Tandem + Vineyards = …..
Driving Wanaka – Blenheim:
The drive from Wanaka up to Blenheim is a little short of 800km. A big day in the camper van.
We set off from the Aspiring holiday park in the dark at about 6am and were soon surrounded by fog so thick that we could only drive at about 20kmph, the single lane bridges being especially terrifying.
Luckily I wasn’t driving and could snuggle cosy in the passenger seat in my onesie (it was dark okay, totally acceptable attire!)
Soon the sun started to rise and we were treated to stunning views.
By about 10am we’d made it up to the Glaciers: Fox and Franz Josef.
We toyed over going for a helicopter ride up to the Glacier but decided that since we’d been so spoilt by the views on the flight to Milford Sound that we’d pass and keep driving.
Coincidently we crossed paths with Ami, who was my ‘buddy’ back at Deloitte in London and her family who were driving in the other direction down to Queenstown. We had a lovely catch up outside their apartment in Franz Josef – a very random rendezvous!
We stopped off at the Punakaiki ‘pancake rocks’ on the West Coast which were stunning.
The section of the drive along the West Coast was reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road and we found NZ’s answer to the 12 apostles:
We didn’t make any other stops, other than a quick lunch and some photos, so arrived into Blenheim at about 6pm.
The last 200k of the drive were really great, through the winding Wairau River valley and then across the ‘plains’ where we barely saw another car.
We stayed in the Top 10 holiday park in Blenheim, which was better than the Queenstown counterpart.
Driving into the campsite we spotted a row of bikes for hire, including…a tandem!
There was only one for hire so we quickly reserved it for the next day. It was $30/day/bike for normal bikes or $50/day for the tandem. Fun and economical! 🙂
We only had one full day in Blenheim on the Saturday before we had to drive back to Christchurch on Sunday to return Britz so wanted to make the most of it.
Now, have any of you ever ridden a tandem? It’s terrifying. Considering that we are both reasonably proficient bike riders it was very difficult.
I started off at the back, which was bad for everyone….
Bad for me because you have no control over the steering and can’t even see where you’re going. You just have to stare at the back of the other person.
Bad for Ben because I wanted to see where we were going so much so that I kept leaning out to the right to look over his shoulder.
Apparently this is bad for the balance. We just about held it together as he sped around roundabouts with the bike on what felt like a 45 degree tilt, and as went ‘off-road’ for fun. 🙈
Our first stop for the day was an aircraft museum. Of course. I should really have just written a template blog for the NZ trip featuring aircraft museums 😉
This time it was Peter Jackson’s ‘Knights of the Sky’ WW1 exhibition.
We did get to wear capes to walk around, which was fun, and the planes were beautifully displayed.
There were also some artifacts from WW1 and interesting facts about fighters from both sides.
I particularly liked the original recruitment adverts and the intricately sketched flying instructions for pilots.
Example: after you have been successful in battle do not perform any stunts to celebrate as your plane may have been severely damaged.
Or the story of a pilot who successfully landed his plane with one leg out balancing the wing and leaning into the cockpit!
Enough of the planes. Onto the main event: wine!
After the museum we wobbled our way around 3 vineyards:
– Wither Hills;
– Cloudy Bay; and
I went on the front of the bike this time and it was all of 10 minutes before Ben found a way to amuse himself; whenever a car was passing in the opposite direction he would reach around and grab my chest.
This caused much mirth amongst the cars and I was forced to decide between batting him away and thus losing balance and control of the bike, or merrily peddling on whilst I was groped….
Luckily I could drown my shame with numerous tiny glasses of wine at Wither Hills.
We had a lovely woman called Denise who was helping us and we ended up leaving with a bottle of wine for the panyers…a trend that would continue at each vineyard.
Wither Hills had the best service of the three, and Cloudy Bay had a lovely garden where we sat and had lunch in the mildly warming Kiwi winter sun before moving inside to the fire!
At St Clair there was a deli called Pataka which sold delicious black garlic 😋 I bought a pot which subsequently delayed our entry to Aus as I thought I had to declare it. Customs didn’t seem too fussed by garlic!
We’d only started on our self-guided wine tour at midday (the planes had taken up the first couple of hours of the day!)
It took us about 20 minutes to wobble between each vineyard – the blocks were far longer than they looked on the map – and we spent about an hour at each, meaning we were just making our way home as it started to get dark.
We put in an especially strong effort to overtake a couple on road bikes but they clawed us back after a km or so.
No falls, no fall-outs and only minor dignity loss. A valiant effort on the tandem.
I’m writing this post from Port Douglas and on the flight up here I was reading an article about John Domandl who is visually impaired and completed the 420km(!!) bike leg of the Noosa Ultraman on a tandem. He and his partner went at 90kmph down some of the hills….no room for leaning out to look then. What an inspiration!!
To celebrate our safe arrival back in Blenheim we worked our way through a bottle of fizz that we had bought at St Clair in the campsite hot-tub.
This one you did have to pay for but was definitely better than the BATH at Creeksyde.
The camp staff had recommended Rocco’s Italian for dinner but it was closed for a party so we went for a pub meal next to the campsite. The food wasn’t amazing but it was just what was needed after a big day.
The final of the GREAT NZ GAMES came down to a simple game of pool. Ben won, taking the final score to 3 – 2…until next time!
Sunday morning marked the last day of our trip. Britz was due back in Christchurch by 4pm, so we had one final beautiful drive down the East Coast.
I was on whale watching duty all around Kaikoura, but sadly I evidently don’t have the same whale spotting prowess as my sister Iona who’s spent two summers working for North Sailing in Iceland. No whales were spotted this time.
Despite this it was a stunning end to an awesome trip.
The problem with travelling is then you just create a longer list of places you want to see. I now need to go back to Abel Tasman, and to Havelock for some mussels, and to Marlborough Sound…..the list goes on….
Coming next: Cairns and Port Douglas, Australia.
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