NZ Wine Country

One of the things I had originally planned to do on this voyage of mine was to spend some quality time in the Marlborough wine region.  I had even played with the idea of finding a volunteer-job with the WWOOF organization for a week or two.  Well, I never got that organized, plus I had a firm end-date to my time in NZ, unfortunately, so I switched it up to a few days of tasting and relaxing instead.  Now, the fantabulous tour I'd been on was actually ending in Wellington, across the channel, so I'd instead be leaving them at the ferry port on the South Island to make my way out on my own again.

But first, we had to get there.  Craig, in his infinite wisdom, drove us the scenic way around Marlborough Sound along the famous Queen Charlotte trail.  Have I mentioned recently how beautiful the South Island is?  Well, it's flipping gorgeous.  I wish I had spent a week up in the north because I'm sure a day on the Marlborough sound and/or QC trail would have been completely worth it.  The drive itself was amazing.  Here are some shots from one of our stops:

Sigh.  Soo pretty.  Also, Craig rustled up another magical spot that may or may not be in one of the upcoming Hobbit movies (or the first one, which I still haven't seen, to my shame).  I think Bilbo was floating down the river in/on a barrel, or something?  All I know is that they were filming there, and it was beautiful & peaceful, and a perfect spot for skipping stones. 
I was really quite sore from the day before, so Alex & I wandered back to the bus early, and finally got the picture we'd talked about from the start of the trip.  So, Top Deck's "rival" company is Contiki, which actually sets a limit of 35 for their passengers.  Top Deck very nicely includes all old folk by having their limit as "30-somethings".  Being the only truly old folk on the bus, Alex and I were very appreciative of this, and, well, decided we must have this photo:
I'm not describing it well, but it was funny at the time.  We spent a lot of time on that bus, and were all quite fond of it by now.  Alas, all too soon we arrived in the little port town of Picton, and it was time to part ways.  It was all a bit rushed and chaotic at the time, as of course ferries wait for no man, and both guides were busy getting tickets & registration and such, so my goodbyes were a bit hasty.  I made some really great friends over the last week or so, and it was definitely sad to see them go.  Lana and Craig were also really an awesome team of guides - informative but not overbearing, cool and funny, and very dedicated to their jobs.  If all of Topdeck's guides are like them, I highly recommend all their tours!! :)
So, my guided tour finished, I set off up the road towards the Tourist Information office to figure out how to get down the road to my hostel.  After waiting patiently in line for a few minutes, I was scared out of my mind when the lady finally let me know that the two busses outside that were in the process of leaving were the last and only two busses that would get me to the village of Renwick.  I dashed outside and distracted the driver of the last bus out of town just before he shut the door.  Thank GOD I was able to get a seat and buy a ticket there and then and was shortly on my way.  Otherwise I would have had to try to hitch-hike or something.  I was truly back on my own - a bit of a rude awakening!  Luckily, I had no trouble finding my hostel, a super cute little B&B really, complete with a huge side yard, bike rentals, and a huge communal kitchen, and two very nice and helpful hosts. 
The next couple of days were lovely.  I basically rested my tired legs that first afternoon, and caught up on some much-needed internet time.  The next two days were spent biking around the vineyards.  Much like Napa, it was a seriously gorgeous area, and how convenient that it was small enough for me to be able to reach TONS of places via the bike.  Not to get too into the actual tastings (of which there were many), I ironically found that I didn't much like the Sauvignon Blancs I tried (for which the region is famous), rather the Pinot Gris, for what it's worth.  Here are some shots:
 *Oddly, ALL of the vines were very carefully trimmed and groomed into basically vertical columns like the above, unlike the more wild & sprawling-out vines I'm used to seeing.  Someone said it may be to increase sunlight to the bottom, but, seemed odd.

 *My lunch spot for day two - cheese plate!  I had really missed cheese plates.
       The tree-house thing was in front of my hostel - served zero function as far as I could tell, but was super cute!  The village of Renwick, however, was sort of blah.  It literally had a knitting shop, a grocery store, one hotel with sports-bar pub attached, and one café.  I think a stop light, but NO ATM.  Seriously, no bank or way to get cash (except for a cash-advance machine for gambling purposes at the sports-bar which didn't like my foreign atm card).  I actually had to cut my day two of tasting short because I ran out of cash, and didn't really fancy riding the 10-15 kilometers over to the next town.  Have I mentioned that it's expensive in NZ?  I mean, I know their dollar isn't as strong as the Aussie $, but as an example, cheese plates (and lunch in general) were like $19, tastings were usually around $10, and virtually nowhere accepts credit cards.  Luckily I was able to buy my bus ticket online with a card, and to pay for my accommodation w/my card as well, otherwise, well, who knows.  Still, it was nestled right in the midst of the vines, and it really was peaceful and beautiful.  It was a wonderfully quiet and relaxing couple of solo days after my fun-filled tour. 

Next up, I cross over to the North Island and meet up with some of my new travel-buddies!