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I will freely admit to being a great fan of the Marlborough Wine Trail - I have taken a self-drive tour of the vineyards of Marlborough numerous times with my map in hand and always find something new to try as I travel around – with my sober driver of course.
So I was very excited to learn that there is a new trail in Marlborough, The Local Loop offers a range of food delights and tourism experiences around the Wairau Plans which you can visit over a day or two in the gourmet province.
As luck would have it the local loop takes in the same area as many of the wineries so it is easy to stop off at a winery or two as you go around the Loop.
So as difficult as it was, on a glorious sunny Marlborough day my companion and I grabbed a map from the Blenheim i-Site and started our local adventure. Our first stop was to Hedgegrows Hydroponic’s where the owner Mary Rix Miller gave us a tour of her rather large greenhouse and explained how the Strawberries were grown.
I am personally a huge strawberry fan so it was like letting a kid loose in a lolly shop as Mary let me take a couple of samples fresh from the plant. In the shop there were a range of strawberry treats on offer with the freshly made strawberry ice cream being the most popular.
A short drive down Thompsons Ford Road and we were at the Makana Chocolate Factory where we were met with a tasting of Macadamia Butter Toffee Crunch and a cherry Armagnac truffle –divine.
The chocolatiers were hard at work dipping some shortbread as we watched through the window before deciding which of the delectable treats we should take home with us – the Toffee Crunch was the winner on the day.
Then it was around the corner to Traditional Country Preserves where we were met with the delicious smell that I attribute with my Grandmas kitchen and an array of chutneys, relishes, jams etc made from local produce.
A five minute drive down the ‘golden mile’ of Rapaura Road brought us to The Vines Village where there is something to suit everyone’s taste buds as well as offering New Zealand made clothing and the Quilters Barn.
This seemed like a good time for lunch so we headed to Shelly’s Café and Larder for one of the house specialties – a platter which was filled to the brim of local ingredients including my favourite Marlborough smoked salmon.
We enjoyed our lovely fare with a glass of Bouldevines wines in the sunny outdoor area next to the pond complete with black swans.
We could have spent the rest of the day sleeping off our lunch in the sun but there was still more to see so after a tasting of Prenzel’s liquers at Great Tastes of New Zealand (you have got to try the Chocomulu) and picking up some vanilla fudge from the Fudge Cottage we hit the road again this time driving towards the Wither Hills for a treat of a different kind.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre has to be seen to be believed.
A collection of World War One planes may not seem to be your thing but this description just doesn’t do it justice. The planes are from World War One but their ‘dioramas’ have been put together by Weta Workshops with the assistance of Peter Jackson who owns a majority of what you see on exhibit.
The centre tells the story of the planes but also of the people who flew them. My favourite is the story of Grid Caldwell which has a mannequin piloting a worse for wear plane from the wing.
Hours could be spent looking at all the finer details of the planes and the extensive memorabilia that is on display. Our trusty guide Eric gave us an hour’s tour. I would definitely recommend taking up the guided option.
For only $5per person more the guides really bring the displays to life.
Next door to the Heritage Centre is the new Omaka Classic Cars so we purchased our entry token from the heritage centre before heading to see the cars which ranged from 1950’s to 1980s and all of which were originally sold on the local market.
I could definitely see myself cruising around in one of the fifties era cars with big dark sunglass’s and a scarf over my hair – very Audrey Hepburn. Once I had returned to reality it was back to thinking of my stomach as we headed up Taylor Pass Road to the New Zealand Honey Company.
My favourite part of our visit to the Honey Shop was definitely the honey tasting (no surprises there) and getting to see a live working hive in action. The whole honey process is mind boggling and I definitely have a new appreciation for these hard working little creatures.
Also rather interesting is the fact that all the honeys have quite a different flavour just from the different plants that the bees pollinate – Blue Borage was the one for me.
Our final stop of the day was to head down to the Opawa River to board the Marlborough River Queen for a cruise aboard the beautiful wooden boat.
We joined the late afternoon cruise option where we enjoyed a glass of Two Rivers Sauvignon Blanc and relaxed as our skipper told us about the story of the area once known as The Beaver.
This was the perfect end to our day as we moved slowly down the river watching the local bird life.