the northeast of south island
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 the cliffs and everything just looks so raw and wild. The road was worthy of a Bond movie car chase, as we zoomed through dynamite-carved tunnels and 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. The scene at the end of the (drippy) walk is magical. A waterfall rushes 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 humans.
North bound, the scenery changes to golden vineyards that roll 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!), 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. Clam chowder, salt and pepper squid and ghost chilli (!) spiked pork belly are eaten to the background noise of the regular bar crowd. The locals loved speculating on both the weather and the rugby, challenging the TV screen with passion. Being islanders, Kiwis are really weather observant – ask anyone and they’ll know which front/wind is coming in. It’s uncanny.
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, it’s not. The 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, the No.1 sparkling is extraordinary. If you find any bottles, 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 people. Residents of the sound live a life devoid of roads, civilisation and running water – but what a life it is. The mail boat run, which we board at Picton, is a constant lifeline to the waterway. Delivering mail and groceries (and dog treats for the pooches!) plus trampers to lodges, 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!
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