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Wine and volcanoes

So if you come here, give yourself more than two weeks or you’ll wind up kicking yourself at the end, feeling you barely scraped the surface. But even that surface makes an amazing bloody trip. Everywhere you go is gobsmackingly beautiful landscapes, from hostile volcanic alien planet surfaces with lakes of boiling acid and hissing sulphuric yellow vents; to fabulous uninhabited tropical beaches fringed with palm trees that have replaced palm leaves with a frivolous burst of ferns; to bucolic rolling hillsides, full of flocks of grazing hobbits. They’ve carefully placed signs at various points saying ‘scenic area’ but really, they should just give up and leave a large sign at the airport – ‘Yeah, it’s all gorgeous, mate’.

And, of course, good vibes everywhere. Just a pleasant and friendly people who like a good outdoorsey life. Even the biosecurity lady who was checking our gear in microscopic detail when we landed, had a nice view on things. Most people in the role of checking people’s filthy boots for a living, would have lost the will to live – or taken it out on all visitors with jobsworth malice. Instead, she chatted with quiet pride, that she’s helping ensure the country is safe from nasties. There’s a sense of purpose, and professional pleasure in doing a job well, in all areas of work from shop help to table waiting, that I’ve never noticed in any other country. In London, in particular, shop assistants look positively irritated when a customer does that annoying thing of trying to buy something.

We’ve driven 2000km in the last 2 weeks – bit more than home: our car mileage for the last year was about 1000km. Here’s a bunch of stuff we loved…

Kaikora

Famous for marine life – whale, seal, dolphin and albatross central. We went right off whale watching years ago – three hours of seasick trip in Icelandic grey rain with an over enthusiastic guide who squealed with equal delight every time a new minke was sighted, though they all look pretty much the same after the first few dozen. But the dolphin swimming had our name all over it – but, dammit, was closed for the weekend. So while we weren’t staying here, thought we’d pause for a quick coffee on the way to Marlborough. But it was just too beautiful to rush through, so we wandered down the beach for a few hours instead. Many miles of (admittedly) pebbly beach, but intensely blue sea and mountains behind.

Welcome to the big empty.
Not welcome.

Marlborough wines

Blenheim – the central town for wine tasting – was not quite what I’d pictured. As a famous wine town, and maybe a bit due to the of evocation of Blenheim stately home in the UK, I was expecting something a bit more – well – elegant. The town seemed to be mostly about automotive parts, rather than wine. (Digression: this is strangely true of many NZ towns: they have a disproportionate number of machinery related shops – tyre supplies, hydraulic pumps, car dealerships – by comparison with anything else, or any other country. Even the US can’t compare. What are they doing with it all? Does everyone build their own machinery from scratch or have multiple cars? And, while I’m on random questions: where have they put all the sheep? Disappointingly few, even less than Ireland; more cattle instead. Not quite what I’d imagined – or remembered from 20 years ago). Anyway: so Blenheim itself wasn’t that exciting, but the wine tasting tour by bike in Marlborough was just wonderful. We picked 4 vineyards out of the dozens in the area, and biked our way around various quiet bike-only paths. Tried a tandem bike – “It’s really easy! It just takes good communication!”, said the guide encouragingly. #Instantfail. Went with individual bikes in the end. But ahhh, such wines! Lovely little vineyards, all within a few minutes of each other; a beautiful day for sampling all the things.

Sunny biking
Earned.

Tongariro alpine crossing

Yes! The famous Tongariro crossing, hiking around Mount Doom itself. Crazy beautiful. Tough work – legs are still sore, 3 days on. 20 km in the scorching sunshine up volcanic rocks – that’s you I’m hating, @Devil’sStaircase – slithering down narrow gravel slopes with a nervewracking drop into the (currently dormant) cauldron; past brilliant multicoloured acid lakes; then finally down through alpine scrubland flowers and dense forest. One of those things that’s great to have done, even if I felt already knackered and overloaded at the ‘easy’ start. We had a few days here, taking a holiday from the holiday, so to speak – in a gorgous little house with a woodstove! and barbecue! and a hot spa! And the only foggy cold morning of the trip meant I got to light the fire! Happy days.

Red Crater
Mount Doom
Poison sacred lake
Looking innocent
Also earned.
Amazing stars

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