26/11/2012 - 27/11/2012 25 °C
The InterIslander ferry from Wellington North Island to Picton on the South Island is a very slick operation. You check at the terminal, just like at an airport and your luggage vanishes along a conveyor belt, just like at an airport! Boarding was fast and we managed to get some seats right at the pointy bit at the front, thus securing wonderful views all around as we travelled across the Cook Strait and down through the dramatic Marlborough Sounds to Picton. The crossing takes just over three hours and during that time the skies clouded over and a few spots of rain began to fall. Not a good omen.....
We quickly picked up our second hire car, the same model (Toyota Corolla) but this time blue and with rather better air-conditioning, and set off on the 30 minute drive to Blenheim. Fortunately, it brightened up and the rain never did set in, but we weren’t really impressed with the whole Picton area which was largely unremarkable and just a little run down looking.
Blenheim is similarly unremarkable (but at least it is warm & sunny, thanks to its unique microclimate), lacking the quaint charm of Martinborough and the dramatic scenery of Hawke’s Bay. What it does have is wineries, dozens and dozens of wineries, as Blenheim is the home of the Marlborough wines.... every one you’ve ever seen on a supermarket shelf: Montana, Oyster Bay, Villa Maria, Wither Hills and lots more we’d never heard of. What’s also amazing, given the extent of the winelands, is that back in 1970 there wasn’t a single vine growing in the area!
Today we booked a wine tour with the cheerfully named ‘Bubbly Grape Tours’, who literally ‘drove us to drink’ in and around the vineyards of the region. The various winemakers set up proper tutored tastings for us at a number of ‘cellar doors’, and so we enjoyed tasting the wine ranges produced at Mount Riley, Wither Hills, Lawson’s Dry Hills, Giesen, Bouldevins and St Clair, which, along with a lunch stop, actually took us all day. Keith made copious tasting notes which will undoubtedly prove utterly useless once we’ve deciphered his handwriting. Obviously the star of the show here is the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc but the Pinot Noir is very good, and they are also producing Pinot Gris and Chardonnay plus an increasing amount of Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Viognier. Honestly, if I’d actually drunk all the wine that was poured for me during the day (as Keith did), I’d probably be in hospital by now, but in any case by mid-afternoon it was all tasting much the same! We were a bit disappointed not to get into the famous Cloudy Bay winery, as they were too popular, but there’s always tomorrow, when we can call in as soon as they open......
We’re very excited about the world premier of ‘The Hobbit’ movie in Wellington tomorrow. There’s so much on the local TV news about the preparations, and the Hobbit-themed Air New Zealand airliner landed today, bringing in many of the stars of the film - who are all much taller than you would expect them to be!
I hope not to mention my ailments again on this trip, but we think we know the likely cause of my recent mystery sickness bout. Whilst we were in Napier, we mentioned in a previous blog that there was a cruise ship in the harbour. It later transpired that there was a big outbreak of Norovirus onboard and apparently the cruise ship passengers spent the day that we were also in Napier, busily spreading the virus around the town. My symptoms exactly matched those of the virus, so, we’re blaming that, and I’m pleased that it wasn’t that lovely pork that I ate at The Mission restaurant.