The Interislander ferry arrived in Picton, and Captain was delighted to see us as we piled into the car and drove off the ramp onto the south island.
We had about an hour drive to Blenheim, where our first order of business was finding food. Our first attempt was at the local brew garden, usually a sure pet-friendly stop, but this one had pointed “no dogs” signs so we headed back to the car. (Granted, Captain isn’t a dog, but adventure cats are still not common enough for most businesses to think about them explicitly.) We found a better reception at Raupo cafe, where we were allowed to sit on the deck. Despite it being mid-march and therefore only early fall, it was already starting to get cold, and we bundled Captain in his deer-hunting sweater, and Jazz in several of the provided blankets.
We checked into a nondescript hotel, had a sleep, and checked out again to go find breakfast. At this point Captain was starting to get a handle on the whole “road trip” thing, and was starting to experiment with other places to ride. Despite our best efforts to get him into his bag, he was beginning to settle on the space behind the rear seats; not the safest for him, but an optimal spot for distracting the driver.
We had a bit of a New Zealand service experience at breakfast. Having the cat, we sat outside. The tables were still wet from the last night’s rain, so we asked the staff if we could borrow a dishtowel, and they said they’d come wipe them down themselves. After a few minutes, and a chat with another family who were just finishing their breakfast in the middle of their own puddle, Jazz took initiative and started squeegeeing the table with the (laminated!) menu they’d given us. This laborious process was mostly finished when the manager came out with a towel, and griped loudly about how we had been disrespectful to her menu. Which, again, laminated, so… ? It was to the point where Jazz offered to pay for the menu, which received another huff. Anyway we felt very welcomed.
The plan for this “extra” day (because of our ferry change) was to visit some wineries, so off we went. We had picked out some stops that were known to be pet friendly, the first of which was Lawson’s Dry Hills. The tasting room staff was super happy to see Captain.
In fact, we would gradually figure out that Captain is actually welcome at all wineries, not least because he looks great on their Instagram pages. We had a great time taking pictures of him at Forrest wines, and he had a pretty good time walking along the vines and sniffing the shrubberies.
Our lunch stop was Wairau River Wines, which also had some great lawn for him to explore.
It also had some pretty excellent scarecrow-kites flying around the grapes, actual big birds of prey! Here’s Andrew getting some video from the far end of the lawn.
We had a nice light lunch, and then Captain got to meet the kitchen staff.
We’d been noticing that all the vines here are very square. This turns out to be because they’re mechanically harvested; here we are passing one of the huge harvesting machines. Also pictured, the new car seat we bought Captain, hoping some extra height would let him see out the window while still feeling a little more safe. Also also pictured: all the places he hung out instead.
We tried to find another tasting room on the way out of town, and ended up at this industrial-looking tank farm. Maybe not quite the scale we were looking for, so we drove on by.
We headed down the coast for a while, before cutting inland and cris-crossing over rivers through some pleasant countryside.
Our home for the night would be a tiny self-contained unit in Waiau. Despite being about 120 square feet, it was quite pleasant, and we got the cat settled in before heading off to dinner.
Dinner, in this case, meant surprisingly good burgers alongside surprisingly bad beer and wine at what seemed to be the only restaurant in town. The highlight was a couple of bar cats who were absolute rulers of their domain.
The next day’s drive featured a coffee stop outside Hanmer Springs, at an adventure shop with great views over a river that looked way too cold for the kind of river rafting people were suiting up to go do.
We got Captain to sit in the new seat about long enough to get to the bridge pictured above. New Zealand has an absolute ton of single-lane bridges. Some of them have better visibility than others, but they’re all marked to indicate right-of-way, and it seems to work out with a minimum of fuss.
Lunch, now in the town of Hanmer Springs, featured another gorgeous backdrop and a lot of attention for the at-this-point-nonplussed cat.
The reason we’d driven this way was to hike up the Mount Isobel track. Andrew found the route very pretty, while Jazz was less impressed, possibly because she was still struggling through her ankle injury.
The view from the top was, you know, fine I guess. As Jazz tirelessly pointed out, this part of New Zealand really doesn’t stack up to the nature in her home state of Washington. “Dry, treeless mountains!”
Captain was having a blast at this point, and really wasn’t interested in sitting still for the camera.
Two highlights from the trail. First, the signage, typically impeccable, with bright orange reflective trail blazes everywhere.
Second, a lot of mushrooms in several varieties. The only one we looked up is the red capped Fly Agaric, whose hallucinogenic properties quickly wear off due to it having killed you. The others are also pretty though.
A very tired Captain resumed his accustomed perch above his car seat.
Always enjoy the updates! Nice to hear about the service issues, which sounds a bit like France from 50 years ago.