Andiamo*

*Here we go

Buon giorno!  Part 1 of our Italian exploration is now up, so here are the things which have surprised, delighted and (very occasionally) horrified us during our 11 days in this fabulous country.

  • There are people on bikes EVERYWHERE.  From glamorous young ladies who manage to cycle / smoke / text all at the same time, to grannies doing their shopping, to men-who-should-know-better riding in just a pair of shorts (tanning v important around here), to serious roadies on state of the art carbon machines.  The latter often come clad in hi-vis, sleeveless jerseys (see note above re tanning) and certainly not wearing ‘regulation’ socks.
  • Only the ‘serious’ cyclists say ciao.
  • So many cycle tourists, that no one talks to each other.  Ed says I’m starting to look desperate for friends. There may be some truth in this.
  • Despite their terrible reputation (and, having driven in Italy, I dare say deserved), the drivers are very courteous to cyclists.  Even the trucks. Maybe everyone also rides a bike?
  • There are so many bike paths and marked routes.  More so in the flatlands near Bologna, but I don’t think a day has gone by without us riding a good chunk of our route along the FVG3, or the E2, or similar.  No idea where any of them go, however!
  • In addition to all that, we’ve seen a ‘Bike Point’ with all sorts of free facilities for cyclists, every bench beside a bike path has a bike rack (for when you need to stop for a cigarette, obvs), and every Decathlon has a set of bike tools available outside.  Italy LOVES bikes.
  • We knew it would be pretty, but the vine-covered hills of the Grappa and Prosecco regions blew us away.

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  • Everyone grows tomatoes.  And sometimes aubergines, courgettes, etc.
  • So.  Many.  Pears.
  • Coffee is very cheap.
  • Ditto for pizza.
  • Croissants may be the pride and joy of the french, but the Italians go one better by filling and coating them with deliciousness.

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  • Mozarella costs 55 cents in Lidl.  Do not be surrpised if we are somewhat round and squishy when we return.
  • Supermarkets have a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options.  AND cafes often have vegan pastries. (aside:  In an ideal world, I would be vegan.  But, cheese. And butter. I’m highly supportive of the concept though!)
  • It is nigh on impossible to buy porridge oats.
  • The only screwtop wine in Lidl is surprisingly drinkable.  And less than 3 euros.
  • Even the ordinary towns have ridiculously beautiful old buildings, peaceful squares and occasional cobbled streets (although that part is less good for us!) We particularly liked Este and Bassano del Grappa.  Also, Vicenza, although that has a star on the map so p’raps it’s not quite so ordinary.
  • Campsite prices started at a staggering height, but have since calmed down, thank goodness.
  • Pitches tend to be lumpy.  Unfortunate for those of us in tents.
  • There are millions of tents, rendering the above somewhat surprising.
  • In addition to standard campsites, there’s a lot of ‘Agriturismo’ which sometimes extends to ‘Agricampeggio’, offering a more charming, rural experience.
  • Free wifi is not a foreign concept, but it is often rubbish.
  • There are A LOT of tourists.  From all corners of Europe.
  • It’s really hot.  Particularly in the evenings.  Maybe that isn’t THAT surprising, but it has taken its toll on these poor softies after several months in cooler climes!
  • It has also rained nearly every day.
  • Lots of gardens contain small dogs.  Who do not like us very much.
  • There are loads of insects in the trees, and they are REALLY noisy.
  • There are also loads of mosquitos, and they are particularly vicious .
  • There do not seem to be any public toilets anywhere.
  • We did not get around to eating proper gelato!!!!  Good job we’re going back in a few weeks…..

Yesterday, we conquered the mountain range that lies between Italy and Slovenia.  It nearly broke us! But that’s another story.  Let’s just say that serious recovery substances were required 🙂

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Just in case we have any new readers, I feel I should share the link to our more sensible and informative cycle-touring journal.  Here you go: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/unprofessionaladventure2017 

You can also follows us on the F and the I, @unprofessionaladventurers.

Ciao for now.

 

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Down Under, done.

And just like that, our Australian chapter comes to a close.  This enormous country has exceeded our expectations for sure! Here are our highlights from the last 5.5 weeks.

Wildlife

Before my previous trip over here in 1999, I was obsessed with the idea of seeing a kangaroo.  I was similarly obsessed that Ed should see one on this trip, but there really was no need. We’ve seen approximately a million!  Still love them though.

We were pretty darn excited to see LOTS of whales on our day trip to Augusta last week.  All from the coast, some as close as 50m. We saw both Humpbacks and Southern Right whales, doubly cool.

Continuing with the mammalian theme, we’ve also seen dolphins, a wombat, possums and an echidna. No sign of the elusive duck billed platypus, but you can’t (quite) have it all!  We didn’t go anywhere that had native koalas, although we did see some in a very natural looking pen. Crazy cute even when captive.

We’ve loved the colourful and/or noisy and/or MASSIVE Aussie birds too, particularly the Kookaburras, even if they did reliably wake us up at dawn while camping.  The Ningaloo reef’s fish are also worthy of a mention – some real big’uns there too.

Wine

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this one before 😉  To avoid boring you all to death on the topic (again), can I just say that we LOVED Margaret River.  Fabulous wine aside (and there was plenty of that), it might just be the prettiest wine region we’ve visited to date.  


Camping

If I’ve counted correctly, we camped for 25 of our 38 nights in Australia.  While we’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of it (freezing temperatures in NSW notwithstanding!) we’d both pick the basic, ‘bush’ camping as our favourite.  We’d even go so far as to say that Australia ticked our camping box in ways that NZ was a little bit of a let down. In terms of specifics, Dunn’s Swamp over in NSW, plus Chapman’s pool down in South WA probably top the list.  Incredible surroundings, obliging wildlife (see above), millions of stars, and successful campfires made those extra-special.

We also had a wonderful time camping at Bullara cattle station further North.  There was just something about that place, and I’m not only talking about the adorable baby kangaroos!

More ramblings about camping can be found in our previous blog.

National Parks

Blue Mountains.  Just wow. Having been on my previous trip, I was a bit ‘blah blah blah’ about this one, but it actually knocked my socks off.  And Ed’s. Incredible views and great hiking, which we really did not do justice.

We also absolutely loved Kalbarri national park in WA.  Great coastline and amazing river gorges with ‘typical Aussie’ red rocks.  Bonza.

Have to say that we weren’t as blown away as expected by the Ningaloo reef…..we had a lovely time snorkelling but the coral wasn’t a patch on our recent trip to Ko Kradan in Thailand (AKA we’re ruined for life!!). I guess it’s completely amazing if you aren’t as broke as us and can go swimming with the whale sharks / manta rays / et al.

Cities

I was definitely excited about seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge again, but wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to like Sydney.  Beautiful old buildings sit alongside the spanking new, all framed by green spaces and that glittering harbour. And don’t even get us started on the coffee!  

Perth is pretty darn cool too, despite its isolation.  And it’s just up the road from Margaret River….what’s not to love!!  

Trees

You probably think we’re a bit weird here, but we really love Aussie trees.  They’re just different from European trees. And lots of them smell really good!

Waves

Australia does beaches very well, but as mentioned above, it’s not that long since we were in the paradise islands of Thailand.  They don’t have waves there though. The waves here are BIG. We’ve spent a good chunk of time in various places just watching the waves – and the surfers!  We could have done with slightly calmer conditions for our snorkelling escapes on the Ningaloo Reef, however.

And that, folks, is that.  Next stop Italy*!

*Spoiler, we’re actually already here, although our body clocks aren’t yet convinced…..

Camp like an Aussie

Hello from Perth, where it is raining so heavily that water is coming UP through the drains, a phenomenon I foolishly presumed was unique to the rainy old UK. Fortunately, we had far better weather for the majority of our recent camping trip up north through Western Australia!

Whereas in New Zealand we felt like we spent nearly all of our time surrounded by other Europeans, our Australian experience has been very, well, Australian.  Aussies take their camping very seriously, to the extent that even the most seasoned camper from overseas might find themselves ‘doing it all wrong’ and looking like a hapless tourist.  So here is our guide to camping like an Aussie, mate.

Camping equipment

You might THINK you know what you’re doing.  You might have all the gear, and a fair idea.  But I’m afraid that just won’t wash over here. We definitely fell into this category, with our (moderately fancy pants) MSR Mutha Hubba tent, super duper lightweight sleeping bags and thermarests, and (every adventurer’s dream) MSR Whisperlite stove.  We were quite pleased with the upgrades to our set up, involving the purchase of two Woolworths camping chairs and a $20 duvet to help with the chillier nights. But I’m afraid we were sadly deluded.

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No no no….

Tents are totally out, unless they are of the rooftop variety.

A campervan really won’t do (what are you, a tourist?)

To really camp like an Aussie, you need an OFF-ROAD CARAVAN.  The bigger, and shinier, the better

Of course, you’ll also need a suitably massive 4×4 for towing purposes.  Preferably white, with a snorkel exhaust. Ya know, for all the off-roading* and river-crossing you’ll be doing.

*I’m yet to be convinced how many of these actually go more off-road than the gravel tracks to campsites

You will also need to accessorise appropriately.  Bonus points for including as many of the following as you can physically strap to your vehicle:  barbie (goes without saying), bikes for all family members, hammocks, fancy outdoor furniture (we are not talking $10 Woollies chairs here, a full kitchen/living/dining set up is essential), solar hot water system, solar panels, and don’t forget the satellite dish.  

Pets can also come along, but they’re not welcome in the National Parks, which does seem to have curtailed their popularity somewhat.

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Yes really

And your boat. Don’t forget your boat.  If you’re already towing, just strap it to the roof of that 4×4, no dramas.

Where to camp

It turns out that our appetite for cheap, rustic camping is fairly well aligned with that of the Aussie camper.  Cheapskates may wish to start at the top of this list and work down!

Roadside rest areas (free!):  we were nothing short of astounded at not only the existence of these free camping options, but also their popularity.  By late arvo, they were absolutely chockers. These glorified picnic areas are provided by the Aussie highways people, and definitely don’t offer a lot of peace (although the main highways in WA more like a British B-road than the M6). But in some cases, they were actually quite nice, with shady off-tarmac areas for the tent people (that’ll be us then. Just us). For anyone following in our footsteps, we stayed at Galena Bridge and Nerren Nerren, and would recommend both!

Free campsites:  even more astounding than the roadside rest areas, these bonafide campsites are provided by the local council.  True, you don’t get a lot more than a couple of loos and the occasional fire pit, but both of the places we stayed at were absolutely ocean front.  Freshwater Point and Cliff Head, if you’re wondering!

National Parks ($6-11 per person):  this is a slightly sore point for us, as we couldn’t camp on the shores of the Ningaloo Reef due to everything having been booked online months in advance.  These facilities are wonderfully cheap, meaning that people don’t actually bother turning up in many cases….but the National Parks aren’t organised enough to resell the pitches. Boo! We previously had a great time camping at Wollemi National Park over in New South Wales, so it’s definitely an option to investigate. We DID camp at Yanchep National park, but that is a very odd place.  Think koalas in a pen, a fairy-lit cave available for weddings, and a PUB. 

Station stays (<$30 for two people):  in this area at least, many cattle stations have diversified to offer accommodation options.  Recommended in the Lonely Planet for providing a ‘fair dinkum outback experience’, we stayed at the 250,000 acre Bullara Station, and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Suffice to say they have plenty of space for campers.  Add to that charming facilities, an exceptionally friendly Aussie welcome, a communal fire pit with nightly damper, and obscenely cute orphaned kangaroos hopping around, and we were sold. The snag is that they are usually down long gravel roads, which are off limits to most rental vehicles (at least officially).

Tourist Park ($35-50 for two people):  we don’t mind camping at tourist parks.  It’s quite nice to have showers once in a while, and perhaps do some washing.  It’s been too cold to make use of the swimming pools, but we did like the ‘jumping pillow’ in Kalbarri, and I enjoyed beating Ed at pool in Carnarvon.  The latter also offered bowls but unfortunately we arrived too late to join in.

What to do

While we mostly content ourselves with plentiful cups of tea and cooking pasta on our little stove, the Aussie camping experience follows a particular formula.  It’s essential to arrive at your chosen camping destination with plenty of time for kicking back in the sunshine with your favourite tipple (beer for the men, wine for the ladies).  You’ll certainly be cooking your dinner on the gas barbie that you’ve brought along, but not before you’ve spent a good hour or so spinning a yarn with your neighbours (and we thought the Kiwis loved the chat!) If there’s a fire pit, you’ll have pulled off the highway into the ‘bush’ to stock up on firewood on the way – perhaps you even brought your chainsaw to facilitate this!? In any case, festivities usually wrap up pretty early, or become confined to the inside of those voluminous caravans, meaning a fairly peaceful night for those of us in flimsy tents (bogans permitting).

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Living the dream.  Solar shower out of shot.

Ten days left in Australia! We’re heading south tomorrow to visit Margaret River wine region.  The forecast isn’t brilliant for the next few days, so we’re booked into a YHA, but keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies and more camping, otherwise we’ll have no money left for Italian pizza.  Strewth.

On the Aussie road

Surprise surprise – we’ve been changing our minds again. I really do not know why we bothered making a plan, let alone booking flights. Suffice to say we’ve learnt a valuable lesson there!  New plan – 6 weeks in Australia, then back to Europe (and back on the bikes) mid-July.  We have a lot of fun to pack into this short time for sure!  Here’s a diary of our Sydneyside roadtrip.

Saturday 9th June

Weather – drizzle and low cloud

Did my 50th parkrun this morning 🙂 St Peters – a really lovely one in beautiful Sydney Park, with great views from the top of the hill.

Have campervan, will travel!  Actually, ‘campervan’ might be overstating things somewhat.  It’s a Toyota Corolla with a bed in place of the back seats. It’s also ten years old, has 360,000 km on the clock, and looks (and sounds) like bits might fall off at any moment.  Not to mention the mildly offensive paint job but, hey, it was cheap, and it will surely be warmer than sleeping in a tent. And I’m quite relieved that it doesn’t say anything blatantly misogynistic on the side (as many of them do) as I am not sure my rampant feminist self would cope.

Lots of traffic leaving Sydney and climbing up into the Blue Mountains. General tardiness meant night was falling as we tackled the steep, winding road towards our intended campsite.  It’s not the best idea to drive in the dark here due to the nocturnal habits of many large animals, and a quick perusal of the rental details confirmed that we weren’t actually insured to do so anyway.  Fingers crossed the campsite wouldn’t be full on this bank holiday weekend…..

Found a space, phew!  Couldn’t see much in the dark, but the toilets were clean, and it didn’t even rain tooooo much while we made dinner. We also just about succeeded in staying married throughout the process of installing the bed, and getting into it.  There isn’t a great deal of space, to say the least.

Sunday 10th June

Weather – Early cloud, clearing later

Wildlife sightings – KANGAROOS, kookaburra, cockatoos, red and purple/green parrots

Despite the best efforts of raindrops from the tree dripping onto the car roof, we slept reasonably well.  It was a bit on the chilly side, but we’d borrowed all manner of extra insulation from Rachel and Ian (our friends in Sydney), so at one point I was actually quite hot and had to take off a few layers.  

We headed to Hargraves Lookout for some Blue Mountains views before setting off in earnest.  We anticipated a short drive to Orange that would leave us with some time and energy for wine tasting.  However, by the time we’d followed the temptation of the ‘tourist drive’ and taken approximately a million photos, it actually took forever and a day!  We did get to drive through a cave though, AND saw our first kangaroos, so it was definitely worth it.

Hooray once again for Australia and its wonderful free campsites.  This one, at Macquarie Woods, is huge yet pristine. You don’t get many facilities for your $0 save for pit toilets and bins, but you do get peace and quiet (birds and campers with generators not withstanding), stunning views, friendly kangaroos and amazing stars.  Stars mean cold though, brrrr, we’re at something like 900m here!

Monday 11th June

Weather – perfect sunny day (but cold, starting with frost!)

Wildlife sightings – galahs, pelican, many other flamboyant birds that we can’t identify

Finally on the wine trail!  We started at Habitat, where the friendly lady had to wipe dust off the glasses, and we had chickens running around our feet.  Things were rather more polished at award winning Rowlee, but it didn’t have the same charm for us, and apparently we aren’t cultured enough to properly appreciate their expensive wines.  We ended on a high at Brangayne, tasting some excellent Chardy plus some fabulous reds. Add to that a visit to Lake Canabolas and a quick jaunt up The Pinnacle for some sweeping vistas of the area, and we were done for the day!

Now back at Macquarie woods campsite for more kangaroo / bird spotting before the long winter night draws in. Good job we have plenty of snacks (and a bottle of Habitat pinot….)

Tuesday 12th June

Weather – Cloudy and cold start but cleared up throughout the day.

Culinary experiment of the day – cheese toasties in the frying pan.  Highly successful.

Today was all about driving to Mudgee, although we did manage a short detour to ‘historic’ Millthorpe beforehand (nice enough but probably wouldn’t bother going back.)  Pretty views across arid countryside, until Mudgee itself which is a little more lush. Our best option was a proper campsite, which meant showers, hooray! And a camp kitchen with a fire pit, around which we chewed the fat with some very Aussie Aussies.  All for the princely sum of $25.

Wednesday 13th June

Weather – the coldest start to the day but lovely once the sun was out!

Notable wildlife sighting – WOMBAT!

Ed galantly offered to drive me around the wineries of Mudgee.  We visited three: Lowe, Huntington and Moothi, for a series of excellent (and free) tastings. A good time was had by all, although I need to learn that pre-lunch drinking is BAD.

Later, we headed across country into Wollemi National Park, and along a very bumpy, dusty road to Dunns Swamp campground.  What a wonderful spot. No swamp in sight, rather a flooded river and stunning limestone scenery. We took a short walk before dusk got the better of us, and were slightly over-excited to spot our first wombat!  No platypus though despite a visit to platypus point.

We were then hounded by possums all evening, while sitting around a marvellous camp fire.  $6 per adult, for which you get free firewood, in addition to the beautiful and immaculate campground!  Fortunately Ed is pretty adept at firestarting.

Thursday 14th June

Weather – colder again.  Who on earth decided camping was a good idea?

Thank goodness for the incredibly intense sunshine around here, otherwise we’d never get up in the mornings.  Quick brekkie and then we headed back around the waterfront and up to the Pagoda viewpoint. It’s so stunning around here.  Still no platypus though.

We emerged back into relative civilisation, and headed back to the Blue Mountains.  I was absolutely shattered so needed a nap once we got there, but despite this (and Ed’s increasing sniffles) we managed a bit of exploring.  Kudos once again to the Lonely Planet for directing us to some excellent and uncrowded spots (Govett’s Leap, Horseshoe Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls).

Bit of a stress later on as we realised we had some damage to the sidewall of one of our tyres.  Fortunately our bargain basement rental did come with a decent spare, so we Ed swapped it over at the campsite.  

Another cold evening (with Ed wearing the most clothes he’s ever worn all at once) but some cute feral cats provided distraction, not to mention a very noisy group having a campfire.  Fortunately they took their noise elsewhere at a reasonable hour!

Friday 15th June

Having gone to bed wearing all of our clothes, we woke up absolutely boiling in the middle of the night.  I could not camp like this for a longer period without having a serious sense of humour failure!

Headed to Katoomba for coffee, Leura for cheese-shopping and then Sublime Point for sublime (sic) views of the Three Sisters minus the crowds.  We then relocated to a viewpoint for lunch, agreeing we had ‘done’ the Blue Mountains so didn’t need to do another walk and would head straight back to Sydney.  However, the spectacular surroundings proved too tempting so we ended up doing a really great walk along the undercliff for fabulous views of Wentworth Falls. So windy though, the water was being blown uphill!

Then it was back to Sydney for our last night camping in relative civilisation.  

Saturday 16th June

Early start to tick off another excellent parkrun (Greenway) before heading back to Rachel’s to clean the camper (yet more joys of a budget rental).  No problems with the return, phew. Always feel a bit like these companies are out to get you.

We had a wonderful time but this particular camper did not leave us with the warm fuzzy feeling we’ve had with previous rentals.  It was just so small, and we’re too old / square to feel comfortable with all the stares its inappropriate paint job attracts. However, it was very cheap, took us where we wanted without incident, and did stave off the onset of hypothermia, so all good really!

Now for our West Coast road trip in a somewhat higher quality vehicle!

The last hoorah

There were times when I felt like we might be in New Zealand forever.  In hindsight, we probably wouldn’t have stayed for quite so long, yet both agree that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything we’ve done over the last 4 months.  Shame it didn’t include a bit more cycling….but it was good to squeeze in another mini-tour before departing!

The advanced planning that secured us surprisingly reasonable train tickets also left us with a fair bit of time between arriving in Wellington and departing for Auckland.  We consulted the map, and realised that there are a fair few small (yet sealed) roads, and even the odd stretch of cycle path just waiting to be explored.  It’s most definitely too cold to camp now, so we left the tent and various other surplus items at the YHA, and headed into……the roaring headwind.

Riding out of Wellington started well, with a purpose built cycle path well separated from the traffic.  This soon ended, and dumped us out onto what was essentially the 1m-wide shoulder of the freakin’ motorway.  Normal service resumed, with trucks passing us as if we didn’t exist.  Fortunately, we weren’t on it for too long!  Things took a turn for the significantly better along the Hutt river trail, until we realised my waterproof trousers had pinged out from under the bungy cord on my pannier rack.  Not the time of year to lose your weatherproofing.  A 20km detour to find them ended in vain, but spirits improved again when we found our cosy cabin for the night in Upper Hutt.

Just the Rimutaka ranges lay between us and the Wairarapa valley.  While there is a cycle trail, it’s off road, and we I didn’t fancy tackling this ‘adventure’ on our narrow-wheeled bikes, particularly  after the recent rain.  So, we opted for a short stint on the train.  This left us with just 20km to cycle to Martinborough, which in turn left us with plenty of time to go wine tasting before lunch…….17 wines were sampled and I had a hangover by 6pm….result….?!

Time to get back on the road, southward this time, towards Cape Palliser.  This part of NZ gets a special ‘off the beaten track’ rating in the Lonely Planet, so we weren’t expecting to see too many other tourists.  We were correct.  Some beautiful riding through verdant farmland and then along bleak, wild coastline was to be our reward for venturing away from the standard haunts once again.

Everyone seemed adamant that we must go to Cape Palliser lighthouse.  Have I seen too many lighthouses in my life or something?  I mean, I like them, they’re cool.  But I wasn’t enthusiastic enough to cycle many kilometres down (you guessed it) a gravel road to get there.  We contented ourselves with perusing the weird and wonderful collection of bulldozers in Ngawi village, did a bit of backtracking along the spectacular coast road, took a side trip to the charming settlement of Lake Ferry, and wound up at possibly our favourite campsite to date.

Our final day dawned…….somewhat torrential.  I’ll leave it to you to guess who got the one remaining pair of waterproof trousers (happy wife, happy life and all that).  My take is that it didn’t actually rain for very long but I am not sure Ed agrees 😉 In any case, cycling the far side of the valley and along Wairarapa lake was very nice indeed.

We hopped back on the suburban train to Wellington for a couple more nights, before heading up to Auckland on the ‘Northern Explorer’.  11.5 hours very well spent!  Beautiful views all day long, and we even got to revisit a few places we’d cycled through many weeks ago.

And that, as they say, is that.  New Zealand, done.  Tomorrow, AUSTRALIA!

 

Back on it

Believe it or not, this used to be a blog about cycle-touring!!  After a whole lot of backpacking and bus-riding, hiking into the hills, and drinking til we dropped, we actually mounted our trusty bicycles, and pedalled a few miles, fully-loaded once again.  From Blenheim, we headed North-West to the small town of Havelock, the last stop before we’d head into the Marlborough Sounds for a camping adventure.

Not much happens in Havelock, but we entertained ourselves with a short, scenic hike, and did our shopping for the planned trip.  We’d visited the Sounds on our NZ holiday 5 years ago, and it was one of our favourite places, if not THE favourite, so we were pretty excited.

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View from Cullen Point

We awoke the following day, packed up our stuff and headed to the campsite office to double check the weather forecast.  Oh dear!  Heavy rain was coming our way, with weather warnings and watches a-plenty.  Not really camping weather…..the weather changes here a lot more often than we change our clothing!

Sighs were sighed and we hastily altered our plans.  We cycled to Picton, holed up in a hostel (taking great advantage of their free Netflix, breakfast, soup and chocolate pudding) and wondered what to do next.  Should we bin off the Sounds and just head straight to Wellington??  The snag being that we’d then have an awful lot of time on our hands before heading to Auckland, without a whole lot more to see.  Or should we head into the Sounds as originally planned?  The snag being that we’d have to backtrack along the impossibly scenic Queen Charlotte Drive for a whopping 20K…..in hindsight, it was a bit of a no brainer!

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Views like this were no hardship

We had various camping options alongside beautiful Kenepuru Sound which would dictate the length of our journey.  The closest campsite at Moetapu Bay was out because it floods during a king tide….quite glad I read the info AND checked the tides beforehand!  The arduous terrain soon ruled out the furthest option, so we actually ended up camping at Nikau Cove, where we’d stayed at in our camper in 2013.  As we couldn’t remember much about it, this wasn’t a huge downside!  Amusingly, digging out the old photos I now realise we actually camped in exactly the same spot…..

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Higher levels of luxury 5 years ago

Funnily enough, not many people are keen on camping in the southern-hemisphere equivalent of mid-November, so it wasn’t exactly packed, and there certainly weren’t any other tents around!

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In a bid to sit still for as little time as possible, we took our campsite cookery to a new level, and made flatbreads!  They need work, but turned out pretty well and were an excellent accompaniment to our instant curry and mash.  Shame no one brought any wine…..

We didn’t actually freeze despite my concerns (and thanks to $20 worth of blankets to supplement our summer sleeping bags) but we didn’t repeat the swim from 5 years ago either.  We also didn’t drown in the king tide – I was worried, Ed just laughed at me.

Oh, and the stars were pretty awesome.  We have even figured out how to find the Southern Cross (how many astrophysics PhDs does it take blah blah blah….)

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We slept pretty well, meaning we had the energy to repeat the hilly journey all the way back to Picton the next day for more of these views…..

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and more chocolate pudding!!!

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Still no wine though.  Standards really are slipping.

My Emirates app informs me that we have just 17 days left in New Zealand.  We are SUPER excited about getting to Australia (assuming they let me in, obvs, given previous debacles!) but also really looking forward to one last hurrah on the bikes, taking the TRAIN all the way to Auckland, and catching up with the very lovely Jihanny Baby once again!

More weather warnings for tomorrow…..this time for wind.  Wish us luck on the bumpy ferry!  Travel sickness tablets have been purchased in anticipation…..

 

 

Show me the wine

In my last post, I covered one of the major draws which brought us back to New Zealand (spoiler: tramping, read all about it here).  The other main reason is somewhat less wholesome, and that is WINE.  We love wine.  And we love wineries.  We visited Waiheke Island (for the wine) during the first few days of our trip.  We cycled over 40km in the pouring rain in order to sample Carterton’s finest offering.  And we changed our entire trip plan to avoid missing out on the fabulous Pinot Noir in Central Otago.  So it was only natural that we would end up spending a chunk of time in Marlborough, New Zealand’s best known wine region!

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Some quick stats for you.  Marlborough produces around $1.25 billion of wine exports annually, with just $0.25 billion coming from the country’s other regions.  It is home to around 140 wine companies managing over 25,000 hectares of vineyards, employees over 2000 people, and crushes more than 300,000 tonnes of grapes every year.  It made its name thanks to its fabulous Sauvignon Blanc, which still comprises 85% of the wine produced.  And a whole lot of it is exported to the good old UK 🙂

Such a lot of wine just waiting to be savoured.  We decided to spend a full week in the region to properly check it out.  We visited a total of 12 wineries in that time – I’ll focus on the highlights rather than presenting you with a chronological list, but do scroll to the end for a summary!  We limited ourselves to three wineries per day, which we found to be plenty, given that we were trying up to 9 wines (looking at you, Wairau River!) per tasting.

The winery experience

The majority of tastings are pretty informal, taking place at the winery’s ‘cellar door’.  This usually involves standing up at the bar, with a host who will pour the wine and tell you all about it.  Some wineries offer a set tasting list, others allow you to choose.  Here in Marlborough, they are nearly always free, or ask just a token amount (eg $5) which is then waived if you buy a bottle.  Each winery and indeed each host will have their own style but, in our experience here in Marlborough at least, they have been universally warm, friendly, well-informed and passionate about their wine.

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You would die of boredom if I went through every tasting experience in detail, so here are a few highlights!

Giesen.  Our first Marlborough tasting and what a great start.  We were guided through the vast selection by an exceptionally knowledgeable German lady.  We particularly enjoyed their August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc – my love for barrel-fermented Sauv was born.

Nautilus.  A cosy cellar door with a window into the barrel room – always nice to see wine-making in action.  The wines were just fabulous, and we bought a bottle of their Chardonnay.  We thoroughly enjoyed picking the host’s brains about matching wine with food, and loved her take on cheaper wines – ‘different wines for different times’.

Spy Valley.  Worth it for the beautiful building and stunning location, but the tasting was fun too!  And they have a gorgeous (huge!) dog.  We enjoyed the barrel-fermented Sauv, and also their Merlot-Cabernet blend, which is fast becoming a favourite.  And I discovered that I do like some Riesling.

Jackson Estate. This was one of Ed’s favourites.  The tasting was really relaxed, and the building is super-cool.  The wine was excellent, and we were delighted to learn that it’s widely available in the UK courtesy of Waitrose 🙂

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Villa Maria.  It would be easy to bypass such a huge name, but we were glad we didn’t.  I’ve drunk buckets of their wine at home, but it was a real treat to try some of their smaller batches including a rather fabulous 2010 Merlot-Cabernet from their ‘wine library’.  And the host was absolutely brilliant – pretty sure he would happily have talked about wine all day.

Is it all about Sauvignon Blanc?

As I have already alluded to, it most certainly is not.  In fact, a few days ago I even noted that we were ‘a bit bored’ with Sauv!  However, a couple of new things have come to light.  Firstly, the trend for adding a bit of oak to the equation.  We both love oaky, buttery, Chardy, so this is definitely a step in the right direction for us.  Over the last couple of days we’ve also started learning that Sauv from different areas of Marlborough can be very different, which is making things more interesting, and will be very useful when selecting wine in the future.

The other biggie around here is Pinot Noir.  When we visited Marlborough five years ago, we were seriously underwhelmed by their Pinot.  In the interim, we discovered the Central Otago variety, but have more recently found it a bit too far in the direction of Ribena for our liking….whereas the North Island Pinots are a bit on the light side…..turns out the Marlborough variety is a good balance!

The area also makes a lot of ‘aromatics’ – that’s the more Germanic varieties such as Riesling, of which there is plenty.  Ed loves Riesling but I came to Marlborough thinking I was not a fan.  This has changed somewhat….give me an aged, dry Riesling and I’ll actually be pretty happy!  Now that my mind has opened, I also really did quite enjoy a taste of a Wither Hills Grunerveltliner today, not least because it felt like quite the privilege to taste something from a run of just 300 bottles.  AND Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer (which tastes of turkish delight!) was pretty fabulous too.

There’s also a good sprinkling of Chardy, which keeps me happy,  plus the odd Merlot-Cabernet, which is fast becoming a favourite.

If the rest of the world would just temper its obsession with NZ Sauv, we might get a bit more of the interesting stuff arriving on our shores!

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Is it all about Marlborough….?

It really isn’t.  We’ve had a great time here but enjoyed the other wine regions equally.  We absolutely loved Martinborough, Hawkes Bay, Central Otago AND Nelson, although we didn’t do quite such comprehensive tours there.  We’d encouraging any other budding wine-os to consider the alternatives!

We’ve also had great fun at a couple of ‘serve yourself’ wine bars.  The concept is brilliant, if a little dangerous…..

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We may pop back to Marlborough’s ‘Wine Station’ tomorrow if time allows, for one last tipple before we head off on our bicycles once again…. Good times!

The full list 

Summary of where we went and what it cost.

  • Giesen, $7 for 6 wines
  • Wairau River, free
  • Fromm, free
  • Spy Valley, free
  • Forrest, $7 for 7 wines
  • Framingham, free
  • Nautilus, free
  • Allan Scott, $2 for 5 wines
  • (Cloudy Bay, $10 for 4 wines, $15 for 3 Sauvignon Blancs, $25 for the ‘indulge tasting – we didn’t actually go in)*
  • Jackson Estate, $5 for 7 wines
  • Villa Maria, free
  • Wither Hills, $5 for 4 wines
  • Lawson’s Dry Hills, free

We would recommend visiting any/all of the above, if you’re ever in the area 🙂