For a few days, we were skirting bad weather. We heard rumor that a low was creeping northward from Antarctica, making the Cook Strait a wavy mess, blowing Wellington to bits with strong wind. The day after we hiked Mount Doom! they closed the trail to hikers to let the storm blow its way through. So, instead of heading straight to Wellington, we decided to explore the North Island’s wine country: Hawke's Bay, Wairapa and Martinborough regions. As we drove our way around the tight windy roads, we stayed just ahead of the big black clouds at our tail.
These two photographs are taken standing in the exact same spot. To my right: black clouds, to the left: a sunny blue day.
But, with New Zealand's strong winds, this weather moves fast!
So, we dawdled around drinking cider, beer and wine trying to avoid the bad weather. We popped into farmers markets and tried all manner of tasty fruits, vegetables, venison sausage, white bait omeletts, homemade kombucha, artisan cheeses - including a blue cheese made by Patsy the cow!
P.S. Whitebait is a tiny little fish. Looks a little weird, but tastes very good.
We stopped into a chocolatier for lunch and an iced chocolate. One has to keep her energy up for all this mountain biking we have planned!
Look at that! You know you want some, too.
We don’t really have a plan. We follow where the road leads, generally making our way in a Southwest direction. We stop when we find something funny or beautiful to explore.
When we find little camp spots with beautiful scenery, we stop to rest for the night. One of my favorites:
The bad weather finally catches up to us in a little town called Woodville. We park in a free campsite for the evening with only three or four other campers. With dedication to ensuring we have an excellent view, we maneuver the van into a spot with her back door facing a large cliff, river and mountain. We open back the door, and take cover inside on our comfy bed, reading books and writing while the rain pounds down.
In seeking the best scene for our back door, we parked Sister Mary Francis on uneven terrain. Over the course of an hour, Andrew and I both slide to the right, leaving me reading in the door well with Andrew snuggled comfortably against me. Mosquitos take refuge in our little van hut, thousands of them lining the inside roof, just waiting for us to fall asleep and leave them to their midnight snack. We spend a solid hour+ shooing or squashing. No matter, the view is good.
In a tiny area called Wairapa, we make a random stop at a tiny vineyard. As we pull into the parking lot, a man on a four wheeler and a speedy dog rush from a house to the tasting room to greet us. The dog’s name is Belle, and she has a job: to chase birds away from the grapes.
We chat as we taste the man’s wine. It is a single estate vineyard, meaning all the grapes used in making his wine come from the vines grown on his land. He does not source any grapes from anywhere else. He is also not a winemaker by trade. Originally, he was a farmer, but in the 1990s, the farm produce prices were so depressed he was forced to sheer sheep to make ends meet. One day, his neighbor planted grapes, and this farmer thought to himself: “I could do that, too!” So, he did. He took all of his farmland and converted it to wine grapes. He makes his own wine, his wife handles the accounting, his sheep trim the leaves from the grape vines, and Belle chases away the birds.
“I never even drank wine before starting my vineyard!” He tells us.
I am always fasciated when a person jumps into some endeavor without the least notion that he shouldn’t. Is there a profession more intimidating than winemaking? There are complicated factors at every stage of the process: growing, harvesting, preparing the grapes, fermenting, bottling, selling the wine. It’s a competitive market, too, with all the many wine producing regions in the world competing for their little share of the market. Yet, here he was jumping in headfirst and making it work. His vineyard isn’t the premier winery in New Zealand, but he sells enough wine to keep his family fed and his land in his possession. He enjoys drinking wine now. He reports the only part he doesn’t enjoy is the sales process.
What could we do if we didn’t realize we weren’t "qualified" to do it?
In Martinborough, we stop at a delicious coffee shop where we sample a baked bean and mince pie. New Zealanders, as they are apt to do, wander in and out of the cafe freely - without shoes. "No shirt, no shoes...No problem!" They do this in grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, anywhere. It simply isn't an issue here. Andrew meets a cat wearing a tuxedo who is loathe to do so, but stays a while on Andrew's lap. We sample wines at three more wineries and acquire bottles for the remote areas of our road trip. One simply cannot go without wine!
Then, we escape to more remote areas. We try to reach the Rimatuka Mountain Bike Trail, but rain has caused rivers to overtake roads. So, we pause to say hello to our Pacific Ocean then circle back and find an equally beautiful spot on the other side of the bay.
We park at the foot of a hiking trail called Pinnacles, over looking a little river that leads to the ocean. We hike the trail and enjoy the strange land formations made underwater, then pushed out of the ocean by one of New Zealand’s big earthquakes. A few pictures to send you on your way - and even two with me in it. Just to prove I do exist.
At least the neighbors are friendly.