Rocks, Sheep, and Raindrops. The South Island In Three Days


We left the Marlborough area, Blenheim, and headed south on SH1. The hills were dry and it looked a lot like parts of California. We had what turned out to be an overly aggressive driving agenda for the next few days, but we did complete it. I would have preferred more down time, and an extra day or two in places, but we did not have that flexibility.


So our first day was driving from Blenheim to Christchurch. On the map, and with GPS, it should have taken about 5 ½ hours. But due to the major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, there was quite a bit of road damage that was still being repaired and it took longer than expected. We had many stops with flaggers and one way traffic.


SH1 starts out inland, then hugs the coast south towards Kaikoura. We spotted dolphins and at one construction spot had the chance to jump out of the car and photograph sea lions and their babies playing in the waters just between the highway and the shore.




Christchurch is still recovering from the earthquake from nine years ago. We walked the downtown area where the city is rebuilding. The cathedral, the one old building still standing, has not been repaired yet due to disagreements within the community. Many of the older buildings came down and were a total loss.



There is a lot of construction downtown Christchurch with a new convention center and more. They still have the trolley and green spaces and parks, but many buildings have trusses and many have not been rebuilt. The college looked mostly undamaged. We toured the Christchurch botanical gardens and the museum.




The museum had a special exhibition, Dogs In Antarctica, Tales From The Pack which I wanted to see. Unfortunately, most of the stories of exploration dogs do not have a happy ending, and we walked out feeling emotionally drained and disappointed with humanity.


dogs 2

After only one evening and one morning to tour Christchurch, we set off again on SH1 southbound towards Dunedin. The roads were in better shape and we made better time on this portion. We stopped in Oamaru for some shopping and snacks, and then continued on to Moeraki, a popular tourist stop.



The Moeraki boulders are on the tourist map, and it was a nice walk down to the beach to view them and a pleasant walk on the beach.




In Oamaru we had met some local guys, Frank and Peter, and they suggested that if we liked fresh fish we must have dinner at Fleurs Place. It is just across the bay at the end of a small winding road. We found it and had the freshest fish yet, thoroughly enjoying the meal and the view.





Coming into Dunedin, our destination was Larnach Castle. We were staying in the guest house, Camp Estate. We drove through town and around the Otago Peninsula, following a winding road with spectacular views. The castle is near the top of the peninsula, overlooking both the town of Dunedin to the west and the coastline to the east.



We pulled into Camp Estate just before sundown. Checking in, the receptionist said there was a sheep trail along the ridge behind the estate, and if we hurried we would see the castle before the fog rolled in and obscured the view. We dropped our bags and literally sprinted out the back and up the hill. We were glad we did as the view was beautiful and the sheep were curious and talkative. We caught a quick glimpse of the top of the castle for about 30 seconds before the fog rolled in.



sunset fog



The following day we toured the castle and its gardens, and downtown Dunedin. The views from the castle were beautiful and the gardens were lovely. The tile fireplaces in the castle rooms made me envious, and the piano in the music room was marked with a sign reading “Pianists we invite you to play this piano”.  That is unusual, and if my friend Augie had been there, he would have stayed to play all day.  I would have liked to stay longer in this area. The scenery reminded me of Oregon, much greener than the drive between Blenheim and Christchurch.





L at castle







The Dunedin Railway Station (1873 – 1906)


RR station interior 2

RR station interior


Continuing our fast paced road trip, after lunch in downtown Dunedin we drove southwest on SH1 until we intersected SH8. We saw more farming areas, to include sheep and elk. The elk were behind a high fence, so they must have been farm raised for meat.




We ran into rain and high winds, but we carried on, sometimes crossing over one lane bridges. We were told that the area east of Queenstown was known for its Pinot Noir. We only had time to stop at one tasting room before the 5 o’clock hour hit and most closed. When we finally entered Queenstown we had the rain, high winds, rush hour traffic and temps in the 50s. It did not inspire much outdoor walking or touring activities.


Three days of driving from Marlborough to Queenstown was overly ambitious. It would have been better to cover less ground and spend more time exploring. But you live and learn, and I learned that I would like to return to the Dunedin area. One of the other guests at Camp Estate raved about a wildlife tour they had enjoyed, seeing a pod of killer whales, albatross and penguins. We will have to return for that.

We spent one night in Queenstown, and then returned our trusty diesel rental vehicle (which got very good gas mileage) and flew on Air New Zealand back to Auckland. Speaking with the very friendly and talkative local people, many ask how long we were staying. Two weeks is quite short, and many locals said you would need two months to do both islands justice.


harbour in the rain

Luckily, we had three nights stay in Auckland to decompress from the long drives and relax a bit.  It rained the first 24 hours of our Auckland stay, the first rain they’d had since Christmas, we were told.


In Auckland we did the typical tourist sights to include the Maritime Museum (which we liked), the Sky Tower (which we could have missed) and the water front.









We found a stellar restaurant, Harbourside Ocean Bar and Grill, located in the old ferry building on the waterfront. I had some of the best fish chowder that I have ever had and we tried several new to us Sauvignon Blancs, Triplebank was one, and a wonderful Pinot Noir from Nelson, Falcon Ridge.


stained glass

fish chowder

For our final full day in the Auckland area, we took a ferry out to Waiheke Island.

This entry was posted in Food and Wine, New Zealand. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Rocks, Sheep, and Raindrops. The South Island In Three Days

  1. augie's says:

    Very nice blog post. Great photos of the castle in the fog. Would have loved to have played the piano.

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