Wine(ing) our way through New Zealand’s South Island

by Barbara Lewis
house

Thirty five years ago just after my husband graduated as a graduation trip he spent three months with a friend touring around on ten speed bicycles the islands of New Zealand while I worked and planned our wedding. This year for three weeks around our 35th wedding anniversary he took me to the south island of New Zealand to tour around, fortunately not on ten speeds but in a comfy car.

He decided only to have us visit the south island so we could truly see the sights and not rush from one place to another. It was a magical trip filled with lots of wine tasting and drinking, hiking and sightseeing. Our tour began in Christchurch. We stayed at St George, which was a beautiful hotel. The flight is surprisingly long; you have to fly through Sydney to Christchurch.

mountain

It was interesting to see Christchurch after the earthquake and all the destruction it caused and in its state of reconstruction. It is a pretty walkable city, lovely green spaces and parks. The St George is quite close to downtown so it was nice to walk from the hotel to our restaurant for dinner our first night. Christchurch has a large Anglican church also called Christchurch Cathedral and my mother had asked me to try to see what the damage was to it. Unfortunately it was mostly destroyed in the earthquake.

They are slowly rebuilding it. The next day we set off for Mt Cook. Here we hiked up to the glacier. Mt Cook is a very small town that is a national park town so it has limited facilities. Fortunately we knew this and we able to buy foodstuffs for breakfast in a town before arriving in Mt Cook. We ate up at the Lodge, which is very popular. There is a limited number of restaurants in the area.

rainbow

The Lodge is more of a formal kind of a la carte restaurant with sit down waiter service; there is also a portion of the restaurant set out for a buffet. The next night we went to what we thought was going to be a pizza parlour instead it was a big beer hall with great gourmet food and wine that had counter service. We found that this was quite often the case in New Zealand: you ordered at the counter and paid and then got a number and a server brought your food to you.

What we noticed in Christchurch and continued as we travelled was that venison was quite a common protein and while we were driving from Christchurch to Mt Cook and then Mt Cook to Queenstown we saw so many deer farms; almost as many deer farms as we did sheep, which was new for Ken; 35 years ago it was just sheep, all the deer were wild. The town of Aoraki was similar to a lot of National Park towns the accommodations were more limited, kind of bare bones and certainly there wasn’t anything to lavish.

river

From Aoraki we drove for nine hours to Queenstown. Here my husband had booked us into beautiful Airbnb accommodations in a house overlooking the entire city of Queenstown and the lake it surrounds. The view was magnificent. A friend had told us we must do a riverboat ride. The next day with very cloudy cold weather we went to a beautiful small town of Glenorchy on the banks of the Dart river. At first they postponed our jet boat excursion because of the weather so we explored the town and went for a lovely lunch. We reported back just after lunch and fortunately there was a break in the weather and we were allowed to go on the jet boat. The scenery was magnificent and the spins in the boat quite a blast.

sunset

The next day, more by chance than anything else, we ended up going wine touring around the Central Otago region. We went to several wineries; some charged for tasting others didn’t; some were quite large and had beautiful restaurants as part of the winery and others were simply a tasting room of a couple of tables. I was most impressed with the wines that came from the smaller vineyards.

One of the wineries Mt Rosa actually went to the trouble of having the correct glasses to taste from; specifically Pinot Noir. The Gibson Winery had a cheese making operation associated with it; marrying wine and cheese there is no better partnership. On the way to Te Anau the next day we also tried to stop at some vineyards but the road to Te Anau took us up the mountain and out of the Otago valley almost immediately.

man and wife

When we reached Te Anau we stayed at Radford’s on the Lake which had gorgeous views of the lake. The following morning we drove early to Milford Sound to cruise around it. There were large groups of Asians also cruising through Milford Sound which was new for Ken because there certainly were less people and no Asian touring groups in this area years ago. It was raining, but that didn’t matter because it just meant that the waterfalls were flowing that much more; Milford Sound was gorgeous with its sheer cliff walls with water cascading off into the sea.

The tour around the Sound lasts for a couple of hours. After our tour of Milford Sound we returned to Te Anau, which is more than a couple of hours drive away. I believe it took almost three hours to drive one way and it is a very windy road. Lots of people drive into Milford Sound for the tour and then drive straight on to their next stop – Wanaka but we chose not to. Te Anau is a lovely little town with lots to offer. We had a great sit down dinner at the Red Door Restaurant and an average breakfast the next morning before we drove to Wanaka.

man

The drive to Wanaka was longer than we anticipated and we thought we would be going through the Otago wine region again but as it happens we didn’t. The drive was beautiful as all the drives were in New Zealand. Wanaka was a small town on a lake. It was one of my favourite places we stopped. The little town was very walkable and full of nice restaurant and shops to buy all kinds of unique things. We visited a winery at the edge of Wanaka and it was hosting a wedding. It was a magnificent place to have a wedding. The wine was wonderful.

From Wanaka we travelled to Franz Josef. Franz Josef is known for its glacier. which we hiked to the base of and for its hot springs. We just hiked around in this area enjoying the small town and the national park feel. Our next stop was Kaiteriteri so we could explore Abel Tasman National Park. We stayed in Kaiteriteri for two nights and three days. We went out sea kayaking in the Abel Tasman and saw seals, birds, and beautiful scenery. I had heard that you could see if you were lucky blue penguins/fairy penguins, the smallest penguin species, around this area. We met by chance a woman who lived in the area and she told us that they usually only come out at night but sometimes you can see them on the beach right in the town.

ocean and rock

So that night at around 8pm when it was pitch black we went to the beach and I got out of the car to look for the penguins. I couldn’t find any but I was sure I could hear them even though I had never heard a penguin before. Oh I forgot to say that this woman also told us that they are very aggressive and will come after you and try to peck you. She has big holes in her broom trying to protect her dog from their attacks. She lives on the beach and the penguins come into her yard. Her soft coated Wheaton Terrier loves the penguins but they don’t love him.

Anyway back to our search for the elusive blue penguin. When I told Ken I heard them he didn’t believe me. He believed me even less when I told him that I thought I heard them up on the streets above the beach. He stuck his head out of the car and said “well I hear something” – not sure that it was penguins but figured it wouldn’t hurt if we went to look. We got in the car and went around the corner to drive up the hill and there in Travel our headlights was a blue penguin.

The pictures I have of this beautiful animal are quite bad. He/she was very aggressive when I got out of the car and did start chasing me. These animals mate for life and I could hear its mate further up the hill. It was a wonderful experience to see this lovely creature and it almost ended in tragedy. The penguin was more or less off to the side of the road and three cars came roaring by the other way – I am sure they never even saw the penguin (they are very small only about 8 inches high). We had moved to our side of the road; I held my breath and prayed that it didn’t get hurt. I believe it was fine. None of the cars seemed to hit it although it was so close. Seeing this animal was the highlight of my trip. We also did a glowworm walk which I thought was just OK.

penguin

We hiked through the forest to this one area and then you turn out your flashlights, there is a rope that you grab hold of and walk along with the rope. Your way is lit by glowworms. The worms are very cool but walking in the pitch black on a mountain path gave me a very uneasy feeling. Abel Tasman and Kaiteriteri are remote places to see but well worth the travel.

Next we were off to the well known wine region of Marlborough and town called Blenheim. We were scheduled to go whale watching but the waves were to big so they cancelled the tour and we didn’t have the time to reschedule it. We stayed in the middle of the wine region at a B&B called Bonny Brook. We only stayed one night and I am sure you could stay a week touring around and visiting all the wineries. Many are not open to the pubic and require you to set up an appointment and receive and invitation. Usually these are smaller wineries but not always.

 

We took the bikes from the B&B and rode around and went to about three wineries. At one winery we tried over 10 different wines and there was no charge for the tasting. That night we dined at a restaurant called Arbor where we had food paired with wine. Several of the wines were from wineries that do not do tastings because they have such a small select production. It seemed like everyone we met from this region and urrounds was somehow involved in wine at some level.

man and wife

 

Our final stop before driving back to Christchurch was Hanmer Springs. This area is known for its hot springs. We enjoyed the pretty little town of unique shopping, restaurants and spas. We relaxed in the hot springs and hiked around the town. Our apartment that we stayed in had a beautiful view of the river valley through the town. On night we went to a restaurant that specialised and only had on the menu different kind of pirogies. Hanmer Springs was very relaxing.

We drove back to Christchurch to fly back to Thailand but it was our 35th wedding anniversary on April 30th so my husband booked us to have a dinner on the Christchurch Tram. It was very nice with a four course dinner paired with wine. Somehow we ended up amongst a large group of very loud Chinese tourists so that did detract slightly but they gave us a lovely table and it was fun and interesting. At the end of the evening they gave us a cast toy tram as a memento. Our trip to New Zealand was magical I would certainly go back again.

wife and man

 

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