I had a couple more planned stops to make along the road to attempt to see some of the elusive wildlife, now that I was well out of Kaikoura and presumably beyond the reach of the long arms of the law and disgruntled hostel owners. First up was Ohau Point’s seal colony, which was, in point of fact, actually quite full of seals. Not just seals, but litters and litters of pups too, bouncing up and down like tiny furry blobs on pogo sticks. This would have been enchanting had not the colony been quite far off, and the only viewing area a small balcony embedded in the cliffside. I could hardly see the babies with my naked eye, and, bereft of binoculars, had to use the heavy-duty zoom on my camera to even see. As it was I had to sling my butt over the edge of the balcony wall and cautiously lean out to get a picture or two.
A few kilometers beyond is a turnoff for a waterfall, at which you may be lucky enough to see momma seals with their babies, who apparently like to frolic in the spray from the fall and dive in the pool. Now, how little flippered beasties – particularly young ones just a foot long – can possibly get themselves up the rocky creek path from the beach (it was a decent ten minute trek for me on human legs) is a bit of a mystery, but the pool, while quite pretty, was deserted. I had the presence of mind to get off the path and explore a few of the more trodden areas, and was rewarded with the sight of one mother and pup dozing quietly on the creek bank. SO adorable. I’d have given anything for the pup to wake up to get a glimpse and ideally a shot of its little fuzzy face, but, remembering how angry I get at kids at zoos who pound on the glass to try to catch the attention of the poor inhabitant inside, I constrained myself to a couple of loud throat-clearing noises. The seals slumbered on – very, very cutely.
I stopped at a roadside turnoff for a quick breakfasty snack watching the waves, and was startled by a lolling seal on my way out (the apparent washed up log turned out to have flippers and be wriggly).
It was now just a few days before Christmas, and I was feeling pretty fed up with my crappy internet connection woes, being run out of Kaikoura, and just generally worrying about finding gas, where I was going to sleep, where I might wrangle enough signal to be able to do my work… I stopped in Blenheim and decided to see if I could move up my ferry return to the North Island and spend Christmas, as I’d been invited to, with my relative Jonathan and his family in Wellington. I’d been assured there would be a roast turkey, a poultry member with which Kiwis otherwise don’t seem to have much truck, but it had been specially ordered from their butcher for an American-style holiday celebration. I adjusted the ferry crossing, called my holiday park in Nelson and shifted the dates a bit, and rang Jonathan to inquire if it’d still be okay for me to come for the holiday, which it was. I’d planned to visit some of the vineyards around the area I was stopped in to work the phones – I’d even thought I’d have lunch at one specializing in French cuisine, with al fresco dining overlooking the vines – but now I was off schedule again, and even if my gullet had been up to guzzling wine at 10am, the tasting rooms weren’t open. I could, however, proceed on to Nelson, my beach-town destination, and be comfortably settled in by the time the tasting rooms started to open. I headed there, ready to just relax and not feel like such a gypsy.
Nelson is a cute town with a nice vibe, and even though I was staying slightly on the outskirts in a rather depressing industrial area (it was a weird mix of parks, houses, and car repair and restaurant supply shops) the town center was lovely for strolling. I parked downtown first to explore a bit and pick up some lunch from the Swedish Bakery – a meatball and beetroot relish sandwich on pumpernickel and a tiny tart shell filled with insanely good, locally crafted citrus/passionfruit curd. (The young lady who served me at the bakery was concerned about tart transport, but I laughingly said I’d just lick the interior of the bag if it was the worse for wear when I got home. At the time, it was a joke, but the stuff was so heavenly I ended up doing exactly that).
There’s a paved path along the Maitai River, lots of gingerbread-trimmed cottages with manicured gardens, and a ton of shops, cafes, bars, and clubs.
I made good progress on getting work done quickly (though the upload speeds were still testing the patience of saints, let alone ME) so in lieu of my vineyard luncheon, I decided I’d treat myself to a nice dinner. I was able to wrangle a reservation for one at Hopgood’s, a fancy resto that emphasizes local wines and foods.
I hadn’t had a single pull-out-the-stops meal since I’d been in the country, but this was the night. I started off with “crispy prawns with prawn ravioli, sweet corn, tomatoes, basil and chili.” It was absolutely fantastic – no doubt, one of the top ten things I’ve ever had in any country; everything was perfectly done, and each item in the dish hit the palate in perfectly choreographed succession of flavor explosions, like fireworks set to music.
Next up was a lamb loin (it is NZ, after all, and though not generally not keen on eating baby animals, I was anxious to avail myself of what is, possibly in competition with grilled sausages, the national meat dish). It was served with smoked eggplant puree, artichoke hearts, bell pepper jam, and “olive jus,” whatever that is. Not as stellar as the starter, but that was a hard act to follow, and it was still great – the slight gaminess of the meat paired perfectly with the flavor and texture of the smoky eggplant, even though that’s not normally a veggie I find myself seeking out.
I was overstuffed already – the food and two glasses of wine had claimed near all available tummy real estate – but ordered some chocolate mousse, reasoning that this was squishy and would undoubtedly find the unoccupied corners of my stomach. It was fine – nothing to write home about, as so many desserts tend to be at even the best establishments.
After paying my tab, I managed to haul myself across the street for a pint and some live music at one of the local bars to digest a touch before heading back to full-bellied slumber.