The necessary airport milling that occurs while waiting to go on holiday is usually tackled with excessive, excitable drinking. The soulless, black and white marble bar that we found ourselves perched against was a picture of commotion, its occupants scrambling to drink as much alcohol as possible in order to ease the discomfort of their upcoming flight. A caramel-skinned Aboriginal lady with eyes like golden orbs was tending to her customers with great ease and effectiveness. About ten minutes in, a hoard of towering grey gentlemen descended upon the tiny area and displaced us with little effort, but with the utmost politeness. We didn’t mind at all; they seemed like lovely old folks. Classic eighties records exited the bar’s speakers and made their way into our receptive ears, which when merged with the effects of the booze, added to our already jovial mood. We were going to New Zealand!
The Jetstar flight was awful beyond measure, due to the inevitable hangover that ensued. There was little chance of beverage service to stave it off, with the neon-clad attendants taking a full hour to make their way down the small plane. A tiny, disturbed nap made things immeasurably worse; my head felt like it was being squeezed by something extraordinary. Croaks for water fell on deaf ears, and every passing minute felt like an hour.
When we arrived at Christchurch Airport, I was fully prepared to fight anyone who got in my way. But only if they weren’t Maori, because those fuckers are huge. The cab driver fitted this description and my dire state was temporarily forced into submission; I did swear at him for charging us $50 for a ten-minute ride, but only when he was out of earshot.
After a decent sleep at our temporary hotel, we picked up our gleaming-black Mazda 6 from the car rental company, and after the fifteen minutes of confusion that usually occurs at such places, we started making our way towards our first stop – Kaikoura. The sky was painted vibrant blue, and a crispness permeated the air; it seemed a perfect day for driving. I was prepared to receive the visual feast that had been promised to me, and after passing the boundaries of the city, was not disappointed. The first part of the drive north was filled with luscious verdant hills, splattered with swathes of blinding yellow flowers, which towered over the road like beautiful, watchful sentinels.
As we made our way into Kaikoura – a tiny coastal town famous for its rotund seals and whales – we were met with long, level stretches of gleaming-white serrated rock, as though something gigantic had decided to run its comb through it. This stretched on around the u-shaped peninsula of Kaikoura for miles, including thirty-metre high cliff faces topped by gorgeous, bare-faced greenery. This town was one of the hardest hit by the monstrous earthquake in 2016, with many tourists having to be rescued via helicopter and boat. The coastal roads are still peppered with roadwork traffic stops, with the Kiwi construction workers showing unending politeness by smiling and waving when you they finally allow to continue.
Next stop was Bleheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. This region is famed for its Savignon Blanc wines, for which the cold nights are best suited. We wound our way down into the sumptuous valley, abounded with perfectly straight vine rows as far as the eye could see. Every hill glowed with a healthy vibrancy, brilliant hues of green against a perfectly blue sky. This place was absolutely gorgeous.
Our accommodation was a house that had been split into separate guest rooms, and was run by an excitable, fair-haired older lady who enjoyed talking about cyclones and how the weather people just couldn’t seem to predict them. Her large husband stood behind and quietly agreed. He had a red-face and a beaming smile. We liked them both a lot. While checking in a scruffy white-haired pooch pushed his nose through a gap in the wall and identified us with quick, sharp sniffs. It disappeared before we could offer a scratch.
The next day we wandered around Pollard Park, which had the same level of dazzling vividness as everything else in this region. There were tiny bridges arching over cute rivers, and small, long-tailed black birds that ran away in a manner that suggested they’d just stolen something.
We reluctantly left the park to wander into the city centre. Blenheim is a hushed town with only 30,000 inhabitants, and has a similar feel to all small towns. Its streets are sleepy and quaint; the center of town is lined with coin-operated parking meters, installed in the 80’s and then forgotten about. The most eye-catching thing in Blenheim is the white-stone war memorial clock tower, the guard of Seymour Park.
Later that day we did a wine tour, and when the bus turned up we were greeted by a handful of smiley wrinkly faces – what did we expect? Everyone had a friendliness that usually accompanies older people who like to travel, and it made them a pleasure to spend time with. After a short spell of driving, it became apparent just how beautiful this region was. The wineries themselves were a gorgeously-designed mesh of stone, wood and glass, with a good amount of symmetry thrown in. They looked spectacular against the backdrop of the rolling green landscape. We enjoyed the buildings just as much as the wines themselves.
One of the winery hosts was an older English chap who reminded me of a quieter version of Michael Palin. His accent was still perfectly English apart from when he answered a question with the typical Kiwi “Yis”. Our guide for the tour itself was an older Maori lady who was nice enough, but had a glint in her eye which suggested that she might quietly murder you if you put a foot wrong. Needless to say, we were all well-behaved.
Tomorrow, we’ll be cutting West across the top of the island, to Punakaiki.
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