So I’ve just spent six days travelling around New Zealand a bit. Well, the north part of the South Island. This is the first time I’ve seen NZ since I travelled around both islands with my Dad many years ago. And let me tell you – the South Island is gorgeous. El Hubs and the step-son did the deep south (i.e. Dunedin and Invercargill as well as Queenstown) whilst I was in Rome. Dang, missed out.

We visited Kaikoura, Picton, Nelson, Motueka and Hanmer Springs. Kaikoura because of the New Zealand fur seals and we heard that snowy peaks are a backdrop to the turquoise ocean. It’s visually beautiful with fur seals lining the coast and basking in the sun on the warm rocks. The thing about Kaikoura though – pretty as it is – it’s a bit Las Vegas-looking with the main streets lined with hotels, motels, B&Bs, cafes and restaurants.

Picton I thought was spectacular. It overlooks Queen Charlotte Sound and we took a 3.5 hour boat trip through the Sound. Whales and dolphins were said to be in the area but we didn’t see any. We visited Ship Cove where Captain James Cook replenished his ship, the Endeavour. Cook was said to be enamoured of Ship Cove, so much so he had vegetable gardens planted, kept pigs and visited several times. Picton had a majesty to it that I thought Kaikoura lacked.

We then choofed off to Nelson, bypassing Blenheim. Whether this is true or not, we’ve been told that Blenheim is grey-power i.e. fairly conservative and with an elderly demographic. I thought Nelson was interesting – quite arty crafty with a quirky mix of organic/health food shops and great coffee houses.  It’s said to have a mild climate and a yearly average 2400 hours of sunshine. It’s also surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Nelson is where my parents honeymooned following their wedding in Wellington in 1945.

Unfortunately, the very weekend we visit, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs. The locals told us this was unusual. It kind of spoilt things because we were staying at this amazing bach in Brooklyn Valley, which is about 50 km out of Nelson. It was perched high on top of a hill and was a small eco-lodge – built from sustainable materials and smack bang in the middle of 70 acres of native NZ forest. Drop dead gorgeous. But we couldn’t walk any of the trails due to the rain or have a candle-lit soak in the outside bath under the stars. But we plan to go back in warmer weather.

Motueka is nearby and we had the best Indian meal at Simply Indian. This restaurant is located at 130 High Street and I have to ask – what is it with NZ rural towns and main streets? Can’t anyone think of better names than High Street or Main Street?? On Sunday morning, we had a fabulous brunch at the Red Beret (145 High Street). Actually, Motueka is a great spot. Smaller than Nelson; bigger than Oxford. It has a definite whiff of alternative lifestyle about it and it’s within spitting distance of the fabulous Kaiteriteri Beach and Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks.

In fact, we liked it so much we are contemplating moving. To tell you the truth, as much as we like our property, Oxford is probably not for us in the long-term. After more than two years of living here, we find the township a bit dull and lacking in cafes and shops. Yep, Seagers is here and Cafe 51 but other than this – not much happening – and it’s the small-town NZ thing. Everyone knows everyone, so you get gossip. We found the people in Motueka and Nelson friendlier and more open to foreigners. Obviously, this is because both places have a larger population (Motueka has around 10,500 compared to Oxford’s 1800) but it’s also due to an obvious influx of other nationalities. This translates into more acceptance of “otherness”.

Hanmer Springs I didn’t really like. The step-son decided to check out the thermal pools whilst we walked around the village. That took 10 minutes. Small, alpine and not much happening. Of course, if you’re into mini-golf, walks, jet boating, skiing or bungy jumping – all good. I could have done a horse trek but there wasn’t enough time.

We’ve been living in the north Canterbury area now for over 2 years and I have to say – when I contrast people here to Wellingtonians or the people I met in Nelson and Motueka – Cantabrians aren’t all that welcoming. I’m saying it as I’ve experienced it.

They’re reserved and not overly friendly. So possibly time for us to start looking around. El Hubs adores Queenstown but it’s super-expensive. I love Wellington but El Hubs doesn’t. He likes Auckland; I don’t. So we might just check out the Nelson/Motueka area more seriously when the weather warms up.

I’m a New Zealand fur seal. I’m way too cute but….

if you get too close, I can turn nasty, so back off!