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Farewell North, Hello South

All Aboard Cook Strait Cruising Cook Strait

2,000 kilometers were logged as we explored the North Island along beaches, muddy dirt roads, asphalt, and green pastures. Next was the vehicle bay of the 450 foot Bluebridge Ferry. Ash and I both fancied driving the campervan onto a boat, that was until we engaged the parking break, stepped onto the metal deck and took in wafts of stale urine. Once comfortable in the passenger area, we settled in for the three hour ride across the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island. Though the rain and clouds were persistent, the scenery was worth the price of admission.

Framingham PrisonFleece sleeves covering our noses, we fired up Bazils and drove down the steel ferry plank onto the South Island. One quick look at our trusty atlas and we were off to Marlborough wine country. Having started New Zealand’s booming wine exporting industry, the area is known for Sauvignon Blanc. The region’s capital, Blenheim, is flanked by numerous vineyards so we started with one of New Zealand’s largest exporters, Cloud Bay. The grounds and tasting room were top notch, but the wine… not so much. Framingham’s grape goodness made up for the previous winery’s shortcomings. The wine cellar was reminiscent of a medieval dungeon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Last wine stop was Bladen, voted Marlborough’s #1 cellar door. The charming tasting room that adjoined the family’s humble abode was surrounded by blossoming vines. Twas a blissful setting to whet our pallets once more. Before embarking on our jaunt up the South Island’s Northwest coast, we feasted on every imaginable creation at Makana Chocolate Factory.

Marlborough Wine Country Cloudy Bay Vineyard Cloudy Bay Vineyard Grounds

Golden Bay, the Northern tip culminating with the world’s longest sandbar at Farewell Spit, is a scenic drive with few vehicles navigating the hilly and twisty terrain. After an hour of seemingly endless uphill hairpins, it was down the equally steep backside of the mountain towards Able Tasman National Park. In the distance was billowing white smoke. Somehow amongst the verdant green hillside, a small fire had broken out that threatened nearby homes. After a long day of driving, we settled into a campsite on Parapara Beach. Wine glasses in hand, we strolled along the sand and rock as the sun turned the blue sky into a beautiful array of pinks and purples. A nightcap was had around a child’s abandoned campfire.

Golden Bay Fire on the Hillside Parapara Beach Sunset

With a warm cup of Joe providing wind for our sails, it was off to Te Waikoropupu (Pupu Springs) early the next morning. The remarkable springs known for the clear water holds spiritual significance to the Maori People. They used the pure water to bless departing and returning travelers, thus the history of the spring struck a chord. Besides the spiritual importance, the water holds the world record for fresh water visibility: 207 feet. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this clarity is achieved while water is discharged from underground caverns at a rate of 3,000 gallons per second, enough to fill Ashley’s coveted bathtub 40 times. On such a sunny day, the white sand bottom of the eight springs magnificently reflected blues and greens. A magical place.

Pupu Springs Pupu Springs Water Clarity Pupu Springs

As Bazils headed for the West coast, we hugged the Buller River, New Zealand’s longest stretch of inland water. This expanse of road offered amazing views, yet again. The Buller River meandered alongside the asphalt pavement as it approached the Tasman Sea in Westport. Progress was slow to our destination when we felt compelled to stop every ten minutes to soak in the scenery. At every turn, we collectively gasped at how picturesque this country can be whether sunny or dumping rain (more on that in the next blog entry).

Buller River Buller River Beng Buller River

Pulling into Westport as the skies opened up, it was clear this day was not meant for hiking. Anxious to be relieved from our tight quarters in Bazils, the sage advice of a local was sought. Next thing we know, the sweet smell of barley and hops was in the air. Touring New Zealand’s oldest craft beer maker, Monteith’s, was a rewarding experience. Our friendly Kiwi guide showed us the thirteen steps to produce what we hoped were delicious suds. Thankfully, the tour climaxed at the brewery bar where the sampling of eight varieties took place. Jackpot. Ash had a hard time keeping up with myself and four other beer aficionados as the tasting amounts were hefty. Once through the tedious process of taste testing, one by one we found our way behind the bar and poured our favorite pint. Ash loved the Cider and I preferred Monteith’s Black. What better way to finish a brewery tour than some fish and chips? Unwrapping the Westport News, our fingers now black from ink, we dug into the local catch, salted to perfection.

Monteith's Brewery Monteith's Brewery Tour Monteith's Brewery Tasting

Hello South Island.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) There are two ferry companies operating the Cook Strait: Bluebridge and Interislander. Bluebridge is generally cheaper. Regardless of the operator, booking early will save money, but reduce your flexibility. You must pay for each person (about $35) in addition to a vehicle (about $225 for a 22 foot campervan) if you have one. Don’t be duped by campervan rental companies offering you a discount on the Cook Strait, purchase directly with the ferry operator.
2) When checking into a campground in the evening, inquire if there is a late arrival price. In towns where you have multiple options, some Holiday Parks will offer a reduced rate assuming they have spots to fill.

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