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Marlborough New Zealand
"A whale of a time in the wine and food capital of the country . . . ."
Each year a major event on the foodie calendar is the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival . . . and for good reason. From vine and briny, farm and field this area produces some of the best foods and finest wines in the country.
That alone is sufficient reason to tarry a while, but there are others. It is also has a smorgasbord of outdoor adventure pursuits . . . especially at Kaikoura, somewhat south of the region towards Christchurch.
At the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton is best known as the southern terminal of the Cook Strait ferry.
The Sounds are drowned valleys - this part of the country was originally located about Milford Sound somewhere but the shearing, buckling, crunching battle of the two tectonic plates that meet here - the Australian and the Pacific Plates - have wrenched the island in twain along the line of the Southern Alps. These mountains are the result of the head-on collision of two of the planet's most ineffable forces. Having been thrown up by this clash of the titans, they sank back again and the waters rushed in to create a superb marine environment.
If you arrived by sea you've probably had as good a look at the area from the water as you need, but if not and/or you'd like a closer look you can catch the cruise or hire everything from a canoe to a sail-it-yourself motor sailer.
There are other water-based attractions here - dolphin watching, fishing or diving trips to a number of unique destinations including one of the biggest diveable cruise shipwrecks in the world, the Mikhail Lermontov which sank while cruising off the South Island coast in 1986.
Trekking? Instead of taking the rather heavily trafficked Abel Tasman Track, why not try the Queen Charlotte Walkway. The 58km track will take about three to four days - but you can also do just bits of it as day walks, jumping from one point to the other with local boat services. Suitable for people of all ages and average fitness. It picks its way from Anakiwa to Ship Cove through sea level forests and along ridge tops with views on both sides to Queen Charlotte and Pelorous Sounds.
This is one of the country's great grape growing areas. But there are one or two other attractions.,
The historic Molesworth Station is NZ's largest farm, stretching across tens of thousands of hectares of country between Blenheim and Hanmer Springs to the south. Historic, but financially a disaster. The Government runs it these days (like all financial disasters). As an alternative to State Highway 1 you can drive through the station from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs.
You don't have to be an aviation enthusiast to enjoy a visit to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum where 21 replica and original World War I fighters are on display. They are on loan from film director Peter Jackson's private air armada - believed to be the largest private collection in the world.
The Wines Of Marlborough
Gold, silver, bronze . . . the medals fairly rain upon Marlborough wines from all corners of the globe. And for good reason. Ask a wine expert anywhere and they will agree that this region is one of the great wine growing areas in the world, especially for white wines.
Micro-climates in pockets here are similar to the Rhine region of Germany - hence the predominance of white wines from this area. The region today has over 60 wineries and over 300 independent growers.
There are coach tours of the vineyards, or you can do it yourself, but why not get on yer bike and ride! Over 30 Wineries can be explored by bike along the quiet back roads within 10 km radius of Blenheim. The terrain is flat as - and you don't have the problem of driving under the influence of too many taste samples.
Grapes aren't the only crop from this region. One of the more unusual is garlic. About 120ha - say 500 acres - are planted each year. Apart from local use it is also exported to the Pacific Islands and in some seasons a lot goes to Australia. So there it is - Blenheim, the garlic capital of the South Pacific.
Marlborough also grows mussels like nowhere else. Out in the waters here there are 900 million green-lipped mussels agrowing.
But a few years ago this was a sleepy little hamlet on the Kaikoura Peninsular which sticks out of the north Canterbury coast like a hitch-hiker's thumb. Then somebody noticed that whales were common visitors to the area and started taking tourists out to see them. The rest, as they say, is history. Kaikoura suddenly found itself square in the centre of the world eco-tourism trail, much to the general enrichment of locals and visitors alike. In different ways of course.
The whales are for the most part adolescent males, waiting out their time between childhood and the time they will challenge for a place among the cows in the main pod.
Apart from the launch cruises, you can also see them from the air on either fixed-wing planes with or helicopters.
In addition to whales you'll also see seals, dolphins, albatrosses and occasionally orca or humpback whales.
The peninsular was named by a Maori named Tamatea Pokai Whenua. He was chasing some of his runaway wives . . . I kid you not - Sensitive New Age Guys were not invented then . . . and stopped here for a meal of crayfish. The full name of the peninsular is Te Ahi Kaikoura A Tamatea Pokai Whenua - the fire at which crayfish were cooked for Tamatea Pokai Whenua. Kai is Maori for food and koura is crayfish - and that's what, above all else, the area is famous for. The crayfish - overseas they're known as spiny lobsters - live in and under the rocky crevices along the coast.
If you want to taste this delicacy, one of the best ways is to buy them direct from the fisherman. At various points along the road you'll see signs which announce "crayfish for sale". You buy them ready cooked from these roadside stalls - what a fantastic picnic lunch they make. Washed down with some of Blenheim's wines. Take it up to the lookout point in Kaikoura, and dine al fresco with a magnificent mountain panorama spread before you. Man that's really livin'. I mean really livin'.
The area is also arguably one of the world's most exciting arenas for pelagic (ocean going) birds. Within close proximity of the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula, range a considerable array of albatross, petrels, shearwaters, terns, shags and gulls . . the largest number of different species of seabirds within a small area than anywhere along the New Zealand coastline.
Kayaking is always an up-close-and-personal way to see the sea. Hire them in the township.
A New Zealand Travel Guide is written by David Morris and published by
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10 March 2012