Touring Marlborough Vineyards: South Island, New Zealand

Take a walk down the wine aisle at almost any liquor store, and I guarantee you that you will be spoilt for choice with wines from Marlborough, most notably the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs.

But perhaps the best thing about visiting the region of Marlborough itself is the small-scale, boutique wineries, which will delight you with unique varietals found only in the region.

My parents came to visit me in New Zealand (escaping the cold winters of Saskatchewan, Canada) and since my Mom and I are avid wine consumers, I knew I had to take her and my Dad to Marlborough.

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Onboard the Interislander ferry
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Driving views in Marlborough

Getting there

Since we were already in Wellington, we took the Interislander ferry to Picton (Bluebridge ferry is an alternative), then drove a rental car to Nelson for two nights’ accommodation. We stayed in Nelson simply because of its proximity to Abel Tasman National Park, which was on our itinerary for later in the week. Alternative to the ferry, you could fly direct from Wellington to Blenheim or Nelson, both of which offer wine tours to Marlborough.

Accommodation

Travelling as a group of three can be tricky, as most standard hotels only have one queen bed. I ended up booking through AirBNB and we stayed at a studio cottage (210 Saint Vincent Street) in Nelson, which was beautifully furnished, comfortable for three guests, and also had an outdoor jacuzzi tub with stunning views of the surrounding hills. If you’re lucky enough to stay in Nelson when this cottage is available, I highly recommend booking in a couple of nights.

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Our evening oasis at the AirBNB

The Vineyard Tour

I’ve been on wine tours in New Zealand, Canada and Chile, and this wine tour was hands-down the best experience I’ve ever had. Each winery we visited was personally selected by our guide, CJ, and had a unique history and vibe. We were welcomed at each location by friendly hosts whose passion for wine was evident and who enjoyed sharing their knowledge.

Here are my favourites from the tour:

Spy Valley

Modern and beautifully minimalistic, the tasting room looks out to lush grape vines and the distant hills. Our host was accommodating and provided us with a private table on the patio for the tasting so that we could enjoy the sunshine. She also described the wines using simple words that us non-experts could understand, which was very refreshing considering the otherwise posh atmosphere. After the tasting, we picked fresh Pinot Noir grapes straight from the vine and had a quick photo session in the vineyard.

Wine choice: Spy Valley Pinot Noir Rose (crisp and not too sweet, defying my expectations of typical Rose)

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Framingham Wines

I loved this winery, especially the basement cellar, which not only holds the vineyard’s most coveted wine, but constantly-changing local artwork on display, and a band room for concerts at the back of the cellar.

Wine choice: Framingham Dry Riesling (unique, smoky aftertaste)

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Giesen Wines

They really do have the “Best Platters in Marlborough”. We first tasted a large variety of wines, then took to the patio for a feast inclusive of green mussels from Havelock. Our host for the wine tasting was personable, memorable, and very much a realist – describing one wine as smelling of “asparagus”. He was right!

Wine choice: Brother’s Gewürztraminer (incredibly refreshing after a long day of perusing vineyards; the perfect companion to our platter).

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We visited four other vineyards that were just as unique and special in their own right, with stunning tasting rooms and heart-warming stories of the vineyards’ histories.

But I won’t give away all of the surprises – you’ll just have to plan your own vacation to the Marlborough Wine Region and experience it for yourself! With dozens of vineyards to choose from in the region, you could plan out your own special tour – or, as I did, let the experts plan for you. We were fortunate enough to be the only guests that day, but I have no doubt that even with a full tour (maximum is 9) we would’ve felt just as special.

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Family photo after a zillion glasses of wine. 🙂

And after a day of beautiful wine, cheese, and a stop at Makana Chocolates, we returned to our lovely AirBNB and – you guessed it – drank more wine in the jacuzzi under the stars. Marlborough really feels a world away and is a perfect addition to your New Zealand travels.

Have you visited the Marlborough region before? I’d love to know which vineyards were your favourite! Let me know in the comments below 🙂

12 Things to love about Wellington, New Zealand

Lonely Planet gave Wellington the title of “Coolest Little Capital in the World”. And while it initially didn’t seem like a vast departure from anywhere I’d lived before, I soon became privy to the quirky and quintessential features of my new home.  Here’s what I love about this capital city.

1. The green space is incredible

Native bush and hectares of forest within minutes of the central downtown area makes Wellington the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s the Skyline Trail, Town Belt, Te Ahumairangi Hill or any of the reserves along the waterfront, this city has an endless number of trails for when you need to become one with nature. I love taking a lunchtime stroll through the Botanic Gardens to feel a world away in just a matter of minutes.

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Botanic Garden entrance
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Johnston Hill section of the Skyline Trail

2. Wellingtonians are low-key obsessed with coffee

It’s no secret: Kiwis love their coffee. Wander into a random cafe, gas station or even a parking lot and you will almost certainly find a full espresso set up (no filter coffee that’s been burning in the pot for hours!). And since Wellington boats more cafes per capita than even New York City*, you’ll be sure to find the perfect brew.

*http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/cwc-2015-wellington-fact-file/

3. No one minds the rain

I moved to Wellington from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – one of the most miserable cities (weather-wise) in the country. I arrived in Wellington fully equipped with rainboots, an umbrella and several raincoats, but soon noticed that when it rained, no one cared. Designer rain boots (i.e., Hunter) are non-existent, umbrellas are at an all-time low, and maybe on the odd occasion you’ll see someone put their jacket hood up. Wellingtonians just don’t seem to care about wet shirts, soggy shoes or frizzy hair. And you know what? I’ve become one of them!

4. Honk your horn in Mount Victoria Tunnel

Pass through Mount Victoria Tunnel and you’ll hear other drivers honking their horns. But – don’t be alarmed – they’re not honking at you. During construction in the 1930s, a woman was murdered by her lover and buried at the construction site. The honking can accomplish one of two things: saying hello to the ghost or an attempt to keep her at bay. Whichever reason you choose, make sure to give your horn a toot the next time you pass through.

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5. The impractical suburb shopping districts

I don’t know who did the city planning – sometimes it seems like it was just a “yolo” moment in Kiwi history when they built some of these narrow streets, but each suburb has its own little shopping area with cute antique and gift shops, bakeries and cafes, and convenience stores. They are completely impractical and often you need to drive a good distance to reach a full-sized grocery store or any amenities and services such as a dentist or gym. But I’ll be damned if you don’t think these shops are the most adorable thing about Wellington.

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Tinakori Village is home to perfectly impractical antique shops and cafes, set amongst stunning heritage homes from the late 1800s

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6. Craft beer and cider changed my life

The ciders and craft beers that come from Wellington are just so good. There’s no shortage of new breweries to try or Beer Fests to attend when you’re in Wellington. If you find yourself in the ‘impractical suburb shops’ of Aro Valley, check out my personal favourite: Garage Project.

7. It’s often walk-up access only

With most of the city built in the hills, Wellingtonians had to get creative. I quickly learned that many homes don’t have direct street access and can only be reached after a series of hidden pathways and crooked stairs. It’s truly incredible to see the ingenuity used to build these unique homes and I love finding new places where homes are crammed in. And the plus side of all the stairs? Buns of Steel!

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The only access to some homes on Dixon Street
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Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?

8. Stilettos and heels have no place here

This is perhaps my favourite thing about this city. Stilettos are seldom worn and ladies instead opt for perfectly functional dress flats. This is likely due to the impracticality of wearing anything higher than three inches in this hilly city. And when Wellingtonian women do wear heels, it’s usually a chunky (comfy) heel or wedge. My feet have never been happier!

9. The bus drivers have mad skills

I vividly remember the first time I took the bus from Mairangi Road to Wellington CBD. I sat in my seat, white-knuckled as we rounded one blind corner after another. It took me nearly a year to feel comfortable driving a car in Wellington, due to the narrow, winding streets – many of which have cars parked blocking one lane. The fact that a bus can make it down all of these streets without a scratch is nothing short of a miracle.

10. The Gatekeeper: The Rimutuka Hill

Perhaps even more terrifying than Wellington’s narrow streets is the Rimutuka Highway – the gateway to the Wairarapa region of the North Island, home to beautiful vineyards, pristine farmland and the picturesque Taurarua Range. Unless you take the train and go through the hill, there is no other way. Bring a sick bag.

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11. The ode to great women

Wellington City has installed special crosswalk symbols throughout the CBD to pay homage to great people in New Zealand’s history, including Carmen Rupe, who guides pedestrians down Cuba Street, and Kate Sheppard, who will get you safely across several intersections near Parliament.

And last, but certainly not least…

12. There are beaches galore, and you can have your choice

There is no shortage of beach-side getaways – whether you want to bathe in the sun or dive into the crisp ocean water, there are nearly a dozen places in and around Wellington where you can get your water fix. On a hot summer day, Oriental Bay is scattered with locals and tourists soaking up the sun, but if you move beyond the city centre, there’s often more space to throw down a towel and pop open the chilly bin. Each beach is unique in its own way and just as beautiful as the last.

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Oriental Bay during a scorching summer day

What are some special features about the city you live in? I’d love to read about them in the comments below!

Favourite Places: Castlepoint, New Zealand

Castlepoint is more than just a beach-side destination. It’s a quiet getaway and vast departure from the daily activities of a busy lifestyle.

Even during the cold and rainy winter, spending an evening at Castlepoint is one of my favourite places to unwind. Brett and I have been coming to his family’s bach* since we first moved to New Zealand, and regardless of the weather, it’s an ideal weekend getaway for those in the Wairapara/Wellington region.

*bach = cabin/cottage/beach house, pronounced “batch”

Getting there
The two-hour drive from Wellington is complete with a heart-palpitating cruise along the Rimutaka Highway, a snapshot of the Tararua Mountain range, and endless rolling hills of farmland. The finale of the drive is a stunning view of the South Pacific Ocean. My favourite part is just before you enter the community of Castlepoint: green hills dotted with grazing sheep. I’m pretty sure Kiwis think I’m crazy for loving sheep as much as I do!

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Places to stay
There’s a campground at Castlepoint, complete with a nicely developed space for tents and camper vans. If you prefer to stay indoors, however, many of the baches along the waterfront can be rented for your holiday, along with the Castlepoint Hotel (located just before the entrance to the town).

Things to do
Castle Rock
The obvious activity is to walk up to the lighthouse for a stunning 360-degree view. This trail is well-maintained, accessible from the beach, and can be accomplished in nearly any weather condition (it’s also a great spot for checking out the water clarity).

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The Cave

Below the lighthouse is a beach-side trail – accessible at low tide – to a deep cave. Through the cave you can see light at the other end, which lets out on the opposite side of Castle Rock. Although tempting, the water on the opposite side is extremely rough and not fit for swimming! This area is also a popular hangout for the New Zealand fur seal. These cute blobs can be very territorial – especially if they have pups around – so keep a safe distance but enjoy the thrill. 😊

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Brett about to enter the cave…

Water sports
Throughout the year, it’s common to see people out boating, surfing, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, spear-fishing, snorkeling and on jet skis. In the summer months – pending that the winds take a day off – “The Gap” (aka Deliverance Cove) is an ideal place to lay in the sun amongst the calm waters.

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The Gap – view from Deliverance Cove trail

Hiking
I’ll admit that we don’t often check the forecast before driving up to Castlepoint, so most of my memories here involve high winds and pelting rain. However, we’ve stumbled across a few sunny days that make every rain drop so incredibly worth it.

On one such occasion, we hiked the Deliverance Cove trail, located behind the town of Castlepoint. This hike was very steep and is quite a test for those with a fear of heights. As you walk along the hillside, be cautious of the blowing wind.

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Can you see the tiny lighthouse in the distance?

The view from the top is incredible – with Castlepoint Lighthouse, the beach and The Gap on one side, and a view of sprawling fields and Christmas Bay on the other. We took a long rest at the top to really soak in the sun, watch the water for activity, and gaze at the glistening waters along Christmas Bay. Since that day, I’ve been waiting for ideal weather conditions to get back to the top.

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Christmas Bay

In the area
Amenities
The town itself doesn’t have a lot of amenities (stock up in Masterton if you need any groceries), however, there is a café, complete with classic Kiwi fish n’ chips, hot dogs and home baking. Across the street in the parking lot, you can often find a small camper van-style coffee truck, ready to serve you up a freshly extracted espresso.

Mataikona

Mataikona is a small community of homes further up the beach from Castlepoint. This area evokes a sense of seclusion and separation from the rest of the holiday homes nearby. And although the sandy beaches do not reach this settlement, the blanket of rocks along the coast make for ideal diving conditions, and is a popular spot for spearfishing. I highly suggest taking a short drive out this way to experience the uniqueness and contrast to Castlepoint.

. . . . .

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Castle Rock, Lighthouse, The Gap, Deliverance Cove trail (far hill), and town of Castlepoint

Perhaps the reason I enjoy Castlepoint so much is that it’s one of the first places Brett and I visited when we moved to New Zealand. With the stress and uncertainty of relocating to another country, Castlepoint was a close destination that we could always go to for a mini retreat.

I still remember our first evening at the bach. We sat on the front porch, bundled in blankets, and drank ciders as we watched the sun set behind Castle Rock. Castlepoint always reminds me of that perfect, care-free feeling we had that day, and is why I always look forward to going back – despite the weather forecast. 😊

 

Favourite Places: Exploring Makara Walkway with Welly Walks

Makara Beach is easily one of my favourite spots around Wellington. Just a short 30-minute drive from the city center, you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the island.

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I’ve been here several times, as Brett is an avid spear-fisherman and the rocky shorelines makes for ideal conditions. The first time we drove to Makara, the beach was dark and gloomy – but I haven’t had a bad day since. Even when Wellington is windy and cold, Makara seems to be in its own world with low winds at beach level, calm waves and clear waters.

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Mana Island is just visible from the main entrance of Makara Beach

Although we are approaching Autumn, this past weekend felt like a summer day – with warm temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. This is how I’ve come to know Makara Beach, and have experienced my best Wellington days out here, sitting on the (rocky – not sandy) beach and searching for shells and sea glass.

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A few weeks ago, I found an iPhone App that lists different walks around Wellington, with Makara Walkway being one of them. So when Brett told me he was going diving with a friend (meaning that I didn’t need to sit on the beach and keep watch) I took the opportunity to explore the hills around the beach.

The Welly Walks app guides you through the hike (which is easy enough to navigate on your own), but also tells the history of the area. The gun emplacements and bunkers near the summit were originally built following the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbour. Although they were commissioned by the start of WWII, these grounds never saw any action and were de-commissioned in 1944 (credit to the Welly Walks App for the history lesson).

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Mana Island & Kapiti Island in the distance

As with any ocean look-out built during WWI/WWII, the views are incredible, as it was necessary to scout out invaders. The irony is that these grounds have now become a place of peace and reflection for hikers or picnickers – a complete turnaround from the original strategy of their placement.

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To get to this viewpoint you can either hike from the beach or (the most popular route by the looks of it) park near the B2 turbine and take a short walk.

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Part of the hike crosses over farmland, so you’re bound to make some new friends along the way 🙂

The B2 turbine is also a site to see, as it’s the only wind turbine in the area that pedestrians can access up close. I personally find the wind turbines to be very calming and peaceful to watch, and although they seem to always be turning in full force around Makara Beach, there was hardly any wind at ground level.

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B2 Turbine (FYI for you lazy people: parking access is just around this hill)
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Shepherds Gully Fault

Although the app suggests to take the Opau Bay route and walk back to Makara along the beach, I went back down the way I came, for a couple of reasons. The beach is very rocky and somewhat annoying to navigate (which I know from experience), and the views near the beginning of the trail were secluded and incredible, and I wanted to re-visit these places on my way back down to the beach.

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Gun emplacements, with Opau Beach to the left; South Island in the distance
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View from the hike up/down that I wanted to re-vist 🙂

The hike took about two hours to complete, including numerous “photo op” stops. The climb to the top is relatively steep, but worth every aching muscle once you see the incredible views for yourself.

I don’t often repeat hikes (as I like to see as many new things as possible), but I would definitely do this one again and perhaps spend a bit more time relaxing at the top and enjoying the views.

And as much as I loved Makara Beach before, this hike has solidified it as one of my favourite places in the Wellington area.

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