Marlborough Wine Country, Nelson and Golden Bay

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
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Trip End Dec 29, 2008


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, June 27, 2008

Heading further north we follow the wine trail up to Blenheim and Renwick, the main wine producing region of NZ producing arguable the best Sauvingon Blanc in the world.  As we drive into the town of Blenheim we pass right by probably the most famous of all NZ vineyards, Montana so we stop off for our first tasting of six or seven different wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Reisling.  The Sauvingnon is , of course amazing but surprisingly so is the Reisling, a far cry from the sweet German Reislings like "Blue Nun"which were so popular back in the 70's in the UK. Over the next couple of days we follow the wine trail and visit some very famous wineries including Villa Maria, Cloudy Bay, Hunter as well as some of the less well known, such as Highfield and Wairu River.  We have tastings at all of them.  Unfortunately, unlike Carolyn, I am driving I have to spit rather than swallow which seems like sacrilege but we do buy a bottle or two at most places for later consumption.

Reluctantly, we leave the Marlborough vineyards behind us as we head further north to Nelson, a sort of provincial capital and the largest city we have visited since Christchurch. We stop en route at Havelock a small port which promotes itself as the "Green Lipped Mussel Capital of the world" and as it is lunch time we park up and take a walk down too the quayside and have lunch at a small restaurant renowned for its mussels. As it is winter the place is very quiet but the mussels Kilpatrick (grilled with bacon and cheese) and chowder are fantastic. The Chowder is the best since Boston which is of course, the chowder capital of the world.

After lunch we continue our drive into Nelson and, as we approach the city it is considerably larger than we imagined, we have a look around the city centre in search of and osteopath (the driving is beginning to take its toll and my back is killing me!) and, having made an appointment for the following morning, we head off in search of a campsite and find one within walking distance of the city centre.

After my morning visit to the osteopath we do a little shopping and stop for lunch at a Thai food stall on the street. The stall is run by a Thai woman and her daughter from Bangkok and the food is excellent and unlike a lot of the food now served to farangs in that wonderful city, is not tamed for the foreign palate. When I asked for it spicy (in Thai of course!), it really was blow your head off spicy!!

Walking around we pass by the jewellers which made THE ring for the Lord of the Rings films. As my wedding ring has been getting very loose we call in to the shop and leave it with them to get it resized.. Whilst in the shop we read all about their involvement in the films and how they made a total of 69 gold rings for the films plus one giant gold ring used in the opening titles sequence which, apparently, was so large it had to be made of alloy and then gold plated. The shop now sells a variety of LOTR gold rings running up to the platinum version at NZ$4,999!

Our intention was to head off to the Abel Tasman National Park and catch a water taxi along the coast of the park and then to walk back through the tramping track in the park and to carry on driving along the northern coast to Golden Bay however, the weather is taking a turn for the worse and we decide to press on to Golden Bay and leave Abel Tasman for another day. The drive, once again takes us along coastal roads and through mountain passes this time through thick cloud and heavy rain we stop at a couple of roadside stalls to buy some Kiwi fruit and some Blenheim apples, both of which are delicious and ridiculously cheap here - i.e. 50p for 5 kilos.

Halfway up a mountain pass we pull over at a viewpoint and bizarrely, bump into another couple from England for the fourth time since we have been in NZ! What are the odds?

We carry on driving to Golden Bay and stop briefly in Takaka at the info centre to get the low-down on where we could park up for the night. The staff in the centre point us in the direction of Pohara and the boat club, who apparently don't mind people camping on the approach road to their boat ramp. When we get there the single track road in question leads out from the harbour into the sea and has a fantastic view (if somewhat exposed). We settle in for the night and after a few hours the storm starts and it rains heavily for most of the night. We wake up in the morning and check for leaks in the van roof and find none - until we start moving and then there is water everywhere! In the cupboards , in the front, along the back of the roof.... So much so that I thing I must have unknowingly damage the roof on some trees somewhere. We drive to the Abel Tasman Memorial where there is a lookout and I can also get to see the roof of the van - fortunately there is no damage. Must have been the wind.
We drive on to the other end of Golden Bay, Farewell Spit, so named because this is where Capt. Cook said farewell to New Zealand. The area of Golden Bay is a coastal wetland and as a result the bird life is prolific. We stop at Wainui Bay to view an absolutely huge flock of birds all waiting on the beach and they then take off in formations groups, a bit like one of those old Battle of Britain movies.

Driving around, the weather is awful so we just fit in a couple of short walks. The first to Pupu Hydro, a hydroelectric power station originally built way back in 1929 which originally supplied power to the whole local area.. It fell into disrepair after the war and was then restored to full working order back in the 1980s and even now is supplying energy to the National Grid. The power station itself, although unmanned and in the middle of nowhere is open to viewing by the public - not something that would happen in many countries without it being vandalised I suspect .

A little further on is Waikoropupu Springs which, allegedly, are the largest springs in Australasia and the clearest in the world! (Apparently the only clearer water to be found in the world is under an ice shelf in Antartica!! The water really is stunningly clear. The springs are around 3 metres at their deepest and there is 100% visibility. The plants on the bottom are bright green and blue and it really is like looking into an aquarium or a onto a coral reef.

We head back to Pohara to spend another night on the harbour side, stopping of in Takaka for fish, chips and mussels for dinner ( the fish really is excellent here). Thankfully no storms tonight so no leaks in the van tonight.
Today we drive back to Nelson,skirting around Abel Tasman NP as the weather is still to bad for any serious walking. Instead we stop at Anoki Salmon Farm thinking to buy some salmon. The farm is run by a Dutch guy who took early retirement from BP and decided upon a lifestyle change bought it over the internet 3 years ago. Rather than simply sell us the salmon he insists that we fish for our own. After some very brief instructions we head off to the lake, not entirely convinced that we will catch anything, apart from a cold (still raining!). After a couple of casts Carolyn gets a nibble but no fish. Thankfully, I managed to catch one a few minutes later (male ego intact!). A few minutes later Carolyn lands her first fish - and it is twice the size of mine. By now we are really into this fishing game and could easily get hooked on it, but we decide we have enough fish for the next few days so head back to the hut where our Dutch friend is ready and waiting with the smoker. We opt for a sweet paprika and a plain smoke. Twenty minutes later and we are tucking into The most delicious and freshest (20 mins from lake to plate) salmon we have ever had. Certainly on a par with the tuna sashimi we had for breakfast at Tsujuki fish market in Tokyo.

For the rest of the day Carolyn continues to remind me that she caught the biggest fish (whoever said size was not important was clearly lying!).

On the way back to Nelson, the weather is getting a bit better so we head of down a side road for a walking track which is 11km along a single lane gravel track off the main highway. 500m along the track we meet some cars coming the other way and pull off to the side to let them through. Big mistake! We are well and truly stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere! We (or rather Carolyn as I am driving!) tries try scraping up some stones from the shingle track and putting them under the wheels and manage to move the van about 5 yards or so but hour later we are still stuck and are thinking of walking back to the road to get some help and then a sheep farmer turns up in his 4WD and pulls us out in no time. Discretion being the better part of valor we decide to forget about the walk and head back to Nelson.

On the way back into Nelson we pass a DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite right on the beach so we decide to stay for the night. The site is one of the best we have stayed at. Right on the beach, very quiet and fantastic views of the bay, the ocean and the mountains beyond. We spend some time walking along the shore at sunset watching what turned out to be seals, playing in the bay. - We kept seeing these black fins sticking up in the water and thought that they were whales, but the DOC warden put us right on that one.

In the morning , we head on into Nelson and stop off at the jewellers and pick up my resized and very shiny wedding ring (no side effects, such as invisibility or a desire to rule the world just yet, but give it time!).
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