New Zealand: 3/19 – 3/25

(New Zealand) Picton >>> Blenheim >>> Wellington >>> Waimea >>> Ohakune
3/19 – Hiking the World-Renowned Queen Charlotte Track!
3/20 – Leisurely Day around Blenheim
3/21 – Tandem Bike Tour around the Marlborough Wine Region!
3/22 – Day 2 of Wine Tasting and Catching the Ferry to the North Island!
3/23- Putt Putt, Tuatara Brewing, and the Te Papa Museum 
3/24 – Enjoying some Frisbee Golf on our 4th Anniversary! 
3/25 – Celebrating 15 months of travel with Deer and a Kite Festival!

3/19: 
Hiking the World-Renowned Queen Charlotte Track!
+ Woke up around 630am and saw the sunrise as we started driving back into Picton.
+ Checked into our water taxi and rode the ferry for about half an hour through the Queen Charlotte sound to Torea Bay.
+ Then we hiked up to the midpoint of the long peninsula and continued to climb up the mountain. Eventually we made it to the top and then hiked for another 7 hours all along the ridge getting absolutely phenomenal views of all the different sounds and little houses dotting the coves.
+ This hike is world famous and many people hike or bike the entire thing over the course of a few days, but we were just doing 1 really long day hike where we’d cover about 27 kilometers on what is often referred to as the best stretch.
+ Along the way we stopped and ate lunch and every now and then came across a random goat or weka. The weka bird are common up here in the north of the South Island. They have the same coloration of a large chicken but the head of a crow. They are always hunting around for something to snack on. Overall it was a peaceful hike with the only annoying thing being the incessant very loud humming sound of cicadas in the trees.
+ We took a small diversion off the track to Eatwell’s Lookout. Although it was very steep, the views were totally worth the effort! Fantastic views of the sounds from up here! There were even a few signposts listing other locations in NZ and how far away they were from this point! Made for some great photos!
+ Once we made it to the end, we hiked back down the mountain along a dirt road to Punga Cove resort. Then we relaxed at the resort for a little bit until our water taxi picked us up and took us back to Picton.
+ Back in town we stopped for ice and then drove back to Wairau Diversion to sleep and rest our wary legs.
3/20: 
Leisurely Day around Blenheim
+ Slept in a good while longer than yesterday and then got up and walked around the beach area here at our campsite. This was a very popular destination for fisherman apparently as many of them were out here trying their luck with the ocean waves lapping at their knees.
+ After breakfast we drove south into Blenheim.
+ Went to the town gym/pool and showered so we would be nice and clean for touring around the Marlborough Wine Region the next day. No more grungy backpackers! lol
+ Grocery shopping at Countdown and then some wifi usage at the spark box nearby while we made dinner.
+ That night we slept at Blenheim car park. Liz again seemed to be the only one who could read the district rules and find the free camping as we were the only camper here for a long time and eventually joined by 1 other van. Way to go Liz!
3/21: 
Tandem Bike Tour around the Marlborough Wine Region!
+ We wanted some food in our system but had slept a little longer than planned (Shocker, we know). So we grabbed a quick breakfast and then drove over to the Olde Mill House B&B we’d be staying in that night. We had decided to splurge and treat ourselves to an early anniversary here in the Marlborough Wine Region. This meant a night in a big room with an attached bathroom. Oh the luxuries!
+ It was too early to check in but one of the main reasons we chose this place is that it came with free bike rentals to tour around the area. So we got our helmets and opted for a tandem bike! This would be the first time either of us had ridden a tandem bike and we were excited! Plus it seemed like a quintessential romantic winery experience!
+ For the next 5 hours we rode around the Marlborough Wine region on a designated bike path that visited many different wineries. We never fell off the bike and actually did pretty well with it! Liz could not see around Corey though as they pedaled so she had to trust him completely as they rode and hope he didn’t ride right off a cliff! Since the pedals were turned by the same chain, we always had to pedal (or stop pedaling) at the same time which was weird at first but we eventually got the hang of it.
+ At each winery, we would try samples of whichever wine they had available. Sometimes this was only 3 or 4 different wines, sometimes it was 6 or 7! Most wineries offered free tastings. Some charged for your tasting but would refund the charge if you bought a bottle. This proved to be very persuasive!
+ Luckily we had brought some bread and snacks with us so we didn’t get too tipsy and fall off our bikes as we rode from one winery to another!
+ The wineries we visited in order were:
— Gibston Bridge – Very small and we were ignored for a little bit as the lady dealt with an obviously wealthy rich elderly couple
Forrest – Lovely facility and garden area. We sat outside enjoying the sunshine. Wine was really yummy.
— Framingham – Nice courtyard. Only winery where we actually felt pressured to buy. Dog got into our snacks in our bike bag! Bought a Pinot Gris.
— Bladen – Small little family run place. Wife was in a small stand just off the road. Sav was delicious and so green tasting! Winery was named for their 2 children. Bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
Wairau River – Large winery. Complete family business! Every family member seemed to have a role! Wine was good but expensive.
Nautilus – Large winery but not that impressed with the wine. Fantails were flying in and out and perching on the light fixture!
— Giesen – Really crowded and “bartender” was not excited to be doing more tastings. Bought a Riesling (Corey’s favorite)
+ Then we rode to the Vine Village for ice cream and called our B&B for a pick up. We were spent! (And a little tipsy)
+ The owner happily came and got us and took us back to the Olde Mill House where we checked into our room and met another couple from London that was staying there. Their names were Leslie and Stewart and they were really friendly as we talked with them on the porch for a while.
+ We were both starving so we opted for an early dinner and walked over to a restaurant in town called the Cork ‘N’ Keg. We were going to split one meal at first since it was expensive but remembered we were splurging and got a proper second meal too.
+ That night we put on our bathing suits and relaxed in the hot tub out in the cool air. It was really nice! Then we retired to our big comfy bed and watched some episodes of Community before going to sleep.
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3/22: 
Day 2 of Wine Tasting and Catching the Ferry to the North Island!
+ Our B&B hosts prepared a really nice breakfast for us and the other couple. All 6 of us sat around eating and talking for a good hour or so in the morning. Then we checked out and said goodbye to our new friends and our lovely hosts.
+ Today would be our second day touring the wine region and we were still excited to get to some of the best wineries in the area we didn’t make it to yesterday. But we wanted to cover more ground today so we chose to drive instead.
+ The wineries we visited today were:
— No.1 Family Estate –  Bubbles! Liz liked it but Corey did not. Got our Gold Medal for visiting 6 wineries!
— Whitehaven – This winery exports a lot to the US. After giving the lady our zip code she showed us shops right on Red Bug that carry their wine! She was very nice and we got to chatting. She grew up in Marlborough Sounds in the middle of nowhere! We chatted with her about living out there. It was really interesting! Bought a bottle of Rose
Hunter’s – This tasting was super slow and seemed to take forever. But we just used it as an excuse to enjoy the weather out in the courtyard. Bought a bottle of Chardonnay. (Although Chardonnay is not what this region is known for, this wine was just delicious!! Even after we drank the Chardonnay weeks later it was just as good as we remembered!)
Saint Clair – Argentinian guy was our “bartender” and was very knowledgeable. Because we were doing 2 tastings he suggested we try different versions of the same wine so we could really compare and taste the differences (ex: oak vs non oak). It was a great idea! We bought a delicious Sauvignon Blanc
Talked with another American couple. The man apparently write books on craft beer and started a beer judge certification program. Now he gets paid to travel to other countries and judge beer. Corey’s dream job! His name was Gordon Strong. Corey will need to look him up later!
— Brancott – Overpriced and staff was not very friendly but the location is beautiful! Modern building overlooking the wineries. This is probably the most famous in the whole area and had been recommended by a few different people so we had to go!
Fromm– smaller company, lots of organic wines. Very quiet
+ Ended our tour at Moa Brewery- unfortunately the beer was not very good. Met a nice British couple though named Guy and Becky who are just starting their 5 month trip! We chatted for a little bit and gave them some recommendations. We wished we had more time to chat but needed to hit the road and drive north.
+ Drove back north to Picton and caught the ferry to Wellington. The 3.5 hour ferry ride was uneventful. Corey went to the top deck outside for the beginning in hopes of seeing some sort of marine life in the sounds but with the rainy weather and the sun setting earlier than normal, he didn’t have any luck before it was dark. Liz worked on pictures with the computer.
+ Arrived into Wellington and after driving our van off the ship we grabbed some quick pizza from Pizza Hut for our late dinner.
+ Slept in the southern part of town at Evans Bay Marina.
3/23: 
Putt Putt, Tuatara Brewing, and the Te Papa Museum
+ After a nice breakfast next to our camper, we headed towards the west part of town to play some mini golf at a place called Carlucci Land. This was a junkyard themed place with a whole bunch of unique metal statues and sculptures. It was a neat place and also completely deserted. Much like the last mini golf course we played in NZ, we were the only ones here. Not even anyone working the office! We really enjoyed the course though with it’s fun contraptions and hole design. When we finished (Corey won but just barely!) we walked around the grounds admiring other sculptures that were too large to fit in the course.
+ Next we drove towards the southern coast to the Te Kopahou Visitor Center. We walked around the beach areas but chose not to take our van any further on the 4WD only beach tracks. It might have been able to make it, but we didn’t want to risk it.
+ From there, we drove the pretty coastal roads over to downtown Wellington and the I-Site. The lady working there was not helpful and the parking was a huge pain! (Which seemed to be a theme here in Wellington) Maybe we’ve just been out of a major city for too long!
+ The Tuatara Brewery was next on our agenda and we came for the tasting trays and pizza! We had BookMe coupons for both and were able to sample 8 different beers and two different pizzas. It was all delicious and wayyy better than the Moa brewery in Marlborough.
+ Our next stop was to the Te Papa Museum. This was acclaimed as the best museum in NZ and we were excited. Unfortunately we were here for only an hour and a half before they closed. The Giboli exhibit was excellent and the museum guy described the battle with an impact for NZ similar to Pearl Harbor + the Boston tea party. We also spent a lot of time around the preserved colossal squid specimen .
+ Walked up and down Cuba street admiring all the different cafes, bars, and restaurants. Ate dinner at the Psychedelic School bus food truck. Cool sounding menu but our Burgers were underwhelming.
+ Slept at Evans bay marina again.
3/24: 
Enjoying some Frisbee Golf on our 4th Anniversary!
+ The first thing we did in the morning was head straight back to Te Papa. It had a lot of interesting info on the history of the country, the impact of mother nature, and the relationship with the Maori people over the years. It was a really great museum and we really see why it is award winning!
+ Next up was Frisbee golf! We played a course near Lower Hutt. The 9 hole course was beachfront (so the wind was crazy) and had good views back towards Wellington. It was a quick and fun round.
+ Stopped at the local Countdown for groceries and ice.
+ To appease Liz’s incessant appetite for frisbee, we played Frisbee golf again! This time an hour north near Upper Hut. This course was much larger and while playing, we met a kiwi practicing with his discs. After watching Corey throw, he invited Corey to play that night in a night disc golf competition! He said the best disc golfer in NZ would be there and they’d play with light up discs. Unfortunately, we had to eat dinner and get driving towards our next destination so we declined. Would’ve been neat though to see how he measured up!
+ Because of the fading light, we cooked dinner right there in the parking lot of the park we were at. We enjoyed some nice steaks and celebrated our 4th Anniversary!
+ Drove an absolutely crazy road from Upper Hutt to Waimea on the coast. The road was incredibly narrow and winding. Of course it was raining our whole drive and the top of the pass was covered in a dense fog. Luckily, we didn’t have any cars behind us on the road and no cars surprised us around the blind corners. Whew!
+ Slept at Waimea Road beach carpark.
3/25: 
Celebrating 15 months of travel with Deer and a Kite Festival! 
+ We had found an unusual experience on the BookMe site called the Deer Story farm tour and Museum. We had been interested about all the deer farms around the south island (plus Corey really likes deer) so we decided it was worth the money to check it out. The experience was certainly not as we expected as we were the only 2 on the “tour” and thus were driven around the farm in the back of the owner’s pickup truck by the slightly dodgy, millionaire owner himself (and a friend who was there for no other apparent reason other than to open/shut the gate). It wasn’t necessarily bad though since we got to ask all the questions we wanted and hear some interesting stories. Then we munched on a “meh” venison burger and walked through the museum before heading on our way. Learned a lot though!
+ We were finally near a NZ town for a festival! (We usually seem to miss them by a day or two). This one was called the Otaki Beach Kite festival and was basically a group of a few hundred people flying kites out on the beach. Some were small household sized kites, others were massive whales, alien ships, or huge crabs! We enjoyed the sights up above and also down below as everyone walked their little dogs.
+ Back on the road again, we visited the Levin I-Site and used the internet to book our Whanganui Canoe Journey. This was one of New Zealand’s 9 “Great Walks” and we would be doing 4 out of the possible 5 days with a company called Yeti Tours.
+ Started the multi-hour drive north towards Ohakune and about halfway up we parked in a town called Taihape to cook dinner. Then we organized all of our bags and food and packed for the canoe trip. It seemed to take a billion hours.
+ Finished the drive to Ohakune. Slept in the parking lot next to the workshop of Yeti Tour. (Boats and buses everywhere!) Didn’t go to sleep until almost 2 am!
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