First off, I opened my Instagram this morning to find this picture of home baked ANZAC cookies on Jamie Oliver’s page in honour of ANZAC day, which was apparently yesterday in Australia and New Zealand! For people who like crunchy oatmeal cookies with coconut, these probably look pretty tasty! Happy ANZAC day, yesterday!
Now, back to my regularly scheduled programming…
After two weeks in New Zealand, we finally made it to the South Island. Our cruise ship departed Wellington, sailed Cook Strait back out into the Pacific, and down to the port of Picton, Marlborough Sounds.
When we originally booked the cruise over a year ago, the itinerary included one day in Picton and then one day in Kaikoura. Unfortunately, in November last year, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the south island near Kaikoura. We were informed shortly before our cruise that Kaikoura and the surrounding roads are not yet ready for the volume of tourists that normally descend on the town, so we would in fact being staying overnight in Picton and spending the better part of two days in this teeny town. We hadn’t scheduled any excursions in Picton. Most of the Marlborough Sounds day trips included wine tasting and lunch at a winery. Since we aren’t drinkers, we opted out. At the time of scheduling, we figured we would want some down time anyway. However, in actuality, the unexpected stormy sea day had given us plenty of down time and by the time we disembarked the ship, we were ready to explore. Well, the weather was questionable, and the actual town of Picton is really small. We were hungry for a decent lunch off the ship. We walked around exploring ALL the options and finally came upon a little bed & breakfast. Escape to Picton is off the beaten path and just lovely. We stopped into the hotel restaurant for lunch.
I’m quite sure these were the prettiest meals I have ever seen, and eaten. The produce was fresh and delicious. Honestly, the garlic bread was amazing, thick slices of homemade bread soaked in butter and topped with fresh garlic. I cannot duplicate that goodness at home. I guess we’ll be going back to Picton! I wondered about the name of my chicken, but forgot to ask about its significance (more on that later).
After lunch we decided to further explore Picton. We walked across a little bridge and over to the harbour and checked out all the beautiful boats. On the other side of the harbour carpark, we noticed a trailhead, so we decided to be adventurous. There were numerous trails branching off, but most were mountain biking trails, we didn’t want to have to contend with bikes, so we stuck to the walking trail. I was really hoping the trail was going to take us high with some vistas of the Marlborough Sounds. Unfortunately, however, we walked and walked and walked and never left lower ground. It was a good hike after all and ended at The Port of Waikawa. While we were on the bush trail, sun and blue skies came out to greet us, another reason I wanted those spectacular views from up high, but it wasn’t to be. We stopped into a local pub with a view of the harbour and grabbed a drink while catching our breath after the four mile trail walk.
It turns out, we could have spent days and days in the Picton area and not conquered all the lovely hikes and bush walks available.
When we returned to the ship it was mid afternoon. The weather was gorgeous and the sky was so blue. We decided to call a local tour company to see if they could quickly take us on a private excursion to some of the lookout points on the Marlborough Sounds. Unfortunately, the tour company was all booked up with cruise excursions, but they offered to take us the next morning. We knew the weather wasn’t going to be as beautiful, but we jumped at the chance anyway.
I think the below pictures are proof that cloudy, gray skies can be beautiful too. I have to believe this since I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. If I didn’t believe that clouds are beautiful, and rain is my friend, I would probably need to leave my beautiful home.
Our tour guide showed up promptly at 11:00am the next morning to the scheduled meeting point, Picton i-SITE (Visitor Information Centre). She introduced herself… and I could have sworn I heard her say her name is Juliearna, but then I thought surely she said Juliana. She was a bit frenetic in her manner and presentation and proceeded to explain to us that all her vans/drivers were on excursions to the wine country, but she had really wanted to give us this private tour so we didn’t miss out on the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds from Picton. I asked her to say her name again and sure enough, it is Juliearna. I asked if she has a dish named for her at the escape to Picton restaurant and she said yes, she named it after herself! Not only is Juliearna the owner of the tour company, but she is also the owner of the lovely bed & breakfast (and other inns in town), AND she is the executive chef of the restaurant we ate lunch at the day before. Talk about a small town and a busy multi-talented Irish-Kiwi woman!!!
Juliearna was a wonderful tour guide (of course) and promptly showed us everything we had missed out on the day before. We probably spent more time talking than actually sight seeing, what an interesting lady. First she took us to the lookout point we missed on our walk the day before. There on the left is our cruise ship docked in Picton.
We then drove past Waikawa Harbour and off to another lookout, Karaka Point.
We then drove back around Picton and Blue Eyes took one of his favored panoramas including the cruise ship.
Juliearna dropped us back in town at the Visitor’s Centre and I decided we needed one more thing from Picton before our ship set out for destinations further south… a PIZZA.
After another rough night at sea, we anchored out in the Akaroa Bay. This is the one port at which we had scheduled an excursion not associated with the cruise ship. The only problem with this is that if there is a problem with the excursion, you have to rely on the tour company to contact you. When booking through the cruise, you are always kept apprised of every eventuality and refunds are quick and painless. At this point we knew the seas at Akaroa were rough, but we had not received any notice from our tour company that our excursion had been canceled. We took the tender over to the port only to find out at that our Akaroa harbour cruise had been canceled due to weather. This left us in the little town of Akaroa all day with nothing to do… and then it started raining.
Once again, this is a beautiful spot in a gorgeous country and so we were certainly prepared to make the most of our short stay. We shopped for souvenirs (and I found a bunch of fun stuff for the beach house including The Akaroa Cooking School Cookbook) and then we stopped in for a New Zealand hot chocolate at a little cafe.
The town of Akaroa has an interesting history with both French and British influences still present today. We stopped into Sweet As Bakery cafe and with a nod to the British, we ordered a meat pie, and with a nod to the French, we ordered a savoury crepe. We also grabbed a baguette to bring back to the ship with us.
We ended up walking the entire length of the town. Right in front of the port is an area of shops and cafes, restaurants, art galleries and a boutique hotel or two, but we were told to keep walking around the bay and there you come upon another little area of town with lots and lots of restaurants, parks, monuments, more shops, and residential houses.
After lunch we walked back through town and around to the Akaroa Lighthouse.
We then embarked on a little forest walk that took us back around the top side of town and eventually out into the bulk of the residential neighborhoods.
We spotted lots of plants and beautiful trees, and even this olive tree.
During our time in New Zealand, pretty much from the day we arrived, we spotted dozens and dozens of New Zealand Campervans. Camping and hiking throughout New Zealand is a very popular tourist thing to do. A good portion of the more noticeable varieties of camper vans were Mystery Machine themed with Scooby Doo scenes painted all over them.
Some were a little more old school. Some were obviously custom painted and had seen many a campsite in their day.
I think the most unique camper van we saw in New Zealand, however, was parked on the streets of Akaroa.
Needless to say, we fell in love with Akaroa. What a gorgeous little town. We finally had our fill and headed back to the ship by way of a very choppy tender ride.
As our ship was departing Akaroa, I was a bit melancholy that we had been unable to take our harbour cruise out to see the little Hector’s Dolphins, which are only found in New Zealand and are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. But as I stood there (again, my favorite time of day on a cruise ship… leaving port), I spotted a little dolphin right alongside the ship, swimming along, even with our balcony. Then I saw more, a little further from the ship. I was so overwhelmed, by the time I grabbed my phone, they were too far away to get a good photo. That’s okay though, because I don’t really need a photo to remember the experience by. It brought tears to my eyes. We have friends who actually kayaked in this area right alongside those little Hector’s Dolphins. That is now on my bucket list. Another very good reason to return to New Zealand, and specifically Akaroa.
I know from experience that dolphins like to swim alongside boats in general, but even big cruise ships. When we were on the infamous Panama Canal cruise just weeks post dday, I was out in our tub on the balcony enjoying some alone time and an entire pod of dolphins was swimming alongside, talking and jumping and playing. What an amazing spectacle. I could have sat there for a lifetime watching them.
But alas, time marches on and we keep moving through life, me forever hoping for just a glimpse of a dolphin, or a sea turtle. Life is a beautiful thing.