it was cool. Skinned fingers, knees and elbows later, we headed to Christchurch for lodging, vowing to return here another time.
Christchurch was sunnier than Greymouth, and we marveled at the amount of remodeling and construction going on all around the town. It was much later we learned that the town suffered a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in September, 2010! Well, that certainly explains the reason we found a steeple in front of a church on stilts! As well as several fenced off buildings and businesses… The Top 10 Holiday Park here was VERY difficult to find, as the Top 10 “detail maps” for a specific location are very generic and spartan. Amy and Chris got to park some scooters while I checked in. We were given a cabin with linens and kitchen supplies as well as a private bathroom for less (NZ$101)than the shared bathroom in Greymouth (NZ$125)! It seems our lodging experience just keeps getting better and better. Plus, Amy met several friends on the jumping pillow. The Top 10 at Christchurch is HUGE! It has over 70 camping spots, 50+ camper hookup spots, and several buildings of camping rooms, or motel rooms. The shared kitchens have one large one to fit at least five people cooking, two outdoor barbeque spots, and several dining; and the other more intimate with one barbeque spot, 3 cooking stoves, and some picnic tables. I can’t say enough about these caravan parks!
Amy met some delightful girls and their parents on our last day there. They told us their camper sleeps 5, has two dining tables, simple to drive and use, and costs about $300 / day, and the hookup for that many people at the Top 10 came out to about $100 / day. Plus the gas, and insurance. We wondered if that was an economical way to vacation, but maybe the convenience is worth the cost?
Our one more time for climbing came the day we checked out from Christchurch’s Top 10 – and we headed back up to Arthur’s Pass. Of course, Chris checked out a rock climbing place and bouldered while Amy did the “Clip and Climb” area, a fantastic idea for beginning climbers!
At Castle Hill – we found it – we saw some climbers with crash pads, and got a bit worried as we didn’t locate one to bring with us. But, as we started up the slopes to the limestone rocks, Chris found several places to boulder around, though carefully as we didn’t have a crash mat for him to land. With Amy’s camera, it takes panaramic pix really well, and one can appreciate how Lord of the Rings was chosen to film in NZ!
Our next stop was Hamner Springs – a geothermal hot springs area. Somewhat like Rotorua’s hot springs. But, the major difference – one main hot springs spa. For $16 / adults and $9 / kids, we figured we could stay till about 12:30 pm before we had to head to catch the ferry back to Wellington at 6:30 pm. At first, Chris was reluctant to go into the spa, as he doesn’t prefer hot tubs, but he and Amy discovered water slides, and we ended up staying till the very end! It’s a bit odd, but pleasant to sit in a hot mineral pool while it’s raining. Cold on top, and hot below.
We met a delightful single-mom and son, Sol (short for Solomon), Jayne, from Christchurch, though she’s just moved there recently (well, 3 years ago). She’s a midwife! We fell to talking though we both had brought books to read while sitting in one of the large pools, under an umbrella. Jayne’s lived in Canada before, too, and we’ve invited them to stay with us, as she hopes to visit San Francisco sometime. YES, do stay with us!
Enroute to the ferry, we just HAD to stop at Kaikoura Beach. The gravel beach sirens called to us! Instead of fine sand, the beach is pea-sized black gravel – a bit to get used to while running, but it’s not bad, and falls off easier than sand.
Our cannonball run up to Picton to catch the ferry was JIT (just in time), and then we waited… for over an hour before we could LOAD! Once we loaded, we left the port later than scheduled, possibly due to the weather, which was inclement during the daytime. The three hour ride would get us into port around 9:45-10 pm at Wellington. Late. Dark.
Overall, we felt that the South Islanders we’d met were quieter than the North Islanders. The geology and geography of the South Island is beautiful, though we only had enough time to see the upper third. The West side tends to be wetter and rains more than the East side is what we were told. It seemed true for our brief week traveling.
Amy was anxious to get back to Whanganui and play with Devon, Sophia, Carter and James again! That’s our next stop … back to Whanagnui and North Island – BEFORE Christmas, when Mark arrives! But, another reason – to catch Garry Nash blowing at his studio!