Never enough wine tasting
Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
48Trip End Jul 08, 2010
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Where I stayed
A quick aside: this main artery of the NZ highway system had a mere two lanes and far more resembled a winding country road. That is but one of many reminders that the population is so small and can't/needn't support larger infrastructure. In fact, the entire country is the same size as California or Japan while having only 4 million people (75% of them living within Auckland and fewer than 1 million living on the entire South Island). Compare that to 37 million for Cali and 127 million for Japan. Another reminder is that although it's the off-season, everywhere we go is fairly deserted
Many people have said that the drive along the South Island would be beautiful. At this stage, we've seen some pretty amazing landscapes, but this stretch didn't fail to disappoint. For the first part of the drive, we passed through endless stretches of mountainous pasture land, which might explain why the lamb, venison and veal are so unbelievably good. The hills were covered predominantly with straw colored carpeting accented by deep, cyprus greens, bright, mustard yellows and autumnal reds. Needless to say, no photo would really do it justice. Oh, and lots and lots of sheep. There are definitely waaay more sheep than people in this country.
All of a sudden, we rounded a bend in the road and were faced with an impossibly green ocean peeking out from between two mountains. I don't think that Renu and I could stop talking about the color; it was unlike anything we'd ever seen. One thing that NZ has taught me is that my language abilities fall woefully short of describing its beauty. And it's not all awe-inspiring...some of it is more sneaky, but no less gorgeous. That stretch marked the town of Kaikoura, where we're returning for a whale watching cruise on Thursday. More stunning vistas of mountains dropping off into the sea (yawn).
We then saw a road sign indicating seals, so we pulled off at a lookout point and watched a bunch of fur seals hanging out on the rocks below. They are some of the cutest animals from afar but very ugly up close. We couldn't decide what they most resembled, but rodents were certainly at the top of the list. They are so graceful in the water but so awkward on land. A few of the males started fighting over their territory on the rocks...just fascinating. On someone's advice, we walked up a nearby path to a waterfall where all the seal cubs go to play. It was so cool. There were seals lying only a few feet from us on the path, others playing all up along the stream and then a whole bunch in the pool by the waterfall. At this stage, we were really eating into our wine time but were witnessing such a unique scene that we didn't want to leave.
After a brief stop at a roadside shack to split a crayfish (rock lobster), we sped onwards toward Blenheim. Unfortunately, Speed Racer here got pulled over. The very friendly policeman (yes, even the cops are friendly) explained to me that I was 13 km/h over the speed limit, and he was obliged to write me up. On coming back to the car, he said that the ticket was for $80, which could be paid at any Westpac bank, but if I chose not to pay it, they wouldn't chase me back to the States; however, if I returned within 10 yrs, I'd have to pay up
Officer: We take speeding very seriously here in NZ, Sam. If you get caught speeding 3 times, they take away your license and car. So, you got 2 more bites of that cherry.
Me: I think once was enough, sir.
Officer: [Slight smile] Well, enjoy the rest of your holiday, Sam.
Without further ado, I drove us on to Blenheim as fast as the speed limit would allow, stopping only to check-in at the hotel front desk before hitting up a few wineries before they closed. Renu also had the brilliant idea to push back our whale watch tour by one day so we could get a little more wine in the next day. That afternoon we squeezed in tastings at Wither Hills, Villa Maria, River Farms, and Cloudy Bay. While I am far from an expert at this tasting business, I must say I really liked the style there -- the tastings are free and they only pour a small amount of each wine but let you taste however many wines they have (5-8 on average). It's a sharp contrast from Mendoza where you pay but get poured tankards of only 3 wines. I much prefer the Marlborough way because you can actually taste the wine and sample more choices
Some more rain the next morning. We did two more tastings at Seresin and Mahi before a late winery lunch at Wairau River. Renu couldn't have been happier with her cheese plate and mussel chowder. She later brought up the interesting point that all of the food and wine products here are so good, but most of the operations are far too artisanal to develop the scale for exporting to the US. And even if they were able to do so, it would ruin what makes them so fresh and special. On the other end of the spectrum, the radio stations are absolutely atrocious. Can't win 'em all, I guess.
Next up: an account of our whale watching in Kaikoura.