Saturday, January 23, 2010


Just 40 minutes outside of lush, hilly Picton the landscape flattens out and opens up to fields and vineyards.  We stopped for lunch at the Twelve Trees restaurant at the Allen Scott Winery in Blenheim.

The pretty buildings of the winery were made using rammed earth construction.

I started with a little tasting plate of wild duck and rabbit rillettes, cured salmon and pickled grapes.

A fresh beef carpaccio was a great main course with a glass of the 2008 Moorlands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

After lunch we set out again for the coast, and the landscape turned grassy and hilly... then the electric blue ocean appeared.

The South Island's east coast.

We arrived in the little town of Kaikoura on the peninsula of the same name just in time for an afternoon whale watching expedition.  We were told it was a great day to see a whale, and that Whale Watch Kaikoura had a 95% success rate in spotting whales, sharks, albatross and other wildlife.  The deep water trench just off the coast means that groups of Sperm Whales are consistently congregating in the area.  I couldn't wait!  Just before we boarded the boat, a fog rolled in.

By the time we made it out over the trench, the fog reduced visibility to near nothing.  The captain used this funny device to search sonically for whales below the surface.  He would listen carefully, then rush to the ship's control room and we would zip off into the gray abyss.  This process was repeated 10 or so times over the course of two hours.

This was pretty much what we saw while whale watching in Kaikoura.

The next day was windy and rainy, so no second attempt was made to see a whale.  I was determined to see some of Kaikoura's famed wild life, however, and dragged by boyfriend into the driving rain for a hike around the peninsula.

Most everything we saw was trying to hide from the rain.  At first I was sure this was a penguin, but my boyfriend insisted it was not.  

This seal was also unamused by the rain, and by our inquisitiveness.  Signs warning to stay at least 10 meters away from the seals were loosely interpreted (who can convert metric on the spot like that?) and we got a nasty warning growl to get the hell away.  By the end of the walk the sun came out for a bit, and we could say we experienced some of the local nature, even if it was just a cranky seal and not a Sperm Whale.

Our hotel about 10 minutes south of town was the best we have stayed in here in New Zealand. The Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses are built with locally sourced materials high on supports to maximize views of the ocean and snow capped mountains on either side.  It was some of the most interesting, unique and sensitive architecture I have seen on this trip.

Unfortunately the tree houses were booked, but our room in the main lodge was very nice as well.  One problem with the place: they were in the process of installing a pool and expanding the grounds and landscaping.  All of this looked like it was going to be beautiful when it was completed, but in the meantime we were surrounded by a construction pit.  The service was good, the architecture great, the decor very nice, and the views beyond the gravel and cement mixers breathtaking... it just would have been nice to have all those gorgeous local plants to frame everything.  Also, and it is a small thing, but every hotel in the world should be obliged to mail postcards for their guests instead of sending them to find the post office in town.  It is just good service.

Another highlight of the hotel, and our trip, was the food.  Here is the duck liver pate.

The main course of rack of lamb.

And my strawberry balsamic tart for dessert.  

While so much of New Zealand's food is sourced locally, you aren't really made aware of that fact unless you ask.  Curious, because in the states and the UK, and even Australia, a dish's provenance is touted and the locavore obsession means foods that are obtained nearby are often priced at a premium.  In New Zealand, I think because of its isolation, it only makes sense to source locally.  Why would anyone go through the trouble of doing it any other way?  Lucky them.

1 comment:

  1. wineries consistently soothe. You can almost feel the brightness of the sun when you look at your pictures from lunch! Those pictures of the ocean are also completely insane. I can't handle it. Too bad about the whales. It sounds like that seal was getting RUDE! Hapuku Lodge soothes but we need to send the message about the postcards. Honestly.