Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dine Picton

Picton is well-situated for some of the finer things in life- namely, great Marlborough wines and seafood straight from the Sounds. take a day or two to experience the great drinking and dining offered by the small town of Picton. Visit the wineries, or just find their wines in town and enjoy them in your camper. The same goes for food- dine out, or eat casually and make use of your home away from home.

Some of the best wines in Marlborough include family-owned Herzog, of which the proprietors moved to Marlborough from their successful winery business in Switzerland, Highfeild Estate, Hunter's Wines, the list goes on. Well-known ones include Cloudy Bay, Mud House, Matua Road and Brancott Montana. There are endless options. A tip- Marlborough is known for some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

 Cloudy Bay
by agsw Flickr Creative Commons

As for food, be sure to try the seafood, as it is fresh out of the stunning Marlborough Sounds and will blow you away. At the simpler end of the sale, buy some mussels and steam them open at your campsite or grill some fish on the bbq to get the fine dining experience without spending much.  If you would like a bit of luxury, treat yourself to a meal at one of Picton's great restaurants. Le Cafe is one fo these. Although a relaxed and casual eating venue, it is a tradition in the town and long established- it opened to a small and sleepy Picton in 1995 and has a menu serving seasonal and local produce in a european tradition- with an extensive local wine list. To try a bit of West Coast Whitebait, try DA's Restaurant. Lochmara Lodge, located in Lochmara Bay in the sounds, is a cafe and restaurant as well as a Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre. It has a stunning menu of local produce, seafood and Marlborough wines. A bit outside of town, but it is worth the drive!

So, make sure your visit to Picton includes some taste-testing of local food and wine!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Tipple and a Nibble in Picton

If you are campervanning in or around Picton in February, get your camper in gear and drive the 30km to Blenhiem on Saturday the 11th, for the annual Marlborough Wine and Food Festival.

The festival has something for everyone- Fashion in the Vines, a show of couture delights, Wine tutorials to impress dinner guests with your knowledge, a wine and food matching contest, and an array of local food and wines to be sampled.  New Zealand artists Dane Rumble and Hello Sailor will provide the tunes, and the region of Marlborough will supply the edibles and drinkables for purchase. Nearly 50 wineries are represented, from the well-known Villa Maria and Montana to smaller family-owned and boutique businesses such as Fairhall Downs and Johanneshof. Marlborough is a region known for it's amazing food and wine, and this festival showcases it all in one place. Don't miss it!

 A Marlborough Vineyard
by Phillip Capper Flickr Creative Commons

Tickets are $48 and include entry, a souvenir glass, a full day of entertainment and a Festival catalogue. They can be purchased online at TicketDirect.

Be a Mailman for a Day in Picton

Beachcomber Cruises has a unique and popular take on a cruise of the beautiful Sounds surrounding Picton. The only licensed operator to carry the mail to remote households and communities in Queen Charlotte Sound, they offer a 4-hour 'Mail Run' cruise where you can join the skipper in delivering the mail.

The attraction of this cruise is the chance to see how life is for those who make the sounds their homes, rendering themselves accessible by water only. You can greet the children waiting on the wharf, see the private places that most cruises never visit, and get a taste of life in this beautiful region.

 Queen Charlotte Sound
by Phil Whitehouse Flickr Creative Commons

Along the way, you may see the varied marine life that make the Sounds home- dolphins, seals and Little Blue Penguins. The history of the Queen Charlotte Sound will be told by the Skipper, and you will have a chance to get out of the campervan, stretch out and relax on deck with fresh air, incredible sights, and complimentary tea and coffee.

The cruise departs daily at 1:30pm and prices, effective until September 2012, are $89 for an adult, $46 for a child 5-14 and free for under 5s. The route varies daily depending on where the mail is to be delivered, but includes a visit to Ship Cove, a historical spot where there was once a Maori village and Captain Cook anchored frequently. here, you can stroll the beach and visit the memorial to Captain Cook.

A Campervan road trip you may be on, but consider leaving the road behind for a few hours and explore the waterways of Marlborough instead!

Picton for Kids

Road tripping with kids? Picton is a town that is delightful for the youngins- not too big, not too small, huge ferries to watch, on the water's edge for swimming, beautiful scenery to distract mum and dad and, most importantly, the just-for kids features in the town centre. There are numerous holiday parks and campgrounds in the area, making it an easy choice as a destination. If you are coming over from Wellington on the ferry, stay a few days before moving on- this town is one of the most charming you will find in the South Island.

Picton- notice the small lake on the foreshore
by Phillip Capper Flickr Creative Commons

On the foreshore, there is a small train which has upheld a tradition of entertaining small people for decades. The Little Train of Picton runs every Sunday and every school or public holiday. Costing a whopping 20 cents, the ride takes the littlies around a small lake, over a bridge and under a "waterfall," even through a tiny forest. Whilst not the most thrilling of rides, it is a delightful few minutes for a child, and rather adorable to watch from, the adult perspective.

Also on offer at the foreshore are model sailing boats, which are extremely simple in their design- no electrics, no remote control, just two sails and the wind. For hire at 20 cents, the children simple put them in the manmade lake (the same lake which the Little Train circles), let them go and run to catch them on the other side. My twelve year old self thought this was absolutely wicked.

At the more high-end end of the spectrum, there is the Kiwi Mini Golf, also on the foreshore, dolphin-watching and the like. However, a child in Picton will be happy with their 20 cent train ride, 20 cent boat hire and watching the ferries come in. Maybe throw a swim and an icecream in there.

So don't miss Picton if you are campervanning with kids, it is a beautiful and entertaining spot!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vineyards in Picton

Anyone who enjoys fine wines knows that most countries keep the best vintages for themselves whilst exporting those they don’t need, but it’s not always the case for the New Zealanders. So maybe you can buy some of the countries best wines in your own hometown, but what’s better than enjoying a tour and tasting where the grapes were pressed; and that’s just what you can do on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Picton.

Picton finds itself at the gateway to the Marlborough wine region, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. The region represents over 50% of the total vineyards in New Zealand, and with its dry and sunny climate, it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, there will always be wonderful wines to taste.

Some brands of Montana Wines
Photo by Limegreen, Wikimedia Commons
There are over 100 wineries covering around 23,000 hectares of vines which spread across the rolling landscape, and just like most of the wine producing countries of the world, many of the cellars open their doors to visitors interested in tasting, as well as offering restaurants and shops of course.

If you decide to go it alone, make sure you pick up a copy of the ‘Top of the South Wine Guide’ and ‘Marlborough Winemakers Map’, from the visitor centre. There are also other publications such as the ‘Classic New Zealand Wine Trail’ which should help with directions and information about each winery and what you can expect to see there.

The oldest and the largest winery in the area is the Brancott Estate. They were responsible for planting the very first vines in the region, and since the early days there have been other additions as well.

As well as tasting, the estate has a restaurant serving locally produced food to accompany their wines; there is an audiovisual presentation on their famous Sauvignon Blanc wine, and something which other wineries don’t have, the Native New Zealand Falcon Experience. The one-hour tour visits the land where the grapes are grown, and which is also home to the rare and endangered New Zealand Falcon. After the tour you can toast the beautiful bird with a tutored wine tasting.

One of the good wines that the New Zealanders don’t keep for themselves is Cloudy Bay. In fact, they export 75% of this Sauvignon Blanc.

Cloudy Bay - The bay which has given the winery its name
Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr Creative Commons
Gone are the days of dark and gloomy cellars, at Cloudy Bay the cellar has floor to ceiling windows with views over the working barrel cellar, the vineyards, and the countryside beyond. Many guests enjoy relaxing with a glass of wine on the terrace during the summer, and inside by the log fire in the winter, but its only the location that's different, the delicious wines are always the same.

Cloudy Bay offers its guests a special tasting menu, where for a small refundable fee, you get to taste three wines from the huge selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Te Koko, Pelorus, Riesling, and if your lucky, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.

These are just two of Marlborough’s finest vineyards, but there are lots more to consider, and whether you choose to go it alone or plan to take an escorted tour when you can eave your motorhome rental or campervan hire in on the site, you’ll bound to enjoy a day out in the open air.

Kayaking & Boating in Picton

One of the sunniest parts of New Zealand’s South Island, Picton is a charming port town at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, and with all that water, there couldn’t be a better location to enjoy some water-based activities on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in New Zealand.

Queen Charlotte Sound is the gateway to the vast Marlborough Sounds area, which means lots of opportunity for fishing and water sports, but especially boating. One of the main boat trips that most visitors on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday through New Zealand try is the inter-island ferry, travelling north and south between Picton and Wellington on the North Island. The route is not officially a ‘boating’ pastime, but the cruise through the Cook Straits has some stunning scenery, much better than many ‘proper’ cruises.

But back to some real boating opportunities. The sounds calm waters are perfect for kayaking, and if you’ve got the stamina, you can certainly enjoy some outstanding scenery on a 3 to 5 day trip though the Queen Charlotte Track. There are a variety of companies willing to rent out kayaks or canoes for solo adventures, or guided tours. The guided tours are an excellent way to go, as the waterways cover 1500km of coastline, so it’s easy to get lost. On a three-day trip, you pass by native bush with ancient tree ferns, vines, and enormous beech trees which flank the water. Watch as gannets dive for food, and dolphins swim alongside, accompanying you through the clear water, then camp for the night before a hearty breakfast and another day of yet more spectacular scenery. If you think that three days might just be too much, there are journeys lasting anything from a few hours to a day, but whichever trip you choose, guides will help you get the very best of your time on the water.

If a larger boat is what you’re interested in, Picton is also an excellent place for boat charters with, or without, a skipper. If you’re experienced you can skipper your very own launch or yacht, if you just want to sit back and enjoy the scenery, fishing, and wildlife, then take a charter with a crew; it’s not just the scenery on top of the water, there are some excellent diving opportunities as well, so remember your swimming and snorkelling gear. Boats can be chartered per day, or there are operators who also offer specialist tours where you can join others and enjoy some fishing, dolphin watching and swimming, or bird watching.

Whichever type of craft you choose, the waters of the Marlborough Sounds are the ideal spot to take to the water on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in New Zealand’s South Island.

Eco World Aquarium

The Eco World Aquarium is a particularly interesting place to bring the family on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in New Zealand's South Island. Different from the unusual aquariums, this one focuses on local animals and fish that can be found in the waters of the Marlborough Sounds.

Encounter monsters from the deep, which are in fact Giant Squid, the biggest being 5 meters long, Little Blue Penguins, Kakariki, Giant Weta, lizards, turtles, and even Tuatara. Tuatara are native to New Zealand, and their ancestors were around 200 million years ago.

One of the highlights of the aquarium is the animal feeding which takes place twice a day, and is accompanied by a talk from an informative guide. In the morning at 11am visit the rock pools and shallows where you can see the freshwater eels and turtles enjoying a light breakfast, then at 2pm make your way to the main Marine Tank to see a late lunch for the crayfish and seahorses. These tours aren’t just for children; the guides ensure that adults also find the information is genuinely fascinating. There are other tours to enjoy as well, such as the reptile experience; the times are subject to change, so it’s best to ask what’s going on when you arrive.

The aquarium supports the Eco World Trust and donates some of your entrance fee to them. The trust is there to promote the understanding of the local environment, nature, and wildlife, especially that of New Zealand. It’s also home to the EcoWorld Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which cares for injured and fledgling Little Blue Penguins and other marine birds.

If you’re interested in knowing more, why not take part in the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour. Just as the name suggests, this is where aquarium staff show you around the site and introduce you to some of the islands local inhabitants, as well as the penguin colony, and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

The Eco World Aquarium is not a big, flashy all singing all dancing aquarium, but it is an enjoyable way to get to know the natives on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Picton.