Ahh, wine. Winey, winey wine wine. Wine. I love wine. After the success of Australia's wine tour, we decided that we'd need to do at least one tour in NZ, just to even things up. I was expecting the wine to be as good if not better, and I wasn't disappointed.
Bubbly Grape Wine Tours were our guides and the jolly owner Kerry lived up to the business name and took us to 5 different wineries throughout the day for a very reasonable $50 (£25) per person.
The main grapes the country are famous for are sauvignon blanc (white) and pinot noir (red) which grow better in cooler climates. Essentially, if you get either of these wines from the Marlborough region of NZ, you'll be on to a winner. However, unlike our Australian tour where we had between 4 and 7 tastes per vineyard, we were given a minimum of 7 and as many as 11 generous samples at a couple. Split that over 5 wineries in 4 hours and you have a good time on your hands. No designated driver required!
First up was Villa Maria which had magnificent grounds. NZ wineries seem to pride themselves on these, and they're as much a part of the tasting experience as the wine itself. They use sheep to keep the grass short after the year's crop is taken. The sheep are then moved elsewhere during the growing season, otherwise they'd eat the grapes.
Villa Maria is one of the more popular NZ wines we get in the UK, and they were decent enough but the vintages were nothing particularly above the usual supermarket stuff I'd had from the label.
Allan Scott was next and whilst the majority of the wines there were watery and forgettable, two stood out. The gewurtztraminer - a dessert wine I'd never had before - tasted like Turkish Delight, and the pinot gris (or pinot grigio as it's sometimes marketed in the UK - same grape) was simply astonishing. Pinot gris wines taste, in my opinion, completely different to the nice-but-not-very-exciting pinot grigios at home; they are a lot fuller and you'll certainly feel the effects after a bottle!
We had lunch in a touristy wine/food area, where we got to try more wines at Bouldevines cellar (lovely pinot noir, but the riesling was dry as ash) and then grabbed a hot sandwich to try and soak up some of the booze. It worked, and we were soon ready for more wine.
Cloudy Bay followed. This is one of the more prestigious winemakers in NZ and had a 2009 pinot noir on sale for $50, but after tasting it I really couldn't see how they justified that price tag. Their tasting room was very stylish though!
Saint Clair was the final cellar door and possibly my favourite winery of the day. If a place can make a chardonnay I like, then it definitely has something going for it. The pinot noir was superb, as were the pinot gris and the syrah - the latter of which is quite hard to grow in New Zealand.
The trip wasn't quite over. Our last stop was a boutique chocolate factory, where we got to try one whole truffle for free. Not quite as good as the chocolate shop in Australia!
All told, I preferred New Zealand wines to their Australian counterparts, but mainly down to the sauvignon blancs which smash you in the mouth repeatedly with their amazing flavours, and the pinot noirs which are so light and drinkable that even Gilly - who doesn't usually like many reds - loved them.
We'd consumed so much that we were able to forget the awfulness of the Blenheim Top 10 holiday park we stayed at, a place undeserving of both the franchise name the price it extorted.
The next day, since we were in Marlborough, we thought it rude not to take a look at Marlborough Sounds (which are actually sounds, unlike Doubtful and Milford). The easiest way of seeing them is trekking the Queen Charlotte track, not far from Picton where the ferry to the North Island leaves from. New Zealand never lets you forget how beautiful it is, and Marlborough sounds is no exception.
After a couple of hours trekking we drove up to Kaikoura, but not before we stopped at Ohau Point Seal Colony to get up close with some more seals.
We were in for a unexpected reunion the next day: we'd been in touch with Paul and Fi who had just flown into Christchurch a day or so earlier, and they were going to travel up north to meet us at Hanmer Springs. Given that we never expected our paths to cross again we'd left them in Melbourne, this was fantastic news. A day in a spa sounded like an ideal way to celebrate.