Originally written on 2 January, 2015.
Clair and I woke up at our customary 8am this morning. The shuttle to our wine country bike tour was to pick us up at 9:30. We stepped out of our camper into the warm summer air under blue skies. The previous days’ storm and cold front had passed and the dry, beautiful New Zealand climate was back.
Our Top 10 camper park was one of the best yet. Spacious lots over a large grass field. A small stream curled around the property’s edge. I believe we weren’t supposed to feed the ducks. But I did.
The day before Clair and I tried to explore the small city center of Blenheim. It was constructed like any American town center designed around a population of tens of thousands. But it was barren of activity. Every store was closed–perhaps due to the holidays–and most buildings were unoccupied. We never reconciled the vivaciousness of the surrounding wine country with this dead suburban core.
I guess the climate similarities of Napa and Marlborough are to be expected. Warm days and cool nights with lots of sun and rocky soil invariably grow good wine. So any visitor to one of these regions would find themselves in a familiar environment in the other. We had been excited for this day the entire week and the weather encouraged us.
Steve and Jo run Wine Tours by Bike out of Renwick. In their small garage half a dozen eager tourists were briefed on road safety, shown a map of the region, and set off for tasting. Apparently from the bike launch point (six o’clock on a circular route) we had to peddle anti-clockwise all the way to nine o’clock for our first stop. Then all the way to 12 o’clock for our second. From there on out we’d have many options for tasting. We were warned to circle the region anti-clockwise, lest we find ourselves drunk and exhausted on the long, lonely stretch of winery-less road. I wonder how many people missed their return shuttle or even called for a pickup from five kilometers away.
The tour went pretty great for us. We started with a long ride (about 20 minutes) out to Cloudy Bay and Moa Brewery. Then we circled north and stopped at a small mall that included wine (Eradus) and fudge (The Fudge Factory). We enjoyed a small flight of sparkling wine at No. 1 Family Estate then rushed to our lunch at Giesen.
The lunch was really spectacular. Beautiful and modern, our plate included a sample of meats, cheeses, vegetables, sauces, chutneys, pate, and fruit. We paired it with a small sample of wine. One more winery (Forrest) before heading back to the camper.
All of the sudden we were pressed for time and needed to get back to Wine Tours by bike. We had time for one more winery. But not really. In any case we each ordered a flight for tasting, bellied up to the bar, and slammed five tasters in as many minutes. Not so classy, I admit.
I’m now wrapping up a day at Blenheim and not excited about returning to Singapore soon. We have a day in Melbourne first that we plan on spending with an old friend. But work starts in earnest on Monday.
Originally written on 1 January 2015.
We awoke to the blue skies we had become familiar with in New Zealand. Having shed the previous day’s thick blanket of cold misty, a cool, crisp, bright day appeared. And we were again in for a spectacular drive as we crossed the island from the west to its eastern shore.
The storm and raging river had whipped the waters into a dull brown the night before. But today the ocean cleared to a blue-gray beyond the white breakers. The tempest left behind a dull froth of salt water that quivered in the wind. I wanted to run through it.
Punakaiki sits at the northernmost point of our west coast adventure. It sits between the Tasmanian Sea and New Zealand’s temperate rain forest. We briefly followed the coast north and saw signs along the road warning of penguin crossing. But we were disappointed when we later learned they departed before the weather warmed. As we turned inland and drove east into the hills we saw more ferns, moss, gushing waterfalls and swollen rivers.
In those hills before Blenheim our road followed the Buller river. Its calm waters weaved through the hills. And next to a truss bridge above it we enjoyed our usual gourmet sandwich lunch.
A few hours later we were entering Marlborough, where the climate was quite different.
Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s great wine producing regions. From my visits to Napa Valley I recognized the terrain and climate similarities that make both successful: long sunny days, cool nights, dry, rolling hills and rocky soil. We arrived in the middle afternoon to blue skies and were soon covered by the same marine layer that blankets the San Francisco Bay area in summer nights.
I enjoyed a short run in Blenheim, the Marlborough region center. The weather is quite cool for summer but perfect for running. The names applies to cities and streets—Marlborough, Blenheim, Nelson—remind me of the historical golden years of the British empire. I see names on every street that pique my curiosity and will surely lead me to another history book.
Clair and I stopped at a grocery store on the way into town with hopes of buying our third portion of Green Lipped mussels. But they were sold out. So, we’ve settled for a tomato sauce over fresh fettuccine. To make good use of local fresh food we’re adding some venison sausages made daily from the supermarket.
Tomorrow is our bike tour of wine country!