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 🙂

48 hours in the Art Deco capital: Napier, New Zealand

The past few weekends were spent lounging around the house, visiting cafes and eating copious amounts of wings and fries. Now, I’m all for R&R but I also get a bit ‘squirrely’ when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. This past weekend we switched things up and drove four hours up the North Island to Napier for a weekend away from the city. *Note that it took five hours because of my superb navigation skills.

Napier

Napier is a unique city – and much bigger than I’d anticipated. Part of the City Centre was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the 1930s, and now boasts an abundance of Art Deco buildings from that era. Now there’s your history lesson for the day.

Accommodation

We spent two nights at The Nautilus on Marine Parade. Our perch from the second floor was stunning: unobstructed views of the ocean and Cape Kidnappers in the distance. We were just far enough from the City Centre to avoid the crowds of tourists, but just close enough to walk to dozens of restaurants and the bike shop where we began our wine tour on Saturday morning.

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View from our balcony to the ocean

The Vineyard Tour

I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of biking from vineyard to vineyard, but decided it would be a good idea to burn some calories while drinking a lot of wine. Brilliant, right? So we booked ourselves in with Napier City Bike Tours on the “Country to Coast” self-guided tour. I think this was a great package: we were dropped off about 20 minutes out of the city at 10:30am, bike 16km and stopped at six cellar doors, then we were picked up and shuttled back to the city at 4:00pm.

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View from Black Barn Vineyard

Any reservations I’d had about biking around the vineyards quickly disappeared. This was an excellent way to spend a Saturday: The sun was shining and temps were around 25 degrees all day. Each vineyard was unique and special in its own way – differentiated by their host, scenery, wine offerings, and history of the vineyard. We visited:

Above: Te Mata and Beach House

Our wine choices

We purchased wine from both Te Mata and Akarangi. The funny thing about wine is that there are two types I will always avoid: Shiraz and Chardonnay. They just don’t do it for me (I actually had to dump out my Chardonnay tasting at Black Barn).

However… Our favourite wine at Te Mata was a Syrah (related to the Shiraz grape) and the Chardonnay from Akarangi. The fact that I bought Chardonnay speaks volumes for this vineyard. We learned from the owner that they’d produced wine in previous years, shut down the business for family reasons, and have only just started producing wine again since late 2016. Their wines are currently online and at their cellar door (which happens to be a church, relocated from nearby Clive). Akarangi was certainly my top pick for location, chill vibes and beautiful wines.

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Akarangi Cellar Door

Note: Another bonus of the tour is that you can leave your purchases at the vineyard and the shuttle driver will collect them before meeting you at your pick-up location. That was a much-appreciated perk.

The unexpected highlight

Near Te Mata vineyard is a café called Chalk ‘n’ Cheese. Do not bypass this place. We stopped in for a cheeseboard and while choosing our selection had a full cheese-tasting experience. I cannot recall the exact cheese we decided on but everything was incredible – and the woman conducting the tasting was very knowledgeable. She also had a very dry sense of humor, which came through when Brett remarked that one of the cheeses would “taste good in a toastie” and her reply to me (with an eyeroll) was, “I am so sorry for this Kiwi man.”

We sat outside underneath beautiful, ripe fig trees. I know they were ripe because one plummeted down onto my arm and exploded with fig juice. A man, whom I’m assuming is a regular, looked at me and said “Oh, you got figged on!”.

Yes, yes I did.

Aside from the fig incident, this was the perfect pit stop on our bike tour, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone in the area.

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Dining out in Napier

After arriving back in the city we went on an evening bike ride to find some food. Honestly, we just wanted pizza. While we were cycling around the “non-tourist” area of town looking for Hell Pizza, we came across Dough Pizzeria. It looked much more inviting than the mob of hungry takeaway patrons at Hell, so we parked our bikes outside of Dough and went in. The wood fire pizza was delicious and reminded me of a place back in Newfoundland that serves authentic, Italian-style pizza (or so I assume since I’ve never been to Italy). I opted for the Mediterranean simply for the black olives, and Brett ordered a chicken pizza. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes (no joke). I think we went to bed at 9:30pm with our carb coma, and it was so worth it.

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We headed back to Wellington early Sunday morning, and it’s incredible how much we were able to see while in Napier for just two nights. I can definitely see myself heading back there in the summer months to visit more vineyards, bike along the trails and get consumed in the relaxed lifestyle once again.