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New Zealand Trip Report

Day 6 of 24

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Wednesday, March 6th
Fly to Nelson, Mussel Boys, Antria

We arrived at the airport early, and it was a good thing we did. Apparently, the computer didn't think we'd been on the SFO -> LAX plane, and had therefore cancelled all our remaining flights! The agent at the Air New Zealand desk had to rebook us on all our flights. He did have to change the flight time for a couple legs, but otherwise seemed to have a handle on it. Next time I'll try to call the airline the day before to avoid such hassles.

Technically, we were taking an Air New Zealand Link flight to Nelson. We didn't have to go through metal detectors or put our carry-ons through x-rays, which was nice. It also meant we were boarding a small plane, one which seats just 33 passengers. The plane flew along the west coast of the North Island, providing us with views of volcanoes along the way. We landed at tiny Nelson airport about an hour or so later. There's one ticket counter at the airport, and there was construction going on at the time. They placed our baggage out on the street (there's no baggage carousel).

After grabbing our luggage, we went to the Avis rental counter to find no one there. We picked up the phone there and the agent said he'd be there shortly. A few minutes later, he arrived and rented the car to us. As we were leaving, he hopped in his car and drove away. I guess they're not very busy at the Nelson airport!

We drove along the shore, which reminded me of Santa Cruz for some reason. I guess because there's so much walking area right next to the water. Nelson sits at the northern end of the South Island. We drove through the city and eventually turned inland toward the city of Havelock. Along the way we passed through beautiful forested mountains. Unfortunately, we also saw lots of logging trucks and clear-cut forest. I was surprised by this, not expecting to see clear-cutting in New Zealand. But more on that later.

When we arrived in Havelock, the sign proclaimed "Green-shell mussel capital of the world." That reminded me of something I'd read in one of the guide books, and I immediately started looking for the Mussel Boys restaurant. It didn't take long to find it. The mussels on the roof give it away. We stepped inside to have lunch. It's a very casual restaurant with great food. The waitress comes up and shows you the menu above the bar, where you choose between steamed or grilled mussels in a variety of sauces. I'm not even a fan of mussels, but I tried a plate of grilled mussels and was very impressed. It helps that the mussels are caught and brought to shore about 150 yards from the restaurant. The mussels have green shells because of the purity of water in the region. The restaurant also serves a great ginger beer by Bundaberg. Give it a try if you're there. They also have a restaurant in Kaikoura, down the east coast halfway toward Christchurch.

A plate of mussels at Mussel Boys

After our great meal, we drove on to Blenheim. We stopped at a fruit farm along the way. The man there said a lot of the stuff he grows ends up in America. Jean picked some fruit straight off the tree, and he sold us some fruit dirt cheap, even giving us a discount when we came up a few cents short of exact change. The agent at Avis had said "Auckland's not part of New Zealand," and this farmer agreed with that sentiment. I'm not sure if it's mainly a North Island vs. South Island thing, or more of a country living vs. city slickers contrast. Whatever the reason, the rivalry is there. People on the South Island seemed to be pleased that we were spending most of our time outside of Auckland, which is the only really big city in New Zealand.

Jean picking apples in the orchard

One thing I quickly noticed was that the drivers in New Zealand seem to be really impatient. Even big semis were coming up behind me really fast and either tail gating or passing me. And I was going at or just above the speed limit (which is generally 100 km/h on open roads). Perhaps Kiwis are frustrated drivers because their roads are invariably one lane in each direction (except in/around Auckland), and the roads are clogged by tourists driving camper vans. Whatever the reason, their driving habits contrast sharply with their general laid-back attitude.

It took us a while, but we eventually found Antria, a small bed and breakfast where we were staying for a couple nights in Blenheim. It's run by Kathryne and her husband Phil, in a home they share with their son Andy, their dog, cat, and hundreds of fruit trees. It's a wonderful place to stay. There are just two guest rooms; the other was occupied by a couple of newlyweds, Mickey (Kiwi) and Kelvin (Australian). We sat by the fire, chatting with them, sipping wine which Phil would later apologize for being corked. We didn't even know what corked wine was, but when he gave us an uncorked bottle to taste, we could definitely tell the difference. Apparently the reason they let you taste wine in the restaurant before accepting it is that you're supposed to check if it's corked. Phil complained that maybe 5 or 10 percent of bottles are corked, and it's a problem because many people who get a corked bottle don't know it's corked -- they just think it's bad wine and never buy it again. He said plastic corks would fix this, and are starting to appear on some wines.

Our room at Antria

We drove to Gibb's restaurant at Cairnbrae Winery for dinner. The food was excellent. I had Anatoki salmon, while Jean had monk fish and tomato salad. The desserts especially were great; Jean had strawberries and I had roasted peaches.


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