Life is good. Most excellent start to 2011. 🙂
So the day after my last update, the skies finally cleared up in the late afternoon. We couldn’t go canyoning since it was still poring in the morning, but as the rains slowed down to a trickle, we went over to Rippon for a wine tasting. Rippon has got to be one of the most scenic vineyards ever. Situated on a gentle rolling slope, it overlooks the turquoise blue Lake Wanaka and the mountain ranges in the far off, misty distance. We tried a total of 8 wines, and left with a bottle of their Gerwurtztraiminer (bottled with a cork).
Hopeful that the rain had more or less stopped, we set off for a short 1.5 hour hike up Mt. Irons, where we were afforded with gorgeous 360 degress views of the entire Wanaka region. Unfortunately, at the summit, the rain started coming down again, so by the time we got back down, we were soaked to the skins.
But when it did really, really stop raining later that afternoon, it was clear that the worse of the storms had passed. The clouds swiftly parted to give way to brilliant blue skies, and the sun finally peeked through again. We set off with skipping steps on another hike, this time hugging the shorelines of Lake Wanaka.
On the 29th, we departed for the West Coast, cutting through the mountains till we came to the edge of the crashing waves on the western shore. There, the Franz Joseph Glacier loomed up close, and we joined a large group on a 4.5 hour hike on the slippery, slow moving ice.
On the 30th, clear skies greeted us when we donned on woolies and wet suits and slid giant inner tubes on to float down the Nelson Creek and into the Dragon Cave. Black water rafting! What a ton of fun! And we were in luck too. Just a few days ago, the water levels had been a couple meters higher, making cave navigation treacherous and impossible. But we could safely float into the cave in the darkness, safe for the soft greenish glow of glowworms above our heads.
In the late afternoon, after we had warmed our frozen bodies in the hot tubs, nourished with muffins and glasses of wine, we drove off again, this time up north, to the Marlborough region. It’s always such a delight to drive past straight rows after rows of vines – when you stare past the vines, the background almost looks like a moving cartoon. But our destination was not to the vineyards, at least not yet. We were headed to the Marlborough Sounds.
On the eve of the new years, we pushed off in three kayaks down the Queen Charlotte Sound, everyone in high spirits. The waters was calm, and after a couple hours of paddling, we arrived at a rocky bay. It was low tide, perfect for clamming! Unlike in New England, where people I’ve seen clamming use long tubes to burrow into the sand, we simply bent down into the water, and used our hands to feel for clams lodged halfway into the soil. We quickly filled up a pot full of clams, and Harry, our guide for half a day, plucked some green mussels for us as well.
It was not yet 4pm when we arrived at our camping spot for the night. It was not the most isolated of spots, since the site was just off the Queen Charlotte Track (which one can cover in 4 days of walking), and across the bay we could see tiny little houses lining the shore. But it was new year’s eve, and the sun was shining – and would shine for another 6 hours before it finally set for the night.
We had quite a feast. Dinner started off with pumpkin and chicken soup, before we quickly moved on to the clams and mussels. Goodness! They were so sweet and just a tad briny. Made for a most memorable meal. We finished off with re-hydrated Mexican Chicken, Beef and Pasta, and Beef Curry, washed down with a bottle of the Tarra Pinot Noir.
Nobody quite stayed up past midnight – TPR crawled into her sleeping bag at 10pm and refused to get out… the rest joined in shortly after.
The clouds seemed to have set in the morning – perhaps Marlborough was experiencing a hangover like most of the rest of its inhabitants after the rowdy new year’s celebration. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and took off, anxious to beat the building headwinds and waves. It was a tough paddle back. Oftentimes, I was half bent into the winds, struggling to punch through the air with my paddle. We did stop for a quick mid-morning salami and wrap snack though, but by the time we rolled back into Picton, everyone was sore, drenched and cold.
A spa seemed like an excellent remedy to our suffering, but we soon found an even better thing: our vineyard house right by rows and rows of vines. It’s a sprawling house, with a gigantic kitchen and living room, and a beautifully manicured garden in the back complete with a trampoline. The bright, white bathroom with baywindows opening to rows of roses seemed like a paradise after the outhouse toilets. 🙂 And the vines! Right at our doorstep, ours for the next two days, to wander about in.