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New Zealand day 14. Blenheim blogging.

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After yesterdays wine tasting we’ve had an easy day exploring the sights of Blenheim after a lazy start due to the indifferent weather. For once, instead of the scorching sun, the day started under heavy cloud and low temperatures which was a great excuse to catch up on social media and events elsewhere in the world whilst drinking lots of coffee. When we did venture forth we headed over to the Marlborough museum which deserves more visitors than it gets, but then the name doesn’t really do it justice. They have some very interesting information on the origins of the wine industry as well as local Maori history and memorabilia on the Victorian settlers – not to mention a fascinating display on some feisty women who were part of the New Zealand suffrage movement.

The museum site’s home to one of the terminal stations on the 2ft gauge Blenheim Riverside railway which runs 5.2km along a river valley to terminate under a viaduct carrying the main line from Picton to Christchurch in the centre of Blenheim. Here’s a few shots of the line.

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The railway passes through Riverside park in Blenheim.

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After our railway fix we headed out to amble along the Wairau Lagoons Walkway, a 3 hour round trip that takes you out through the wetlands of the Wairau estuary to the wreck of the ‘TSS Waverley’.

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Choices. Turn left and you can get to the wreck in 1hr15. Turn right and it takes you 1hr45. Guess which way we went?

Tomorrow we move on from Blenheim and head down the road to Kaikoura, where we’ve booked to go swimming with dolphins…

 

 

 

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Rolling blog: New Zealand day 13. Wine tasting in Marlborough.

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Today, we will mostly be drinking wine! We’ve joined the ‘Bubbly Grape’ wine tasting tour where a minibus is taking us around lots of vineyards in the Marlborough region.  The tour was really good fun. There was only 6 of us so it was rather intimate instead of being part of a large anonymous group. In all we visited 6 cellar doors, starting with the Brancott estate, which kicked off the Marlborough wine boom way back in 1973. You’ll have also seen their wines marketed under their original name of Montana. Without doubt, their cellar door has the best location we visited as it sits on a ridge overlooking the vineyards, giving views for miles. Here’s a couple of pictures.

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The Brancott staff were very knowledgeable and we were also treated to a short video which explained about the various regions that make up the Marlborough area. I have to say, they’re not my favourite wines, but we did get to try a variety, from Sauvignons to Pinot Noirs. They’re certainly worth a visit.

Our second stop was at Villa Maria who produce wines both Dawn and I love. When we booked for the tour we’d been asked if their were specific vineyards we wanted to visit and this was one of our choices. Villa Maria produce a wide variety of wines that they don’t sell on the UK market which is a real shame as they’ve got some stunners. They’ve also won a heap of awards for them. Here’s their cellar door.

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Once again, the staff were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We tried a wide selection of wines, including an excellent rose and dessert wine. These might not be to everyone’s tastes, but trying new ones is half the fun of these events. Several of us were so impressed that we ended up buying different bottles. Villa Maria were unusual in that many of their wines are branded specific to the vineyard the grapes come from, whilst many others use a blend. Here’s a list of the wines on offer and the awards won – as well as prices.

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The next place we visited was also on our list: Cloudy Bay. When we arrived we could see that it was rather different from the others. It was very upmarket – if not a little swanky. The wines were very good but they do charge a premium price for them. It was only when we were leaving that we found out why. Cloudy Bay is owned by Louis Vuitton!

The third cellar door we visited couldn’t have been more different. It was a locally owned family winemaker called Allan Scott who produces some very good wines. Here we are at their cellar door.

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We also broke for lunch here as they have a lovely outdoor restaurant that serves some excellent fish dishes. I chose these gorgeous clams.

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After lunch we moved on to another locally owned and family run vineyard: Forrest (who also market their wine under ‘The Doctors’ label – as the couple who set up the vineyard were both doctors)! Here’s what we tried and the range of prices, complete with tasting notes.

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Next (and last) on the list was Giesen, a vineyard run by three German bothers. The German influence on the wines was quite noticeable, many of us fond them too sweet, but they were certainly worth trying just as a contrast. They also had something unique – which several of us really enjoyed: “Pomme de Gris” – a mixture of white wine and cider! It really worked as a long, refreshing drink…

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All in all it was a great day out. You get to try a real variety of wines from brands you may never of heard of before. You learn a lot about Marlborough (and Hawke’s Bay) wines and eat some lovely food. There’s even a stop at a chocolate producers at the end of the trip! Needless to say, we couldn’t resist buying something to quaff over the next few days…

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A Favour to ask
If you enjoy reading these blogs, please consider clicking on an advert – or two! You don’t have to buy anything, honest! The clicks just help me cover the cost of running this blog. Many thanks, Paul

 

 

 

Rolling blog. New Zealand day 12: Exploring Blenheim and Nelson.

We had an easy day yesterday after getting the ferry over to the South Island. We picked up our car in Picton for the half-hour trip to Blenheim, where we’re staying in an AirBnB for four nights. Not that we used the car much. We left it at our accommodation and walked into Blenheim instead. Mind you, I could get used to having this view each morning – we have vineyards across the road from us!

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We’re currently having lunch in Nelson, having driven here via Havelock. It’s quite a spectacular road as it climbs and hairpins its way through the hills to reach the coast. Nelson’s a lot bigger than I imagined. The place has a relaxed feel to it, with the small square below the church a lovely oasis of brew pubs and cafes.

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As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! We stayed for lunch and a drink in the square and watched the world go by whilst enjoying a huge portion of calamari! The bar we sat outside was an old building that was converted to a pub – and a very good job they’d done of it too…

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I’ve been surprised at how many preserved railways there are in New Zealand, although most of them are small-scale efforts like this one in Nelson. It’s part of a local museum and has a short running line on the site of the original railway which closed in 1952. It only runs at weekends, but here’s the line and station at Nelson.

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Nelson’s a lovely little place with a great atmosphere. It’s used as a base by many tourists who go on to explore some of the national parks in the area. We popped down to one – the Nelson Lakes national park and beautiful Lake Rotoiti.

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We drove back along highway 63, following a river valley whose name is associated with the wine industry: Wairau. Wairau Cove is on of our favourite New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s back in the UK, so it’s quite a kick to be here!

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Tomorrow we’ll be doing a vineyard tour, so export more wine-related blogging…

 

A Favour to ask

If you enjoy reading these blogs, please consider clicking on an advert – or two! You don’t have to buy anything, honest! The clicks just help me cover the cost of running this blog. Many thanks, Paul

 

 

My New Zealand pictures on Zenfolio.

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This is a quick blog to say that I’ve had time this morning to edit and upload a far bigger selection of pictures from our New Zealand trip onto my Zenfolio website. I only post a snapshot of what I’ve taken on the blog – for obvious reasons. If you want to have a look at the full selection, they’ll be uploaded to this gallery. Expect a lot more pictures to be added now that we’re on the incredibly scenic South Island and also because now we’re hiring cars to get around, so we can stop when and where we like. Enjoy the pictures!

I’ll be writing my usual daily rolling blog later.

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 11. Wellington to Blenheim, South Island.

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After a very sociable few days (but far too short a time) we’re on the move again. Today we catch the Interislander ferry to Picton on the top of the South Island, so watch this space…

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We’re currently in the aquatic no-man’s land between North and South islands, aboard the Dutch built ferry “Kaitaki”. The weather’s absolutely stunning, with clear blue skies and the only cloud in evidence clinging to the mountainous slopes of the North Island. Needless to say I’ve been busy with the camera.

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After a very sociable few days (but far too short a time) we’re on the move again. Today we catch the Interislander ferry to Picton on the top of the South Island, so watch this space…

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We’re currently in the aquatic no-man’s land between North and South islands, aboard the Dutch built ferry “Kaitaki”. The weather’s absolutely stunning, with clear blue skies and the only cloud in evidence clinging to the mountainous slopes of the North Island. Needless to say I’ve been busy with the camera.

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Passing the bottom of the North Island

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Sailing up Marlborough Sound

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The view from the stern of the ferry as we sail up Marlborough sound towards Picton.

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Our ferry does a U-turn at Picton to reverse into its berth. 

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Having picked up our hire car we’re having a lazy lunch at “cockles”, a lovely seafood bistro on the railway station at Picton. Here’s their prawns (which were delicious).

The mussel and cockle patty’s were pretty damned good too!

Not surprisingly, this is a good place to watch trains. We’re sat within 10 feet of the Afternoon departure from Picton to Christchurch.

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 10. More Wellington wanderings…

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The weather’s picked up here in Wellington and the heavy cloud we had yesterday has deferred to its fluffier, more broken cousins. Today’s going to be rather sociable as 10 of us are meeting up for a meal this evening. We’ve a couple of friends from the UK (Merv and Alexa) who’re travelling in the opposite direction to us (South Island to North) and they pitch up in Wellington this afternoon, along with Alexa’s daughter. Meanwhile, another old friend of Dawn’s is coming along with her family, so we’re going to be mob handed for our last night in Wellington as tomorrow we catch the ferry to Picton on to the South Island.

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We’ve spent a fascinating hour or so in the Te Anu museum, learning about how the Maori spread across the Pacific and made their way to New Zealand all those centuries ago. Talk about prodigious feats of navigation!

Now we’re soaking up the sun and enjoying a spot of calmari for lunch on the harbour front.

As expected yesterday turned into a very convivial day. Here’s the group at the end of it.

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Rolling blog: New Zealand day 9. Wellington wanderings…

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We’ve had a slow start to the day due to the fact it’s been raining in Wellington this morning, so we’ve used it as an excuse to catch up on some chores and take advantage of access to a washing machine, enabling us to get all our dirty washing done before hitting the South Island. A leisurely morning’s also allowed me to get some more New Zealand pictures onto my Zenfolio website. You can find them here.

Chores done, we’re about to walk into town and explore. I’ve not been here for 20 years, so I’m looking forward to rediscovering the place…

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Well, we’ve kept up the slow theme to today! We’re staying in the Aro valley, a lovely little area that nestles in the hills to the South-East of the city. It’s one of the oldest settlements and possesses a quirky mix of wooden homes spread out across the narrow valley sides. There’s a small centre which has a mix of bohemian cafe’s and eccentric shops. The only downside is the cost of property here (a problem across much of New Zealand apparently). Here’s the view from our friend’s house, looking down the valley.

Here’s some typical properties from the area. Although, admittedly, not all are this well kept!

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It took us the best part of half an hour to walk down to the harbour and CBD (Central Business District). We were full of good intentions for all the things we were going to do, but most of our time was spent watching the world go by. The weather remained overcast so we flagged getting the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens and relaxed instead. It was very much a ‘sitting on the dock of the bay’ afternoon.

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Meanwhile, seen from the dock of the bay, an Interisland ferry pulls out of Wellington harbour…

Not that it’s all ships nowadays, the world’s moved on. Once upon a time this area would have been teeming with steamships, now part of it is a base for helicopter tours at $120 pp per pop.

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Helen managed to get out of work early to meet us and acted as our guide through parts of the city we’d have otherwise missed, such as Cuba St, another laid-back area full of cafe’s and restaurants that we’ll be visiting again tomorrow. On our way back we called at this little gem in the Aro valley. It’s a former garage which is now a brewery (link).

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Once upon a time this would have been full of cars up on jacks

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Try before you buy – then purchase a takeaway or pop over to their bar across the road.

 

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 8. Napier to Wellington.

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After a very pleasant 24 hours exploring the Art Deco delights of Napier we’re on the move again. This time we’re taking the Intercity bus all the way to Wellington, our final North Island stop on this part of the trip. It’s a long-haul on a sold-out double-deck coach. That takes almost 6 hours. We’d have liked to have seen more of Napier and the adjacent town of Hastings (which also has some lovely buildings) but when you’ve only got a month…

Anyway, here’s a few shots from Napier.

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The town has a lovely, laid back atmosphere which makes it a very pleasant place to while away a few hours, admiring the buildings, or just sitting outside one of the many cafes to watch the world go by. In February Napier hosts an Art Deco festival, which sounds delightful. With all the palm trees and wall to wall sunshine, the place reminds me more of California than Cleethorpes! The shops are more upmarket too. Dawn was impressed with the quality of the clothes shops and I noticed the organic grocery stores and music shops – not to mention the business dedicated to Art Deco memorabilia. The theme pervades to the town, but not in a tacky, commercial way, more in a celebration of the design. This manifests itself in carefully designed shop signs, or even displays of old wireless in some of the bars. Talking of bars, that’s one thing that’s missing – a proper brew pub! Instead, the town suffers the curse of the ‘plastic Paddy’Irish theme bar – although one of the main ones has closed down – leaving a site ripe for development in the way I’ve mentioned.

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We’re well on the way to Palmerston North now, having passed through a series of small Kiwi towns en-route. As before, they feel more American than English, mostly because they’re resolutely low rise and many of the smaller building are constructed from timber. The scenery’s another matter. This is Scotland in all but name.

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We’ve just had a half-hour break in Palmerston North, which would’ve been lovely if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Sunday, so the place is closed! It’s a large town too, but the centre of town around the bus station’s deserted. We managed to find one cafe nearby for a quick drink and a loo stop, but it was all a bit rushed. Whilst we were sitting there I spotted this sign in the window, which was slightly disconcerting.

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Heading on from Palmerston we followed highway 1 down the coast to Wellington. It was a lovely drive as the road hugs the coast before weaving & winding its way through the hills that surround Wellington. I’d forgotten just how rugged the landscape is around the city. The roads were remarkably quiet, despite it being the end of the summer holiday for many people.

On arrival at Wellington we were met by an old friend of Dawn’s. Although originally from Yorkshire, Helen has lived over here for many years.  The three of us had a lovely evening at Helen’s home, chatting whilst sharing  Shepherds pie over a glass of wine. The two hadn’t seen each other for 25 years, so I left them to do some catching up and retreated to do a spot of picture editing, so here’s another selection of shots from Napier.

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Napier’s main beach is dark shingle and the power of the sea makes it unsuitable for swimming by the inexperienced, but it is beautiful to walk along and watch.

 

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 7. Rotarua to Napier.

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We’re on the move again today. Our day started at 6am due to the strong sunlight streaming through our chalet windows straight onto the bed. The day seemed too good to miss so we were up early, sipping tea and coffee whilst watching the backpackers stumble into life. A bonus was that a staff member pointed out the Saturday market opposite our rooms on the nearby car park so we wandered over to have a look and see what we might grab for breakfast. The market was a relaxed little affair selling some excellent local fruit and veg, bric-a-brac, handicrafts, plants and a variety of Asian cuisine. You could get Indian street food (Dosas ,bhelpuri etc). Chinese steamed pork buns and dim sum or (for the real carnivores) steak sandwiches. We opted for the buns & dim sun. The market was popular with people of all ages and communities and seems to be quite an institution.

We’re temporarily homeless again right now and taken up residence outside the tourist office for the next hour until the Intercity bus arrives to take us to Napier. It’s an attractive place to while away an hour, watching the world go by…

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We’re now relaxing in the sun on the roof of our backpackers in Napier after a really interesting day.

When a fairly old single deck coach pitched up to take us to Napier I didn’t hold out much for the journey, but it was far better than I expected. Our first stop was at Taupo, which sits on the edge of a massive lake of the same name. It makes Lake Windermere look like a puddle! You can see it behind this rather odd tourist train that perambulates through the park.

Clearly, Taupo is a base for lots of outdoor activities and seemed a really busy, touristy place. But it wasn’t where we wanted to be. The next part of the journey was the section that surprised me. Our coach began twisting and climbing some roads that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Alps, whilst the scenery was so Scottish it’d have made many tartan-wearers homesick! The only thing that wasn’t typical was the weather, which was stunning. We had horizon to horizon clear blue skies. I gave my phone to Dawn to take a few pictures as she had the window seat. Here’s a sample.

Napier’s a lovely little place with a really interesting (but tragic) history because the town was flattened by an earthquake in 1931 that left scores dead. It was rebuilt in the contemporary architectural stye of the time: Art Deco, which gives the place a time-warp feel and a legacy of some stunning buildings. I’ll add some pictures in the next blog.

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 6. Rotorua ramble

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It’s a beautifully sunny day here in Rotorua so we’ve started the day slowly, enjoying coffee in the sun whilst watching the comings and goings at the backpackers where we’re staying. Our chalet room is on the basic side of basic, but we’re only here for a couple of nights so it’s no problem. We’re right next to a park full of the hot springs and bubbling mud pools that have made the place famous. You certainly know they’re around due to the sulphur content – which is enough to close off your sinuses!

The springs run throughout the town. Many hotels offer hot spa pools and where ever you walk in town you’re likely to get a sudden nasal assault, as if you’ve just walked passed a blocked drain!

Right now we’re off to visit a Maori village…

17:40.

We’re back from Whakarewarewa, the Maori village, so here’s a quick selection of pictures, I’ll add details later.

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After a day toasting from the sun and breathing hot sulphur springs, it’s time to cool down with one of these…

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The Maori village was really interesting because this wasn’t a Government sponsored tourist site -it was a genuine Maori village run by the people who still live there. They’ve been welcoming guests ever since 1874, when they were approached by the Government who wanted to attract visitors. The local clan chief had the nous to say to them “alright, but this is our gig – we don’t need you”. As our young lady guide said “the difference between other places and us is we live here, we don’t go home from work at the end of the night, this IS our home” 60 Maori still live in the village which is built amidst the most amazing landscape of hot springs and geysers. It was a much more interesting experience than the normal tourist ones because our guide was part of the community she was showing us around and could give you so much more detail about real life in the village – almost gossip if you like, rather than detached, dry history. So, all the dancers you see in the performance can be seen back in the village later, just living their everyday lives.

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We’re now back in the backpackers, catching up on the internet of things before heading off for an early night as we’re on the move again tomorrow. This time it’s to yet another contrast, a place called Napier. This is a town that was flattened by an earthquake in 1931 so most of it was rebuilt in the architectural style of the time: Art Deco.