Going large in New Zealand's South Island

Chris Carter enjoys the slower pace of life in New Zealand’s South Island.

949_MW_P31_Travel
Kaikoura: stop off for a treat after a coastal walk

The South Island of New Zealand is home to neither the capital (Wellington) nor the biggest city (Auckland). As such, life takes a slower pace here compared with its northern neighbour. That's not to say South Islanders do things on a smaller scale too. Quite the opposite, in fact, as my partner and I found on a visit to the island last November.

The Marlborough wine region, tucked up in the north, is famous for producing some of the world's finest sauvignon blanc. It also produces rather a lot of it 269,411 tonnes last year, accounting for 86.1% of the wine from the region. You don't have to go all the way to New Zealand to try Kiwi sauv blanc. British supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of the stuff.

But there is another varietal that our guide, Nic, from Marlborough Wine Tours (from NZ$110, marlboroughwinetours.co.nz), introduced us to, one that is also popular in the region, and a bit of a local secret riesling. Only 1,877 tonnes of the grapes are grown here, so to try it, you will have to hop on a plane (as if you needed an excuse). I can think of few better ways to while away a few hours after lunch than by dropping in on a bunch of local wineries, such as Framingham, to sample their excellent riesling and compare different styles. Afterwards, Nic returned us to Chateau Marlborough (from NZ$159, marlboroughnz.co.nz), our hotel in Blenheim, the region's largest town, to sleep it all off.

949-Kaikoura-Whale-watching

The wildlife is pretty big too in the South Island or rather, just off it. Kaikoura, located 80 miles to the south of Blenheim, is one of the best places on the planet to see sperm whales all year round, and humpback whales in the winter months (June to August). In fact, with a 95% success rate, tour operator Whale Watch (NZ$150, whalewatch.co.nz) is so confident that you will spot a spouting blowhole amid the surf that they will refund you 80% of the price of your ticket if you don't. Which is why I got most of my money back. Despite getting up before dawn to board the boat, these hulking mammals didn't get the memo. Next time, maybe. Still, I did see a huge seal sunning itself on the beach once back on dry land.

The White Morph hotel (from NZ$148, whitemorph.co.nz), where we stayed, has wide views over the sea. The rooms are spacious, and some of the bathrooms come with a spa bath. There isn't a restaurant, but if you don't fancy making use of the kitchenette in the room, Kaikoura is just a short walk away. It has a lovely pub in The Whaler perfect for a pint before heading to dinner at Zephyr across the road for "contemporary New Zealand cuisine" of local wines, lamb and fish. It was reasonably priced, too. Kaikoura also has wonderful walks along the cliffs and winding through wild meadows, with the vast sea as your backdrop. Just don't forget to stop off at the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ (55 Fyffe Quay), a roadside kiosk, on the way back. The crayfish fritter sandwich makes for a fitting treat after a long walk.

949-travel-Devils_Punchbowl
The Devil's Punchbowl

Back on the road, driving south for another 100 miles, we arrived in Christchurch. At lunchtime, on 22 February 2011, this pocket-sized city was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. Years later the devastation is still visible, not least in the sombre sight of the ruined cathedral. Today, pigeons flap among the silent rafters of the nave that gapes open to the elements, while the stump of the spire is testament to the awesome power of nature in this part of the world. To get a feel of just how much power, we drove into the mountains, thrust up over millions of years by the restless tectonic plates.

A two-hour drive from Christchurch takes you to Arthur's Pass National Park. The road passes through rocky formations, like megalithic sculptures strewn about the landscape, with the snow-tipped peaks of the Southern Alps rising in the distance. Leaving the car behind, we walked the 30 minutes along a trail through achingly beautiful scenery to the magnificent waterfall The Devil's Punchbowl. It's a fitting name. Surrounded by the imposing peaks, the size and roar of the falls is at once an awesome and terrible sight to behold.

Recommended

Friluftsliv: how to embrace the long cold winter
Travel and holidays

Friluftsliv: how to embrace the long cold winter

Do as the Scandinavians do with a little “friluftsliv” – get outside to enjoy this time of year, says Chris Carter.
30 Oct 2020
Forgotten wonders of the world
Travel and holidays

Forgotten wonders of the world

There is plenty to see away from the main tourist trail, says Chris Carter
23 Oct 2020
Get out and enjoy the autumn
Travel and holidays

Get out and enjoy the autumn

It’s the season for hikes among the trees and cosy meals in pubs, says Nicole Garcia Merida.
16 Oct 2020
Travel: a cosy weekend in London at No.5 Maddox St
Travel and holidays

Travel: a cosy weekend in London at No.5 Maddox St

Chris Carter enjoys a city break in London, his home town.
9 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express
Trading

Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express

Bus operator National Express is cheap, robust and ideally placed to ride the recovery. Matthew Partridge explains how traders can play it.
19 Oct 2020
Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19
Share tips

Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19

Professional investor Zehrid Osmani of the Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust, picks three stocks that he thinks should be able to weather the coron…
12 Oct 2020