Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Kaikoura to Marlborough wine country

We headed north on the SH1 from Kaikoura (pronounced ‘Kaikoda’ apparently, which means ‘Food’ (Kai) and Crayfish (koura), hence their local speciality) towards Blenheim and Marlborough wine country. 

The countryside of rolling hills (some of them quite high) just seems to be comprised of mud, no rocks (old glacial run-out I believe). This area was chosen as a wine growing area originally as land was cheap, but it has since turned into a huge wine producing area of world acclaim. Now I’m no wine buff, but I know a good wine when I taste it and the ‘Cloudy Bay’ winery we visited certainly produced good wines. We sampled a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Reisling, all very nice, but they were all about $30 per bottle (£15) and they were their cheapest, ranging up to several hundred dollars a bottle. We assumed NZ wine would be cheap in NZ, but not so, I’m sure they are cheaper in the UK. All the area seems very prosperous and there is a lot of money around and, I feel, quite a bit of snobbery. I can’t help feeling that wine producers and so called wine experts think they are better than the rest of us. Yes, I like a nice wine, but hey, I like the £4 bottles from Sainsbury’s as well. I just don’t feel I have to spend huge amounts of money to ‘sniff the bouquet’, look at the colour and swish it round my mouth to taste the stones over which the water ran that the grapes grew from. Some people will no doubt call me a heathen, but an ordinary bottle of wine will do me fine 99% of the time!

Anyway, we left there looking for another basic campsite for a bit of wild camping, having purchased 10 king prawns from the local supermarket to cook by the sea. We found our site at a place called Whites Bay, accessible by a tortuous mountain road (with great views!). It is a really isolated little bay with only a few other campervans and tents, protected on all sides by forested mountains – lovely! 
Whites Bay

We parked the van and headed out to the bay, walked round the sand to a rocky outcrop (yes there are rocks here unlike the rest of Marlborough!) and did some scrambling. There was a rock arch through which the sea pounded and a small sea stack that I scrambled to the top of, while Jackie looked for mussels at or just below the waterline, dodging the waves. I joined her and we collected a dozen decent sized muscles that we added to our menu of king prawns.

We headed back to the van and cooked dinner, eating it on a park bench provided along with a bottle of excellent white wine (NZ, but not Marlborough!) Fantastic!
Dinner on the patio!
After dinner we had another walk to the beach and found a sign that described a ‘glow-worm grotto’ in a stream bed nearby. Well, it was approaching darkness, so off we went to find it, following a track through the woods in the semi darkness. After a few failed attempts we found it in a deeply cut stream bed. Now dark and trying to avoid stepping in the stream, the whole opposite vertical bank (about 4m high) was alight with points of light, like stars in a night sky. Sadly they were too dim to photograph, but I got across the stream (using a headtorch) and took a flash photograph of one of the points of light and got this picture. 
A glow-worm
 You can see it’s a long worm, the glowing bit is at the top and it has a sticky substance along its length and at the bottom, presumably for catching insects.

The following morning our thoughts of climbing the rocks were thwarted by the tide being in, cutting off access, so we headed off back over the mountain road until it reappeared at the coast further along. We parked the van and followed a footpath marked as leading to ‘Monkey Bay’.
On the path to Monkey Bay. The climbs are on the right hand wall
  It was only a 10 minute walk, but we arrived at this small, really nice bay and, on walking to the edge of the sea spied three rows of bolts leading up the cliff side, about 20m high. No idea what climbing grade they were we thought we’d give it a go, so dashed back to the van to get the gear. Jackie was first up (she always is!) and came down saying how good it was. She stripped the gear so I could lead it as she had, rather than using the rope she had put up. The first 4 clips were relatively easy (about French grade 5) and the rock was great, but then it got a bit harder. The move to get to the 6th clip was a bit committing (maybe 6a+), but once done was OK to the top. As Jackie abseiled me down I moved across to one of the other routes to see what it was like. It was hard and very committing, not something I’d want to lead, so I came down without finishing. Jackie decided to have a go on the top rope and completed it, but with moves she said she would not do if leading. Maybe 6b/6c.
Jackie at the foot of the climbs, our orange rope still in place, just before we pulled it through
 We packed up, got in the van and headed off to Picton, ready to look at the Queen Charlotte Track the next day. After arriving at our luxurious ‘Top 10’ campsite in Picton, Jackie looked at a NZ climbing website and found the climbs we had done, it said there are only 12 climbs in the whole of the Marlborough area (probably because it is mainly mud except for the bit of rock we found!) and we found 3 of them by chance, how lucky is that! The down side is that the other 9 were just around the corner, by the road, we passed them in the van at the end of the mountain road but didn’t see them! Ah well, 3 out of 12 is better than 0 out of 12!

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