Sunday, October 08, 2006

Malborough and surrounds

We left Abel Tasman National Park and hit the road again, unavoidably retracing our steps as far as Nelson, which we breezed through without stopping. Another winding road took us up into the hills and back down again, mainly through pine plantation. At Pelarus Bridge we stopped and walked the short Tōtara Walk. So called because of a very large specimen of the tree of the same name. The forest had many other species of native tree, and Gemma brought along a little field guide that she bought so that we could identify them. We are such geeks.

At Havelock the highway bears south toward Blenheim, or you can turn off onto the scenic drive straight to Picton. We chose the scenic drive, a very winding road that climbs and drops along with the hills. All along the way the road overlooks stunning turquoise bays of the Malborough Sounds. We stopped in Picton for fuel and supplies. At the supermarket they refused to serve me beer! There were signs up saying that anyone looking under the age of 30 would need I.D. For starters I'm over 30 and as 18 is the legal age for buying alcohol 30 seems a bit overzealous. As we didn't have any I.D. on us the guy referred the matter to his supervisor who was floating about behind him. She said, 'No.' to which I replied, 'Alright, whatever.' She must have taken this as aggression because she got really arsey with us, slamming our rice past the bleeper and virtually screaming the total price at us. We went to the bottle shop down the road and got our beer with no problems at all. By this point time was getting on so we drove a couple of kilometres out of Picton to a van park at Waikawa Bay. It was extremely windy in the van park. Every so often it would start gusting and the van would rock backward and forward.

In the morning we drove back into Picton to do one of the short walks. After a quick stop at the information centre to get a map we were on our way. The walk we chose went up a hill which gave a great view. First over the harbour where we could see a massive ship being loaded with logs and the inter-island ferry, all very interesting if you like that sort of thing. Secondly the view stretched over Queen Charlotte Sound. This is a sound, unlike Milford Sound which is actually a fiord, which means it has rolling hills surrounding the inlet from the sea (as opposed to the mountains and very deep water of a fiord).

After walking back down the hill we drove to the nearby town of Blenheim. This region is famous as New Zealands largest wine growing area. Clustered around the roads from Blenheim to the town of Renwick are many wineries, some large, some small. Something like 25 wineries in a 5km radius of one another. For once I convinced Gemma that she'd like a nice drive in the sunshine while I went tasting. I did slightly bribe her with the offer of a nice lunch. I liked the NZ wineries, everyone was very helpful and I didn't ever feel like I was talked down to, unlike some at the 'Wacky Wine Weekend' we went to in South Africa. I felt a little bit merry by the end of winery number two. I think Gemma enjoyed just watching me get tipsy and a bit silly. We went to 5 wineries in total (MudHouse, Huia, Highfield, Framingham & Nautilus), and I tasted every wine each had on for tasting that day. Most were excellent. At the Highfield Estate there is a tower. From this we had a 360 degree view over the region and could even make out the dark smudge of the North Island on the horizon.

My navigational skills were slightly impaired as we tried to find somewhere to stay, resulting in us taking a bit of a long route. Eventually we found the place we were looking for, a very old school caravan park, basically in the garden of a big old house. It was old school in that it had a lot of caravans (old) and no camper vans except ours. The coinage in New Zealand had recently changed but the showers and the washing machine in the park still took the old coins. I liked it.

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