Tales of {NZ} Travel: Nelson-Marlborough

Tales of NZ TravelGolden sand. Hot summer days. Crisp sauvignon blanc. These are the words that spring to mind whenever someone mentions Nelson and Marlborough. Having spent some time in this region in the midst of summer, I can confirm that this is certainly what you get.

BlenheimNelson
A visit to Nelson is about two things, really: beaches and national parks. Of the former, there are a number of gorgeous beaches to explore; Tahunanui and Kaiteriteri are the most notable. Of the latter, there are three within 90 minutes of the city: Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi. They each offer something different and unique. In the city itself, you can climb up to the not-exactly-geographical centre of New Zealand, which affords fantastic views.

Tahunanui Beach, NelsonBlenheim
Wineries. That pretty much sums up why you’d visit Blenheim. There’s no shortage of them, but our recommendations are Wither Hills (mainly for the lunch, which is divine), Hunter’s Wines, and Allan Scott.

BlenheimPicton
Known mainly for its ferry terminal for crossing Cook Strait to Wellington, Picton is a small town with one major tourist attraction: the Edwin Fox. It’s the world’s 9th oldest ship, permanently moored in Picton. You can wander through it; I’m not a ship fan normally, but when I went through it as a 16-year-old girl, I found it pretty interesting like, okay, I guess. Picton is also the gateway to beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.

Marlborough Sounds

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Tales of {NZ} Travel: the journey through Central Otago

Tales of NZ TravelThe journey from Dunedin to Wanaka or Queenstown takes you through a variety of little towns and landscapes. By car, it takes between three and three-and-a-half hours, unless you decide to stop along the way. It’s a journey I have been on countless number of times, but one I never tire of.

From Dunedin, the first little town is Waihola, a sleepy lake town that has a holiday-feel all year round. It’s a popular place for boaties, and during the summer months, the lake teems with people, jet skis and boats. There’s a small fish shop where you can buy fresh salmon and blue cod, or freshly-battered-and-cooked fish and chips (best eaten on the shore of the lake, as long as it isn’t windy!).

Teeny tiny Tiny - aged 19 months

Teeny tiny Tiny – aged 19 months

Past Waihola, the next place you could stop is Milton. Most people don’t stop here, but if you feel like Subway, by all means do. Of note is the big kink in the road, which is apparently from roadworkers’ planning to meet in the middle, from either end, and each working to their own right side. Otherwise, poor Milton gets a bit of a bad wrap from Dunedinites, mocked for its slogan, “Town of Opportunities”. Because it’s not, sadly.

Lawrence is a pretty little town along the way; stop for giant ice creams at the first dairy you come to, or for delicious teas and cakes at The Wild Walnut Café. Legend has it that a pair of circus lions were once on the loose in Lawrence, plus it lays claim to being New Zealand’s first free Wi-Fi spot – phoar!

After Lawrence, you’ll drive for about an hour before hitting Roxburgh, the next most-likely place to stop (aside from Ettrick in the autumn, for deliciously sweet pumpkins). Unless you’re travelling through on a Sunday, you should really stop for a world-famous Jimmy’s pie, although there are a few other takeaway joints further down the main street. Roxburgh is also a good place to stop and let the kids stretch their legs in the playground (conveniently located opposite Jimmy’s).

Not far past Roxburgh is Alexandra; you’ll know when you’re approaching as the hillsides suddenly become full of schisty rock formations and wild thyme. Known affectionately as ‘Alex’ (and why not?), there are loads of nice cafes and bakeries along the main drag, as well as a few in the town centre. Look out for Jack Frost lurking in the corner of the playground. During September, there’s the annual Blossom Festival, and the summer months see local tourists flocking to holiday homes and camping grounds in this dry, hot paradise.

Merely ten minutes from Alex lies Clyde, a sleepy township that is slowly growing and gaining in popularity. The old township was flooded when the Clyde Dam was built, and lies deep below Lake Dunstan. The Post Office Café has a great reputation and is a good spot for taking children, and there are a number of gorgeous old buildings to be seen.

Lake Dunstan

Teenier tinier Tiny – aged 4 months

The drive from Clyde to Cromwell is breathtaking, and never fails to take my breath away. As you wind along beside the vividly-coloured lake, the mountains open up before you, and the hills to your right become parched and dry. The lake is a popular spot for water skiing and boating, and there are sheltered bays for swimming in. We often stop at a bakery or the supermarket in Alex, and have a picnic lunch in one of the viewpoints above the lake.

Cromwell is landmarked by the giant fruit (and one year, when there was an infestation, with a giant wasp), and is known for it’s beautiful stone fruit during summer. However, if you do stop for fruit, don’t go for the biggest, busiest stalls – the best fruit is to be found in the little stalls (some still with honesty boxes), or on the back roads (the best cherries are on the back road to Bannockburn!). Cromwell is home to a new speedway, and is a good halfway point between Wanaka and Queenstown.

At the main T-junction, turn left to head towards Queenstown and Bannockburn, or right for Wanaka and Hawea.

Bannockburn is home to some of the country’s best (in my opinion, anyway!) wineries, along with stunning vistas. You’re spoiled for choice here, but we always stop at Carrick (they also have a divine restaurant with an awesome kids’ menu), Mt Difficulty, Amisfield, and Desert Heart.

Mt Difficulty WineryA new cafe has recently opened in Bannockburn – The Kitchen Bannockburn – and while Tall found the menu a bit confusing, I liked that they were open to making virtually anything for kids (except for deep-fried anything).

From Bannockburn, it’s roughly an hour to Queenstown, depending on how many stops you make along the way – for wine, cheese, bungy jumping, sightseeing, jet boating… My personal recommendations for wineries are Peregrine and Chard Farm; Gibbston Valley is by far the busiest at any given moment, popular with tour groups and big buses, but apart from the wine cave, I don’t think it’s worth the stop (although they do make a mighty fine – but very expensive – Masadam cheese which you can buy from the Cheesery).

BannockburnIf you choose to go right at that T-junction, you’ll be in Wanaka in roughly 45 minutes. There are wineries to stop at on the way (Aurum does a lovely dessert wine; The Lazy Dog has a nice cafe), as well as various other sights; you’ll also pass through Luggate which is a quiet (very quiet!) little spot with a camping ground that gets packed over the summer months.

Tales of {NZ} Travel: Queenstown

Tales of NZ TravelQueenstown. Adventure capital of New Zealand. The place high on every tourist’s ‘Must Visit’ list, and well-worth this status. It is a place I have visited often, as a child when my grandparents had an old cabin at the camping ground, and now with our own children. Living just over three hours away makes Queenstown – and indeed all of Central Otago – a regular haunt. Lucky? I think so 🙂

Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown is nestled on the shores of this bitterly-cold lake; various boat tours operate throughout the year, with the most famous being the TSS Earnslaw.

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Gondola and Luge
A ride in the gondola affords stunning views of Queenstown and her mountains, while the views from the top of the hill are breath-taking. There’s a luge track which is hugely popular; Tiny went on a couple of runs with his daddy and liked it, but I imagine he will LOVE it in a few more years.

1980  Queenstown  January (14)

The gondolas have changed a little since 1980…

Adventuring
Queenstown is best known for being an outdoor playground; the skiing is fantastic, the whitewater rafting is thrilling, and the bungy-jumping is still going strong. There are walking tracks of varying levels, most within a short drive of the township. On a more sedate level, the Queenstown Gardens are pretty to wander through (or play frisbee-golf in), and the shopping is good.

Wine Touring
The Gibbston Valley is home to a number of very good wineries and vineyards; Chard Farm, Peregrine and Amisfield are among my favourites. You can pick up a wine map at any information centre in Central Otago and do your own tour, or book yourself onto one of many organised tours.
IMG_0507Arrowtown
A short drive from Queenstown, this gorgeous little settlement is a highlight of visiting the area. A former gold-mining village, Arrowtown has retained its quaint charm and slow pace. The breakfasts and pastries at Bonjour are divine, and there are some lovely galleries to visit. My favourite time of year to visit Arrowtown is autumn; the colours are so beautiful, and a walk around the Arrow River is lovely with the golden leaves fluttering down on your head or crunching underfoot.

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The Kingston Flyer
If, like us, you have a train-obsessed child, it is worth driving to Kingston and buying tickets for The Kingston Flyer (warmer months only). This beautiful old steam train chugs along from Kingston to Fairlight; the mountains loom high above, and the sheep graze alongside. It’s not a cheap outing, but the look on Tiny’s face when he saw the train was priceless, and therefore it was worth every penny.

IMG_0444IMG_0451We’re heading back to Queenstown for a holiday soon (our wine stocks are terrifyingly low!); it’s a great spot in which to recharge the batteries and forget about “real life” for a while.

Things I’m Loving

Our batteries have been recharged after a wonderful four-day mini-break in Central Otago.

I grew up holidaying in the area with my aunty and her family, and it’s one of my favourite places in the country.

The mountains, the poplars, the weeping willows; the drive through the winding Manuka Gorge; the views as you drive alongside the Clyde Dam and Lake Dunstan; the hills dotted with vineyards; the fruit orchards; the ruins of gold miners’ huts.

We stayed at a “quaint” motel in Arrowtown; loving spending the days playing tourist.

We met up with friends for lunch at Carrick Winery; loving good food and good wine enjoyed with good friends! (Thanks so much for coming across to meet us, Em xxx)

We rode the gondola in Queenstown; loving tacky touristy photos!

Tall took Tiny on the luge; loving my hesitant boy’s bravery!

We ate divine French breakfasts at Bonjour; loving authentic French pastries and coffee!

We visited Chard Farm and Amisfield; loving delicious New Zealand wines!

We rode on the Kingston Flyer; loving being moved to happy tears upon seeing the excitement on Tiny’s face when he saw the train!

We had two sleeping boys on both the journey from and to Dunedin; loving the chance to talk to my husband uninterrupted!

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Linking up with Meg and other loving lovelies

Tales of Travel: Mendoza

From Santa Cruz, we stopped off in Santiago for two nights before heading back into Argentina again. We managed to find some pretty cheap flights from to Mendoza, so instead of a 7-hour bus ride, we enjoyed a 50-minute flight directly over the Andes – and it definitely was worth it for the views of the mountains.

Flying over the Andes

We had high hopes for Mendoza, and certainly weren’t disappointed. For a city with a population of about one million, it had a relaxed, small town feel to it that was a nice surprise. Most Mendocinos enjoy a long siesta in the afternoon, which means the streets are virtually deserted from 1-6pm. It appeared that only crazy gringos venture out at that time of day.

We spent a hot afternoon wandering to and around Parque General San Martin, a huge inner-city park that is home to a stadium, a school, a pool, a zoo, tennis courts and a golf course, a lake and an observatory. After a couple of hours we’d only covered a third of the area! It was a popular place for families to picnic, and we spent time lazing on the grass, listening to the far-off sounds of the city mingling with birdsong.

Parque General San Martin

Of an evening, we wandered to the Christmas markets, and listened to buskers. There are four main squares in Mendoza, each decorated and tiled in a different way, so we had fun navigating our way to each corner.

A tiled square

We chose to go on an organised wine tour due to the sheer number of wineries in the area – doing it ourselves seemed too much a daunting task! Our tour had 14 people on it…and half of them (us?) were kiwis! The first winery had Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Andes) as its backdrop, but the wine was unfortunately not the best. The next was an organic winery which had been operating for 50 or so years, and while the wine was just okay, it was really interesting to hear how they use fruit trees to attract the birds and insects, olive trees as a natural barrier, and how all of the harvest gets used – from wine to compost. The third winery was smaller again, and was the only place we got to try a malbec which we found quite strange, considering Mendoza is famous for this variety!

Cecchin Organic Winery

We finished with lunch at Cava de Cano. When we walked in, everyone’s jaws dropped – the table was heaving with food, and our guide said, “Take it easy, this is only the starter…”. The food was amazing (served tapas-style, with an array of traditional and local dishes) and seemed never-ending, and the wine flowed. Needless to say, it was a very quiet bus trip back as everyone nursed full bellies and the beginnings of wine headaches (not me, obviously).

The starters!

Tall was satisfied after finally going to a football match in South America – a local Mendoza team played a visiting team from Buenos Aires and he said the atmosphere was brilliant, despite the end result being a draw.

Mendoza certainly lived up to our high expectations, and was a great place to finish our visit to Argentina.

Tales of Travel: Santa Cruz

From Pucon, we took another lengthy bus ride into wine country and Santa Cruz, where we spent $76,000 on two bottles of wine. Tall drank most of the $6,000 bottle in one night and then tipped the rest down the sink*.

Our guide book referred to Santa Cruz as an “attractive little town”, but unless we blinked and missed a some of it, we didn’t think it was anything special. The main reason you’d go there is to visit a winery or two in the Colchagua Valley. There’s a cross at the entrance to the town, which in itself is not unusual in a country where the church plays a such a huge part in everyday life – but this one is made from wine barrels. In Santa Cruz, you definitely have God’s approval to drink and be merry!

We were only in Santa Cruz for one full day, and chose to visit Casa Lapostolle, a beautiful boutique winery owned by the great-granddaughter of the guy who started making Grand Marnier. She has a larger, more “industrial” winery further down the valley, where they produce their mainstream (but still very, very good) wines, and this one, where they only produce two high-end varieties. While the vines themselves are 40-80 years old, the winery itself was built in 2003, and no expense has been spared. Every detail has been carefully planned and it is absolutely stunning.

(Photo courtesy of Casa Lapostolle)

The spiralling staircase was designed to emulate the swirling of wine in a glass; the ceiling of the tasting room is shaped like the inside of a french oak barrel; the cellar where the grapes spend the first year after fermentation has been lit to resemble and honour the Southern Cross constellation; the blasted granite rock forms a feature wall that runs the height of the building; the table in the tasting room has a glass top and you can sip your vino while looking longingly at the private wine cellar of the owner, which houses about 6000 wines and has room for 4000 more. If you pay for the US$900/night accommodation, you’re one of the lucky few who gets to enter the cellar….unfortunately, our budget didn’t quite allow us that luxury!

(Photo courtesy of Casa Lapostolle)

We tasted a delicious, crisp chardonnay (and I don’t usually like chardonnay, but this one was lovely), a smooth-but-peppery merlot, and a limited release merlot/carmenere blend which was DIVINE. The 2005 vintage was elected World’s Number One Wine by Wine Spectator Magazine in 2008, so we have high hopes for the 2007 vintage we purchased, which is “cellared” in our spare room for now.

Our sole purpose for visiting this part of Chile was for the wineries, and we weren’t disappointed. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I’m sure we would have taken the time to visit a few more, but Casa Lapostolle certainly made the trip worthwhile.

* That’s Chilean pesos, not dollars. For the entire time we were in Chile, we never tired of saying, “I’ve only got $20,000 in my wallet, do you think we should get some more cash?”

(December 2009)