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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 267-269 – New Zealand – Blenheim & Kaikoura

Rob & Gilly had precious few days left on the south island – oh, for those not knowing I’m here to let you know, New Zealand is split over two islands; the South (Awesome) and the North (Yeah…) – and they were most interested in whale watching at Kaikoura, north of where we awoke in Hanmer Springs.

We hit the road but the weather got progressively worse and by the time we pulled in with moments to spare to partake in the afternoon cruise we were all wondering whether it’d be worth it. We took the collective decision to delay our whale watch for a few days and lined it up for later in the week with our fingers crossed for improved weather.

This left us with a quandary – what to do with our new found time? The weather is poor, and we need something fun, informative and relevant to our time in New Zealand…wait a minute, there’s one thing we all love that we can enjoy just up the road! WINE!

In fairness Rob & Gilly had already embarked upon a wine tour of Blenheim but as they’d for some unknown reason enjoyed themselves they were far from against the idea of trying a few other vineyards in the area. We hit the road and made it to Blenheim in no time at all and rolled into the same campsite they’d already been to.

This particular campsite had a tourist attraction of its own – EELS. A soggy wander down to the stream alongside meant you could toss bread in and have the buggers slither all over each other and even make their way onto land as they fought for the prize. I’ve never seen eel’s like this before but I’d be surprised if H. R. Giger hasn’t – these bad boys could’ve been extras in any Alien film. All booked in and ready for the next day we were left with little else to do but enjoy each other’s company and await the next morning.

On Rob & Gilly’s advice we’d gone for the half day tour and were picked up by a chap and his daughter before being ferried around I think 3 wineries – Giesen (8 tastings), Hunters (owned by Laithwaites) & Spy Valley; Robbie will know and will have a much more informative and doubtless more interesting blog at blog.robkershaw.com. I remember Spy Valley having great branding & marketing, a stunning building and reception area and pretty naff wine. I also remember a nice lunch and a stop at a pie shop for a delicious pie and also a last stop at a chocolate shop with a couple of tastings. There’s been a chocolate factory stop on the end of both wine tours we’ve undertaken and I’ve found them both underwhelming and poorly done. It’s like there’s some kind of elitist position assumed by them – like we should feel lucky to be granted the taste of the miniscule amount of chocolate they offer and thus tear our wallets open and purchase half the shop. In fairness it’s probably more likely that they operate with much smaller margins and can’t afford to put on a show / spread like vineyards do. My opinion is also probably heavily influenced by the fact that I’m not really very interested in chocolate anyway.

We were dropped off fairly well-warmed by our intake and then took a wander down the road for dinner at a local pub. The place very much had a “working men’s club” vibe – those in the UK will know what I mean – but I think the food was good.

After sleeping off the day’s excesses we hit the road back to Kaikoura where we were happy to find the weather had improved significantly over our last time there. We booked onto the whale watch tour and made our way to the boat at departure time.

It’s a major tourist attraction and a very professional outfit with some serious vessels taking punters out in search of the huge yet ever elusive sea mammals. The main draw star of the show in the particular part of the ocean is the Sperm whale. Quick facts: largest brain of any animal, almost hunted to extinction by idiots who think it’s OK to do that, can weigh up to 56 tons and get to roughly 24m in length.

The tour is a gamble; you pay and if you see one whale then as far as the company is concerned their obligation is fulfilled. I think you get some sort of money back if you see nothing. Some days you’ll see many and others you’ll see none. We did OK; we saw 3 whales and a pod of about 200 dolphins over the course of our time on the water. They’re bloody massive creatures but unfortunately for us none of them breached – the best we got was the tail slap and a view of the top of their heads while they gathered their breath for another dive. The experience was a mixed bag; you find yourself meeting people who’ve practically had a coordinated show of glorious abandon from too many whales to count so when you look back at your photos to see a grey island in the water for most of them you can’t help but feel a little gutted. I did manage to get a few shots as they dived though and you still get a bit of a feel for the size of them.

The unexpected dolphins were arguably the stars of the show as they took great delight in performing all manner of acrobatics in and around the boat. The sheer number of them was impressive and they were a lot of fun to watch.

We left Kaikoura and hit the road all the way back to near Christchurch so Rob & Gilly could drop their van the next day before their flight to Christchurch and we could move on the Akaroa.