I know, I know, I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do on the blog. On the bright side, I have finally caught up on my travel journal, so I have lots of notes to refer back to when typing up the next update. Yay! A quick A/N before we get going on my adventures in the Marlborough region: In the interests of not spamming you all too much, I have decided to condense Blenheim and Picton into one post, and Nelson, Punakaiki and Greymouth into another (unless it turns out to be REALLY long, in which case I’ll split it). Fox Glacier and Wanaka should (eventually) each get their own post, although I may decide to put Wanaka and Queenstown together depending on when I get around to that one. I can’t say for sure when I’ll be uploading all of these, but I’m hoping to bring the blog up to date by the end of next week. Let’s see how that goes, shall we?! 

Boring admin stuff aside, let’s get on to the reason you’re all here… wine. Erm, I mean… words. 

As you may have noticed if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, my time in Blenheim was mainly filled with wine tasting. Actually, I didn’t stay in Blenheim, but in neighbouring Renwick. I hired a car for 3 days which, although I could easily have made more use of it and driven much further than I ended up driving, came in very handy. 

In Renwick, I stayed at Watson’s Way Lodge backpackers, which was very clean and super friendly. The owners had only taken over about a month and a half before I arrived, so it was great to see such an enthusiastic welcome. Noticing that I was travelling alone, one of the owners invited me along on the wine tour with her and a few of the long-term guests the following day. The weather was perfect, the company good, there was just one slight problem… they were all cycling. Now, I’m not the most confident of cyclists, but I am perfectly capable of riding a bike. However, as you may or may not know, I am really very short. Practically hobbit-sized, in fact. Maybe things like this don’t occur to average-height people (sounding a bit like a member of the Campaign for Equal Heights here. Sorry about that, I’ve been reading a lot of Pratchett lately), but it’s not just the height of the saddle that affects the height of the bike. While they did indeed have both men’s and ladies’ bikes for hire, they all had the same sized wheels. This meant that even on the smallest frame with the lowest seat height, my feet still didn’t touch the ground once in the saddle. This meant that I could cycle, but couldn’t stop without tilting the bike more than a safe angle and so would risk falling off. Not exactly ideal for a wine tasting trip. 

In the end, I decided to take the car. This worked out perfectly for two reasons: firstly, it gave me a much-needed break from the group between wineries; secondly, it gave me an excuse to only have a token sip of each sample and pour the rest, meaning that I cumulatively drank less than a small glass of wine across all of the places we visited, rather than about three-quarters of a bottle. No wine headache for me, yay! A couple of the places we skipped over, I went back to by myself the following day. We basically visited most of the places that offered free tastings within the circuit around the hostel. Here are my very non-comprehensive not-really-a-wine-connoisseur thoughts:

No. 1 Family Estate – according to their website, they make “méthode traditionelle” wines. According to me, they make sparkling wine. It’s a perfectly decent sparking wine, if you like that kind of thing 😛

Huia – We really liked this one, the hostess gave a very comprehensive description of all of the different wines and was very friendly. Plus, they had chickens roaming around outside the cellar door. (A Huia, by the way, is a NZ-native bird that was last seen in 1907)

The Vines Village – we didn’t try the wine here as you had to pay for tasting (a mere $5, but there were plenty of free places, so we didn’t feel the need), but it’s a great little business park with a cellar door (they don’t make their own wine, but offer a selection of local wines), café, design store, gallery, outdoor recreation area, ice cream shop and a pretty amazing craft shop. Certainly worth a stop off there should you be in the area

Nautilus – home of the overpriced but very tasty cheese plate, and probably the nicest Sauvignon Blanc of the day

Wairau River – cellar door with café/restaurant, a good place to stop and eat something to soak up all that wine. 

Forrest – Another very friendly hostess. Getting a bit sick of Sauvignon Blanc by this point, we decided to try the two reds. The expected-for-the-area Pinot Noir, and the only place that we noticed a Merlot. Turns out I still don’t like Merlot very much, but the Pinot Noir would have been lovely with red meat. For me, that’s high praise indeed for a red wine 😛

Framingham – one of the two wineries I visited by myself the next day, this one also offered one of the best Sauvignon Blanc vintages I tried, and the hostess was very friendly and informative. Apparently, they supply a few of Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurants. The more you know…

Giesen – again, I visited this one by myself the next day and decided to treat myself for lunch. The seasonal platter was not something I’d have ordered if I’d known what was actually on the platter, but I’m glad I didn’t know in advance. Aside from the cured meats and bread, the other offerings were all things I would not have chosen to order. Still, I tried them all and actually enjoyed everything. It just goes to show that we should eat outside of our comfort zone now and then. 

Some highlights from the wine tastings (plus token vineyard picture)

I’m sure it won’t exactly surprise anyone to find out that most New Zealand wines are cheaper in the UK than in New Zealand, however we don’t get to see most of these wineries at home. Although there were vineyards for Oyster Bay, Hawke’s Bay and Brancott Estate in Marlborough, amongst others you may have heard of, most of these don’t have cellar doors in the area. Brancott Estate do have a heritage centre, but I didn’t go so couldn’t really say what’s there. 

While I had use of a car, I decided to drive the Queen Charlotte Drive. This road is a coastal drive along the part of the Marlborough Sounds accessible by car – from Picton to Havelock. It’s simply incredible scenery but, as I soon realised, with it being a windy up and down sort of road, you’re really too busy paying attention to the road to actually appreciate the scenery. Oh, well! Fun fact for the people waiting for me to finally start mentioning LOTR and the Hobbit filming locations. The Pelorous river, close to Havelock, was used for that one scene where the dwarves go down the river in barrels. Not that I got a picture of it or anything, but I have to pretend I’m paying attention to this kind of thing. 

Moving on from Blenheim/Renwick to Picton for, well, no real reason, I just felt like it, I stayed for two nights at the Juggler’s Rest hostel. This tiny, cosy hostel was just brilliant. No, I’m not just saying that because they had a bathtub. I’m also saying it because I got a 3-bed dorm to myself the first night 😉 Oh, and because the owner came from 10 miles away from home and a stone’s throw away from where my Dad lived for years before my parents got married. It’s a very small world indeed!

With my final day in Marlborough cloudy but dry (and forecast to be the last dry day for a week. More on that one in the Nelson update), I decided to make the most of it and do a day trip out to Lochmara Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds. Like many places in the Sounds, Lochmara is only accessible by boat. My day pass included the water taxi to and from the resort, full facilities access and, most importantly for me, access to their bush tracks. The did have an underwater observatory that I also could have visited, but I decided against it because it cost extra money and the times to visit weren’t very convenient for the other things I wanted to do. 

The day got off to an excellent start when we saw not one, but three seals on the short boat ride. We saw one New Zealand fur seal, one earless seal plus one eared seal all sat on the rocks. According to our guide, the seals who frequent those particular rocks tend to be males who are either too young and weak or too old and slow to chase prey. Instead, they spend their days lounging on the rocks while the others do the hard work. Some life, eh?

After arriving at the resort, a short trip to reception gave me all the information I needed, plus the all-important wristband for access to tracks and facilities. My access pass did include free use of the kayaks but, much as I would have liked to explore the sounds in a kayak, I am not confident enough in the water to risk doing that by myself. Until I have someone to join me, I am stuck as a landlubber for now. I wouldn’t want to fall in and frighten the fish! 

Lochmara Lodge highlights

One of the main draws of the walking tracks was that they also functioned as a sort-of sculpture trail. You go through a forest of trees that have faces carved into the trunks, arriving at a small cove lined with hammocks. Then, up to the top of the hill and down into the bush, passing sculptures and art installations along the way, before arriving in “crumpy’s camp” – a (slightly romanticized) replica of Barry Crump’s bush camps. Fun fact, the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople (ooooh, Ricky Baker!) Is based on Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress.

Without a doubt the most memorable of the artworks I saw along the way was a giant face coming out of the rock. This was Papatuanuku, the Maori Eart Mother. Appearing just as you turn a corner, this friendly face covered in moss is very impressive. I didn’t know this before I got back at the end of the day (so please don’t feel that it influenced my opinion), but the artist who created her was staying at my hostel. It was fascinating to hear the story of her creation 12 years ago, and I hope that Kim was pleased to see how she looks now. One of the most interesting points was that, although much of the face is covered in moss, there are clear tear tracks on her cheeks. This was completely by accident, but it turns out that she cries in the rain. Something to do with the angle of the eye sockets. It was dry while I was there, so I didn’t get to see the tears in action, but I bet it would be quite the sight. Thanks, Kim, for your insights! 

Oh, yes. They also had llamas. I really don’t recommend having one come thundering past you and stopping about 5 feet away to stare as you walk by. It does make a pretty good photo, though. 

What are you looking at?

One final experience of the day that I’d like to tell you about. At Lochmara, they are fortunate enough to run a successful breeding programme for kakariki, an endangered NZ-native parakeet. These small, green birds are able to fly, but feed mainly on the ground. As with many native birds, they evolved not having to worry about predators on the ground. Before the arrival of Europeans, New Zealand had very few native quadrupeds (tuatara, gecko, native frogs) and bats were the only native land mammal. Some species, like the moa, were hunted to extinction by the Maori settlers long before the Europeans arrived. Others, like the kakapo, kakariki and others, have been driven to the edge of extinction due to the arrival of pests such as stoats, rats and feral cats. Places like Ulva Island and lots of other small, uninhabited islands are being used to try and rebuild these populations, but very few species are being bred successfully on either of the two main islands. The kakariki at Lochmara are one of the few success stories, and I got to feed them. 

Aside from feeling slightly like the “tuppence a bag” lady from Mary Poppins, feeding the kakariki was a lot of fun. The keeper provided the group of us each with a handfull of birdseed and told us to put our arms out and stand still. In short order, the birds came and perched on our fingers, wrists, shoulders and even heads, picking at the seeds or waiting their turn. It’s an odd feeling, having a bird on your head, but luckily for us they did not have sharp claws. In some cases, the birds got tired of waiting their turn and decided instead to chase off the bird currently feeding. It’s quite hard to stand still while that’s going on an inch from your palm! 

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this instalment of my adventures. Now that my journal is up to date, it shouldn’t be very long until the next couple of posts follow suit. 

Coming soon: Nelson, Punakaiki and Greymouth (maybe in one post, we shall see!)


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