Driving in New Zealand is quite civilized, once you get past the annoying reflex of entering traffic lanes from the right side (American vs. UK). A couple of oncoming tractor-trailers seemed to hasten my learning curve.
Our rental ride is a compact Holden – GM’s Australian franchise, sold in NZ – that has served us well in some challenging rain and gales. Distances between settlements on the South Island are impressive, even on Highway 1, the well paved main artery (2 narrow lanes) running North-South. It is routine not to see another vehicle for miles, and many of those are semis with double trailers that blow by close enough to re-focus my sensibilities on long-term survival.
One unforgettable stretch of highway spanning a river delta was a half-mile long, one-lane bridge. The concept in navigating this test of manhood is to evaluate if you have enough time to cover the distance across the bridge before oncoming traffic takes the initiative. Luckily, we sped across like wombats before encountering a cattle rig.
Our final destination on this trip is the beautiful Marlborough wine-producing region on the north end of the Island. It bares similarities to Napa-Sonoma, accommodating both boutique labels from homestead growers, as well as large industrial vintners.
Our hosts Jo and Steve pamper visitors at the #1 rated (TripAdvisor) B&B, Hillsfield House, central to dozens of wineries. Their pets, four alpaca, 3 miniature horses, and a black cat extend a rural character to their lovely Chateau-styled property.
I tried to make friends with one fuzzy alpaca by breathing, nose to nose, as instructed. With no foreshadowing, my reward was to be summarily spit upon. Imagine the powerful burst of compressed air you get at the optometrist to check out impending glaucoma. I took an oath in that moment to specify pure merino wool for my future knitwear requirements.
The bicycles they provide allowed us to tour the region for 3 days through light rain and shine, and gain a first hand feel for the territory just awakening to spring: perfectly manicured vines, newborn lambs and their mothers grazing in between the endless plantings, drop-ins to “cellar doors” (tasting rooms) for samplings of Sauvignon Blanc and spicy olive oil with brown bread, and comfy lunches served at some of the estates.
One image, not to be forgotten, was a reed thin rancher driving slowing down a side road in his pick-up truck corralling 150 newly shorn sheep back to their pasture. With his golden-haired toddler sleeping in the back seat, and his two shepherd dogs running alongside, he effortlessly whistled commands the dogs executed with gleeful precision – all this, while he and I chatted about the clearing weather and how our visit to the valley was going, as I trailed on my bike snapping photos. After the task was complete, the dogs happily wiggled on their backs in the cool wet grass, signifying pride in their craft.
Roaming the quiet rustic lanes allowed Lisa and I to drink in the scents, the symphony of birds, and the peace of the region – a perfect conclusion to invigorating discovery in New Zealand.
Click on pics to ENLARGE