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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 1

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Day 12 – Travel to the South Island

We’d missed out on the Deli Café yesterday because it’s closed on Sundays but, because we have plenty of time, we use it today for breakfast. Chris has scrambled eggs on bagels with bacon, and I have a “Farmer’s” – a mountain of breakfast foods including two eggs, a packet of bacon, toast, large sausage, mushrooms and potato cakes. Having put that lot away, we head off for Wellington and our ferry to the South Island.

Since we’re already closer than originally planned, we get there much too early for our 2pm sailing. To make use of the time, we visit Victoria Mount – a high point above Wellington from which you can view the whole city, the bay and the airport – it’s quite spectacular but a bit windy. We enjoy the view and quickly make our way back to the city.

In preparation for our return to Wellington in early March, we drop into the Te Papa Museum (NZ’s national museum) to pick up a guidebook. Te Papa is our only museum trip, and I want to plan our time there such that we see what we’re interested in and miss the rest. After a cup of coffee in their café we make our way to the ferry terminal and get aboard for the 3½-hour crossing to the South Island.

The Inter-Islander ferry is not Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) – you get your car on board and do a U-turn on the car deck so that you can leave it the same way you got on – a slow and cumbersome process. It’s also hardly world class – much smaller than a cross-Channel ferry and not half as well appointed. But, there is café and there are comfy seats, so we have everything we need for the short journey across the Cook Strait.

The Cook Strait crossing can be very rough at times – the Pacific Ocean has been unchecked as it travelled 1000s miles and when it hits landfall in NZ, the powerful waves are channelled through the Strait since they have nowhere else to go. The winds do similarly. But today we get a calm crossing and we’re soon pulling into Picton (5-45pm) having been slightly delayed by a departing cruise ship - we hit the road at 6-15pm.

Our plan was to over-night in Picton and use it as a base for visits to wineries in the Marlborough district. But, our reading tells us that a town called Blenheim is a little further south, closer to the wineries and has plenty of motels. We head for Blenheim.

As we start to look for accommodation in Blenheim, all we see is “No Vacancy” signs. Our search circle widens and widens without luck. Eventually we hit on the Admiral’s Motor Lodge – it had one vacancy. It’s a large family room on two floors with 6 beds, but the manager lets us have it for ½ price – we take it gratefully. It’s ‘getting on’, so we unpack quickly and set off to find some dinner. We get another surprise – hardly any eateries.

This is rapidly becoming the strangest stop yet – lots of full motels, and a very few, mostly empty restaurants. We end up eating in an Irish bar, Paddy Barry’s. The manager tells us that there’s been a national wine and food festival in the town over the past two weeks – it only ended yesterday night - and suggests that many of the exhibitors/attendees may have stayed over for an extra night.

When we get back to the motor lodge, we get chatting to a couple of lads – they’re here for a lineman’s training course – a lot of the local motel’s customers are on the same course. They also tell us about Springland’s Restaurant – a local, out-of-town place – “it’s good, has big portions and it’s very cheap”! The new information solves our mysteries, and we sleep easy in our beds!!!

Day 13 – Wineries

After a bit of a lie in and a late breakfast, we start our day at the i-Site to get advice on winery tours and visits. We’d planned to visit Montana and Villa Maria wineries, and wanted to know their locations.

Since they had a cheap email connection at the i-Site, I take the time to check for messages and check bank balances. There’s news of SNOW in Essex, with an excellent photo of Jed and a snowman, and lots of emails for the contacts on my ‘Holiday’ distribution list. I reply to the emails, and since the bank balances are ‘good’, we head off for Montana Winery on the Kaikoura Road at 11am. Soon there, we check out the wines at the “cellar door” as the Kiwis call it. There are several wines we’ve never seen in England, but we’re very surprised to discover that the prices of the ones we do know are higher than they are in Tesco’s!!!! How can it be that a wine made less than 100 yards away and bottled in NZ costs more than the same bottle of wine almost 20,000 miles away? We’d first noticed this when we’d bought wine at local supermarkets – in fact, even Australian wines are cheaper than NZ wines. Notwithstanding the disappointment (!), we buy three bottles of wine and a bottle of bubbly for my birthday.

We had lunch in the Montana Restaurant – they do a Sauv. Blanc and Pinot Noir “platter”, which takes our fancy. This is food platter with three small meat dishes on it, and three complimenting wines to accompany each platter. At $25 per platter, this proves very good value, and the wines are excellent.

After lunch we did the winery tour – a young NZ’er took us around the crushing, fermentation and ageing processes, and we finished up with some wine tasting. There are only 10 of us on the tour (2 French girls, 4 Swedes, an English couple, and us) and in 15 short minutes of wine tasting, our guide imparts more common sense and knowledge about seeing, smelling and sipping wines than I ever got from Oz Clarke’s Wine Tour of France.

Having already had too much wine, we skip the Villa Maria winery and head back to Blenheim to walk it off before making our way back to the lodge for a lazy afternoon in the sun.

On our arrival, the two trainee linesmen had suggested Springlands as a good eating place, so we head off there for our evening meal. The two lads are already installed and tucking into their meal. There’s a fixed price meal ($25) – you get soup and roll plus main course with salad bar plus dessert buffet!!! The soup is Pumpkin; Chris has a sirloin steak and I have satay chicken with rice, and we both have a side salad. Then two visits to the dessert buffet follow; cheesecake with fresh fruit salad, then freshly made, cream-filled, brandy snaps. With the wine, our bill is $68 and, with a round of drinks for the two lads as a thank-you for their recommendation, we end up paying $73.50 (£27.25).

On our return, one of the lads is in the courtyard throwing a rugby ball in the air and catching it. It turns out that his mates have gone out for a drink, and he’s only 16 and was refused service. He comes from Harihari on the west coast of the South Island – the real NZ as he calls it. Harihari is a town of 800 people – you can tell he’s a small-town boy.

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