The “Rizza” Trail

I have been wanting to do the Clare Valley Riesling Trail ever since reading an article in the Qantas magazine a few years ago.  Finally, I got the chance to go with husband and our friends on the March bank holiday weekend and much fun was had by all.

We decided to make this a four-day weekend and took a morning flight from Melbourne to Adelaide on the Friday which saw us hitting our first Clare Valley winery, O’Leary Walker Wines, just after 2:00pm.  We sat on the verandah and lunched on generous charcuterie platters washed down with a couple of bottles of quality riesling.  It was a great introduction to the Clare Valley and gave us the opportunity to start detaching ourselves from work and soak in the surrounds of dry grown vines.  In non-wine speak, it’s as dry as all get out and an absolute miracle that you can get anything to grow in this part of the World, let alone grape vines.

Following a very enjoyable long and leisurely lunch, we then headed into downtown Auburn in search of our accommodation.

 

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The Gang hits Auburn

 

We were staying at Annabelle’s Cottage in Auburn.  Annabelle’s Cottage accommodates up to 8 guests in two suites: the Original Cottage and the Southern Suite.  The Original Cottage was built in the 1860s and is set in a lovely cottage garden.  We stayed in the Southern Suite, a new annexe at the rear of the Original Cottage with its own street frontage.  The Southern Suite is brilliantly appointed with two ensuite bedrooms and perfect for two couples sharing (one has issues with sharing bathrooms!).  I would definitely recommend Annabelle’s Cottage.

After a cheeky afternoon nap we then headed out to Terroir Restaurant in Auburn for dinner.  This was a 5 minute walk from Annabelle’s Cottage.  The menu is small with a choice of 4 entrees, 4 mains and 4 desserts.  It always gives me great comfort going to a restaurant with a short menu as you can guarantee the ingredients will be fresh and the dishes creative.  Terroir was no exception.  It also show-cases Clare Valley wines which was a big tick in our book.

Saturday was our big day cycling day.  We were doing the Kilikanoon “Wine by Cycle” experience.  There are many cycling trails in the Clare Valley.  The main trail is the 33 kilometre ‘Riesling Trail’ from Auburn to Barinia which runs along a disused rail line.  The slightly lazier Rattler Trail is a 19 kilometre rail running between Riverton and Auburn and joins up with the Riesling Trail.  There is also the Riverton Trails, the Mason Trail, the Spring Gully Loop, the Polish Hill Loop and the trail that we did, or partly did, the John Horrocks Loop.  I think we cycled between 5 and 6 kilometres in total and honestly, after visiting four wineries, this was as much as our group could ‘safely’ manage.

Our day started at Kilikanoon Wines at 10:30am where our cycles, helmets, water and maps were ready and waiting.  Kilikanoon Wines has its own bikes but can arrange electric assisted bikes at a small extra (AUD$70.00).  The John Horrocks Loop is a little hilly so I would definitely recommend an electric assisted bike if you are not a regular cyclist.  Kilikanoon Wines organised our whole day so we had no nothing to do other than to get on the bikes and head off along the picturesque back roads.

The John Horrocks Loop takes in six wineries: Penna Lane Wines, Kilikanoon Wines, Mitchell Wines, Skillogalee Wines, Jeanneret Wines and Sevenhill Cellars.  The full John Horrocks Loop which would see you stopping at all these wineries would be a 9 kilometre round trip so we cut out the Sevenhill part of the trail.  Our first stop was Mitchell Wines followed by Jeanneret Wines, Skillogallee Wines and lastly back to where we started, Kilikanoon Wines.

As part of the Wine by Cycle experience, Kilikanoon Wines also organise your lunch booking.  Your choices are The Little Red Grape which is a bakery in Sevenhill, the Sevenhill Hotel which is a gastroish type pub which funnily enough, is also in Sevenhill and lastly, Skillogallee Wines.  We opted for Skillogallee Wines.  After sampling their collection in the quaint little tasting room, we took our table outside on the terrace.  We were blessed with wonderful weather so you couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable experience.  Both the food and wines were fantastic.  This is a very busy winery, so if you want to eat at Skillogallee Wines on a weekend, book well in advance, especially if you want to eat indoors.  Skillogallee also do breakfast and open from 7:30am 7 days a week.

After a very long relaxing lunch, we cycled back to Kilikanoon Wines for our exclusive ‘Asset Collection’ tasting.  For me, this was the highlight of our trip.  After tasting their 2012 Tregea Reserve Cabernet, I fell head over heals in love.

After our day out, none of us was in any condition to drive home so we left our car at Kilikanoon Wines overnight and got ‘Dave’ from Clare Valley Taxis to take us back to our accommodation in Auburn.  Dave often does bike rescue for those who imbibe just a little too much, not unlike like us.  Dave has a bike rack which can take up to 4 bikes.  This is perfect for those who do not want to do a full cycle trail, bearing in mind that a return trip on the Riesling Trail would have you cycling some 66 kilometres.

Sunday saw us head out in the car to do the wineries that we missed including Eldredge Wines, Sevenhill Cellars and lastly Paulett Wines for lunch.  Sevenhill was a big surprise.  It is the oldest winery in the Clare Valley and is owned by the Jesuits.  It is steeped in history and there is a lot to see and do including the Crypt for the Jesuits who have died at Sevenhill.  The Jesuits all supply the majority of alter wines in Australia but surprisingly, their wines are actually very good and perfectly drinkable.  They also have lovely grounds and on a good day, it would be a perfect spot to picnic.  Sadly for us, the weather had taken a turn for the worse so picnicking was not a viable option.

After Sevenhill Cellars, we headed a short distance to Paulett Wine for lunch at their Bush Devine Café.  The Café is written up as an ‘Indigenous Australian Bush Food Café & Garden’.  The weather was too hideous to explore the garden so I cannot comment on that, but the food didn’t show case any indigenous flavours which was disappointing BUT the staff were incredibly accommodating, even bringing us rugs for the cold, and the food was good.  In fact, after eating some incredible rich meals over the previous day, I welcomed my green chicken curry on rice.  Would I return, yes if the weather was permitting as the views from the verandah are fantastic and have you thinking you are in an episode of McLeod’s Daughters for those familiar with this Australian drama series.

After lunch we headed off to do some none-wine related exploring.  Our first stop was the historic village of Mintaro.  This has some great architecture from the mid to late 19th century and is also home to the Mintaro Maze.  Unfortunately, the Mintaro Maze was closed so we headed a short distance out of town to Martindale Hall which was a huge surprise.  This is a grand residence built in 1879 which featured in Peter Weir’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’.  You can do self-guided tours of Martindale Hall but unfortunately, like the Mintaro Maze, it was closed by the time we arrived.  However, we were able to walk around the grounds and take in the grandeur of the Hall.

So after a pretty full day of touring, we headed back to Auburn along the picturesque back roads for a well deserved late afternoon nap.  After a quicken freshen up, we then piled into Dave’s cab again and headed into Clare where we had a booking at Seed Restaurant.  This is the #1 restaurant in the area.  Did I love this place?  It didn’t blow me away but I think this was more the fact that I went in with really high expectations.  I was expecting something quaint like Terroir but the setting was more barn-like and I was expecting a bush band complete with a ‘lagerphone’ to step out at any minute. The food was good but not outstanding.  The big tick was the gin menu as we all love our gins.  The biggest disappointment, however, was the wine matching.  This only included one wine from the Clare Valley and the rest were from all over including a Spanish variety.  It is not that we don’t like Spanish wines, quite the contrary, it was just that we were expecting Clare Valley wines.  Would I return, probably not if we were staying in Auburn.  Also, the taxi fare from Clare back to Auburn cost about AUD$70.00 so bear this in mind if you are staying in Auburn.

On the Monday, following a leisurely start to the day, we called in at the Mintaro Maze.  After successfully navigating our way through the maze, we headed back to Adelaide Airport via the picturesque Adelaide Hills.  Our recommendation would be to head off early and stop at the Barossa for lunch but we had run out of time unfortunately but you need something up your sleeve for next time!

 

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The Gang in the maze

 

Fact File

Annabelle’s Cottage is located at 15 Henry Street, Auburn.  Room rate includes all breakfast supplies and Nespresso pods.  Little gifts of handmade chocolate truffles and biscuits were a welcome bonus.  Further information can be found at: http://www.annabellescottage.com.au/

Kilikanoon Wines are located at Lot 52, Penna Lane, Penwortham (via Watervale).  A big thank you to the wonderful team at Kilikanoon Wines who organised everything for us.  Further details of the Wine by Cycle experience can be found at http://kilikanoon.com.au/.

Skillogalee is open between 7:30am and 5:00pm daily, except Christmas Day and is located at Trevarrick Road, Sevenhill.  Further information can be found at: http://www.skillogalee.com.au/

Terroir Restaurant is located in Main North Road, Auburn and is open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 6:00pm.  Further information can be found at: http://terroirauburn.com.au/

Information on the cycling trails, bike hire companies, the Clare Valley wineries (including opening times) and food and wine tour companies can be found at http://www.clarevalley.com.au/

Martindale Hall is located at 1 Manoora Road, Mintaro and is open to the public every day except Tuesday between 11:00am and 4:00pm.  Further information can be found at: http://www.martindalehall-mintaro.com.au/

Mintaro Maze is a living maze located in Jacka Road Mintaro and is open between 10:00am and 4:00pm Thursday to Monday.  Adult entry is $12.00 and child entry is $8.00.  One thing that kept us entertained for a good half hour was a mini-maze puzzle.  It took all four of it to crack it but we were quite chuffed given that the group before us failed dismally.  for Further information can be found at http://mintaromaze.com.au/

Clare Valley Taxis including bike rescue service can be contacted at 131008 / 08 8842 1400.

Some things for next time:

  • Sevenhill Hotel for lunch or dinner (www.sevenhillhotel.com.au).
  • Shut the Gate Winery for a picnic lunch in their garden.  Located at 2 Main North Road, Watervale.
  • Mr Mick’s Cellar Door and Kitchen for tapas-style food (www.mrmick.com.au).

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;

and

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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