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April 12-14, 2010

Pre-departure

At the security checkpoint at Launceston Airport we were reminded of just how quaint our island home is. The homely female bomb test officer singled Damien out to wave her wand over. “I’d pick the good looking guys too” I said to her. “I only pick the ones who look like they won’t yell at me,” she confessed with a laugh. “I don’t do Chinese anymore. They accuse me of being racist, but the worst are the Arabs. I don’t pick them out even though they probably are the terrorists because they abuse you and swear at you.” She gave us a handy parting piece of advice… “Wear a tea towel on your head when you come through next time and you probably won’t get stopped.”

Doesn’t it make you sleep so much more soundly at night knowing our country’s security is being protected by such professionals?

In Melbourne

I had a vague memory of arriving in Melbourne once and being dropped off alone somewhere close to the city (though I knew not where) and happening upon a wonderful old Italian trattoria on a street corner.

Faint with hunger at the time, the loud and familial waiter had recommended a bowl of minestrone. It was the best I’ve ever eaten and restored my strength and spirits immediately. Hunger sated I had strolled down the street a little way and discovered a truly great bookshop where I browsed for an hour before settling on Jan Morris’ ‘Travels’ tome to take home as my souvenir.

In planning this trip away which was to include a couple of days in Melbourne I recounted this memory to Damien and we set about working out which street corner I had discovered. Trawling through the book shelf at home I found the book I had purchased – its price sticker revealed it had come from Readings Bookstore. In the white pages we discovered there were four Readings shops in Melbourne and through a process of elimination worked out it was either the Carlton or the Hawthorn store.

On our arrival in Melbourne (strangely enough – starving once again) we jumped in a cab and took a punt that it was the Carlton store on Lygon St. Oh bliss, we chose right! The trattoria is called Ti Amo. I reckon the loud guy behind the bar is the same one who saved me years ago. He recommended the Spaghetti San Giovanni for Damien while I ordered the Ravioli. Once again it was perfecto. We ambled down to Readings and spent an hour drooling over its excellent collection of architecture books and high end design magazines.

Too full for coffee or the mountains of mouth watering gelati in the cafes nearby we decided to stroll back to the city, sentencing ourselves along the way to doing time at Her Majesties pleasure napping on the very welcoming fake turf forecourt at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

The Kaikoura Coast Track

We wasted no time in getting to Kaikoura, catching a bus north straight after touching down in Christchurch. As the sun set over the Hawkswood Ranges we arrived at our first host farm, the Staging Post from where we would depart on the track the following morning.

Since we knew we would have no time to arrange our own food supply after arriving in New Zealand we had pre-ordered all of our meals from the host farms. Dinner at the Staging Post was with our hosts and the salmon was delicious although I have to say we possibly learnt more about our hosts’ medical conditions than we really had hoped to. I was a little concerned that every evening of our hike would run along the same line so we were relieved to be informed that our remaining meals would be delivered to us in baskets to prepare at our own leisure at the next two farms.

There was only one other couple walking the track with us; Jane and Will, lovely people from Christchurch. They set off ahead of us and we just took our time easing our way up through the pine plantation and along a ravine dotted with massive Kahikatea and Matai trees and an ancient beech forest abuzz with bees filling up on honey dew.

We rose up onto high pastures with views of the surrounding Kaikoura ranges. Crossing the saddle we caught our first view of the seaward Kaikoura Range plunging into the Pacific Ocean.  There is a deepwater trench off the Kaikoura coast which attracts sperm whales that feed on the giant squid which live in the depths of the trench.

The weather was much warmer than we had anticipated and we spent most of the three days hiking in shorts and tshirts. The lunchtime rest hut was at Skull Peak and with only five kilometres of downhill walking to go we passed the hottest part of the afternoon there drinking in the magnificent ocean views from the comfort of the hut’s day beds.

The walk down to Ngaroma Homestead was an easy amble across rolling pastoral land with the Pacific Ocean stretching out to the horizon.

We cooked up some home grown Ngaroma beef for dinner, the perfect way to finish our first day. (12 km today)

Day 2 took us along the beach for the first two hours – it’s hard going because of the lack of traction (good for the butt I kept reminding myself). The beach is charcoal coloured and made up of tiny pebbles eroded down over the millennia. We read that the landscape here has been carved out by glacial action from the ice age (14,000 – 7,000 years ago). The pebbles on the beach are a constant reminder of the incredible geology that has shaped such a beautiful and fertile coastline.

After lunch we headed inland from the beach (yay!) and meandered our way through forest and farmland to Medina where we stayed in a very cute garden cottage, enjoying a muscle-easing bath and roast Medina lamb in the silence of this remote place. (12 km today)

We breakfasted on homemade bread and muesli outside with the sheep then set off uphill towards the mountains we had admired from the beach yesterday. I could see from the map that we would be crossing over them and said to Damien that I had never imagined looking up at a range like that and thinking I could walk to the other side of it. Really it didn’t seem possible. And yet that is what we did. The track just took us up and up and up (I swear I wished to be walking on the beach again!). We fought through briars and braved strong winds to summit one of the peaks and looked back down to the beach with great satisfaction on seeing how much ground we had covered in the 2 ½ days. Mid afternoon we arrived back to where we had started at the Staging Post (13.2km today) well pleased with our life in the slow lane experience of New Zealand’s Canterbury district.

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