Wednesday 6th May
Oh yes! I’ve been looking forwards to this day for some time! In fact 45 years! Marlborough wine country!!!! Some of you may know that in one epic stage of my life I was vaguely involved in the hospitality industry, and as a result embarked on a quest to drink as much wine as was humanly possibly (this project has now been carried on by my brother and his wife….). I had one of the country’s finest teachers in Peter Hopkins (founder of The Tannin Level Wine Bar, the greatest eatery and drinkery of the mid ’80s – early ’90s), and also a bit of backing from Davy’s of London for whom I was a manager before foolishly joining the police! I even took my Wine and Spirits Education Trust exams. So I have in the past known some wine. It’s also a fact that I haven’t drunk any wine (maybe a couple of bottles or 5, interspersed with some fine fizzy, on a day out with Peter!) for about 18 months now, as it seems that I may have been enjoying it a bit too much…..
One of mine and Charlotte’s (and Henson’s!) all time favourites has been the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc so the opportunity to visit their vineyard was too great to miss. And what a place it is! Nestled in the valley just out of Blenheim. We visited the Cellar Door (every vineyard has a Cellar Door where they sell their produce and generally give PR). Well, what can I say? It was like being in wine paradise! We were the only people there, and the lady in charge just reminded me of Cal at the Tannin Level for her knowledge, enthusiasm and brilliant hospitality! A pleasure to chat with her. We came away with the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, and some Te Koko – two wines made from the exact same grape, but the 2014 using modern methods taking six months to produce (which is the more commercially available one), the Te Koko using original methods and taking 3 years to produce. Looking forward to comparing them! The 2014 was selling at £15 a bottle, the Te Koko at £25 (much cheaper than in the local shops, for both).
Travelling on (I’d had to refrain a bit on the tastings!) we passed vineyard after vineyard, many well known names and favourites. I was in heaven!!!
We ended up at an amazing campsite at McKee Memorial Domain just above Mapua. What a great place! Only £3 each, huge site with very basic facilities, right on the beach, and populated with loads of hippies! Brilliant! The rain came in in the evening, but we were nice and toasty in our van, eating chilli, drinking fine beers…….
Thursday 7th May
Awoke to another bright day, and changed our plans having looked at the weather forecast, so instead of heading to Westport on the west coast, we headed further north to the Abel Tasman National Park, and the sun. What a journey! Up Takaka Hill mountain pass (another cycling must), down the other side into Takaka which is a hippy town! This place looks great, and we’re going to stop here again, if only to go to the Dangerous Kitchen café which is a homage to Frank Zappa! (“In the kitchen of danger, you can feel like a stranger…”). Finch, you should come here for your honeymoon!! Pohara was a beautiful village on the coast, known for its penguins (they must have been on holiday while we passed through) but we stopped to make bacon sandwiches there…. And then the last 10k was on a gravel road mountain pass, finally dropping in to Totaranui, and the (once again) unbelievable camp site there. Right on the picture perfect beach, and although it can hold 850 people, we have so far seen 4 camper vans. Perfect! We’ve had a couple of miles strolling on the beach, in a very pleasant sunny 19 degrees, before retiring to the van to sample some more specialist ales. I don’t know how we manage!! Tomorrow we’re doing a 4hr walk from here, north along the coastal path and back. And we think we might head back to hippyville at Takaka for the night as we’re both fancying some live music!! Or maybe Saturday night. Who knows??
Finally today, huge congratulations to Charlotte’s team at work today. At an awards ceremony in London last night (in the Westminster Plaza Hotel) they have won the BMJ Award, Palliative Care Team 2015. A massive honour. I genuinely take my hat off to you all. Magnificent people.
Later on….. Wow! I’ve just been outside where it’s pitch black and seen the best shooting star I’ve ever seen! Streaked across the whole sky in only half a second! Brilliant! And the Milky Way stretched out above us! No wonder all the hippies live around here!
Friday 8th May
The rain has been and gone overnight. The wind has disappeared. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. It is once again perfect. Off we went to do a small section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk. The full route is 51km to be done over 3-5 days. It’s touted as New Zealand’s very best multi-day walk. We just walked 5km of it (and back again) and of course it was spectacular. Climbing through green, steaming jungle then dropping into the most idyllic bays you could imagine (accessible only by walking or by boat). For me, it was beyond stunning. I could never have imagined that places like this existed. And because we’d gone early, there were only our footprints in the sand. We saw a solitary seal playing in the surf. And some of the camping areas we saw were just perfect – right on the beach. I have to come back and do the whole route one day. I actually think it would be a brilliant 51km ultra marathon! Shelley?? Shall we??? It was another epic day. The only downside was that today was obviously the Spring Seminar of the Southern Island Sandfly, and they were celebrating with a 43 course banquet, which consisted solely of me. My legs and feet have once again been devoured.
We set off after lunch back to Takaka, hoping to catch some live music there this evening. But we couldn’t find any anywhere! So after a coffee from Dangerous Kitchen, we continued on back to the camp site of a couple of nights ago, the hippy place! And again, our plans have changed for the following week – instead of heading to the west coast (forecast heavy rain all week) we’re going to continue down the east coast for a few days (forecast sun and 20 degrees!). Kekerengu tomorrow night, then Kaikoura on Sunday and a whale-watching boat trip. We may then spend the night at Shag Rock, next to Mount Beautiful.
Last night’s and tonight’s campsites are superb. They’re run by the Department of Conservation (DoC) who have hundreds of sites over both islands. They’re always very cheap, clean, and with just basic facilities. We often read the reviews left by previous visitors, and are usually staggered by the miserableness of them! “Showers were cold”, “Ground not perfectly level”, “Too many rabbits around”! These people should be shot! I’ve never seen such great sites in my life! Some people aren’t happy unless they’re miserable…..
Anyway, has there been an election on somewhere???? Ah, the joy of no television and very limited internet!!!