How to entertain a couple of teens in Marlborough
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 4-2-2020 11:04
The Teenagers have landed
It was insignificant in the grand scheme of things as far as humanity was concerned, but one giant leap for a couple of Brazilian teenagers at the end of November, when they boarded a plane for the first time in their lives, and after more than twenty hours, finally touched down in Auckland where my wife was there to meet them.
Since then, I've had to adjust to have a couple of teens in the house, although my Brazilian niece and nephew are actually remarkably well behaved. Like many youth they are rather addicted to their mobile phones, and their favourite hobby seems to be sleeping, but since they're on holiday, that's not a major problem.
Coming from a city of over 500,000 to Blenheim, I worried about them finding the place too quiet, however they understood that their trip to NZ was for adventures, not partying or shopping, and my niece specifically chose a trip to NZ over an expensive coming of age birthday party. Marlborough actually delivers pretty well when it comes to adventures.
A ferry tale adventure
My niece and nephew arrived in the South Island by ferry, which turned out to be one of the most anticipated parts of their travels. People might associate Brazil with the beaches of Rio, but the reality is many people in Brazil live hundreds of kilometres from the sea, so a three hour trip aboard a ship to Picton was quite an experience. They arrived in Picton to a rather blustery and overcast evening, but I quickly organised fish and chips, as their introduction to iconic kiwi cuisine. It may not have been healthy, but they enjoyed it, with fish and chips on the beach becoming quite a regular request during their stay.
Drinking in the local produce
The drive through to Blenheim introduced them to the Wairau Plain, and vineyards in every direction. Wine tourism definitely was not going to be part of their itinerary, as they were under age, and their parents would probably have killed me if I had introduced them to drinking.
It actually turned out drinking was something they soon took up, but not of the alcoholic kind, instead something else that NZ is renowned for, not always with the best of associations. Apparently in Brazil, milk only comes as UHT cartons. Having discovered milk that's only been pasteurised but is otherwise pretty fresh, they were soon hooked.
As Fred Dagg would say, “We don't know how lucky we are”.
I know there's some angst about how dairy farmers can make a decent income without wrecking the environment, but maybe there's an answer in the enthusiasm for NZ milk my niece and nephew demonstrated. We heavily promote wine tourism, and lots of wineries are into the organic and sustainable thing because that's what the market demands. Milk tourism at first sounds a bit novel, but maybe it should become a thing, as if NZ can sell great tasting milk from happy cows on sustainable pastures, it's maybe just as much a tourist attraction as wine, with the bonus that operators don't need to ask for proof of age, and people of most religious persuasions may drink milk.
Water and theatrical entertainment
Fitting teen entertainment around working up until Christmas actually turned out to be not too challenging.
My daughter had a swimming lesson at the aquatic centre, so her cousins came along for a swim, and appreciated the level of facilities for the size of the town.
Given that they live about 700km from the sea, and Marlborough has something around 20% of New Zealand's coastline, the sea was always going to be a big attraction.
Our first beach visit since their arrival happened on a Friday afternoon, when we headed off to Rarangi. There was quite a strong nor'wester, which meant some reasonable sized surf which at first was a bit unnerving for two not used to the sea, but they quickly gained courage, and in spite of the chilly water, they were soon wading in the surf.
On the way back we stopped in at the Rarangi playground, and I challenged them to see if they could complete some of the obstacles. Much hilarity ensued as brother and sister tackled the different activities, and found some of them harder than they looked.
Saturday was the Mistletoe Market, followed by the Christmas parade, with my wife and daughter participating in a ballet recital in the evening at the theatre. I'm not sure how much teen guys are into ballet, but Mateus had no option but to attend, as his auntie and cousin were performing.
The mountain that's just a hill
With the Wither Hills right on our back doorstep, as soon as I had the opportunity, I dragged my nephew and niece up Mount Vernon, which I explained to them was really just a big hill, where they got a great view of the North and Kapiti Islands as well as the whole of the Wairau Plain. On the way up, we saw a sign advertising the King and Queen of the Withers race, and Mateus expressed interest in participating, as he's a keen runner.
A spot of fishing
On a hot afternoon, we took a trip to Picton, ostensibly to pick up a car, but I didn't miss the opportunity to pack my daughter's fishing rod, and we headed off to Governors Bay where I expected at least to catch a spotty or two, which should be suitably novel for someone who lived hundreds of kilometres from the sea.
It turned out 'a spotty or two' was a gross underestimate, as I reeled them in one after the other, only to quickly release them, however suddenly something with rather more fight bent the line, and I managed to land a kahawai of edible size. While I demonstrated my fishing skills, my daughter and her cousins played in the sea, undaunted by temperature that I personally would have considered too cold, although they came over and took a look when I landed a fish.
Life's a beach
One trip to the beach is never enough, especially when Marlborough has around twenty percent of New Zealand's coastline. Whites Bay is pretty much a mandatory rite of passage for anyone growing up in Blenheim, although personally I think Robin Hood Bay has warmer water. The day we visited Whites Bay was a bit overcast and windy, so there weren't a lot of people about, but I told my niece and nephew that on a hot day over summer, this was probably the closest they'd get to the crowds of Copacabana Beach in Rio (which they've never visited).
They were pretty brave I thought to actually go into the water that day, but the bit I think they thought required bravery was when I led them up a steep rocky outcrop at the south end of the bay to where there was a view over Cloudy Bay and Whites Bay, with a steep drop away on each side.
We decided to take advantage of the cooler temperatures of an overcast day, and take the track up to the Port Underwood lookout. Mateus likes to run, so he was soon far ahead of me, while my wife, daughter, and Luiza trailed behind. It's a bit of a hike to the lookout point, but it's achievable in under an hour, and the views are well worth it.
There and back again
I am a Marlburian, and proud of it, but sometimes you do have to head over the hill to Nelson. Actually I've got nothing against Nelson as long as Marlborough doesn't get treated as a second class citizen. Both Nelson/Tasman and Marlborough are great regions, but since I'm a Marlburian, I'll stick to writing about Marlborough. One day, we decided to make a day trip to Nelson. Before we crossed over into Tasman District, a mandatory stop was scheduled at Pelorus Bridge where I talked about deforestation and dwarves in barrels. (Not necessarily related to each other.) A walk to the swing bridge was met with much hilarity and suggestions that somebody's father might not have the courage to cross it if he were in New Zealand. Numerous selfies were taken while jumping up and down in the middle of the bridge, so I guess that counts as a teen sign of approval.
Down by the Riverside
On Christmas Day, following the obligatory present opening and a trip to church, we were at a bit of a loose end, as the day was a bit overcast, so not really ideal for a trip to the beach. Fortunately Blenheim has a great cycle trail along the Taylor River floodway reserve, and this made for a pleasant family outing with a mandatory diversion to race around the pump track near Monro St.
The Light between the Oceans and jumping in muddy puddles
With Mateus and Luiza living so far from the sea, part of our mission while they are in New Zealand, is to get them to as many beaches as possible. On Boxing Day we took them via a somewhat convoluted route along Blind River Loop Road past the salt works at Lake Grassmere to Marfells Beach. Marfells Beach isn't really a swimming beach, however since the Kaikōura earthquake, the sandy area has increased substantially, and out near Mussel Point, it has some of the most interesting varieties of sea shells anywhere in Marlborough, with the beach almost made of more shells than anything else. There's also a good view of the Cape Campbell lighthouse, and the North Island on a clear day. The beach expedition proved popular, although discovering an area of deep, wet, sticky mud on the beach as we were almost back at the car appeared to be the highlight for some people.
Beasts of the southern wild
Where Marlborough begins and ends depends a bit on when you were born. If you were old enough to remember prior to 1989, there was a clear boundary at the Conway River. Now days, you drop down an incline south of Wharenui, and suddenly, half way along a nondescript paddock, you're in Kaikōura District. Politicians certainly move in mysterious ways. I'm a bit old school, so when I mention our Marlborough adventures in Kaikōura, I'm not deliberately being contradictory.
It was inevitable that we were going to explore more of the South Island than just Marlborough, but since this is a blog about Marlborough, I'll spare you the rest of our adventures. During our return north, we struck a hot, sunny summer day for travelling. We stopped in at South Bay in Kaikōura where I'd last been with my mother-in-law, the grandmother of my niece and nephew, on my birthday, a few months before the Kaikōura earthquake. With the raised seabed, it was possible to wander quite a way out from the shoreline. Mateus and Luiza weren't overly excited as it was a bit breezy as it often is in South Bay, but did discover a few interesting things in some of the rock pools.
We stopped for lunch at Mangamanu, famed for its surfing, however for good surf, you need waves, and to get waves, you need wind, and as we discovered, there was quite a lot of it, so we stayed in the car although the view was great.
The seal colony at Ohau Point turned out to be a popular attraction that provided plenty of entertainment. The road reconstruction has made the location more clinical than I remember, with grey concrete walls that create an impression more like a seal maternity ward in a large hospital than a place for natural births, but with increasing numbers of tourists it perhaps is safer for both seals and tourists. We spent some time watching the seal pups frolicking amongst the rocks, before heading a bit further north to another stop at Okiwi Bay, where Mateus and Luiza were keen to get their feet wet and add to their tally of beaches visited over the summer.
Our final stop on our journey back to Blenheim after our sothern road trip, was a stop in at Ward Beach in the late afternoon, made possible by a reasonably early start, and the long daylight hours of summer. I've been to Ward Beach a few times, and it's always been windy and usually cold, to the point that I have a photo of my wife so heavily protected from the chilling wind, that even in the most conservative of cultures, her attire would have been acceptable, as neither her eyes, nor a centimetre of skin were visible. On this day though, we struck a light breeze and pleasant temperature, with small waves gently lapping at the beach. This was an immediate excuse for bare feet, and in my daughter's case, just about full immersion. The water wasn't particularly warm, but the beach pebbles were, and provided a good way to warm up afterwards.
There's gold in them hills
At least there is, if you can run fast enough and don't trip over stones. My nephew Mateus was keen to run the King and Queen of the Withers, so I walked him around the course a few days before. Mateus is not usually an early riser, but to my surprise, running was enough motivation to get him out of bed early. There were a reasonable number of other young people in the race. Mateus went fairly well until about two thirds of the way through the race, when he tripped on a stone and twisted his ankle. To his credit, he finished the race, but was amongst the last few over the line.
Hunting for a place to play at being wilderpeople
Apparently there's nothing quite like green time as an antidote to screen time, and with a couple of teens with an apparently magnetic attraction to their phones, I thought a nice bush walk might be worthwhile. Picton residents are blessed with plenty of options, but in Blenheim, we have to venture a bit further afield. Onamalutu fortunately isn't too far from Blenheim for an afternoon expedition, and it also happens to have some of the flattest stones anywhere for skimming on the river. The large grassy area also turns out to be ideal when you have visitors from a country where some might say the national religion is football. Of course that would work just as well with any shape of ball. Bush walks, kicking a ball around, and skimming stones across the river turned out to go down pretty well, along with a bit of stick fighting, and playing at being wilderpeople.
Spending time with some old fossils
On a humid, hazy day with a bit of a sea breeze, finding a place to go to escape the humidity that's actually pleasant can be a bit of a challenge, but fortunately I know one or two places a bit off the beaten track. I took the 'scenic route', over Taylor Pass down into the Awatere Valley up to the Medway Valley turn off, where I crossed over the Awatere and followed the Medway Valley Road up to a point hidden in long grass where I knew there was river access. The 'river' if you could call it that, was more of a creek, but at least it had water in it, and it was pleasant to paddle in on a hot day. Mateus found a steep bank of mudstone, and determined to climb it, and actually managed to find a pool or two up to his waste. The mudstone banks had a bit of a secret. They were marine sediment dated from the late Miocene and Pliocene ages. When you have marine sediment that's been uplifted, it's not unexpected to find signs that it was once under the sea, and sure enough we found several rocks that looked like concrete that had been made with sea shells, except the sea shells were in fact fossils, and the 'concrete' had occurred by natural geological processes. The steep gorge with its fossils, Marlborough Rock Daisies, and pretty river, but clearly without any 'instafame', since the access looked like it hadn't been used in a long time, made an ideal afternoon adventure.
Queen Charlotte is amusing
Of course a visit to Marlborough brings up an almost unavoidable mention of Queen Charlotte Sound, and most likely the Queen Charlotte Track. We were in no way equipped for a five day trek, and I suspect my eight year old daughter wouldn't have been too enthusiastic about that much walking, however I knew from experience, that the 2-3km of the track from Anakiwa to Umungata Bay gives a good taste of the beauty of Queen Charlotte Sound and access to an excellent swimming beach. Anakiwa itself, is good for swimming when the tide is in, so on a day when the weather looked good in the Marlborough Sounds, we duly headed to Anakiwa via Havelock. The tide was out, but coming in, so we headed to Umungata Bay first, where we relaxed in the warm, shallow water and chased crabs, as well as having a bit of excitement when an eagle ray cruised by us. We also all took turns at snorkelling, although the visibility wasn't great, just relaxing cruising along on the surface of the sea was fun. With the tide rising, we headed back to Anakiwa, where the tide was high enough to jump off the jetty, which Mateus duly proceeded to do without hesitation, while his sister and my daughter followed, albeit a bit more cautiously. As the day drew to a close, we drove back from sunshine, to strange foggy conditions in Blenheim, wondering what to do for tea, until a chorus of “Fish and chips!” settled the issue.
A River runs through it
I'm not sure whether it was due to Australian bush fires, but the summer of 2019/2020 got off to a slow start in Marlborough, with cloud or low haze on many days. In the final week of Mateus and Luiza's stay, temperatures finally hit the high twenties and low thirties, but coastal haze stuck around. Fortunately the best places to swim in Marlborough aren't all at the beach. I've known for years about Craiglockhart up the Waihopai Valley, but somehow I've never swum there before. One particularly hot day, we held a vote whether to go to the beach or the river, and the democratic decision was to go to the river. The decision turned out to be a good one. The swimming hole at Craiglockhart is situated in a bend in the river upstream of the Craiglockhart Number 2 bridge, where a large rock like a giant shark's fin marks the swimming hole. The water is very deep but there are shallows both upstream and downstream, so that anyone with modest swimming skills should be able to get themselves past the deep water to where they can touch the bottom again quickly. The rock also makes for a good diving platform with the water deep enough that there's no chance of hitting the bottom. Mateus and Luiza along with my daughter were soon in the water, and afterwards, they commented that they thought it was the best swimming location they'd been to all summer. The water was clear, so even though it was deep, diving down, it was easy to see the stones on the bottom. Mateus seemed to be a stronger swimmer than Luiza, but she seemed better at diving down and exploring underwater. We were not alone at the swimming hole, as several other families had the same idea.
The carefree days of summer holidays are over, although summer itself most definitely isn't. The house is suddenly quiet. School is just around the corner, and the adventure is over for a couple of teens, but as they left, they insisted they'll be back.