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  • Writer's pictureNick Elsey

Wine Country, New Zealand

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

20 Feb 1997 - Wellington, Ferry to Picton & Marlborough Region

Lynn’s is overdosing on the Dramamine in preparation for our 3 hour ferry ride to Picton on the South Island, and I hedge my bets and down a couple too. We dump the car at the port and climb aboard the ship. We’re off, and I’m up to date again!

A lovely sail though the channels and waterways to Picton. The ferry terminal is one of the nicest we’ve ever seen, but this town appears to be a backpacker’s paradise – they’re everywhere! Picton is the starting point for some apparently excellent multi-day treks over the local countryside. The conveyor belt that (eventually) delivers our luggage is heaving with backpacks – God knows how anyone can tell them all apart!

Out into the sunshine and half a dozen strides across the car park to the Avis counter. Our car is even smaller than the last one (if that’s possible) but we eventually manage to persuade all our luggage to join us in the car.

Cloud Bay Winery

More windy roads over the hills and down into the valley of the Marlborough region. We head directly for the Cloudy Bay winery. For those of you who aren’t in-the-know, this is the Sauvignon Blanc of NZ and the visit is something of a pilgrimage for us. This stuff was very hard to come by in the UK and even harder in the USA. Available for only a couple of months in the year, it had a loyal following that would snap up all the bottles quicker than you could say saluté. Most wine stores in the UK had an allocation of just one case, and the entire state or Oregon apparently only got two!

Anyway, we had a ball. Got to taste their reds (good, but not as good as the Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay) and their bubbly (so good we bought a bottle). We spent some time bullshitting wine talk with the staff and met Miles & Kyra (with baby Richard in tow). They were over from Sydney, visiting the ‘rels (Aussie lingo for relatives) and also indulging their tastes in NZ wines. And for the INI readers among you, get this – Miles works for Lucent in Sydney (enterprise market)! Needless to say we got on like a house on fire and ended up having dinner together at anther winery (Hunters). We plan on dropping in on them when we pass though Sydney. I may just get a job with Miles and never come back! We’ll see.

Next it’s over the road to Alan Scott winery and then we check in to the Marlborough Hotel, just outside the town of, guess where…. Marlborough. Very nice, so nice in fact that we cancel our hotel booking in Christchurch and have them book us in at their sister hotel.

Rest of the afternoon spent wandering round town (Lynn) and playing with the computer (Nick). I spend ages trying to send & receive E-Mail. Man, the phone system in this country is screwed up!

Dinner you already know about, so that’s it for another day.

21 Feb 1997 - Marlborough Region

Today is the day of the Grand Marlborough Wine Tour. I decided to get a hearty breakfast inside me to before I consume many hearty wines, so we go into town in search of a bistro for a good fry up. We are once again reminded that the day doesn’t appear to start for this country until well past 9 am (I like that). So, back to the hotel for a couple of good (but expensive) eggs.

Wine orgy time. For anyone interested, some of the better wineries included Seresin, Celler le Brun, Hunters and Corbins/Stoneleigh. The Seresin Chardonnay was outrageously good and only NZ$18 (US$12) a bottle! Wow! At one winery we meet a guy from Oregon City (about 3 miles from our home) on a research trip to the region (i.e. a vacation being written off on taxes). He grows Pinot Noir and Cabernet grapes for use by home wine makers. Needless to say I got his card.

Lunch was a sandwich in the park with the ducks. Lots and lots of ducks. Who practically sat on our knees and salivated while we ate. The ducks went hungry (we were afraid it’d be Alfred Hitchcock all over again if we fed them).

The night was spent in the Knightsbridge Motel. A romantic evening watching a movie and eating take away from the Bamboo Garden.

22 Feb 1997 - Kaikoura

We’re off to Kaikoura today. A detour along the way for the Vavasour winery in the Atawere Valley (a bit early for that kinda of thing, but we courageously work our way though their wine list).

Kaikoura’s claim to fame is marine wildlife. You name it and they have it – seals, dolphins, whales, crayfish, etc. The big thing to do here is swim with the dolphins (Dusky dolphins if you’re interested, apparently the most friendly and playfully dolphin species, which is quite handy for Kaikoura). Unfortunately, the dolphins are a little too friendly and are oversubscribed for the next two days, so instead I pull out my dive card and sign up for a dive with the seals (fur seals to be precise).

Lynn takes off to check into our room, hike up Fyffe mountain and tour the town (if you could design a personalized nightmare for Lynn, going out in a small boat in the swells and jumping into freezing cold water with large marine creatures would be pretty close to the mark).

Needless to say, my dive was quite incredible. There you are, hanging in the water about 30 feet down, swooshing back and forth between the rocks and kelp in a major surge, and all around you there are these fur seals doing the most amazing acrobatics. If you just stay still, they get bored and go off, but if you imitate their movements (roll over, do back flips and wave your arms), them hang around to play. Very cool.

The place is crawling with crayfish (a.k.a. rock lobsters). I’m in the "look but don’t touch" category of diver, but others are here for their dinner. Back on the boat I find from them that looking is easy, catching is something else. The only ones they got are undersize and have to be thrown back (which I guess is how the big ones get to be big).

I made a new friend on the boat – Monica. Turns out she works with Andersen Consulting in Chicago, in the Call Center business. I just can’t get away from this stuff!

Tonight we stay in the Old Convent Inn. This I run by a Frenchman, Marc and a Kiwi, Wendy (a native New Zealander, not a small flightless bird). They have this charming story of how the met in Greece, fell in love and came back to NZ to discover this old convent that they are still fixing up to this day.

Dinner at the Crayfish Pot café downtown. Great steak.

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