Too Many Choices

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November 20th 2013
Published: November 22nd 2013
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During the night, the DOC campsite I'd stayed at, Puhi Puhi, just north of Kaikoura, had managed to fill to capacity. It was great to meet a few of them in the morning, with a list of countries ranging from Spain and Germany to the US. Goes to show the draw that New Zealand has on the world travel scene.

The coast road from just south of Kaikoura to about 80km north of it is stunningly rugged with the road often weaving in and out of the rocky coves where sea lions are sunning on the rocks. It winds along next to the Pacific Rail Line that stretches from Christchurch all the way to Picton, often swapping sides as either the train line disappears into a tunnel or the road does. It was on this stretch, about 40km from the nearest town that it happened.

I can no longer say "If that's the worst that happens to me then it's not too bad". Driving this coastal highway, the trusty camper van that has served me through 4 alpine areas, countless corrugated gravel entries to campsites and national parks, and even survived a crossing of the Cook Straight, finally decided that now was the time to start causing problems. First indication.... loss of power. A quick check down and the temperature is enough to fry breakfast... extra crispy. My saving grace?? The fact it's a camper van and has a water tank on board.

Next problem?? how the hell do you open the bonnet when there's no lever under the dash, in the glove box, or anywhere else for that matter?

So there's me.... sitting on the side of the road.... with the instruction manual open.... getting eaten by sandflies.... again.

Water in and I was on my way again. I must confess that I hadn't checked it in the 3 weeks that I've used the van so I just figured it had been pushed a bit hard for a bit long. A theory that held true.... for a while at least.

Reaching Blenheim, I grabbed a map of the Marlborough wine region and started circling a few that I was interested in, including the original vineyard in the area, Brancott Estate. I usually try and steer clear of the mass producing vineyards, preferring to visit the small, boutique estates, but it gets hard to do that when every name on the map is an internationally recognised brand. Instead I picked 3 that were large without being completely mechanical and modernized.

Marlborough is set in the river valley of the Wairau River which cuts down it's centre. Over the years it has deposited lots of loamy soils on the south banks whereas the north tends to be far more gravelly. Both areas are used to grow grapes but the south gives much more tropical notes to the famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc varietal, and the north gives more floral and herbaceous characters. Often the winemakers will blend the 2 types of the same varietal to achieve a well rounded palate.

Wither Hills Estate is a label that I know well from the area and I was interested to see the vineyards. Situated on the south bank of the Wairau River like most of the cellar doors, it was the perfect introduction to the region. Here, the ladies manning the tasting room were very knowledgeable and it was here that I decided on my mission for the day....

To only buy Cellar Release stock.

This meant that I was still getting that boutique winery feel even if a few of the labels were recognisable and readily available back home.

Brancott Estate, as mentioned, was the first vineyard planted in the area in 1973 when the owner bought the land from a sheep and cattle farmer. 2 years later in 1975, the first Sauvignon Blanc vine was planted, with the first vintage released in 1979. A very young area as far as wine growing regions are concerned, but it only took 10 years for a wine from the region to win Best Wine In The World at the London Wine Exhibition and as they say.... the rest is history.

With a few samples under the belt and a few bottles under the arm, lunch was a delicious local seafood platter from Giesen Estate, before calling it a day (and before my wallet got any lighter).

Upon returning to Blenheim for the evening, I struck up a conversation with an elderly English couple that have been living in New Zealand for the last 8 years. When mentioning that I was wanting to head up to Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park in the morning they recommended that I couldn't pass Kaiteriteri. Swayed by their experience, I set off in the morning to have a look around. About 30km into the mountains and still 70km from Nelson, the van gave up on me again. It had managed to go through 5 litres of water in a day. Being time-sensitive (I had to get the ferry back to the North Island in the morning and then only had 2 days to get back to Auckland to get my flight home), I figured that as long as I kept the water level up then I didn't need to worry about it.

From this moment on, I've had to stop every 2 hours and refill it.... interesting driving to say the least.

Scooting through Nelson with a stop for a quick coffee, I went straight up to Kaiteriteri. The couple was right!! A sleepy seaside town with a river pouring out into one side of the bay, it was the perfect place (and the perfect time as it had reached the mid 20's) for some beach-side relaxation and some cooling off. A popular area more with the locals it seems, was perfect.... no big touristy boats or tours, just sun, sand and swimming.

With a morning ferry back to Wellington, I was aiming to stay the night in Picton and the "use alternate route" button on the GPS came into good effect again. Instead of heading back through Blenheim, there is a scenic route, Queen Charlotte Drive, that winds it's way along the south side of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Brilliant for driving (although it took over an hour to travel 33km), but also amazing for scenery. With the sun shining, the Sound became an iridescent blue, fringed by the odd village. A great way to end the South Island!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


22nd November 2013
Queen Charlotte Sound 3

Ah...the colours that are New Zealand
This pic reminds me so much of the colours of NZ that remain in the psyche and make me want to return. Nice pics and wines in this blog Mark.
13th February 2014
Marlborough - Giesen Estate Lunch

Looks like you are suffering
Now that is a lunch!

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