After riding over from St. Arnaud we were in Marlborough. There were grape vines everywhere, and we mean everywhere. We’ve both seen vineyards in Europe but nothing had prepared us for the scale of the Marlborough vineyards. There was only one thing to do and that was to try some wine, so we devoted Monday to that task. We rode down to Blenheim, diligently following Steve’s advice and avoiding Highway 1. We had to cross it and that was bad enough. However, after being a bit disappointed with Blenheim (the buildings could have featured in a Western movie….) we set off to the Prenzel distillery. Okay, not wine, but we’d been told they did some good booze, including gin and who doesn’t like a good G&T? The only problem about getting to the distillery was our failure to ride past the very first winery we came across. Oops
The winery in question was one we’d never heard of before; Lawson’s Dry Hills. We ventured inside, not really knowing what to expect. We left having spent no money, but having tried about six amazing wines, and when we say try we don’t mean just a mouthful. They were more than generous. We’d also serendipitously discovered that the distillery wasn’t open because it was a public holiday, so instead we wobbled off to St. Claire’s winery back near our campsite.
St. Clair’s charged us 5 NZD (so around £2.30) to try six wines, although no one was actually counting and the 10 NZD we’d spent was reclaimable against any wine or food we bought. We made more good value of our 10 NZD, admired the food menu which we were too late to sample and instead unsteadily rode off having bought a bottle of wine for very little money. We next ventured into the chocolate factory in the hope that some free chocolate would sober us up, but they were not very forthcoming with the samples, so we headed back to the campsite to drink more wine after an educational day learning about wine.
Tuesday dawned and we were back on the road, this time with 70 km so we could spend a few days at Mistletoe Bay campsite that’s on Marlborough Sounds. The first 12 km were along a dead straight road through vineyards, which was dull. The next 20 km were along part of our old friend, SH6, which again was complete with scary logging lorries. Weirdly there were fully loaded logging lorries travelling in both directions, which doesn’t seem very efficient. We were both wondering how New Zealand gets so many good comments about being a cycling paradise because this was awful. And also why a Canadian we’d met had told us this was a good ride…..
Havelock was where we finally said goodbye to SH6 as we joined the Queen Charlotte Drive. The next 30 km would be either up or down, and not a single km was straight. The views were stunning, the road was quiet and it was so hot we stopped for ice cream in Linkwater. The lady serving asked us if we’d felt the 5.8 earthquake that had just struck. Eh, no somehow we’d totally missed the ground swaying beneath our feet, probably because we were cycling at the time!
After more ups and downs than is imaginable over a short stretch of road we got to the stunning Mistletoe Bay campsite. The final 1.5 km was straight down a gravel road, so the next few days would be spent worrying about how the hell we’d get back out of the campsite. However, we first had to spend two days reading, swimming, soaking up sun and going for walks around the headland. After riding across South Island we both needed a rest.
On Friday we had to get to Picton for 1 pm to catch the ferry to North Island. It was 40 km by road or 8 km in a straight line. Fortunately John who was staying on the campsite, and had taken us to Portage for a beer one evening, offered to drive Philippa and all our bags back up the gravel track, so that made the start of the day a lot easier – thanks John! We then had to retrace our steps back along the mental road that had been draped across all the hills. It reminded us of the Formentor road in Mallorca. Without 50 km in our legs and carrying food for three days it was easier to enjoy the road the second time round. We got to Picton with loads of time to spare, so dried off the tent, bought some food and checked our email before embarking the ferry and waving goodbye to South Island.
Before leaving the UK we thought we’d spend six weeks on South Island, but in the end we arrived on the 12th January & left on the 12th February. We were expecting to fall in love with South Island and want to live here, but that hasn’t happened. In parts it is stunningly beautiful, but also very isolated. Too isolated. The road cycling options are also limited because there aren’t many roads, and some of the cycling hasn’t been great because of the impatience of the car drivers who seem to think that 5 cm of space is sufficient when overtaking cyclists. On the flip side all the Kiwis we’ve spoken to have been amazingly friendly and open, which is in total contrast to what we experience on a day to day basis in London. But we’re also used to South Island and approaching North Island feels like entering the unknown, in fact a new country because it involves a 3.5 hour ferry trip We’ve heard a lot about North Island from various people, but how will we fare in the North? Time will tell.