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Seals on the foreshore rocks at Kaikoura.
I love this picture.

The smug self-satisfaction that permeates the remarks I made about L&P in my last posting has been expunged in one fell swoop by no other than the redoubtable Keith Johnson (of Linda Grierson fame), who has written to tell me that you can get L&P in Tesco.

I do not, however, believe this ludicrous assertion.  I need photographic evidence.  I need a picture of Keith and/or Linda - or any other non-kiwi truckshunter - holding a bottle or can of the precious nectar before I give it any credence at all.

The ball’s in your court, Mr Johnson...

* * *
As I was doing my campervan’s dump the next morning at Fairlie (that’s what they call cleaning out its unmentionable bits), I was intrigued to notice this sign.
The rules (and techniques) of pétanque

It was the first evidence I had of the popularity of pétanque in New Zealand.  I’ve since discovered that it’s played with such joie-de-vivre and elan that there are school and adult pétanque leagues and everyone with any pretence to be a true kiwi owns at least one set of pétanque boules from the age of 5 upwards (along with a rugby ball).

I’ve no idea why this should be so.  Although the French did try to get a foothold in New Zealand, they made a complete dog’s breakfast of it, as I was to find out later.  Perhaps kiwi enthusiasm for pétanque is the only reminder that there were ever any French settlers in New Zealand at all...

* * *
I called in to see Geraldine.  Which sounds as if I’d decided to pay social calls on sheep or goats - or perhaps some previously elusive kiwi truckshunteress.  But no - Geraldine was a typically pretty New Zealand ‘frontier-style’ sheep town.  With one gloriously unique attraction - the world’s largest jersey.

This picture of it is from the internet because, when I called in, the shop was closed so I didn’t see it - which was excruciatingly disappointing, especially as I also missed the mediaeval mosaic (‘made out 15 million pieces’) that comes with it.

As I sat outside the deserted premises which houses these treasures, munching on a Chicken Korma Pie, I fell to wondering whether my unsavoury - and even unclean - thoughts about the apparent shortage of things to do in Geraldine could possible be true.

* * *
But I couldn’t linger.  I was determined to investigate a neglected aspect of kiwi history that day:  the settlement attempt which, had it succeeded, would have meant I was travelling in Nouvelle Zelande and struggling with my schoolboy French the way I do when I visit Beaujolais or Paris.

In 1840 some French settlers set sail from Rochefort with the idea of establishing a whaling centre on the Banks Peninsula of South Island but the British would have none of it.  New Zealand was promptly proclaimed part of the Empire, although the French were generously allowed to settle at Akaroa.  Which is where I headed from Geraldine.

* * *
The Banks Peninsula  is celebrated throughout New Zealand and elsewhere, for its surpassing, almost dreamlike, beauty.  (It's named after English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who has the double privilege of having banksias (the plants) named after him.)

This is the first view you get of it as you cross the crest of the hill.

Isn’t it lovely?

As I travelled round the shoreline to Akaroa, I discovered that one of the bays you can see in the photograph is called Robinson’s Bay, which only goes to show...

Akaroa was worth the journey.  It sits in its own, wide, horse-shoe bay which is lined with public gardens and benches to sit on and admire the view.  There are only a few streets and most of them - as you can see - retain their French names.  The police are the 'gendarmerie' and petrol is 'essence'.  I couldn't find anybody at all who spoke French, though.  Quelle dommage.

I sat on the foreshore for an hour or so watching teenagers kicking a rugby ball around on the ‘domain’ - the kiwi word for a public park. 

(All towns and villages have a domain - even mighty Wellington and Auckland.  And all kiwi kids - and I mean all - mess around in them with rugby balls.  The game is a true obsession in New Zealand - much, much more than soccer is in England.  Several times I saw a couple of people jogging together - and passing a rugby ball between them as they ran.)

Akaroa was too good to leave so I decided to spend the night there...

* * *
My target the next day was the coastal village of Kaikoura, which has a special place in the affections of anyone who wants to go whale-watching and dolphin-spotting.  It’s said that these wonderful creatures obligingly leap out of the waters off Kaikoura almost to order and bask in all the gasps of wonder and amazement that their appearances always cause.
I gazed out to sea from this clifftop look-out for over two hours and what did I see? (as the song goes) - I saw the sea.  Its almost flat-calm gentleness remained undisturbed by any creature at all.  Not even a duck, let alone a dolphin.  Whales?  Yeah right....

(The picture, by the way, was taken by Marge and Dude from Texas - no kidding.  They said that New Zealand truly had it all - but that Texas had more of it.  I smiled as warmly as I could whilst secretly loathing Marge's clumsy slap and Dude's hideous tartan golf trousers.)

Kaikoura was a lovely place to be though.  The mountain back-drop to the open bay was stunning and I did manage to be completely ignored by a few sleepy seals on the pebble beach and rocks below.

Unfortunately, though, it was Kaikoura Party Weekend.  As I left the town, busloads of noisy drunken teenagers were starting to arrive, waving their knickers and underpants out of bus and car windows.  As I headed northwards, Kaikoura was beginning to have a regrettable touch of Saturday-night Sunderland about it.

* * *
So I spent the night in Blenheim, up the near the top of South Island.  The town was acceptably dull and the campsite was quiet.  And I had time to contemplate the missing whales and my ferry journey the next day across the Cook Strait to the North Island.

* * *
Picton - the ferry’s point of departure - was lovely.  Its one pleasantly scrappy main street - a feature of kiwi towns I was beginning to recognise - was lined with craft shops, greengrocers, retailers of tractor spare parts, cafes and outdoor clothes shops.  A lovely harbour garden looks out to the ferry terminal.  I sat here and wondered if the ferry I could see was mine.
It was.
 Leaving Picton.
It was soon after I took this picture that Whetu serenaded me - and I saw my Wandering Albatross, as well as a flock of Fluttering Shearwaters, some Diving Petrel and some Buller’s Shearwaters.

* * *
I’d planned to do so much in Wellington, New Zealand’s up-and-coming capital city.  Visit the zoo and botanical gardens, have a ride on the funicular railway, have a look at Te Papa, the brand-new National Museum of New Zealand (of which all kiwis are immensely proud). 

But my experience so far had shown me quite definitely that my plans, made poring over maps and guide-books with a steaming posset and an iced finger back home in Newcastle, were hopelessly unrealistic.  Campervans just don’t go that fast, specially if their drivers keep wanting to stop and look at something...

So I headed off the ferry and due north on the main road out of Wellington, the kiwi equivalent of the A1, which winds up and up through the mountains on a truly terrifying switchback route - with the sheer drop into the gorges far below on my side of the road.

I was absolutely petrified as I drove higher and higher around tighter and tighter hairpin bends and had to stop at the other end to recover with a revitalising flat white and a chocolate honey caramel pecan shortbread slice - served to me by Dawn, whose great-grandparents had emigrated from ‘somewhere called Aylesbury’.

She congratulated me on having crossed the mountains unscathed and suggested that what I needed was peace, calm and tranquillity.  ‘Go to Martinborough’, she said.  So I did - and she was right.  It was lovely.
 From the pretty central square in Martinborough.
Its founder laid its streets out in the form of the Union Jack!

Distance travelled so far:  14,720m / 23,689km


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