Tuesday, 25 June 2019

We're Back in the South Island- Blenheim; Part 1


Our first night in the South Island was spent parked beside a vineyard, on the side of a river and all by ourselves. It was good to back.

Damfam Vineyard
But first we had to cross Cook Strait. It rained for much of the night and with a 9am sailing and 13kms to travel from Petone in the morning rush hour, we were pleased when we were ready to leave ahead of schedule. There was a moment of panic though when we found the exit gate at the Workingmen's Club locked. Luckily we were able to squeeze the rig around the sharp corner of the building and exit through the entry gate which was open. In typical Evans style we were first in the queue at the closed gate just before 7am. And first in line to board (although they took the row beside us first).

With a winter storm behind us and another one forecast ahead of us, I had picked a small window of calm weather to cross and thankfully my careful scanning of wind warnings and wave height predictions proved correct and we had a very smooth crossing even though it rained all the way. The mist hung low over the hills as we cruised down Queen Charlotte Sound and when I did venture outside just to check I wasn't missing anything, a pod of dolphins surfaced nearby and rode the wake for a short time! Great timing.

We took the Interislander Lounge Plus option ($45pp) for the second time, which we're finding is a great way to travel. All food & drink is free (we had breakfast, morning tea & lunch), there's a comfy lounge, free wifi and no children. The cost is not much more than we'd spend anyway because we usually purchase breakfast and a coffee.

From Picton we drove the short distance to Damfam Vineyard (CAP #7011) on the banks of  Wairau River near Blenheim. 

We were the only ones staying and it was a lovely peaceful start to our South Island travels. The cooler morning temperatures also reminded us of the cold winter ahead.

 I was also pleased to be back 'Out There' in the open shooting magnificent sunsets again.

We were thrilled to see a bird feeding platform beside the vineyard & not too far from the van. Our hosts feed the local hawks regularly over winter and occasionally during summer to encourage them to stay and scare off the small birds that feed on the grapes during the season. 

Australasian Hawks/Kahu are notoriously shy and are often very hard to get close up photos of. I was able to sneak up on them a couple of times as they were otherwise occupied. They also didn't like eating off the high platform, in the wild it's safer for them to eat on the ground and they can also hide from other birds after their food. Occasionally they'd manage to pull pieces off the carcass and carry it off to the long grass or between the rows of vines to eat.

I followed the Wairau River down to the end of the road where it flows into a huge lagoon and crosses the Wairau Bar into Cloudy Bay. Alongside the track the rusting hull of the TSS Kennedy (1864-1929) provides a good lookout for the local flock of Pied Shags/Kawau. The Kennedy was scuttled to form part of the breakwater for what was once a wharf; rotting piles are now all that's left.

I walked to the end of the breakwater and onto the rocks and was amazed at the amount of water flowing out to sea. I'm not a fan of rushing water and here was no exception. It was very scary watching how fast it was travelling, swirling around in angry pools and catching on the rocks just below me before rushing out over the bar.

Next I went to check out the mouth of the Wairau Diversion which was completed in 1963 to help with Wairau River's flood control. The Diversion carries the water directly across country to the sea whereas the river meanders for several kilometres before it reaches the Bar. There's a large freedom camping site at the Diversion and during the whitebait season the area is full of seasoned campers.

As I was leaving the reserve I spotted alot of activity out in the middle of the river. A large flock of shags; I counted at least 30, were swimming downstream, ducking and diving, chasing & fighting their way very fast towards the outlet. 

They were chasing a school of fish (they look like yellow-eyed mullet) and nearly everytime a shag surfaced it had a large fish in it's bill. And if it didn't it chased its neighbour across the water for his. These are not good photos, I was quite a distance from the birds and they were moving very fast in the flow but look at the photo bottom left, 3 birds with a fish each and one shag behind chasing fast.

Back on the main road at Tuamarina is a memorial and information board in a road side reserve. In 1843 a nortorious & tragic incident occured here. Known as The Wairau Affray or The Wairau Incident it was the first significant armed conflict between Maori & British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Twenty two Europeans (18 killed as utu after surrendering) and four Maori were killed in the conflict. Click on the photo to enlarge if you wish to read about the incident.

Afterwards I crossed the road and drove up to the cemetery on the hill above the memorial to find another memorial to some of those killed (I'm not sure if they are buried here). Be warned if you do visit, it's a tiny narrow road with a couple of  sharp corners & not suitable for anything other than a car. The multi layered cemetery itself must be one of the most well tended and tidy cemeteries I've visited, it also has a stunning outlook over the farmland and vineyards below and out to the coast.

I found another interesting memorial opposite the primary school at the bottom of the hill as I left the cemetery. Beside the memorial were a couple of bench seats where people could sit quietly or perhaps read a book, very fitting considering Eileen Duggan was a poet & writer. It's always interesting finding out where New Zealand's famous sons & daughters have come from. Not that I'd heard of Eileen before seeing the memorial, but then it's fun to learn of their history.

The Tides Run Up The Wairau – Eileen Duggan 

The tides run up the Wairau 
That fights against their flow. 
My heart and it together 
Are running salt and snow. 

For though I cannot love you, 
Yet, heavy, deep, and far, 
Your tide of love comes swinging, 
Too swift for me to bar. 

Some thought of you must linger, 
A salt of pain in me 
For oh what running river 
Can stand against the sea? 

After a pleasant few days at Damfam Vineyard we headed off towards Kaikoura, keen to drive SH1 for the first time since it had reopened after repairs following the devastating November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. 

We did have to pull over for a photo stop just south of Blenheim though. The last few times we have passed by this historic Cob Cottage it has been surrounded by scaffolding as it was painted (it survived the earthquake undamaged). The cottage was built between 1854 & 1868 for the local Riverlands runholder and has been used as a farm cottage, shearers’ quarters, school, a store room and hay shed during its lifetime.

To be continued...


  1. As a local this is good reading. Great photos (even the shags feeding). I agree about the cemetery road and wonder how the elderly have the courage to drive up there. I did not know about the Eileen Duggan seat and will stop there next time I bike out that way. Thanks Shellie.

    1. Thanks for commenting Chris, I'm pleased you enjoyed the tiki-tour around your little place in the world.

  2. Another wonderful read. We have only been to SI once and only for 4wks, but how I loved it and dream, of going back for a longer period of time. So enjoy reading your posts -thank you for all your effort.

    1. Many thanks for you lovely comment, it makes all the hard work worthwhile knowing that there are people out there enjoying the blog.


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