Glamping Poronui Style

We were extremely lucky to get a booking at Poronui Lodge over the Christmas break and the only disappointment was that we could not have stayed longer. It is definitely a bucket list destination and a place that ticked all our boxes: fly-fishing, horse-riding and skeet-shooting with a touch of luxury and romance in secluded New Zealand backcountry.

Accommodation

Main Lodge

Poronui Lodge is a luxury hunting and fishing lodge set on 16,000 acres in the north island of New Zealand.  We split our time between the main lodge and the safari camp.  The main lodge accommodation comprises seven large well-appointed guest cabins overlooking the Taharua River.  This is pretty much a standard luxury fishing lodge set-up with communal dining in the main lodge area and like all luxury fishing lodges, the setting is truly spectacular.

Safari Camp

After the main lodge, we then moved into the safari camp.  I was so apprehensive about staying in the safari camp as I really did not know what to expect.  Our expectations were far exceeded and Husband and I voted this one of the best holidays we have ever had and cannot wait to return.

One of my initial misconceived concerns was that we would be sharing the safari camp with other guests.  However, notwithstanding that the safari camp can accommodate up to four guests, when you book the camp, it is exclusive use only.  So we had the whole camp to ourselves which was simply amazing.

My other misconceived concern was the cooking arrangements.  I do not like cooking at the best of times but on holiday it is just not even something I would ever entertain.  At the safari camp you have two options: a private chef can come and prepare your meals or the Lodge chefs can semi-prepare and package meals at the stable complex which they deliver to the camp fresh each day for you to prepare.   We took the second option as we wanted total privacy and Husband promised that he would do all the cooking.  I am so glad we chose this option as not only did it allow us the privacy that we were so seeking, it was actually a lot of fun.  The food was also outstanding and plentiful.

The safari camp is situated on the banks of the Mohaka River about 12 kilometres from the main lodge and is only accessible by four-wheel drive (or helicopter).  The camp is made up of two guest tents, two bathrooms (each with its own shower, toilet and basin) and a bush kitchen hut with a refrigerator (well stocked with beer!!), wood-burning stove, barbecue and kitchen sink.  It was all so perfect with all the comforts of home including luxury linen on the beds, hot and cold running water and most importantly, flushing toilets.

The safari camp was right up our alley as it provided total privacy and seclusion with only the cleaning staff and chef coming in very discreetly each day.  Yes, cleaning staff.  Glamping did not mean roughing it and even our laundry was taken and returned on the same day.  For some, the remoteness may prove difficult as there is no television, no power after dark and no mobile reception.  The only way in and out is by four-wheel drive and the only communication is by two-way radio.

Activities

Horse-riding

The other main attraction is the range of activities that Poronui Lodge has on offer.  It is not just about the fly-fishing and they cater really well for non-fishing partners and children.  For me, the big ticket item was the horse-riding and even Husband got hooked.  The Poronui Lodge horses have their own groom, Olivia, who expertly takes care of their management.  Olivia was just delightful and we had such a pleasant time in her company riding around the property under her experienced guidance.  Olivia can also provide riding lessons and I took advantage of this and took a much-needed jumping lesson.

The fly-fishing is the big attraction as there is limited public access to the rivers and streams flowing through the property giving Poronui Lodge guests the ultimate fishing experience on pristine New Zealand waters.  There is a big emphasis on heli-fishing at Poronui Lodge but we opted to tramp into the river with our guide as we are fairly fit and love the challenge.   Unless you want to take your lucky rod, top quality fishing equipment is supplied and Poronui Lodge can arrange your fishing licence.

Other activities

If fly-fishing and horse-riding are not your thing, there are also other on-site activities to enjoy including spa treatments, guided walks and mountain bike-riding, shooting and archery.  Trophy hunting, as well as the fly-fishing, is the main draw card at Poronui Lodge.  Husband and I do not support hunting for hunting’s sake in any shape or form so there is no way we would unnecessarily kill a live animal.  For those who, like us, enjoy a bit a shoot but do not want to kill anything, Poronui Lodge has an Olympic standard clay range.  Husband was blasting doubles by the end of our session.  There are also off-site activities including Hawkes Bay winery tours and Maori culture tours.

Fact File

Location: Poronui Lodge is a luxury hunting and fishing lodge located 40 minutes from Taupo, 90 minutes from Rotorua, 90 minutes from Napier and 4 hours from Auckland.  Recommendation is to take a domestic flight from Auckland to Taupo.

Food: The daily rate includes all meals, beer, wine and soft drink.  The food and wine were of an excellent standard and provided in abundance.

Equipment: All fishing, riding and shooting equipment is supplied so there is no need to bring a thing.

Safari Camp: Although the safari camp can only be accessed by four-wheel drive there is no need to worry if you haven’t hired such vehicle as we were picked up and dropped off by the attentive staff at no extra cost.

Tips: Although New Zealand has no predators it does have the most annoying sand fly so take a good strength insect repellent for sitting around the safari camp or take long-sleeved tops and pants.  Pack a stack of good books.

Things I loved about this place: The safari camp and the privacy it offered, the range of activities on offer including the guided fly-fishing and horse-riding, the quality of the horses, the amazing setting, the attentive staff and the total flexibility to cater to your needs.

Further details: Further details on Poronui Lodge can be found on their official website: http://www.poronui.com/.

Wanaka Mini-Break

Wanaka is one of those places that just has it all. I visited Wanaka over a bank holiday weekend in late September 2017 and I loved it so much, that by the end of my stay, I had booked a return mini-break in early November.

Where is Wanaka?

Wanaka is an hour’s drive from Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand and is truly one of the most scenic places I have ever visited.  The town itself is set around Lake Wanaka,  New Zealand’s fourth-largest freshwater lake.  Even the drive from Queenstown over the Crown Ranges is stunning.

Activities

Walking

The obvious thing to do in Wanaka is ski with two good ski areas, Treble Cone and Cardrona, but notwithstanding that skiing is one of my biggest passions, I opted for more passive pursuits on my two trips.  In addition to just relaxing by the fire, I also enjoyed some lovely walks.  There are a lot of good walking tracks in the area including easy tracks along the edges of Lake Wanaka.

If glaciers are more your thing, then you can drive to the start of Rob Roy Glacier which can be reached via Rob Roy Track.  The carpark at the start of the Rob Roy Track is about an hour’s drive from Wanaka which includes 30 kilometres of unsealed road.  Rob Roy Track itself is 10 kilometres and depending on your level of fitness, can take up to 4 hours to navigate.  An easier option is to experience the glacier via helicopter.  There are a number of helicopter operators that can do glacier landings.  Disappointingly, I did not get out in a helicopter during either stay but this will on the list for next time.

Fly-fishing

There is also good fly fishing in the area which Husband enjoyed immensely but he was extremely lucky to be with a bestie who knows the area well but for the less fortunate, I would recommend arranging a guide.  There are a lot of fly-fishing guides that operate in the area but they tend to book up early so make sure you secure your guide before you arrive.  Your accommodation should be able to recommend a guide.  You will also need a fishing licence which you can buy on-line and be aware of the fly-fishing season for each waterway.  Information on applicable seasons is set out in the fact file below.  If you go fly-fishing early in the season, then you are likely to encounter a bit of traffic from fellow anglers so in addition to a professional guide, I would also recommend heli-fishing as you can be dropped into more remote areas.

Wineries

Wanaka is located in the Central Otago wine region which most famously produces cool climate pinot noir.  There are a few wineries in the immediate vicinity of Wanaka but others are a bit further afield.  What we did and something that I would recommend, is to stop at Amisfield Winery enroute to Wanaka.  It is about 10-15 minutes from Queenstown Airport.  They have a bistro which is open 7 days between 11:30am to 8:00pm and bookings are a must.  If you do miss out which we did, you can always enjoy a cheese platter and glass of wine (or bottle) in the garden.

The Central Otago wineries are quite spread out which was really surprising.  There are wine tour operators based in Wanaka that you can use but you may also consider taking State Highway 6 on your return trip to Queenstown.  This will take you through Cromwell, Bannockburn and Gibbston where most of the wineries are located.

My pick of wineries is Rippon in Wanaka which produces fairly good wines but go there just for the setting.  The winery is the most stunning winery I have ever visited with the vines sloping down to the edge of Lake Wanaka.  Unfortunately, they only have a cellar door but in the summer, it would be good to enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of wine.  I also liked this tiny organic producer called Aurum located in Cromwell.  Their pinots are to die for and their cellar door is set in a gorgeous cottage garden.  Gibbston Valley Wines, although highly commercial, have good pinots and although it irks me to pay for a tasting, it is worth paying the NZD$15.00 for their premium pinot range.  Gibbston Valley Wines also have a restaurant but my pick would be to eat at Amisfield as it is a classier establishment and just 10 minutes down the road.

One of the other places that I absolutely loved was the Distillery in Cardrona.  They produce a gin, a vodka and an orange liqueur.  They also offer a 75-90 minute tour which includes tasting which may be interesting to some but I like the immediate surrounds and in winter, they have a very welcome open fire where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and muffin.  Their raspberry and white chocolate muffins are to die for.

Horse riding and quad-biking

There are a few horse riding and quad-biking operators.  We went horse riding with Cardrona Horses.  We opted for a morning 2 hour ride through a Merino sheep station which was really relaxing.  They have other rides including a 3.5 hour tour which stops off at the Cardrona Hotel.

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Stay

On both trips, I stayed at Waiorau Homestead located in Cardrona which I could not rate highly enough.  Cardrona is a 20 minute drive from Wanaka.   Waiorau Homestead is like a home away from home.  Just think of incredible scenery, well appointed comfortable rooms, roaring fire, great food and amazing hosts.

Waiorau Homestead is run by Blyth Adams and Ann Lockhart.  Blyth and Ann are a wealth of information on the local area and can provide dining and activity suggestions.  Waiorau Homestead is a good base if you are skiing at Cardrona as it is located at the base of the ski park.  It so happened that it was Guy Fawkes night on my trip with Husband and Ann and Blyth indulged us by allowing Husband and I to light fireworks on their front lawn.

If money is no option and you are a mad keen fly fisher, then I would recommend staying at Minaret Alpine Station Lodge.  I personally have not stayed there but along my travels at other high-end lodges, guests have raved about this place.  It is only accessible by helicopter and the big attraction is the heli-fishing.

Eat

Blyth is a trained chef and in addition to a full gourmet breakfast, Blyth and Ann offer a three course dinner. Every opportunity that Blyth gave me to enjoy his cooking I eagerly took up as he produces the most scrumptous meals.  I have never tasted roast potatoes like Blyth’s.  We also enjoyed the Cardrona Hotel which is a couple of minutes’ drive away.  The pub meals were the best I have ever eaten and they had a well stocked cellar comprising a good seletion of New Zealand wines.  On both occasions, I ate the beef rib eye with Paris butter and hand-cut chips.  Blyth and Ann also gave us a few other dining suggestions for Wanaka but we were happy to eat in-house or at the pub.  If I was going to eat in Wanaka, I would try Kika which gets good reviews on Trip Advisor.

Across the road from the Cardrona Hotel is the General Store which is relatively new and they do lovely sandwiches, sweet treats, scones and coffee.  I quite enjoyed sitting outside in their chairs enjoying the spring sunshine.

We had a lateish return flight to Melbourne.  So I wanted to try Rata in Queenstown for a late lunch / early dinner.  There is nothing on their website to give you any indication, but their kitchen closes at 3pm for lunch.  I was quite disappointed to have missed out but I will be better prepared next time.  Also, I had booked Rata for dinner on my first trip thinking that we could do an early dinner and then drive to Wanaka.  We ended up cancelling as it is not really that safe to be driving from Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Ranges at night in early spring.

Fact file:

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The Pawfect Truffle Hunt

The months of July and August in Melbourne are usually pretty bleak and depressing but they are also a joyous occasion in our household as it is truffle season. Last July, we got to share our love of truffles with our much adored and pampered black Labrador, Peggy, by taking her on a Gourmet Paws truffle hunt in regional Victoria.

Our day started early at 8:30am with a doggie meet and greet at an off-leash beach in Port Melbourne.  After a good run and, in the case of our water loving Labrador, a swim all dogs and their owners boarded the Gourmet Paws bus.  Once settled, each dog was given a goodie bag comprising treats and vouchers which was a really nice touch and well received by Peggy.

Morning tea was organised at a park along the way where the dogs could get off the bus for a quick run whilst their owners enjoyed a coffee and a bite to eat.

The truffle hunt was organised at Black Cat Truffles near Creswick in regional Victoria (about 90 minutes’ from Melbourne).  Black Cat Truffles has a 1000 tree trufferie mostly comprising English and French oaks inoculated with black Perigord truffles (Tuber melanosporum).   Upon arrival, owners and dogs disembarked the bus and then proceeded to the Black Cat Truffles’ tasting and sales room where we were given the run down on truffles and the trufferie.  We also got to eat the most exquisite fromager d’Affinois with truffles which we washed down with a glass of sparkling wine.

Following our truffle introduction, we embarked on a truffle hunt with the resident truffle dog leaving our own dogs in the sales and tasting room in the hands of the Gourmet Paws carers.  The truffle hunt was very interesting as we not only got to see a trained truffle dog in action but we also got to see how truffles grow.  We each had the opportunity to dig the truffles from the earth and by the end of the hunt, we had quite an impressive bounty (available for purchase).  Our own dogs were not allowed to participate in the truffle hunt due to the potential to introduce disease but they had their own mock truffle hunt for treats infused with truffle.  Of course our Peggy was an expert in finding her treat in no time and maybe too willingly assisted others in finding theirs.  She is a Labrador after all!

After the doggie truffle hunt, we headed back to the tasting and sales room for a wine tasting and the opportunity to select and purchase the fresh black truffles.  Stocked with our purchases, we boarded the bus and headed to lunch at the Farmers Arms Hotel in Creswick.

Whilst we lunched, our dogs remained on the bus with the Gourmet Paws carers  and enjoyed a movie and massage.  Husband and I were extremely anxious about leaving Peggy but it was clear on our return that she was in excellent care and was happy to relax and take a nap.  After a quick walk, it was back on the bus for our return trip to Melbourne.

Fact File:

Gourmet Paws is a doggie based tour company based in Melbourne and operates truffle hunts in July and August each year.  Our truffle hunt cost AUD$475.90 for two adults and dog and included bus transport, morning tea, trained dog carers , truffle hunt including sparkling wine on arrival and wine tasting, mock doggie truffle hunt including doggie treat, doggie goodie bag and a three course lunch with glass of wine.  We loved the truffle hunt and thought it was very well organised.  Highly recommended.  If truffles are not your thing, Gourmet Paws also operates other doggie tours including winery tours.  Further information can be found at: https://gourmetpawprints.com.au

Black Cat Truffles: Located in Wattle Flat (near Creswick) about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and is open to the public to purchase truffles and truffle products.  Further information can be found at: http://www.blackcattruffles.com.au

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Hidden Mediterranean Gem

I almost do not want to write this post as I want to keep Nerano my little Italian secret because it holds such a special place in my heart and I never want it to change.  Nerano is a charming little fishing village located between Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.  From personal observation and experience, it is mostly visited by Italians which suggests that it is relatively unknown to the rest of the World.  This is half the attraction if you want to avoid the summer crowds of Capri, Positano and Amalfi. For us, Nerano is the perfect mix of beach, boating, food, wine and hiking so you can be as inactive or active as the day finds you.

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Setting the scene

The beach at Nerano is called Marina del Cantone and is surrounded by restaurants and beach clubs.  Some of the restaurants are quite famous so it is not surprising to see the arrival of a flotilla of super yachts at around lunch time everyday.  This is fascinating to watch as each restaurant has a fleet of little timber boats with skilled boatmen who exchange passengers from the smaller craft despatched from the super yachts. The passengers are then ferried to the jetty of their chosen restaurant.

Our favourite restaurant in the Marina is Il Cantuccio (meaning ‘the corner’) because, I am guessing, it sits on the most western side of the Marina.   We just love sitting on the restaurant deck perched above the Mediterranean watching all the comings and goings over a few bottles of Rosato.  If you are not a fan of fish, seafood, tomatoes or buffalo mozzarella then you are going to struggle in this part of Italy.  My favourites at Il Cantuccio are the risotto ai frutti di mare and the delizie al limone or the lemon titty cake as it is fondly known in our family as it literally looks like a woman’s breast.

Where to stay

There are a few accommodation options in Nerano from European camp parks, hotels, rooms at restaurants and rental houses/apartments.  If money is no object, I would recommend Villa Costanza which is a luxury 10 bedroom / 10 bathroom house and perfect for wedding parties.  It has an amazing pool and terrace but all this comes at a price (AUD$17,900 per week in July/August).

We always rent an apartment at Casale Villarena and, in or opinion, is the best accommodation in town.  They have a number of apartment options.  This year we stayed in the La Vetara apartment which has two large en suite bedrooms with a kitchen/lounge and a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Marina.  We shared the apartment with our best friends so it is perfect for sharing couples, but a point of note is that you have to walk through one bedroom to get to the other.  This did not worry any of us.   Best thing is the La Vetara terrace has an amazing panorama and is the perfect place for playing endless hands of cards and enjoying aperitivo each evening.  Remember to pack a portable speaker so you can stream music from your phone.

Eating at Casale Villarena – Truly an experience

The apartments all have well-appointed kitchens but Casale Villarena has its own restaurant and the food is incredible.  Apart from breakfast and lunch, we ate in the restaurant 11 evenings out of 13 which speaks volumes.   There is a Michelin starred restaurant less than 500 metres down the road, Quattro Passi, but the food and wine are so good at Casale Villarena that we never felt the need to leave.  You never know what to expect at Casale Villarena, from the wood fired pizza evenings followed by dancing on the terrace, a risotto evening by the pool cooked by a famous local chef (absolutely sublime) and a degustation dinner with local cheese and wines in the cellar.  Nerano has its own speciality pasta dish made of 4 cheeses and zucchini (courgettes), pasta alla Nerano, and Casale Villarena’s take on it is the best we have tasted in the area.

 

How to get from Casale Villarena to the beach?

Casale Villarena is situated about 1 kilometre from Marina del Cantone.  There is a narrow alley way that weaves it way through the village houses but it is quite steep so it is all well and dandy on the way down but after a few bottles of wine at lunch, it is rather a challenge coming home.  Luckily for us we are all extremely fit so enjoyed the challenge but you can always catch the local Sita bus down to the beach and back.   It roughly runs every hour on weekdays and every two hours on the weekend.  There is a bus stop right outside the Casale which is very handy.  If you want to drive down to the beach, there is a car park down at Marina del Cantone.  Word of warning, you cannot park your own car and there is no respect for cars in this part of the World so dents and scratches are “normale”.  Not so great if you have a hire car and do no want to be up for paying the insurance excess.

Where can I buy groceries?

There are two well stocked alimentari (general stores), one run by Olga and the other by Rachele, less than 50 metres from the Casale where you can purchase provisions including fruit and vegetables, milk, yoghurt, coffee, water and bread.  We each had our favourite shop which prompted endless debate amongst our party.  Recommendation, make sure you have plenty of notes in every denomination as both Olga and Rachele were none too pleased at having to give change on larger notes.

If you want more variety, then the closest supermarket is about a 20 minute drive away in Sant’Agata.  Casale Villarena can do breakfast, lunch and dinner so all meals are covered.  Given we had our kitchen and are fussy breakfast eaters, we bought breakfast supplies and prepared breakfast in our apartment.  There is also a great bar right next to one of the alimentari where you can sit with the locals and enjoy a beer or limoncello or in our case, about 10.

Activities / Things to do

One of the things I love about staying at Casale Villarena is the day trips arranged by the owner, Guglielmo.  We love messing about on boats and we were lucky to have two full day trips on a private boat skippered by Guglielmo himself.   Who would not love being on a boat, sipping Prosecco, stopping to swim in secluded coves and caves and lunching in gorgeous villages off the tourist trail?

Well if messing around in boats is not your thing, then there are also many hiking trails many of which are ancient mule tracks.  Our favourite is the trail to Ieranto Bay which usually takes about 45 minutes and is a great place to swim.

This year we were also lucky enough to go on a tour of the Phlegraean Fields, an area to the west of Naples.  Guglielmo organised a private bus and tour guide for the whole day.  We left at 7:30am and returned to the Casale Villarena at 8:30pm.  We visited a live volcano, the Solfatara, the Baia Museo Archeologico Campi Flegrei which houses some important artefacts and sculptures, the ancient ruins of a Roman spa and my faovurite, the Pischin Mirabillis,  a Roman fresh water cistern.

One place we never tire of visiting is Pompeii.  Pompeii is about an hour and 15 minutes from Nerano depending on traffic.  This year we were lucky enough to visit with my niece and her husband.  I recommend using a private guide.  We paid 120 Euros for about 2 hours (excluding entry fee) and it is worth every cent.  If driving,  we always park at the Zeus camping park (http://www.campingzeus.it/en/) and we have had no trouble but we never leave anything of value in the car.  From memory, the car-park is about 1.50 Euro per hour. Also, if you want to avoid the heat and crowds of Pompeii during the day, then you can take a late afternoon tour;  last entry is at 6:00pm and closing at 7:30pm.   Pompeii is also extremely cheap with adult tickets priced at 13 Euros.

Beach Clubs

Okay it wouldn’t be a Mediterranean holiday if it didn’t involve a beach club.  So if taking a bed and umbrella at the beach and reading a book for the day is your thing, then there are plenty of options at Marina del Cantone.  Our favourite beach club is La Perla.  It has great facilities: car park, restaurant, change rooms and all importantly, toilets.  We would wander down about 11:00am and get a bed and umbrella, have a swim, read a book and then take lunch in the restaurant.  The food and wine are really good.    A bed and umbrella will set you back 20 Euros for two and it is an extremely civilised way of going to the beach.

The beach is a pebble beach so a tip is to pick up a pair of beach shoes.  There is a shop at Marina del Cantone that sells inexpensive beach shoes that you can swim in which allows you to get in and out of the water.  According to husband, you can do it but it is a difficult, slow and painful process to get in and out of the water without beach shoes.

The other beach club we sometimes like to go to is Conca del Sogno.  There is a walking track from Marina del Cantone but everyone usually arrives by boat.  It is extremely fancy and you need to book a bed well in advance if going on a weekend.  You cannot get away with wearing bathers in the restaurant and will need to dress up in your best Italian linen shirt and Tods.  They do a gorgeous cold octopus and potato salad which I love. This is the place to be seen, especially coming off your super yacht.

Fact file:

How to get to Nerano:

  •  Arriving from Naples International Airport: Nerano is only about 70 kilometres from Naples International Airport but takes about 90 minutes driving time, depending on traffic.  It is quite hectic, so unless you are experienced in driving in this part of Italy, I would recommend taking a private driver which is about 110 Euros one-way.  Casale Villarena can arrange your private driver.  Other option would be to take the ferry to Sorrento and get a taxi or private driver.  Sorrento is about 30-40 minutes’ drive from Nerano.
  • Arriving from Rome: we flew into Leonardo da Vinci Airport and elected to hire a car and drive down to Nerano.  It only takes about 4 hours as it is freeway once you leave the ring road all the way down to Naples.  It’s an easy drive until you get to Naples.  Other option is to take the train into Rome Termini and get the Frecciarossa train down to Naples.  It only takes 70 minutes.  Then you can get a private driver from Naples.
  • Tip: I am not going to lie, Nerano is a bitch to get to if you are driving as once you leave the motorway and get past three tunnels and reach Vico Equense, it is nothing less than crazy with narrow winding streets.  But once you get to Nerano all is forgiven as it is so worth it.

Where is the nearest ATM?

  • Italians love cash which is a pain in the proverbial when travelling.  There is a private ATM at Marina del Cantone.  As we have the car, we prefer to go to the Deutche Bank ATM in S’ant Agata (Via Vincenzo Casola, 16, Frazione Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, 80061 Massa Lubrense NA, Italy).  This ATM is always reliable.  We also take the opportunity to have a gelato which is in the next street.

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Accommodation: Casale Villarena is located in Nerano and has a number of accommodation options.  They have a restaurant, swimming pool, car park and washing machine.    Further details can be found at: http://www.casalevillarena.com/

Beach club: La Perla is located at via Amerigo Vespucci 24 viale vespoli, 80061 massalubrense NA, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

Bedarra Bliss

If you are looking for a romantic beach holiday where you can totally check-out in absolute barefoot luxury, then Bedarra Island Resort may just be the ticket.

This was our second trip to Bedarra Island Resort (‘Bedarra’).  Our first trip was in October 2016 for our 25th wedding anniversary and literally within a week of arriving home, we booked another 5 nights over the Easter break.

Bedarra is an adults only resort (massive tick) and accommodates 18 couples in 9 extremely private villas each boasting water views.  The one thing I like about this place is although it is uber luxurious, it is also very low-key in terms of its casualness.  So there is no need to worry about what you are wearing.  In fact, if you wore a sarong or shorts for your entire trip, no-one would bat an eye lid.  I also like the fact that you can be as private as you want.  There is no communal dining which means the only people you really only have to engage with are the staff who are all incredible by the way.

WHO goes to Bedarra? You are probably thinking cashed up old farts but no, it is a good mix of young and old.  On our first trip we had a number of younger couples who got married at the resort, couples on their honeymoon and couples on their 25th wedding anniversary.  On this trip, there were three couples on their ‘babymoon’ as well as couples enjoying the Easter break just like us.

Bedarra is now a privately owned resort having previously been owned by Voyages Hotels and Resorts.  The owners, Sam and Kerri-Ann, are actively involved in the day-to-day running of Bedarra which is fabulous as you can see how much they care about the guests, the staff and the Island.  Sam and Kerri-Ann are supported by a wonderful team including Lance, Geoffrey and Jodee who each contributed to making both of our trips so special and memorable.

WHAT is there to do at Bedarra?  This is a place to totally check-out and sleep, read, swim, eat, drink (maybe a little too much), have a massage, spend quality time with your partner and just take-in the serenity.

For those who want a bit more action, you can help yourself to snorkelling gear, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks and for the more adventurous, take a spin in one of the motorised dinghies.  If the weather is permitting, the staff will provision you up with a picnic lunch complemented with wine, beer and champagne for a day on the high seas exploring the neighbouring islands.

There are also other activities Bedarra can arrange including boat and helicopter excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and fishing adventures.  Husband had his own fishing adventures trying his luck with his fly rod.  While husband was totally absorbed with his fishing early one morning, I decided in all my wisdom to take a kayak out for a bit of a paddle.  After a bit, I thought I would circumnavigate the Island.  Thinking it would only take 20 minutes, it actually took me about 2 hours and needless to say, I arrived back to a very distraught husband who was convinced I had either tried to make a break for it or been taken by sharks!!

WHAT about the accommodation?  The villas are fabulous.  We have stayed in two villas, one nearly on the water so you can hear the waves breaking and the second on the hill with the most amazing panorama.  There is also the option of villas with plunge pools for those seeking absolute privacy.  The villas are well-appointed with music systems, pod espresso machines, crisps, biscuits, bottled water, soft drinks, beer and wine.  This is an all-inclusive resort and there is no scrimping.  It really is incredible.  Before you arrive, you will be given a beverages menu so you can pre-select what you want stocked in your room including French champagne.

One of the things I love about this place is the long breakfasts, the long lunches and the long dinners.  Where else did we need to be?  Every meal is an experience starting with breakfast on the terrace.  I am fussy with breakfast as I like fresh berries and porridge.  This was easily accommodated by the breakfast chef.  They also had coconut water (massive tick).  Breakfast is followed by a two-course lunch, pre-dinner drinks with canapes and a three-course dinner with matched wines including dessert wine.  In addition to the tables on the main terrace, there are three private dining options which you are given the opportunity to dine at throughout your stay.  It is all very romantic.

WHERE is Bedarra?  Bedarra is midway between Cairns and Townsville, approximately 6 miles off Mission Beach.  It is a 2 hour drive south of Cairns to Mission Beach where you can take a boat launch or helicopter to Bedarra.  We choose to take the Bedarra helicopter direct from Cairns Airport which is a 45-60 minute trip depending on weather.  Apart from the fact that we love flying in helicopters and it is our little James Bond moment, it means we are off the plane, in the helicopter and then eating lunch and sipping wine by 2:00pm.  You don’t waste the day.  Whatever transfer you choose, this is all arranged by Bedarra so there is no need to stress, you just get off the plane, collect your luggage and let the Bedarra magic unfold.

Fact file:

  • Bedarra is inclusive of all food, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, use of kayaks, stand-up paddle-boards, snorkelling gear and motorised dinghies and laundry service.  More information on Bedarra can be found at: https://www.bedarra.com.au/
  • Who should go to Bedarra?  Couples seeking a romantic island getaway in a relaxed idyllic setting.
  • What to do you need to take?  The answer is not much; swimmers, sunscreen, sunglasses, Panama hat, shorts and a polo shirt.  Most guests will freshen up for dinner but nothing over the top so just exchange your polo shirt for a linen shirt and your Havaianas for Italian leather sandals and all will be good.  Although the weather is extremely temperate,  I always take a wrap for the evenings.
  • Unfortunately there are marine stingers in the warm North Queensland waters.  Do not rely on this information but we have always been told that stinger season is any month with an ‘R’ in it.  We take no chances and wear stinger suits and reef shoes but in the months of October and April you’d have to be extremely unlucky for stingers to be about.  Stinger suits also double as good sun protection and can be purchased on-line.   Good information on marine stingers can be found at: http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au/visitor-information/stinger-information.

 

Narbethong and Surrounds

Cure for the post-Christmas Blues
THERE is nothing better to cure the post Christmas-break blues than a cheeky mini-break.  After much debate on the theme and location of the mini-break we settled on a weekend of fly-fishing in the Marysville area.  Husband has been nagging me for the last few years to go to Marysville for a weekend but Daylesford, Bright and the Great Ocean Road have always won out.  I loved our weekend so much that we returned two weekends later for a second post-Christmas break.  Very cheeky indeed and those post-Christmas blues, well there’s always the Easter holidays to look forward to!

Stay, eat and drink

SO where to stay?  AFTER much internet searching, luckily for us, we came upon Saladin Lodge located in Narbethong.  This was exactly what we were looking for: beautiful accommodation set amongst the aromatic Australian bush in close proximity to a number of good fly-fishing streams.

Saladin Lodge is owned and operated by the beautiful Kim Rycroft who is funny, entertaining, interesting and just the most wonderful host really.  The Lodge itself is large and spacious and can accommodate up to six couples.  Our suite had a king sized bed, fine-linen and a large bathroom stocked with fluffy towels and quality bathroom products.  All my boxes ticked.

One of the best things is that Kim offers guests the option of eating in-house in the evenings.  This allows guess to totally relax rather than having to go to the trouble of dressing up in your finery and sourcing a restaurant.

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Gorgeous grounds of Saladin Lodge with interesting sculptures

Kim, or Kimmy as she is affectionately known to us, is not only a brilliant host, but an amazing cook.  Her food is light, fresh and extremely tasty.  Having stayed on two occasions and hopefully a third not too far around the corner, we started with a shared plate of nibbles comprised of smoked trout pate, various cheeses and dried fruits.

Nibbles were followed by a main course of baked Tasmanian salmon from the Buxton Trout Farm (on our first stay) and chicken with lemon myrtle (on our second stay) accompanied with garden salad and vegetables.  Dessert was fresh fruit salad with goji berries.  This is our sort of food so we were in heaven.  Kim also has a good stock of locally sourced wines, cider and beers on offer to guests.

There is also good pub option a short drive away in Buxton if you want an Australian pub experience (me not so much) and there are plenty of restaurant options in Marysville.  Kim can assist with restaurant bookings but I would strongly recommend dining in and experiencing Kim’s wonderful cooking.

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Husband enjoying Kim’s gorgeous cooking
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Lake at Saladin Lodge.  Smell those eucalypts, there is nothing like it

Fly-fishing experience

AFTER a hearty breakfast of fresh fruits, cereal, yoghurt, toast and jams and bacon and eggs, we headed out for a day’s fishing.  Husband transformed into fly-fishing guide (he is actually a trained guide) and took me off to one of his secret fishing spots.  Sorry but I am sworn to secrecy regarding the fishing location (apparently that is a fly-fishing thing)!  Given that it was January and extremely hot, we went wet wading which means wearing neoprene booties inside hiking boots with gaiters over the top which according to the expert, will protect you from snake strikes.  I pray that this the case.  Wet wading also allows you to move quite freely through the water rather than being in more restrictive waders.

My guide provided expert casting tuition.  I got at least 10 strikes and managed to land one rainbow trout.  Albeit very small, I am still learning, so this was quite exciting.  And for all those girls who do not want to touch the fish, my guide dealt expertly and swiftly with removing the hook and releasing the fish safely back into the river.

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My first catch.  Okay it is not about the size.  It’s actually harder than it looks trying to land a trout

After my day’s guided fishing, we headed back to Saladin Lodge where my guide magically transformed back into husband.  We spent the late afternoon relaxing by the lake which is apparently stocked with trout.  They were a bit elusive even for my much experienced husband but Kim assures us that they are in there!

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My fishing guide (err husband) relaxing with a glass of wine at Saladin Lodge
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Feeding Kim’s horse who survived the horrific bush fires.  He is so gorgeous

Fact File

SALADIN Lodge is located in Narbethong approximately a 90 minute drive from Melbourne.  Head east young man.

The room rate at Saladin Lodge includes a fully cooked breakfast.  Dinner and wines/beers/cider are available at an extra (very reasonable) cost.

If you would like a picnic lunch, I am sure Kim could arrange this for you. Further details on Saladin Lodge can be found at: http://saladinlodge.com.au/

My fly-fishing guide is from Twig & Stream and can provide either a half or a full day’s guided fishing ranging from the novice to the experienced.  Weekends only at this stage.  All equipment other than hiking boots can be supplied.  If you prefer wearing waders, Twig & Stream stock waders in various sizes.  For further details contact Ian via https://www.facebook.com/TwigAndStream/ or +61 0412 168 020.

If fly-fishing is not your thing, then there are plenty of other options in the local area including:

  • horse-riding with Rubicon Valley Horse Riding. For more information visit: http://rubiconhorseriding.com/
  • a visit to Healesville Sanctuary to see some unique Australian wildlife;
  • a visit to Steavenson Falls near Marysville which are also lit at night and very romantic (I hear). For more information visit: http://www.marysvilletourism.com/things_to_do/steavenson-falls/;
  • loads of walking and mountain bike trails. For more information visit: http://www.marysvilletourism.com/
  • adventure activities and in the winter, cross-country skiing, at Lake Mountain. For more information visit: http://lakemountainresort.com.au/visitor-info/resort-maps-
  • massage and treatments at White Lotus Natural Health & Wellbeing Day Spa & Retreat. For further information visit https://www.whitelotus1.com/
  • Yarra Valley wineries. You will pass through the Yarra Valley on the way to Narbethong and Marysville so our recommendation would be to book a winery restaurant for lunch on your trip home on the Sunday.  Our recommendation is Oakridge.  Oh and Four Pillars in Healesville do a cracking gin.  So call in and do some tastings and pick up a bottle (or two).
  • the Black Spur, in my opinion, is also one of the most beautiful forest drives in the world and well worth it. It is up there with the Beech Forest drive in the Otways.  You will pass over the Black Spur if you are approaching Narbethong / Marysville from Healesville.  Please be vigilant when driving along the Black Spur as it has some sharp corners and keep to the left (yes, I know, why does Australia drive on the left?)
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Buddy the border collie.  So cute

 

 

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Oakridge Winery restaurant in the Yarra Valley

Marlborough and Surrounds

CHRISTMAS holidays in our household bring a level of excitement and anticipation that would rival the most virtuous bride on her wedding day as they provide much deserved downtime to recharge batteries and re-boot scrambled brains.

Always expect the unexpected

Our favourite Christmas holiday destination for many years has been the Dolomites in the Italian Alps but since moving back to Australia, snow is too hit and miss at this time of year to endure a 24 hour cattle-class flight.  So after much debate, we settled on the north of the South Island of New Zealand.  The holiday theme, and a holiday always has to have a theme, would be lux lodge fly-fishing with a splash of wine touring on the side.  The itinerary would include 5 nights at Owen River Lodge and 4 nights in Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine region.

We were so smug thinking that we would be relaxing and enjoying an aperitif by 6:00pm on Christmas Eve but how wrong could one be?  After the week from absolute hell, with a combination of too much work, too many Christmas functions and too little sleep, the last thing we needed was an electrical storm to hit Melbourne Airport resulting in lengthy delays.  And in our case an even lengthier delay when the bus taking our flight crew to the aircraft was hit by a luggage unloader.  So by the time we arrived in Wellington our connecting flight to Blenheim had long departed.

With no further flights to Blenheim that evening, we had no other choice but to stay the night in Wellington.

So after coming to grips with our situation following some heated and animated discussions with a customer service officer at Wellington Airport who was as helpful as a chimp with a skipping rope, we made our way to the Distinction Wellington hotel.  Okay it wasn’t the plush surrounds of the Owen River Lodge, but it was clean, near the waterfront and the staff were extremely helpful (unlike those of our airline).  Fortunately, our hotel room had a kitchenette: Having lived in Wellington for 3 years, we were only too aware that nothing would be open on Christmas Day so we grabbed a few breakfast supplies from an express supermarket just as it was closing.

A source of irritation is arriving in a city without a restaurant booking.  So my tip is never leave restaurants to chance when travelling.  Do your homework and book well in advance to avoid aimless wandering and disappointment.  So to unexpectedly arrive in Wellington when it was already in the throes of shutting down for Christmas without a reservation only added to our already fractious state.  I tried phoning a couple of restaurants that I knew off the top of my head, but no soup for us.  So after dropping our luggage in our hotel room, we headed out along the waterfront in search of a restaurant that was half decent and more importantly, still open.

Finally, we got to Shed 5 who, although fully booked, accommodated us in the bar area.  We had a really enjoyable dinner of New Zealand oysters, fish and hand-cut chips complemented by a few overdue glasses of New Zealand wine from some quality producers.  It was a nice end to a pretty crappy day. The joy of finally finding a half decent restaurant in Wellington on Christmas Eve and eating NZ oysters. Delicious fish and chips.  New Zealand has the freshest seafood.

We return to Wellington Airport the following day (Christmas Day) to catch a flight to Blenheim.  Totes to the lovely Avis car guy at Blenheim Airport who opened up for us on Christmas Day so we could collect our hire car.  Once we had the car sorted, we then drove the 1 hour and 45 minutes south to Owen River Lodge arriving some 24 hours late.  Ironic really given that a flight to Europe would have taken the same amount of time which is the very thing we were trying to avoid!!!

Better late than never

THIS was our second trip to Owen River Lodge.  The Lodge is located in a peaceful valley overlooking the Owen River.  Last year the weather was hot enough to swim in the river every day.  The weather was a little cooler this trip so we didn’t feel the need to put our cossies on.

The Lodge accommodates 12 guests in six guest cottages.  It is really three cottages comprising two suites each with a shared verandah.  Each suite is large with an extremely comfortable king size bed, high quality linen and a large bathroom with a plethora of bathroom products which are restocked throughout your stay (Owen River uses Linden Leaves products).  The bathroom does not have a bath but I am okay with this as the guilt of wasting so much water would kill any enjoyment.

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Owen River Lodge on the Owen River.  How’s the serenity?

Why would you come to Owen River Lodge?  The answer is some of the best fly-fishing in the world.  The lure of a 10 pound brown trout in some of the most pristine back country keeps guests returning season after season.  The New Zealand fly fishing season starts on 1 October and ends on 30 April.

Fishing guides are allocated to the guests and each day follows a similar routine.  After a hearty cooked breakfast in the Lodge, guests are greeted by their fishing guide who then gets you organised for your day’s adventure.  In our experience, the majority of guests are from the US and the UK and stay 3-5 nights at Owen River Lodge.  This gives you ample time to fish a number of rivers within an hour’s proximity to the Lodge.  Guests are usually out the door by 8:30am and return to the Lodge sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm to share a beer (or wine) with their guide and to regale other guests (and guides) with the day’s fishing score.  The non-fishing wives and partners stand around, their eyes glazed over with sheer boredom!!!!

I too was one of those wives, but after much resistance, my fishing obsessed husband, finally convinced me to pick up the rod and go out for a day.  Our guide Paul was extremely knowledgeable and very patient.  For the beginner, I could not think of a better way to learn as Paul set up the rod, gave me basic lessons and provided tips on safe river crossings in strong flowing waters.

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My concern was that I would ruin my husband’s day out on the river but we had a great time together.  You need to be fairly fit and agile as you are walking on river rocks for a full day with only a short break for a picnic lunch.  I didn’t catch a fish but I learnt how to cast and enjoyed being out on the Wairau River.  One of the highlights was trekking back to the car through thick bush, scampering up cliffs only to stumble upon 4 giant stags.  According to our guide Paul, this was a very rare sight.

So what is there to do for the non-fishing at Owen River Lodge?  Most non-fishing wives and partners just like the peace and solitude of the valley opting to relax and read.  Owen River Lodge also has an outdoor hot tub overlooking the river.  My personal favourite is taking one of the mountain bikes out after breakfast and riding to the end of the valley.  A return trip takes me about an hour.  If the weather is hot, and in the Murchison area it can get up to 40 degrees Celsius in January/February, there is the river to play in.  Owen River Lodge has a little deck with some outdoor beach chairs on the river.  There is also Marcy who does brilliant massages in the massage cottage.  Marcy is multi-skilled and last year, took me and two other non-fishing wives on a Marlborough wine tour for the day.  Marcy can also take guests hiking but if you want to do this, I would arrange it with the Lodge before your arrival.

If you want to get out and about by car, there are a few activities you may like to try in the area.  I took myself to the Buller Gorge swing-bridge which traverses the Buller River and is apparently the longest swing bridge in New Zealand.  From there I went on a 40 minute jet boat ride with Buller Canyon Jet.  My initial reaction was that it was going to be ridiculously yawn worthy and lame.  I don’t know if it was the clean New Zealand air, but I loved it.  The swing bridge entry is $10 which is a bit steep but well worth it as they had very clean public conveniences.  The park also offered various zip line options across the gorge.  This was not for me but seemed to entertain a number of willing tourists.  The jet boat was $105.00 for 40 minutes.

For further information on Buller Gorge Swingbridge go to http://www.bullergorge.co.nz.

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Other Activities

MURCHISON is famous for rafting on the Buller River.  There are two rafting companies, Wild Rivers Rafting and Ultimate Descents.  I did not manage it this trip, but in the future, I would plan to do the full day grade 4/5 option with Ultimate Descents.  This includes a helicopter drop off.

There is walking (or tramping as the New Zealanders like to say) in the Nelson Lakes National Park which is a 102,000 hectare national park with Lakes Rotoroa and Rotoiti at its heart.  You can also take a water taxi to various drop-off points which connect you to the network of walking tracks along the Lakes.  For further information visit http://www.rotitiwatertaxis.co.nz.

Our wine and food odyssey

SO after 4 nights (it was supposed to be 5 – Grrrrr) at Owen River Lodge we head back to the Blenheim area for the next stage of our trip.  We booked 4 nights at Antria Boutique Lodge in the heart of the Marlborough wine region.  Antria is run by Phil and Kathryne.  They are our sort of people and are a tonic for the soul.  They are such accommodating people and had us in stitches from the moment we arrived.

Antria is a boutique bed and breakfast with two guest suites: the Antipodes Suite and the Pacifica Suite.  We stayed in the Pacifica Suite which had a huge bathroom and eclectic furnishings which we loved.  Each night, we returned from dinner to find a beautiful freshly cut rose on our bed.  One thing that I am really particular about is bed linen and, like Owen River Lodge, Antria has top quality linen.  I do not think that I have slept so well as I did at Antria.  Guests have the run of part of the house and can help themselves to a well stocked pantry and a fridge filled with fruit, beer and of course, local wines.

Each morning Phil and Kathryne produced an amazing breakfast comprising cereals with house poached and fresh fruits, yoghurt and a sweet and a savoury cooked option.  Breakfast is my thing, so I would return just for the breakfast.  One of the other things about Antria is Phil and Kathryne’s art collection which adorns almost every wall and is really interesting.

There is so much to see and do in the Marlborough region so it is hard to decide what to prioritise on a 4 night trip.  On our first day, Kathryn and Phil suggested a few hiking options.  We settled on walking Snout Track which is a 3 hour walk from Picton to the “Snout” which is a point overlooking the Queen Charlotte Pass.  Coming out is hard-going as it is mostly uphill but it is absolutely stunning and well worth it.

We also wanted to go out onto the water one day and there are a few options on offer and it took a while to decide.  Options include:

  • the Pelorus Mail Boat which takes you around the Marlborough Sounds delivering mail and groceries. The mail delivery runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and departs Havelock Pier at 9:30am and returns at 5:00pm.  They also do grocery deliveries on Saturdays and Sundays;
  • there are also various ferry options to get you to the Queen Charlotte Track to hike or mountain bike. I would check out Beachcomber Cruises (beachcombercruises.co.nz and Couger Line www.cougerlinecruises.co.nz); and
  • lastly, and the option we finally settled on, the Greenshell Mussel Cruise. We chose this cruise as it is only 3 hours in duration which meant it was not going to take up the entire day and would have us back at our accommodation in plenty of time to get ready for dinner.

The cruise departs Havelock Marina C Pier at 1:30pm and costs NZ$125 per adult and includes mussels and a glass of sauvignon blanc.  We cruised on a large catamaran up the Pelorus and Keneparu Sound which is breathtaking.  We cruised through a mussel farm and then dropped anchor in a sheltered cove where the staff steamed mussels.  Following a lesson on how to prepare and eat the mussels, we could then help ourselves to as many mussels as we wanted washed down with a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.  The staff were extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  Although the price includes a glass of sauvignon blanc, the boat has a bar on board so you can buy wine by the glass (or bottle) if you are like us and cannot stop at 1.  I could not rate this cruise highly enough and would definitely recommend it.  Tips, the Marlborough Sounds are usually windy so if you want to sit out on deck, pack some warm clothes and preferably a good wind breaker.  There were about 15 people on our cruise and of those 15, only 1 person got sea sick.  So if you suffer from sea sickness takes some Kwells or some ginger beer with you.  More information on this cruise can be found at: http://www.marlboroughtourcompany.co.nz/tours-cruises/greenshell-mussel-cruise.

One of the hidden gems on this trip is Havelock which is a small town with a great Marina.  I preferred Havelock to Picton.  A lot of boat cruises depart from Havelock including the one we took.  It has ample all day parking with ticket machines that take credit cards.  We paid NZ$6.50 for the afternoon.  There is a brilliant place at the Marina called the “Slip In” which I highly recommend for a pub-style lunch (seafood platters, green shelled mussels, burgers, fish and chips etc.).  It is also a good spot for having a beer or wine and watching the coming and going of boats at the jetty.  I would definitely put the Slip In on the itinerary for my next trip to Marlborough.

Okay so one of the major attractions of Marlborough is the wine.  Yes this is sauvignon blanc country but they also produce other styles of wine including very good pinots.  There is one thing that New Zealand does better than any other country we have been to and that is winery restaurants.  So having been to Marlborough before, we opted for a couple of wineries which had good restaurants rather than fit in as many wineries as time would allow.  Our two picks are:

Cloudy Bay. They have a great outdoor area with a raw food bar that serves just that, raw food.  We enjoyed freshly shucked New Zealand oysters and roasted nori and rice crusted venison tataki (seared venison).  I love Cloudy Bay; their cuvee rose and Mustang pinot are to die for.  They do a 3 tiered wine tasting menu, $10, $15 and $25.  Go with the $25 option as it includes the Mustang pinot or just don’t bother at all, and just buy a bottle to enjoy with lunch;

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Rockferry: The restaurant is open between 11:30am and 3:00pm and is in a really lovely casual setting to settle into for the afternoon.  The kitchen may close at 3:00pm but the cellar door is open until 4:30pm so you can still keep drinking until then.  Definitely put this winery on your list of wineries to visit.

So as I have previously advised, New Zealand likes to close down on some bank holidays and wineries are no exception so bear this in mind when choosing to travel.  So this resulted in us missing out on a couple of wineries that we wanted to visit being Spy Valley and Yealands Estate.  Make sure you put these two on your list.

There are a multitude of options for touring the wineries including cycling with tandem and electric bikes.  If you are staying at Antria, no need to worry as they have bikes for guest use.  If cycling is not your thing, then Antria’s Phil can do full or half day winery tours.  If Phil was not available for some reason, my second choice would be Highlight Wine Tours who do winery tours in a restored VW Kombi.  We met Dave from Highlight Wine Tours at Rockferry Winery.  We spoke with his guests who were loving their tour.  Highlight Wine Tours go at your pace so you can do as many or as few wineries as you want.  More information on Highlight Wine Tours can be found at http://www.highlightwinetours.co.nz.

There are a lot of restaurant options in the area but our favourite was Arbour.  We were lucky enough to eat there on two evenings including New Year’s Eve.  The food is not only an art-form but is sublime.  The restaurant looks out onto a formal manicured garden and if you are lucky enough to go on a warm evening, I would suggest requesting pre-dinner drinks outside in the garden.

Hans Herzog was our second restaurant experience.  This is another winery restaurant in an amazing garden setting.  We ate in the bistro on two occasions.  They produce reasonable wines and I really like their cuvee rose.  The food is not in the league of Arbour’s but I like going to Hans Herzog just to sit and enjoy the garden.  The bistro allows you to eat indoors or outside in the garden or on the veranda.  As we ate in the bistro the first night and were not blown away by the food, we decided to return to the bistro rather than eat in the formal restaurant.  The restaurant offers a 7, 5 and 3 course menu which can be matched with wines.  The 7 course menu is NZ$155 per person with wines to match at NZ$98 so for that price it had better be a pretty big step up from the bistro.

If staying at Antria, Phil and Kathryne can suggest other restaurant options.  If you are planning to drink, then Phil is also only too happy to drop you off and there are plenty of taxi options in the Blenheim area to take you home.  Just arrange it with the restaurant.  We used Executive Shuttle (see details below).

Blenheim is famous for its cherries so if you are lucky enough to be in Blenheim during December/early January then there are a lot cherry orchards which offer pick your own.  It is great fun.  Most pick your own orchards also offer pick your own raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries.

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The berry farm we visited makes berry ice creams. Brilliant.

If you live in Melbourne or Sydney and are looking for a short break to enjoy great food and wine, then Marlborough is just the ticket.  You can be as active or as idle as you like.

Travel tips

OWEN River Lodge is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Blenheim Airport and 1 hour and 25 minutes from Nelson Airport.  This is an all-inclusive lodge and includes breakfast, picnic lunch and 3 course dinner with wines.  They can supply all fishing equipment including boots and waders so you do not need to worry about packing your own.  Owen River Lodge may seem a bit pricey but given that the daily tariff includes fishing guide and transportation, food, alcoholic (beer and wine) and non-alcoholic beverages, fishing equipment and laundry, for us, this represents excellent value for money.  For further details visit http://www.owenriverlodge.co.nz.

Blenheim is only 15-20 minutes’ flying time from Wellington with two carriers, Air New Zealand and Soundsair.  The other option is the Interislander Ferry which takes 3 hours from Wellington to Picton.

The road from Blenheim to Murchison, the SH63, is now the main road down to Queenstown following the closure of SH1 due to the recent earthquake damage.  This has resulted in increased traffic including heavy trucks.  The road also has a number of one way bridges so you have to be vigilant making sure you give-way in accordance with the road signs.

Antria Boutique Lodge is less than 5 minutes’ drive from Blenheim Airport and is run by the fabulous Phil and Kathryne.  For further details visit: http://antria.co.nz/.

I would recommend using:

For details on Marlborough wineries and the Marlborough wine trail visit http://www.wine-marlborough.co.nz/.

Both Owen River Lodge and Antria had the laundry situation well covered.  Owen River Lodge does your laundry at no extra charge and Antria has a washing machine and ironing facilities.

If you know that you will be in New Zealand during the Christmas or Easter holidays, book restaurants well in advance.  Do not rely on doing a walk-in as you may go hungry as nothing will be open not even to buy a bag of crisps.

Blenheim airport has a number of car hire companies but make sure you book in advance as Marlborough is a popular tourist destination.  Also, if you are collecting a hire car on a bank holiday, ring in advance to make sure they will be open at the time when you intend to collect the car.

New Zealand has a lot of sandflies or midges which are quite annoying as the bites are as itchy as anything so take some good repellent with you.

The New Zealand sun is extremely strong.  So wear plenty of sunscreen with at least a 30spf and wear a hat.

 

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Snout track.

 

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Mr Smarty Pants with his 7lb brown trout from the Mataktaki River. Don’t worry it is all catch and release.

 

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