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.

Dolphin Watching

The Marlborough Sounds is a fantastic place to go Dolphin watching on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in New Zealand. Not only do you get to see, and in some cases swim, with these incredible creatures, the scenery is out of this world too.

There are all kinds of cruises to take part in, and although you’re here for the dolphins, there are excellent opportunities to see sea birds and seals as well. Picton is the perfect spot, its calm, sheltered waters are a haven for dolphins, and the lush tropical surroundings are home to some incredible wildlife and birdlife. Out in the ocean Common, Bottlenose, Dusky, and rare Hector’s Dolphins enjoy the warm, clear water, and other wildlife such as New Zealand Fur Seals also make the waters edge their home.

Here are a few examples of cruises in which you can expect to see dolphins, remember to check out the operators rating on sightings and whether they offer a refund policy, just in case of rough seas!

Motuara Island
A typical half-day tour will include a fascinating commentary on the local habitat on your way to Motuara Island Bird sanctuary; from the viewing areas up on deck watch as dolphins lead the way. On the island see Fur Seals, Blue Penguins, Bellbirds, and other native species, before returning to the boat for snacks and drinks, and then onwards to Picton, hopefully accompanied by those curious dolphins again.

Ship Cove cruise
A cruise to Ship Cove, made famous by Captain Cook, combines a dolphin-watching cruise with a visit the beautiful, pristine forest and powdery beaches of the island. Spend time exploring the native
bush, relax on the beach, or go in search of Fur Seals and seabirds.

Dolphin swim and Dolphin watching cruise
If you’re seriously into dolphins, then chances are you’re going to want to swim with them. There’s nothing to compare with being out in the open ocean and viewing these beautiful creatures underwater as they play
all around you.

Your day starts from Picton with a cruise across the calm waters of the Queen Charlotte Sounds. As you keep your eyes peeled for the dolphins you will also see fur seals, gannets, shearwaters and penguins, and if the time is right, maybe even a mighty Orca.

Regulations are strict when it comes to following and interacting with the dolphins, but once spotted, if the conditions are right and you’re getting in, you’ll change into your wetsuit, mask, and fins and get ready to jump in. If you’re not keen on swimming in open water don’t worry, the boat is for swimmers and non-swimmers alike, and for those in the water it’s always nice to have someone on board taking pictures.

There are lots of places around the world where you can get to swim with dolphins, but on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Picton, it’s satisfying to know that conservation plays an important role, and these animals are free to come and go as they please.

Day Walks around Picton

With all that fresh air, sunshine, and beautiful coastline you’ll want to get out of your motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicle and explore, and you’ll be glad you came to Picton!

First there are the short walks, nothing too strenuous, just magnificent scenery and an excellent way of getting those muscles warmed up. Then there are the longer day walks, which you might want to try out.

Queen Charlotte Sound
Photo by JShook, Wikimedia Commons

The first walk is Shelley Beach to Bob’s Bay. This short walk from the Victoria Domain track is a ‘walkover’, it’s well signposted; to make it just that little bit longer, start at the ‘Echo’ on the eastern shore of the harbour. This is a popular walk in the summer, bring your swimwear and cool off in the refreshingly clear water, or enjoy a barbeque lunch before walking back.

The Lookout Point. Take Beatty’s Track from the base of the Wharf, near the not so attractive cement works, for a short walk to the Lookout Point for some excellent views of the Queen Charlotte Sounds and the harbour below.

Two walks in one, the Tirohanga Walk has some excellent views of Picton and the Queen Charlotte Sounds. Start your walk near the Blue Anchor Motor Camp in Newgate Street, and follow the trail which takes around 45 minutes each way. When you reach the end, you can either return the way you came, or continue on to Essons Valley. If you decide on the Essons Valley route, there are two routes, which start from the end of the Tirohanga Walk, one to the lower Humphries Dam, and the other to upper Barnes Dam. Both these walks take around 40 minutes, so it’s not too difficult to add these on to the Tirohanga Walk, and at the right time of year after dark, glow-worms can be seen along the route.

Waikawa Bay
Photo by Sid Mosdell, Flickr Creative Commons
The next walk, Victoria Domain to the Snout, takes around three and a half hours to complete. From Waikawa Road and Sussex Street take the path to the top of Victoria Domain. From here you have a choice, one direction takes you through native bush all the way to the headland for panoramic views over the Queen Charlotte Sounds at the Snout, or you can take a shorter route down to the Shelley Beach to Bobs Bay track, again this route offers some fantastic views of the sound and the harbour.

Finally, 8km’s from Picton on the other side of Waikawa Bay is a short walk to Karaka Point, a grassy lookout. Along the winding route, you come across the ramparts and pits of a Maori settlement. From the lookout there are two tracks which lead down to the beach, and at low tide you can walk around the point.

There are some lovely scenic day routes which can be enjoyed on a motorhome rental or campervan home holiday from Picton, and if you’re feeling extremely strenuous there’s also the Queen Charlotte Track.