1. 2. DAY 7 Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Blenhiem, Picton Through to Nelson PT 1 | Our Travelling Experiences – With Cas & The Sanman

DAY 7 Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Blenhiem, Picton Through to Nelson PT 1

DAY 7 WEDNESDAY:
FROM HANMER THROUGH TO BLENHEIM – WE ARE IN FOR A BIG DAY.

WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOUR CONTEMPLATING DOING THIS DRIVE THAT YOU SPREAD THE DRIVE OVER TWO DAYS. OUR REASON FOR DOING IT IN ONE DAY WAS THAT WE ALREADY KNEW MOST OF THE ROADING. THE DISTANCE FROM START TO FINISH IS JUST OVER 400 KILOMETERS AND WOULD TAKE AROUND 5-6 HOURS DRIVING NON-STOP!

Well, initially, we wanted to depart around 8am, but didn’t realise till it came to leaving that the office didn’t open till 8.30, it wasn’t so-much a drama, just put things back around 1/2 an hour.  After settling up we were finally on our way.  I remarked to C* that the battery sounded like it could be on its way out, so suggested that we had better get it checked at some point.  The morning was crisp with a white frosty dew covering the ground.  It was nice to see, after we passed over the old WAIAU FERRY BRIDGE, a second time, that the sun was starting to pierce through the clouds. 🙂  Rather than trundle all the way back down to the WAIPARA turnoff at NORTH AMBERLEY and double-track back up the coast, we decided to take the inland route STATE HIGHWAY #70 which meant taking a left-hand turn just before CULVERDEN, and heading overland to KIAKOURA.  It sort of took us a bit off the beaten track, but was worth every minute.

The Alpine Pacific Triangle.

The Alpine Pacific Triangle, Photo courtesy NZ Tourism.

This route is regarded as part of “THE ALPINE PACIFIC TRIANGLE”. Overall if one was to do the complete circut then it would total 370 kilometers. The triangle is made up of three legs: WAIPARA TO HANMER SPRINGS, on STATE HIGHWAY 7, which we had already done. The second leg is what we are doing now, starting on HIGHWAY 7 then changing to STATE HIGHWAY #70 taking us onto KIAKOURA. This drive is just over 140 kms and takes about two hours. Initially,

The start of the single lane Waiau River Bridge, North Canterbury.

The start of the single lane Waiau River Bridge, North Canterbury.

C* negotiating the Waiau River Bridge

C* negotiating the Waiau River Bridge

I had reservations as I understood it was unsealed and could have posed problems with the RENTAL CAR CO, so I cleared it with them before we left CHCH.  To my surprise it was fully sealed.  It really proved worth the decision, as at almost every turn, new and exciting vistas unfold – pastoral hill country, cloud-piercing mountains, tumbling rivers, shady forests, serene lakes, surging seascapes and even sculptured limestone formations, it was ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR. The area was really graced with an astounding myriad of autumn colours.  This was also where C* lost her virginity with single lane bridges.  I took the opportunity of pointing out this is nothing to what we will encounter over on the WEST COAST. 🙂  It was also interesting to watch the farmers mustering their heards, sheep/cattle, in the paddocks.

The Twins Kaikoura

The Twins Kaikoura

On our approach to KIAKOURA I was hopeful of C*  experiencing “THE TWINS”. These were two road tunnels carved through the rock and located en route around the rocky shoreline, but surprisingly, we seemed to miss those as we came into the township, quicker than expected. KIAKOURA is very much a seaside settlement overlooked by a backdrop of steep mountains, which are snow capped for many months of the year. It sits on the KIAKOURA PENINSULA, which offers superb scenery, excellent marine attractions and adventure activities. Make no mistake, the area is well known for it’s whale watching and crayfish. (it’s ironic given that it was a major whaling town right up until 1964 – KIAKOURA in Maori means “crayfish food”). KIAKOURA is an important habitat for fur seals, birdlife and marine life. The town is one of the smallest districts in NEW ZEALAND and has a population of around 3,500 people locally. It caters to around one million visitors each year, with it’s strong and well developed whale watching and marine type activities. Whales enjoy the rich diet of the KIAKOURA waters while building up their strength to move to the mating grounds of the warm north. Regularly diving to depths of one kilometre, SPERM WHALES have been known to dive to 3 kilometres and holding their breath for up to two hours – perhaps gulping down a few groper or wrestling with a giant squid, in the process. Depending on the season you may also see: – migrating Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales. KIAKOURA generally hosts the world’s largest – the Killer Whale, often called, the Orca, and is also home to the world’s smallest and rarest, the Hector Dolphins. The area also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on the mainland of NEW ZEALAND, including: 13 species of Albatross, 14 varieties of Petrels and 7 types of Shearwater and Penguins. KIAKOURA is renowned as one of the world’s leading destinations to view marine mammals and seabirds in their natural enviroment.  AND of course, one one can’t forget the abundance of crayfish/lobster.

Our first vision of this small sleepy rural farming township, was from a hill, looking down over the southern part, with PINE TREES lining the esplanade.  The foreshore of the beach wasn’t sand but stones.  On our left we had the KIAKOURA RANGES rising to 2,600 metres, from sea level, which had a very light sprinkling of snow along the spine.  After a few pickies we moved along to the commercial end, where the shops and restrooms were located.  Our timing was good as we, had a bite and continued on, leaving KIAKOURA around 11.30am, northbound. About a third of the trip from here had us hugging the rugged KIAKOURA COASTLINE.  Very noticeable was the colour of the ocean, with the depth clearly visable, a deep rich turquoise-bluey/green, right up to the roadside in parts. In actual fact, I’m told that the sea-floor literally drops 1,200 metres just 500 metres out from the shoreline. There was one placed which we really wanted to check-out before leaving the area, this was NIN’S BIN.

Here it is DA-DA = Nins Bins

Here it is DA-DA = Nins Bins

Now, finding the address for NIN’S BIN was no easy task, in fact the most precise instruction we could get was, “head up along the highway, for about 40-45 minutes and it will be a caravan on the side of the road – YOU CAN’T MISS IT!“. Allow me to explain, NIN’S BIN is a business with a twist. It was established back in the 70′s and by looking at the décor (when we found it) not much had changed since then! Rodney Clark and his family catch, cook and sell fresh organic crayfish/lobster from their roadside caravan. Rodney goes out each morning at 5.30am to empty his cray pots. There are no preservatives, additives or tank taste for the consumer, just natural sweetness. They are fairly priced and if you can’t wait to savour the cray, the Clark’s will cut it up and you can barbecue it right on the spot.

Market prices prevail.

Market prices prevail.

There’s nothing like hoeing into freshly cooked cray, accompanied by wine from a local winery and fresh bread from the town’s bakery, while overlooking the ocean. But be warned — Rodney refuses to serve chips with his cray/s, so if you can’t resist “the chips”, you will need to buy them elsewhere! In fact the menu available is rather limited to three items – CRAYS, GREEN LIPPED MUSSELS AND WHITEBAIT PATTIES! With the crays, the prices for each are written on the tails and range anything from the high $20′s to one monster looking one clocking in @ $97. (That has to be rich eating, in anyone’s language) Incidentally, the price is governed on two factors, the weight and amount of edible flesh in the belly and legs.

Well, we left NIN’S, totally sate, bout an hour later, which also had us leaving the coastline, (where the ocean was on one side and the hills on the other) as we started to head inland, It was not long before on our right appeared the GRASSMERE SALT WORKS, where the bulk of NEW ZEALAND’S salt is collected and processed so that it can be put on the table. The salt industry began in LAKE GRASSMERE back in 1943. It’s an interesting process, where, seawater, fresh from the PACIFIC OCEAN, is pumped into LAKE GRASSMERE. Warm north-west winds blow across the exposed lake, evaporating water and increasing the concentration of salt. The very salty water is pumped into deep holding pens, then into shallow crystallisation ponds. As the water continues to evaporate, salt forms as a crust on the bottom of the ponds. The remaining water is pumped out and the dried salt harvested, crushed, washed and moved by giant conveyor belts to form huge mounds of sparkling white crystals.

The Mounds of Salt at Lake Grassmere - (Photo courtesy of Peter Evans Photography).

The Mounds of Salt at Lake Grassmere – (Photo courtesy of Mr Peter Evans Photography).

These HUGE mounds can sometimes be seen at night from as far away as BLENHEIM. Other salt works in the world are generally much closer to the equator, but MARLBOROUGH’S abundance of warm north-westerly winds, long hours of sunshine and low summer rainfall provide excellent conditions for the evaporation needed to extract salt from the sea at this latitude. It’s wonderful seeing a home grown product, so successful and staying in the country. 🙂

It wasn’t long before we passed through the two small towns of WARD & SEDDON. The town of WARD was named after SIR JOSEPH WARD, while the town of SEDDON after RICHARD JOHN SEDDON (NZ PRIME MINISTER 22nd JUNE 1845 – 10th JUNE 1906), sometimes known as KING DICK, is to date the longest serving PRIME MINISTER of NEW ZEALAND. He is (even still today) regarded by some, as one of NEW ZEALAND’S greatest political leaders.

THE AWATERE RIVER - SEDDON BRIDGE.

THE AWATERE RIVER – SEDDON BRIDGE.

Before starting out on this vacation, we did quite a bit of research on the areas which we were going to be visiting.  Of one particular area of interest was the SEDDON BRIDGE, over the AWATERE RIVER, as I had travelled over many many times.  This bridge was unique in that it was a two tier bridge, where the passenger & frieght trains travelled on top and vehicular traffic underneath, on the lower deck, a unique link on STATE HIGHWAY #1. They had to add a wind barrier to the top level to try and protect the trains from the fierce north-westerlies, which gusted along the riverbed.

For over 100 years the bridge at SEDDON over the AWARTERE RIVER has carried road and rail traffic. This all changed in October 2007 when the new road bridge opened. The original bridge was completed way back in April 1902,(some 105 years earlier) 10th of October 1902. It was the cause for major celebration. The day was declared a public holiday in BLENHEIM and 1500 people travelled free to SEDDON for the opening.  The opening ceremony was carried out by SIR JOSEPH WARD, ACTING PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER OF RAILWAYS. The town of STARBOROUGH, at the same tme, was renamed SEDDON at this ceremony.

The bridge was designed by PETER SETON HAY and built by the contractors MESSERS SCOTT BROS OF CHRISTCHURCH for £22,500. The addition of the wind barrier increased the price by a further £1,118.  Building began in APRIL1899, taking three years to complete.  The new road bridge at around $15,000,000 took HEB SMITHBRIDGE less than two years (including the approach roads).

Trains continue to rumble over the old bridge, but that frustrating wait for road traffic is a thing of the past. Trucks no longer need to worry about being wedged on a bridge that was designed for traffic back in the early 1900’s and car occupants will not be shaken to bits on the wooden decking. I can personally testify that it was by no means a comfortable feeling when a train was “overhead” and the bridge was, “literally shaking”.

CONTINUED – PART TWO

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