Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Great Kiwi Road Trip: Part II, Episode III

*A.K.A  “Seals and Poaching” (but not Poaching Seals, because that would be cruel.)

Just a warning to the seal-averse (the animal, not the “Kiss from a Rose” guy): this post is going to contain a lot of seal-related material.

Like, a LOT of seals.

Sh-t loads of seals.

Ready? Let’s do this.

We have just finished the final leg of our Great Kiwi Road Trip (Part Deux) in our camper van Chunk. (A side note, every time I type camper van Chunk, I imagine Chunk to be Dutch and van Chunk is his family name.) I have to say, we are pretty sad to say goodbye to Mr. van Chunk and to New Zealand in general. We loved it there and are already planning to go back, preferably when it will be a little warmer.

Since I’m all about themes for this road trip, this past week can be summed up with wine, seals and a little semi-illegal mollusk fishing.

From Southland, where I last left you, we moved up the west coast- creatively named Westland- before we looped around the north of the South Island and headed back down the east coast (surprisingly not called Eastland). 

On the way, we stopped to hike, eat and drink, and of course, camp. By now you are probably bored with me waxing poetic about New Zealand’s stunning landscapes, so I won’t go too far into it. Rest assured that the entire South Island is incredibly beautiful and as varied in flora and fauna as every other part of the country.

This is a color photo of a foggy, gray morning. Suck it, Amsel Adams...
Fox Glacier
Again, something out of an Indiana Jones movie
The first highlight along the way was a pit stop in the Marlborough region, known for its delicious white wines.  You know how much we love our wine and how much fun we had biking buzzed from winery to winery in Argentina, so we decided to do the same thing in the little wine village of Renwick. Granted, New Zealand drivers are a little more relaxed than Argentine drivers, so we didn’t get the same element of danger so present during our Mendoza tour, but the upside was that we got to visit more wineries this time around and were too wined-up to get an adrenaline rush anyway. 

The next day, we nursed our hangovers with a dose of cuteness by visiting a seal colony on a beach a few hours away. At our campsite in Marlborough, the wonderful old lady who ran the site told us about a place along the coast where the baby fur seals leave their mothers on the beach and go up a stream to play in a waterfall. It sounded too freaking adorable to be true-  like if she had told us about a magical wonderland where puppies ride unicorns-  so we assumed she was exaggerating.

Well dear readers, I can tell you that such a place exists and it was the cutest thing ever. So cute in fact that Vincent and I sat for a good hour and a half next to that waterfall, watching around 50 seal pups swimming and jumping and splashing and spinning and climbing up the waterfall only to slide back down again. Pictures don’t do it justice, so, for the first time in this blog’s history, I am embedding a video.

I challenge you to come up with something cuter than baby seals playing in a waterfall.  A cute-off, if you will. I mean come on, look at those little faces! They’re so cute I want to punch something.

Still high on adorableness, we continued down the coast to hike around near the massive fur seal colony in Kaikoura. I have nothing more to say about seals except I love them. All of them. 

After two straight days of seals, we had to say our final goodbyes to them and head back to Christchurch for our flight to Australia. As a last hurrah in New Zealand, we camped on the coast- just Vincent, Chunk and me- with nothing between us and the Pacific but a rocky beach (and, I admit it, a couple of seals- we just couldn’t tear ourselves away). 

During our last walk along the rocky coastline, Vincent noticed some local mollusks, called Paua, clinging to the underside of a small boulder in the water. We had learned about Paua from a woman who ran a seafood shack on the beach nearby.  We were admiring some opalescent shells on her counter and she explained that the animal that lived in the shells, the Paua, was an inky mollusk with thick, steak-like meat that has the same texture and taste as squid. 

The seafood shack
Polished Paua shells
What she didn’t tell us, however, was what the fishing restrictions of the animal were, so later, as Vincent pried the shells off the rock with a butter knife, I nervously hopped from foot to foot, worrying that someone would see us doing something illegal. I know, I’m such a rebel.


We brought the shells back to Chunk and fried them up, having absolutely no idea how to cook them. The result was actually pretty good. They were meaty, a little chewy and tasted a lot like squid steaks. We were pretty proud to have sampled a local delicacy all by ourselves, even if we may have broken a law or two.

After a month there, it was time to leave New Zealand and move on to the next destination. Our departure was bittersweet, as our departures from countries always are. We had so much fun driving and camping around this beautiful country. Of course, nearly every part of this entire trip has been fun, but our memories of New Zealand are some of our best: days spent driving wherever we wanted and stopping wherever we pleased, picnicking on the beach, hiking through stunning landscapes; nights spent relaxing with a hot tea or a glass of wine in Chunk, camping under clear, star-filled skies, watching Lord of the Rings snuggled up under our comforters in the exact place the films were made. We had a blast and can’t wait to get back.

We are now in Sydney to start our Australian adventure, which includes two weeks of volunteering on a pecan farm that has a café and bed and breakfast. So this time, instead of blogging about “Nueces!”, I’ll be blogging about pecans. 

But until then, I leave you with a photo of our last moments with Chunk.

Peace out, big guy. 

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