Jet lagged from the red eye, we sped up the coast to Kaikoura. The drive started off bucolic enough – sheep, rolling fields, more sheep. But then came the seaside and with it mist that slowly seeped into our jackets, socks and scarves. Rain in New Zealand is not a bad thing. It shrouds the mountains and cliffs and everything just looks so raw, wild. The road was worthy of a Bond movie car chase, as we zoomed through dynamite-carved tunnels and cliff side corners. Not far from Nin’s Bin (shut – again, no lobster us boo), we stopped at the newly signed Ohau Falls and ducked into the rainforest. There may be more people now but the scene at the end of the (drippy) walk is still magical as ever. A waterfall falls from the steep mountainside and in its pool, wild seal pups play with untamed innocence. They’re so tiny and vulnerable, yet curious. Occasionally, one would flipper their way out of the pool to have a better look at us.
North bound, the scenery changes. Golden vineyards roll over hills and to the horizon. We’re in wine country: Marlborough. We eat the best pies at the Burleigh (they are seriously good pies – go early for the pork belly pie!), then fall dead into our bed at the Walnut Block.
If we were sleepy before, dinner’s blast of Brazilian hospitality wakes us right up. Half pub, half restaurant, inside a Tudor style building on Blenheim’s motel strip is Gramado’s. It’s an unexpected blend of Brazilian and Kiwi food. With the bar crowd speculating both the weather and the rugby (Kiwis are uncannily weather observant and are just as obsessed with the rugby), the clam chowder, salt and pepper squid and ghost chilli (!) spiked pork belly just seem to work.
Somehow online, I’d stumbled upon a story of a 12th generation Champenois making Champagne style sparkling in Marlborough. Initially I was a bit sceptical, surely it was all marketing. But no, that first sip of the Le Brun’s family No. 1 cuvee was a revelation (as clichéd as that sounds). Not acidic nor overly sweet, yet creamy, this sparkling is extraordinary. If you find any of them, buy up (and keep it a secret).
After a simple lunch of tarakihi at Rockferry Wines, we headed north again. Relatively untouched, Queen Charlotte Sound’s lace of bays, arms and coves are home to few. Residents of the sound live a life apart from roads, civilisation and running water – but what a life it is. The mail boat run, which we board at Picton, is a constant, a lifeline to the waterway. Delivering mail and groceries (and dog treats for the pooches!) plus trampers to the track, the mailboat zips around the sound all afternoon. With only the Interislander crossing between Picton and Wellington (you can almost spot Wellington from Ship Cove) and perhaps the odd water taxi, there is little other traffic. It is something akin to retirement paradise.
Ohau Stream Walk | 27km north of Kaikoura on SH1
After Ohau Point, look out for the Ohau Falls signage and car park. Seal pups are usually there during autumn and winter.
The Burleigh | 72 New Renwick Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Fabulous pies that are full of steak (or pork belly but you have to get in early for those). Followed by an L&P and unpasteurised French brie. Just take my money. Take it all.
Walnut Block Cottages | 43 Blicks Lane, Blenheim, Marlborough
Secluded, private cottages looking onto a vineyard – so romantic. There’s also cable TV (yay) with a pantry of breakfast goods to boot.
Gramado’s | 74 Main Street, Blenheim, Marlborough
Brazilian hospitality, steak and craft beer – Gramado’s does it all and well. Look out for the feijoada and Wakanui steak but keep an eye on the specials board.
No. 1 Family Estate | Rapaura Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Ever wondered what a Champagne family in Marlborough would produce? The result: sparkling that tastes so very French and perhaps, even better. If you love sparkling: run, don’t walk.
Rock Ferry Wines | 80 Hammerichs Road, Blenheim, Marlborough
Great spot for wine tasting and if the weather’s up to it, lunch by the vines. Terribly friendly service doling out plates of mostly organic and squeaky fresh local produce.
Beachcomber Fun Cruises Mailboat Cruise | London Quay, Picton
A half day cruise zipping around dropping off groceries and mail around the sound’s isolated residents. Seriously scenic with little jetty dogs (and a cat) coming out to say hi!