South Island Road Trip

From Wellington, we took the Interislander ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island.  The journey took 3 hours, and was the most beautiful ferry ride I had ever taken.  There were actually dolphins leaping alongside to the boat as we passed lush mountain greenery through the turquoise blue waters.

Once in Picton, there are plenty of buses and trains that can connect you to Christchurch; however, we decided to wing it ourselves with a road trip!  We rented a car for the day and immediately headed to the wineries of Malborough for some responsible drinking and driving.

Here’s a useful link that provides all driving distance and times between various destinations in New Zealand: Driving in New Zealand

Malborough is New Zealand’s largest winemaking region and is internationally known for its distinct Sauvignon Blanc.  Located on the northeastern coast of the South Island, Malborough is one of the sunniest and driest regions in the country.  However, relative to the rest of the world, this climate is too cool and wet to successfully produce any red wines except for Pinot Noir. We hit up 6 different wineries: Grove Mill, Spy Valley, Te Whare Ra, Wairau River, Gibson Bridge, and Highfield Estate.

Click here for the Malborough Winemakers Map pdf.

Grove Mill was a great introductory spot as the woman was very friendly and more than willing to pull out every bottle they had for us to taste.  She even cut some grapes from the vineyard for us to snack on.  They also had a counter which featured various herbs for you to smell and try to identify in each of the wines.  I particularly enjoyed the Riesling at Grove Mill.  She also recommended us to check out Te Whare Ra, which is the oldest boutique winery in Malborough.

Spy Valley is a sleek, modern, family-owned winery that derived its brand name from a  satellite communications monitoring station (spy base) nearby.  Not very subtle camouflage for these US spy satellites…

After buying a couple bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling at Spy Valley, we headed to Wairau River Wines, which was highly recommended for lunch.  The restaurant has a diverse menu with dishes all made all from the fresh local produce – the taste and quality was fantastic!

Our next winery was the single-vineyard winery of Gibson Bridge – their award-winning Pinto Gris and Gewürztraminer were amazing.  The last stop was the famous Highfield Estate, which boasts a full restaurant with all day alfresco dining and a viewing tower.  

We left Malborough around 5pm when most of all the wineries close.  We headed onto State Highway 1 to make our way to Christchurch, which was supposed to take about 5 hours (~200 miles).  We drove pretty much straight through, switching off driving when we got tired and taking occasional breaks to chase sheep.  Driving in general is not my forté, and having to drive on the left side of the road didn’t help the situation either.  But I’m glad to report, as is JR, that we both survived!  And most importantly, the car did too.

We took a quick rest stop at Kaikoura, a small coastal town famed for its seafood – even its name literally translates to “eat crayfish.”  We headed out to the rocky coast to check out the seal colony although most had disappeared from view by the time we showed up.

It was another 2-3 hours of driving time from Kaikoura to Christchurch, and it was around 10pm when we checked into the Dorset House Backpackers hostel.  Christchurch, also known as the Garden City, is the largest city in South Island, and New Zealand’s second largest urban area.  Peter Jackson filmed “Heavenly Creatures” on location here, based on the Parker-Hulme murder that took place in Christchurch in 1954.

It was  Saturday night when we arrived and SOL Square (South of Lichfield) was overflowing with beer, music, and people.  All the bars and pubs spill out into this open air square, which faintly resembles a giant beer garden / dance club.  There are large screens facing the center playing popular music videos, and somehow, the different music blasting from each bar seems to work together in an interesting, inadvertent mash-up.

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