As part of my wrap up to 2015, I’m looking back on some of the trips I’ve taken this year and reflecting on some pretty amazing destinations. One of which was a work trip to the South Island of New Zealand to shoot a video for my wine client.
New Zealand was definitely on my bucket list, so since I suffered through the 30+ hour trek in coach, I made sure to extend my stay a few days and do some exploring. If there were ever a time and a place for a boondoggle, this was it.
On the very Northern coast of the South Island is the hard-working wine town of Blenheim, nestled within the rolling hills of Marlborough County. You won’t find many fancy hotels, but you will find ridiculous Sauvignon Blanc, vineyards “for Africa” (a kiwi term meaning loads and loads) and some pretty good food.
What to do:
Wine Tours by Bike: Hands down, if you do one thing in this part of the country, grab your padded shorts and your liver and set out on a self-guided winery tour by bike. This company picked us up at our hotel and provided bike, map, helmet and safety briefing. Whether you want to log in a lot of miles or a lot of wine (we did both), this is a great way to see the country and taste great Sauv Blancs, Pinots and even some un-oaked Chardonnay. We made stops at Cloudy Bay, Allen Scott (with lunch at the well-known 12 Oaks), Hans Herzog, George Michelle and lastly, a drunken stop at Gliesan (and took cabs back from there).
Where to nosh:
Raupo: One of the trendier spots located right on the Taylor River in town is this place which caters to wine-loving tourists and upscale locals. You’ll find innovative contemporary dishes like crispy rolled pork belly and great fresh seafood. They also open early and have great breakie to go. I really wish I could find something similar to their savory breakfast scones (rosemary and prosciutto) in the States.
Hotel d’ Urville: Probably the classiest hotel and restaurant in Blenheim, they boast an ever-changing, seasonal menu that includes heavy hitters like bone-in ribeye, sockeye salmon and seafood boullabaisse. They pull out all the stops on the wine list too, so this is place to try a something local that doesn’t get as much love as SB.
From Blenheim we wanted to head south to Queenstown, but getting a direct flight there was impossible. Since everything connected through Christchurch, we opted to rent a car and drive the 4 hours from Blenheim to Christchurch and take in some of the off-the-beaten path things to see along the way, like the coastline near Kaikoura.
What to do:
Baby Seals…..Squeal!!!!: Do not miss this stop if you are driving anywhere near Kaikoura as these baby seals romping in the water are quite possibly the cutest thing you can see in the wild. Follow the path from the small parking lot and as you walk along the stream to the waterfall, make sure you look for these crazy cute water pups. It’s only a 10-minute walk (not really a hike), but definitely bring your camera and prepare to swoon at the adorbs-ness.
Where to nosh:
Ninn’s Bin: So whether or not you like fresh seafood (crayfish as big as a cat!), this roadside RV restaurant is worth the stop for its instagram value alone. This bright-blue family run seafood shack is no doubt making a killing on its fresh-caught seafood, that you eat on picnic tables out front. Be prepared though, the one crayfish we bought to split was $45 (NZ dollars), which I wasn’t expecting at this hole-in-the-wall.
This crown jewel of the south island is teeming with tourists, but when you arrive you’ll see why. It’s like Boulder, Colorado but with a super cute accent and even more extreme sports. If it wasn’t so damn far away from the rest of the world, I’d relo tomorrow.
What to do:
Milford Sound: It’s pricey and will eat up an entire day, but the bus trip and boat cruise in Milford Sound was well worth the jaunt. The bus left downtown Queenstown very early and took about 4 hours each way, but it made frequent photo and bio stops which made it bearable. Once there, we boarded a good size boat and headed out into the “Sound”, a dramatic ocean inlet surrounded by green mountains and waterfalls. On the way home, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a place selling meat pies. They’re an NZ staple and a cheap and tasty way to fill a void in your belly.
Queenstown “Hill”: Bypass taking the cable car up the hill and get a map to the trailhead that takes you up to the summit and you’ll more than earn yourself a Tuatara or two. It takes about an hour each way (more if you get lost like we did), and make sure to bring a warm jacket as it’s chilly up top. Once there, you can try your hand at a number of extreme sports (bungee jumping was invented here) or take a smaller chairlift further up to take a little pedal car track down like we did, which was surprisingly fun and cheap.
Where to nosh:
Vudu Café: One part granola hippie, one part Melbourne chic, this unique eatery does breakie right. Their flat whites (kiwi for coffee with milk) are on point and their pastries, quiches and porridges are healthy and inventive. We went to this place three days in a row and we meant to get to its sister restaurant, but ran out of meals.
Fergburger: Because Queenstown has no shortage of backpackers on a budget, make time to get to this now legendary estab serving up pretty much any kind of burger you can think of. I am not a huge burger person, but I can say these are worth the 800-or so calories they must pack.
Madame Woo: I am obsessed with Asian food no matter where I am in the world, so when we stumble upon Madame Woo, which sells itself as “Authentic Malaysian Hawker Food,” I had to check it out. Hawker food turned out to be a fancier version of street food—shareable, sticky and really good. Turns out the chef, Josh Emett, a well-known kiwi who’s earned Michelin stars at his restaurants across the globe, was there that evening and he was happy to say hello and sign one of his beautifully-designed cookbooks.