Join the Smart family from New Plymouth as they take a trip of a life time to the South Island.
After three years of planning and budgeting we were pulling out of the drive-way on our micro South Island holiday. I was quite nervous, as all I had been allowed to book, was the ferry and it was the September school holidays.
We camped at relatives in Waikanae, Wellington. Overnight I was worse than the children. I was sooooo excited. Our holiday was about to begin. Our children, Kate 12½ and Alex 9½ had never been on the ferry. Both were a little nervous of the unknown. Many horror stories had been told about rough crossings and we were all hoping for smooth seas. Lucky for us, that’s what we got.
The trip across the strait involved games of noughts and crosses, connect the dots, the gaming room, hot chips and numerous walks around the ship. We got off the ferry at Picton and drove to Blenheim. It was hard to believe we were in the South Island! We arrived in Blenheim exhausted and grateful to finally stop travelling. We ate tea and fell into bed and slept!.
I had loosely drawn up an itinerary. After a day spent with friends, we went to Kaikoura. The highlight of our trip was Wings over Whales. Yes you read right – an aeroplane ride. Our children had never been on a plane and nerves crept in.
We spent the night in a beautiful Top 10 Holiday Park. We had what is termed a Motel Unit and were very impressed. We treated ourselves to a spa. Alex loved the fact we had full Sky television (something we don’t have at home!)
Whale Watching in Kaikoura
The next day dawned beautiful and clear. We were so lucky as the weather hadn’t been very co-operative the day before.
On our arrival at the Airport our pilot, Monique, took us through the safety procedures and explained about the habitat of the whales and what species we were likely to see. She added that we would be lucky to see one whale and in the case of none, she would extend our trip by a further 15 minutes. Talk over, it was time to hit the sky.
Above picture Flying high above the whales and dolphins as they swim through the blue waters near Kaikoura. Awesome sight for both young and old.
Kate sat in the co-pilot seat, which was exciting. We were lucky as our family were the only passengers on the plane. This meant that we all sat along one side and it made it easier when she circled the whales, as she didn’t have to turn both directions.
Another family had been before us and Monique had an idea of where the whales might be.
Within minutes of being air borne we spotted our first whale. It was magnificent. I was so enthralled that I forgot to take photos at first. This was a wonderful experience.
The pilot radioed the boats that were out and within minutes one arrived. It was mind blowing to think that the boat was 18 metres long and the whale was as long as the boat!
We got to see the whale dive and then we went looking again. She turned to another heading and within minutes we found our second whale. The whales spend 45 minutes underwater and only 10 minutes above. We got our 10 minutes worth!!
We circled around and around which unfortunately made the stomach very squirmy. It was amazing to see the whale dive.
Time went very quickly and she turned to another heading and showed us a massive pod of dolphins. There must have been between 200-300 of them leaping and splashing about. I just stared in awe and forgot about the camera. We suddenly banked away and headed back to the airport. Our journey had run out of time.
This was a wonderful experience and we would thoroughly recommend it. The staff were wonderful and patient with the children and couldn’t have been more helpful.
“In a typical 30 minute flight you will see the majestic Sperm Whale preparing for his next dive and up to 500 Dusky Dolphins cavorting with each other. On occasion sightings include Southern Right, Humpback, Fin, Sei, Brydes, Pilot, Southern Bottlenose and the mighty Blue Whales, and also Common, Hectors, Risso’s and Southern Right Whale Dolphins and of course, Orca, although these are all less frequent visitors to the area.”
We drove back to Blenheim exploring:- The Maori Leap Cave, Seal Colony and Lake Grassmere Salt Works along the way.
We spent the next two days with our friends and visited the chocolate factory. We enjoyed watching the chocolate being made and tasting it. It was quite expensive to purchase, but well worth it.
We went to Picton and explored the Aquarium. This was an amazing place. Quite expensive to initially enter but you could come and go for the entire day. We saw an Octopus being hand fed and a variety of other sea creatures close up.
Moving on to Nelson
The next phase of our journey was Nelson. We caught up with more friends in Richmond and journeyed up and over to Takaka. This was slow and steep travelling but breathtaking views.
Labyrinth Rocks, Takaka
A visit to Labyrinth Rocks in Takaka is a must. The 2 kilometres of easy pathways (not suitable for prams, etc) was a gentle walk for everyone to enjoy. Bush covered, incredible rock formations with a natural maze through limestone canyons, tunnels and archways.” We were given a quick talk, handed a map and left to explore. There were dinosaurs, snakes, goblins, dwarves, spiders and many more surprises to find.
Bencarri Nature Park & Café, Takaka
Bencarri Nature Park is also worth a visit while you are in Takaka. Home of the Anatoki Eels since 1914. Animals ranging from Ilamas, yaks and emus to horses, piglets and rabbits. We had wonderful fun feeding the eels. Alex and Kate also got to feed a piglet and a kid goat. A lovely place to explore.
I have to give a special mention to Hot Momma’s in Motueka. It is a lovely café, close to the Top 10 Camping Ground, where we enjoyed dinner. They have a great children’s menu and wide variety for the adults. We chose pizza for two and were impressed. “Charles” the resident cat spent the evening alongside Alex and lapped up any attention sent his way including a sliver of chicken.
We headed back to Blenheim via St Arnaud. We visited Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes. It would have been a beautiful place on a nice sunny day. Like most of our trip it was cold, and blowing a gale but we made the most of it.
Back in Blenheim, we turned on the news to find out that a massive storm was lashing Wellington. Ferries had been cancelled and the airport was closed. We were sitting in sunshine with a cold wind. We were nervous about whether we would have a rough crossing back to the North Island.
We spent the last day of our holidays at the movies. It was nice to wind down before travelling home. I rang the Interislander 0800 number and some ferries had been cancelled but they had put another ferry on to catch up. Our travelling times were still going ahead. It was going to be rough!
We filled in time waiting for the ferry playing mini golf. It was quite reasonable and heaps of laughs. The trip back was certainly not pleasant but we could have had a lot worse. We chose to sit outside in the fresh air and this worked for us. We were 42 minutes late leaving and 20 minutes longer going across. Everybody was extremely thankful to be on firm ground.
An hours drive and we were back in Waikanae. We had been travelling from 11am until 6pm! We had dinner cooked for us and were made to go to bed.
A slow start to the next day meant leaving Waikanae at 11am and slowly making our way home. We stopped at deMolen (Windmill) at Foxton, Waireka Honey Centre near Sanson and Subway at Bulls. Our final visit was relatives in Wanganui. We hit New Plymouth at 5:30pm. Grabbing takeaways, we picked up the dog and finally reached home. Our holiday was over.
- We stayed at Top 10 Holiday Parks when away from Blenheim. We were under the assumption that they all had the same facilities. Kaikoura had strict noise level times where Motueka didn’t. Kaikoura had full sky where Richmond had selected channels and Motueka we had to go to the TV room.
- We didn’t know about the Top 10 Discount Card until we were booking into Kaikoura. We didn’t think we would regain the cost only staying three nights in the Top 10 camps.
The Smart family paid for their own travel.
This article was published in Kids Friendly New Zealand November 2006 on-line edition.