Brett’s birthday falls over a three-day weekend every year. (Thanks, Labour Day!) So we’ve always booked a mini adventure to celebrate. For 31, it was off to Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds for an equal split of wineries and walking tracks.
We had a great time, but admittedly, we bit off a bit more than we could chew. It was a logistically-challenging itinerary (I mean, we crossed from the North Island to the South!), and not as relaxing as we needed at the time. Usually we’d be way more up for it, but it’d been particularly manic with me putting in notice and wrapping up my job of three years… and I simply didn’t have as much time to devote to planning as usual.
So we absolutely winged part of this trip. It was fun, free flowing and less meticulous – in some ways better, but in some ways I was kicking myself.
Part 1: WELLINGTON
After work Friday, we boarded a plane to the foodie capital of Wellington. We checked into the luxurious Intercontinental (what a treat!) and stepped just across the street for the most delicious meal at Charley Noble. I need to take a moment to rave about this restaurant. It was billed as an upscale steak house, but we were so impressed with the casual vibe. It was just so un-stuffy and fun! (We also ate at Pravda recently during Beervana and could talk all day about the quality of both the steak and service.)
PART 2: FERRY + BLENHEIM
An early wake up saw up crossing the sound between the North and South Islands on the Interislander. I think this ferry trip is simply a right of passage for anyone living in New Zealand. We had been warned of seasickness, but it was smooth sailing.
TIP 1: the best seat in the house is on the back of the boat behind the bar for the most relaxed little sundeck!
While we’re at it, another tip learned only by experience…
TIP 2: there are NO taxis when you disembark the ferry in Picton.
Because we wanted the flexibility of a rental car for the next two days, we booked our wheels in and out of Blenheim airport (you know, because of the crazy markup on separate pick up and drop off locations – what’s up with that?). There are InterCity buses about, but make sure you look up their schedules. Otherwise, it’s an $80 shuttle to the airport, which we coughed up the cash for. Just prepare to wait for an attendant if you don’t arrive at the same time as a plane… this place is the epitome of small.
But then it was straight back to relaxation mode, popping into a few wineries that were just minutes from the airport – also convenient to pick up souvenirs of the liquid variety on your way home.
Tip 3: You can carry wine bottles directly on regional flights. No need to pack them in your checked luggage as the maximum liquid rules don’t apply!
Marlborough is famous for Sauvignon Blanc, which we tried and then some. The region is small and not intimidating when you only have a couple of days to taste.
Our winery hit list on our way in and out of Blenheim:
- Cloudy Bay: We did a tasting, and they even gave Brett a free glass of red to celebrate his birthday. So sweet! The egg chairs were also a highlight and we bought a special bottle to enjoy on the next stop on our adventure.
- Framingham: Highly recommend. This is the cool kid of the region. They have an edgy underground wine library, and host gigs for their resident band. We took away a bottle of Reisling.
- Allan Scott: We stopped in for a spot of lunch and shared a tasting paddle. Beautiful outdoor patio for a sunny day.
- No. 1 Family Estate: These guys make our go-to bottle of NZ bubbles so we stopped in for a little sip. They only taste two sparkling wines, but free of charge so worth a look.
- Nautilus Estate: Cute little tasting room with cheese boards. I was very tempted by a bottle of reserve Chardonnay (which I don’t usually like) but it was a bit out of budget.
- The Vines Village: This is a collection of outlets perfect to recharge at – with a wine tasting room, beer and gin samplings, a deli with outdoor seating and craft shops.
After some wine sampling on Brett’s actual birthday, we were ready for a celebratory dinner.
TIP 4: Blenheim does NOT have many good food options. This is very much a pub zone. Go on a weekday when Scotch Wine Bar is open, or book a Brazilian feast at Gramado’s in advance so it doesn’t fill up. We did neither of these things are were very disappointed.
PART 3: QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK
We settled for some burgers, and put Blenheim behind us the next day. We drove the windy roads through the “fingers” of the Sounds to our next accommodation at Punga Cove. This cute little escape is located on the Queen Charlotte Track.
TIP 5: Allow more time here! We wish we had more time to walk more of the track. There are a lot of lodges along it, so you could effectively walk from one luxury accommodation to another and repeat for a couple of days – and then water taxi back to the start – no need to carry a tent! Information on the internet was pretty confusing, so just pick up the phone and ask how the ferry services work.
Nonetheless, we loved our little chalet – SO cute. We walked from Punga Cove to Furneaux Lodge in three hours, refuelled with another burger and beer, and caught the water taxi back to home base. We just asked Furneaux to book us on it when we got there. Such a cool concept!
Punga Cove also had a hot tub for post-walk relaxation and the cutest restaurant, with beautiful views for dinner (though a storm was brewing) and coffee the next morning. We loved it here, and will definitely be returning to this little slice of NZ. We savoured the drive back to Blenheim airport, but were on our way back to Auckland before we knew it.
TIP 6: There’s just one tiny cafe at the airport, so book a nice winery lunch before you fly.
Apologies for the blow-by-blow post. This just goes to show the somewhat disjointed and packed adventure we had. It’s a good lesson to me that I can’t possibly plan everything – and equally a realisation for Brett that planning does usually make a trip a little less stressful.
Until next time, Marlborough!