Motoring around New Zealand’s magnificent Marlborough yields more than wining and dining pleasures. This is the birthplace of the distinctive Sauvignon Blanc, my favorites being Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria and Brancott Montana to name just a few. From Christchurch, a 300 mile route takes in plains and alpine vistas, craggy coast and emerald fjords and vine after voluptuous vine of premium wine grapes. Marlborough is the top right hand corner of New Zealand’s South Island.
No one should tackle this much jaw dropping scenery on an empty stomach. So the wonderful bakery at Amberley, about an hour north of Christchurch, makes an ideal first stop. London trained chef Rachel Scott makes fantastic bread from airborne yeasts, locally grown organic wheat, pure South Island water and sea salt harvested from Lake Grassmere to the north.
Just north of the town the Waipara Valley wine region district is a striking patchwork of broad plains, burnt hills and leafy vines. Pinot Noir grapes thrive in the cooler night temperatures and summer days are typically hot and dry. At Pegasus Bay Winery you can enjoy a chilled Sauvignon Semillon in a shady corner of the expansive garden or indulge at the acclaimed restaurant.
Back on the road, the Pacific Ocean comes into view and State Highway 1 turns into a narrow ribbon wedged between the sea and the Kaikoura Ranges. Less than two hours from Amberley, the former whaling station turns seaside tourist town of Kaikoura to an essential stop. Sperm whales are there all year, and it’s a great tour. Stay overnight at Hapuka Lodge in a tree house.
On the 100 mile drive to Blenheim, allow plenty of time for ogling the scenery. While this town may well be the birthplace of New Zealand’s distinctive world beating Sauvignon Blanc, this region also grows more than half the nation’s Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling crops about 12,000 acres of vines in all. I love the Herzog restaurant and winery, which gives great cooking classes. There are over 50 small wineries in the area. The Information Center stocks art trail brochures and there are some fantastic potters and artists with studios in the area. The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is interesting, stocked with World War 1 fighter planes. Great place to eat in Blenheim is the Twelve Trees Restaurant at Allan Scott’s Winery.
Nearby is the town of Picton, poised on the edge of the Queen Charlotte Sound which is a great walk. Seaumus’s Irish Pub has wall hung plaques to celebrate the fortitude of the Guiness Club members each of whom have downed 100 pints of the dark brew. I love the Bay of Many Coves Resort, visitors can leave their cars on shore and hop aboard a water taxi. It takes an hour to get to Havelock, a former gold mining town and is best known for its greenshell mussel farms. This is a great tour which I put on every one of my client’s itineraries.
A visit to New Zealand gives you a new look at life in general. Think thin when you get home.