An early morning start, 6.30am, and we are on an Intercity bus to Hastings going via many small villages, through valleys and over the hills of North island. New Zealand is such a beautiful country.
We get to Hastings and have a long walk with our heavy bags to our next Air BnB hosts. This is slightly different in that we are glamping on someone’s driveway. The woman at tourist info warns us it will be cold tonight, 6 degrees. We are slightly apprehensive. Our hosts are also (practically) vegan and cook for guests, they run bike hire from the garage, host seasonal travelers, another couple in a caravan on their drive, and have 2 small kids as well. It is a totally different household to the quiet ones we are used to so we were looking forward to this.
We arrive sweaty and dump our bags in the small tent abd greet our hosts. We then makebour way back into town to get our bearings. We have a late lunch at Madeleine’s cafe, spelt correctly.
We get back to our tent and meet some of our fellow residents, dinner is a vegan feast of soya bean rissoles, tomato and veg soup, salad, tomato bake.
Pudding is frozen bananas and soft red fruit wizzed up with coconut cream and topped with nuts, cinnamon. It is absolutely delicious and something to try at home.
We are on our way home from the furthest point in our journey, it has taken us 232 days to get here and it should take 8 days to get back 😨.
We had a great start to the day (if you avoid the struggling to get all our crap into teeny rucksacks) and went to Ritual for salmon and eggs for Guy and a small savoury muffin for little ol’ me. The music being played was excellent, Tame Impala, Alt-J, Foals, Maccabees all courtesy of a bloke from Sunderland.
The bus took us from Blenheim to Picton in about 25mins. Easy.
We had 2 hours before the ferry so as soon as we saw a Whitehaven vineyard umbrella we were sat there with a bottle of savvy wondering just how the hell are we going to adjust to life in the UK? Apparently it hasn’t changed so much that this is acceptable behaviour at lunchtime, every lunchtime.
We boarded the ferry and got settled, in the bar, where we spent sometime chatting to a guy with a Mancunian accent who has lived here since 1964. He had some tales to tell.
Arrival in Wellington was prompt and soon we were in a scabby backpackers thanking our lucky stars it was only one night. It felt grimy, dirty and the bathroom was so rank we didn’t shower. We feel like travellers again.
Scrubbed up, via the sink, we went to our favourite wine bar and tried a mystery tasting. The deal is to try and identify the grape, region and vintage of each of the 3 wines, we were hoping we could get maybe just one grape right!!
After much deliberation and pontification we decided on our grapes. We got 2 out of 3 right, the French chenin blanc evaded our tastebuds and I even got the producer right for the chardy (Chardonnay). Feeling pretty chuffed we celebrated with another glass of red then headed off for burnt dumplings at Dumpling’d in town.
We had bought a bottle of Yealands savvy thinking it was BYO at the dumpling house. It wasn’t. The posh Yealands wine was drunk, back in our scabby hostel room, out of paper cups. I am not sure the winemaker had this scenario in mind when he was perfecting his craft on this lush wine.
Anzac day is a pretty special occasion here, all shops are closed, at least for half a day, on this day that 2779 New Zealanders died at Gallipoli. There are dawn services in some towns around the country, which is the time that most lives were lost in this bloody campaign.
Blenheim doesn’t have a dawn service so we were in town for the 10.30am parade of veterans, serving members of the air force, navy, army and families of those who have lost their loved ones, to the cenetaph. The bag pipes were screeching, the bugles were calling and a beautiful brass band accompanied them on their short journey to the town square. It was wonderful to see so many young families with kids and babies attending. Everyone was on the streets, coming together, to remember the sacrifices made in the past, and the commitment and courage still shown today by the serving members of the NZ forces. We were really moved by it.
Even when we went for coffee afterwards the cafe was playing songs from that era or about the war, when we walked in they were playing The Pogues ‘Waltzing Matilda’ which has me in tears anytime of day or night, coffee was quickly drunk before too much eye leakage happened.
As we were missing our usual 20 mile bike ride around vineyards we got the bikes and went for a ride around town and onto the easy mountain bike track. It was ace fun, we loved it although my disc brakes were well used in a couple of steep descents!!! We might have to try more mountain biking when we get back.
After ham butties on our terrace we spent the afternoon blogging, drinking wine and playing with Instagram apps.
Guy spent more time photographing his diary than writing it.
We had a kebab for tea and the evening was spent chatting to our hosts and watching MKR….. Addictive stuff.
Our penultimate Monday before returning to the UK and we had to get up early to drop off our rental bikes, still it wasn’t until 9.30 that we dropped them off and then we were having breakfast at Ritual. Sweetness for me, man sized full English for Guy.
A bit of diary and blog catching up was done and then we were off on another days vineyards adventures, only this time it was different. We had chatted to a somillier, Alex, at Nobel Rot in Wellington, and found out that his dad owns Greywacke vineyards, he offered us a chance of a tasting as they don’t have a public cellar door. We first tasted their savvy (as the kiwis call Sauvignon Blanc) when staying in Cellar Wine Bar, Clevedon, and over a long weekend, we never had a bad wine at that place, and the Greywacke savvy stood out! So we had to turn up with fresh palettes at 2pm at Greywacke HQ, we were very excited.
We set off early for our cycle ride, the sky was blue, the leaves of the Pinot Noir vines were turning red, as we have learnt that this is what happens 2 weeks after the grapes are picked. The wind was making itself known a little but it was mainly helping us along the road at a fast pace. It is such stunning scenery with the mountains in the distance and vines in the foreground, I will miss this ride so much.
We were about an hour early for the tasting at Greywacke so decided to go to Brancott estate to see what they had to offer. Boy, oh, boy, was that a view worth cycling to.
We didn’t expect much, Brancott being a massive multinational who do bargain price wines at home, so apart from the stunning views we were stunned at the wines available. It was $12 for a tasting, by far the most expensive but it was well worth it and we had more than were listed on the ‘official’ tasting.
Then a quick cycle down the hill to Greywacke, we turned up as Kevin was finishing a pork pie for lunch. Good start, proper tucker!!!
For the next hour and 40 mins we learnt so much from him, there was another Finnish guy at the tasting who was working at Hunter vineyard, who knew loads as well so we just soaked up the knowledge and thoroughly enjoyed the wines, and even got to take a couple of the opened bottles home. Kevin’s photos were also stunning as you can see from his website. If you ever see a Greywacke wine, try it.
We then cycled like crazy to get back to Lawson Dry Hills before it closed. This is our final vineyard for this region, the other side to town. We went here in 2000 but it was much much swankier now, the TV has been replenished since it fell off the wall in the recent earthquake, the wines on the wall stayed put.
A few wines tasted and we were back on our bikes and cycling home for a buffet tea and tat TV.
A 45 min cycle from Blenheim and we were at Whitehaven vineyard chatting to Katrina in the cellar door who was massively knowledgable about wines, the family who started the vineyard and growing and fermenting grapes. We learnt a lot from her, like they prefer to take 40% of their leaf growth off the vines to open them up to the sunshine and ensure ripe grapes for a full flavoured wine. Although Team Roberts had an agreement not to buy any more bottles of wine today, as we are creating our own backpacker nightmare of transporting too many bottles of wine around, we did succumb and buy a Pinot Rose as it was stunning, the best rose ever. Geek fact – it had 2.5 hrs contact with the skins when crushing.
We walked through the NZ gourmet food section of the shop next door and managed not to buy any gin, vodka or whisky which was also available.
The wines were very good, all had deliciously classic flavours and if we saw them in the UK I would definitely buy one.
Round the corner to Framingham Wines which had the most gorgeous setting, a garden full of sweet roses, purple salvias and music lyrics from Elbow, Bowie, Muse, The Jam, Iggy Pop and more spray painted into the pavement.
It took us 10 mins just to get to the cellar door as it was so engaging. We ended up tasting 10, yep that reads ten, wines here along with another couple from Nottingham. This vineyard is a Reisling specialist so we had a lot of Reisling. All very different. We bought a fridge magnet, much lighter than a bottle.
Over the road is Forrest vineyard, great name eh, reminicent of the (once mighty) NFFC? We rolled in and were given a menu and asked to choose what we wanted to taste from a great tasting selection and we also ordered a cheese and pate platter. We sat in the warm sunday autumnal sunshine and had a beautiful time. This was real pinch me moment when we realise how ace our lives are.
Life goes on, and so soon enough we are off to our final vineyard for today, Gibson Bridge who had been recommended from our Air BnB hosts, and it didn’t disappoint. A real vineyard run by an enthusiastic couple, Julie was on cellar door duties and was chatty, knowledgable and so enthusiastic but also pretty realistic about how difficult it is to start a vineyard with her husband, Howard, as that is exactly what they have done. It is the Kiwi way, hard slog and labour and you will get a quality product. And theirs was a really good product, they only have 2 hectares of vines, mostly Pinot Gris with some gewurtstraminer Howard got a few years ago. We bought a dessert wine, yes, a sweet, sticky dessert wine which was dark and delicious. The other 2 ladies in our tasting group both bought dessert wines for $120 a (small) bottle!!
So a quick, wind assisted 35 min cycle and we were back at home, picking up cheese and pate platters from the local supermarket and back to watch MKR for our evenings entertainment. Addictive crap TV.
We also tasted a Villa Maria Arneis white wine, never heard of it before. Light, with honey afters.
Todays scores on the doors 44 (plus 1) wines tasted from 5 vineyards. 20 miles cycled according to Google.
Tonight was very special as we saw the Milky Way. A glittering belt of white specks across the night sky. Truely awesome to see our neighbours in our galaxy.
So with slightly tender undercarriages we set off on another days cycling around Marlborough. We rented bikes today, hybrids that made the kms slightly easier. The sky was still blue and the breeze was slight, so we were lucky.
First stop was a boutique chocolate shop, Makana, we got free chocolates on arrival, so that was a good start to the day. Macadamia nut brittles bought, we went over the road to our first vineyard.
Saint Clair vineyard was where we were served by an Argentine, Renzo, who was really good, chatty, knowledgable and had a lovely Spanish accent. ❤️
We tasted 12 wines, of which the Sauvignon Blanc Barrique 2015 cellar door release and Saint Clair Cabernet Merlot 2013 impressed us enough to for us to buy a bottle of each.
A short cycle down the road and we were in Hunters vineyard. They showcased, in our opinion, a classic style of wine, the Sauvignon Blanc was grassy, the Chardonnay was woody and creamy, the Pinot Noir was cherry’s and jam, and it stood out because of their consistency. In a country that is constantly doing something different, amazing, interesting with its wines it was actually quite a relief to have ‘classic’ wines to taste.
The setting was gorgeous as well with leaves turning to red on the tall vines in the entrance and an artist in residence as well.
Next up we were at Allan Scott vineyards, which we remember being quite good last time we were here. Sadly, this time round it was possibly the worst tasting we have been to, the wines were just OK apart from the last one, 2015 Pinot Noir which was too young. I have never had such a dry, tannic wine, it clearly wasn’t ready to taste so why they out it up there I really don’t know. Still it was short n sweet n cheap….. $4 for 3 tastings!!!!
Mouths left dry and stripped, we set off for Jackson estate, only to cycle into a pretty opening party and be told they were reopening in a week!!!
We set off to Rock Ferry, a vineyard our hosts had recommended for wine and food. It was a stunning setting, as they all are, and so we ordered food and did a quick tasting before eating. This vineyard made Pinot Blanc as a single varietal, interesting for its uniqueness but not that inspiring for me but Guy liked it, they also did a lush tempranillo, the only vineyard to do both grapes as a single varietal.
The food was amazing, so fresh and tasty.
Feeling hungry we order a delicious desert and slowly roll the bikes the short distance back to Blenheim.
Todays scores on the doors are 44 wines tasted from 4 vineyards. 19 miles cycled according to Google.
We were planning on a quiet night in, however our hosts had friends round and generously offered us a glass of wine so we ended up chatting with a local councillor and his wife whose son plays for the Hurricanes and is mates with the All Black Ben Smith, and our hosts whose son, Peter, is assistant winemaker at Yealands and other son is in the Americas cup team for NZ, and another who plays cricket professionally. It is an amazing country!!! We listened to Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens and more…. A lovely evening.
First day of cycling round Marlborough and we set ourselves up with a banana each and cranberry and coconut toast for breakfast.
Our hosts had kindly lent us their mountain bikes for us to tour Marlborough, tyres pumped and we were off. With blue skies and little wind forcasted and we were in great moods.
The scenery is absolutely stunning, the whole of the Marlborough vineyard region is on an old, massive river bed cutting through a valley. This means that the ground is made up of rocks and gravel instead of soil so great for vines, which like to be treated badly and thrive off low nutrient content.
So we are cycling on a flat riverbed, surrounded by huge, majestic mountains in the distance, the vineyards which are all turning orange and red for autumn and the trees are following suit. It is such a great time to visit, especially as we missed autumn in the UK before we left.
We make our way to Omaka Springs vineyard which is a small boutique vineyard which is making some excellent wines. We bought the Pinot Noir and their Sauvignon Blancs were great (according to Guy).
Next was Highland vineyards, which had a touch of the Tuscany about it and merged with TerraVin 2 years ago. The lass doing the tastings was Canadian, who was knowledgeable. The wines were all very experimental and fascinating, slightly different to what you would normally expect.
Fromm vineyard was next and we remember this from 2000, it is now organic and makes some natural wines, it is owned by a Swiss guy, and a Swiss guy was in charge of tasting, not the main man but he was really good. His measures were huge and we tasted 10 wines in all.
We tasted some stunning wines there, including a Reisling, which at 7% is not a wine according to EU so cannot be imported to the UK something that might change with the inevitable Brexit, so some good might come of it!
They had not harvested a variety of their grapes because the summer had been so bad. The other thing we have learnt about this season is it has been rainy, wet, cold and so it is a winemakers season i.e. the winemaker really shows their skill when faced with a year of bad weather and challenging grape harvest.
Cycling was a bit wobbly after Fromm measures but we were back on the wheels and off on the homeward road, via Villa Maria, the huge conglomerate which we all know so well in England. To be honest we were not expecting much but we were blown away with the wines there. We got to taste some single block vineyard wines which are not available outside of NZ and they were stunners. A really good cellar door experience.
One last vineyard before we go home, Wither Hills where we try their standard tasting flight.
Once home we left our haul of bottles and went for a curry which was uninspiring but still a curry and settled in to watch tat TV in our room.
Todays scores on the doors were 36 wines tasted from 5 vineyards. 19 miles cycled according to Google.
Early morning to Wellington train station via bus, with all the commuters staring at us, and us staring back thinking ‘shit, that will be me in 3 weeks time!’.
Anyway, our ferry crossing was flat and calm, a relief after the last couple of cyclones passing through Oz and NZ, especially as I was feeling a little jaded (alright, hungover) from the night before. Mince and cheese pie was eaten, tea drank and cheese scone munched (without the cream offered by the kiwi attendant??!!)
Onto our Intercity bus which was waiting for us at the ferry port. This travelling lark is so easy here.
30 mins later and we are in Blenheim. Easy, although our Air BnB place was the other end of town, so a 1km walk was required, hardly difficult though.
Our new home is fabulous, seriously fabulous. No one is home so we let ourselves in and out, dropping stuff in our room. The decor is stunning, the cookbooks are Ottolenghi, the bed room is spacious and so comfy. I do not want to leave, especially when we find out they have chickens and a veg patch. All this in the middle of a wine region……..
We explore town.
It is walkable and has plenty to keep you here a few days. Guy buys some socks.
We have a comfort dinner of fish and chips and pint.
We go home, watch tat TV and I am asleep by 8.30. 😴😴😴
We treat ourselves to brunch at Fidels in Cuba street. It has had queues outside it most times we have passed by. There is no queue so we dive in and share a vegan and a Spanish breakfast, decent coffee, and are fuelled up for the day.
We wander down to the waterfront, to look for a bar me and my friend Colette visited last time we were here. We had come back from the south island on the ferry and dived into a posh bar and drunk proseccos like a couple of ladies that lunch.
We then have another trip down memory lane and go into the Wellington Club, where we waitered back in 1999/2000. The woman on reception was Rochelle, and she was also there when we worked there, so she was happy to show us around, tell us what had happened to our work bosses and colleagues, Yurgen, Dominic, Gail, and give us an update on the changed that have gone on. Jeans are allowed! It was so kind of her to do it and we so enjoyed our trip down memory lane.
Next was a bus journey around the bays on No 24 bus which runs every hour, just like the No 10 bus used to from Rudd to Bridgford!!! We killed half an hour looking for hokey pokey ice cream and getting a sweet creme egg gelato instead.
The views around the bays on the bus were beautiful, we even got commentary from the bus driver when going past the old prison.
Unfortunately we were not able to make the whole journey as there was a gas leak near the end, so our lady bus driver had to reverse a long bus back down a steep, narrow road, do a 3 point turn and head back over the hillside. It was amazing to see.
We stopped for cake/sausage roll and wine at Peter Jacksons cinema in Miramar, a gorgeous 1920’s restored building which was just stunning.
Bus back into town and we stopped at Noble Rot for a wine or two.
Early morning and we are on a bus, getting a train to Martinborough, a region that is renowned for its Pinot Noir, so Guy is really excited.
I have spent months trying to convince Guy I would behave if we hired a tandem bike, he finally relented and we had ordered one for today. We got to Martinborough via a local wine tour bus. This was because the driver of the local bus was sick so the wine tours were doubling up as public transport, I love this country. On realising the furthest vineyard was just 2km away we cancelled the bike and had a spot of sustenance then set off to the furthest vineyard and crawled back.
Te kairanga was our first stop for the best Chardonnay we have tasted so far. John Martin Reserve, who knew the guy could play guitar AND make stunning Chards?
Poppies vineyards next, started by Poppy who worked at Dry Rivers vineyard which is over the road. We paid for tasting as the wines were expensive but they were great, had they had sold out of most. They do not export.
Further along the same road was Ata Rangi where a friendly North American lady served us their delightful tasting flight.
Schubert vineyards was just down the road and was stunning. Small and compact their Pinot Noir was a massive hit with Guy.