A South Island Journey

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When an irresistible air fare came up on Grabaseat for $39 each way from Auckland to Christchurch plus $10.00 per bag we booked on the spur of the moment. We’d be able to catch the first weeks of spring in the South!

We were off to a bad start. After a bumpy flight we landed in Christchurch, picked up our small Ace rental car (a Daihatsu Sirion) which was on a special offer for only $20 a day plus $12 for insurance and headed out of town. It was not until we were well on our way that the car developed a strange rattle and we were forced to go back to the rental company for a replacement.

Before long we were back on the road. As we travelled through the flat landscape the rolling clouds which hung over the distant mountains heralded a North Westerly.  Strong winds were forecast.

We stopped off for a very late lunch at Meads café just south of the Rakaia Bridge which was once known as Mrs Mead’s Tearooms. Her black and white photograph still hangs on the wall alongside an old menu.  In those good old days you could get a pie scone and bread all for a shilling.

Mrs Mead was a woman with a strong work ethic. She ran her Tearooms for 50 years, working well into her seventies. Each day she started work at 5 am and the Tearooms were open 364 days of the year. Her only day off was Christmas day.

The Formica tables and a chiming clock hark back to an earlier era but the menu has been updated.  It’s hearty café fare. We settled for a Panini spread with a sweet tomato sauce which was packed with a generous amount of bacon and a fried egg. Should you want to bring home a gift for a pet you can also buy designer doggie treats here.

By the time we reached Geraldine there was just time for a late afternoon stroll along the River Garden Walk before dusk. The rhododendrons for which this garden is famous were still in bud but there were a few clumps of golden daffodils.

Our hosts at the motel pointed us in the direction of the local fish and chip shop where fresh blue cod could be bought. It turned out to be a long wait as the place was filled with locals lined up for their Friday night treat. But the crumbed fish and chips were scrumptious and well worth the wait.

The following morning we had hoped to go to the craft market but it has been cancelled because of the rainy weather. So we took a stroll around the town. It used to be a sleepy little hollow where people came to retire but in recent years it has been transformed into a tourist hub. It still retains a relaxed villagy atmosphere but there are plenty of trendy gift shops, cafes and an art gallery to explore.

In a side street I peeked into a knitwear shop window and spotted Geraldine’s most famous iconic landmark ‘The Giant Jersey’. I went in and got talking to the enthusiastic owners, Michael and Gillian Linton, who told me it has made it into the Guinness book of records for being the largest jersey in the world. They designed and machine knitted it to attract the tourists.

Fit for a giant it measures 4.9 metres from wrist to wrist, is 2.1metres high and 1.5 metres wide and weighs in at 5.5 kilograms). All sorts of visual New Zealand icons have been knitted into it. Incongruously, in between the pictures of sheep, skiers, cyclists, kayakers, kowhai blossoms and tikis there are also a few koalas.

At the back of the shop was another treasure: a huge mosaic mural which takes up more than 42 metres of wall space. A recreation of the famous Bayeux tapestry it tells the story of the 1066 Norman Conquest of England. Assisted by his daughter Rachael who is a fine arts graduate, it has taken Michael Linton more than 25 years to create. This momentous piece of recycled art was made from 2,000,000 pieces of spring steel which were hand painted.  

The Linton’s knitwear shop is the place to buy pure New Zealand knitwear. To knit your own Alpaca merino scarf or jersey you can also buy 50 gram balls for $10.00 each in a rainbow of colours. I was almost tempted to take up knitting again.

We couldn’t leave Geraldine without a tasting session at the friendly Barker’s shop in the 4 peaks plaza. Barker’s roots are in Geraldine. Their pioneer founder, Anthony Barker, started making elderberry wine in a converted cowshed on his Geraldine Farm. It is still a family owned business and makes good use of local produce.

There are so many jams and chutneys to taste it would have been impossible to sample the whole range. My favourites, the lime curd (a new product which is about to hit the supermarket shelves) and the the blackcurrant and onion jelly.

We stocked up and bought a box full to give to family and friends and to eat on the way. Next door was the Talbot Forest cheese shop where we added to our supplies and bought hunks of aged Gouda and Cumin cheeses.

I could have happily spent at least a day in Geraldine window shopping and indulging in the local food but my partner was keen to hit the road by midmorning and to head for Wanaka.  We did stop for a late morning tea at Run 77 café at Lake Tekapo. Here the cheery bakers can be seen hard at work out the back. We indulged in a pear slice, shortcake in which stewed pears were sandwiched between two layers of pastry sprinkled with icing sugar.

Then we drove on through the dry tussocky Central Otago landscape until we came to a sweeping view of Lake Wanaka with its distant views of snow-capped mountains. Such a beautiful sight it nearly took my breath away.

We had been lucky to make a half price booking through Wotif, at the Aspiring Lodge Motel which is close to the Lakeside and right next door to New World Supermarket. Our de luxe suite looked cosy and comfortable.

It was late afternoon. Outside an icy wind was blowing so we stayed indoors and indulged in pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. We were hopeful that the weather would fine up so we could put on our walking boots and enjoy the Great Outdoors on the following days.