Well, to start off, I will have to be honest and confess that due to poor internet connectivity, I am now finishing this travel log from the comfort (and bandwidth) of the computer in my office at home. So, I will probably keep things fairly brief (since I am tired!) and focus mainly on pictures this time.
We arrived in Christchurch on Wednesday night, and had a lovely dinner with some friends. In the morning, we took a walk around the Christchurch botanical gardens, which were beautiful, and through the city center, which is still quite devastated from the February 2011 earthquake. Quite sobering to see all the damaged and shuttered buildings, and entire city blocks which are completely cleared away. A monumental recovery effort is underway, but there is still a long way to go.
After exploring Christchurch we started our drive up towards the Marlborough wine region, near Blenheim. This drive is said to be one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, but unfortunately for us, there were low clouds most of the way, which obscured not only the sun, but also the mountains which come right up to the sea. Since conditions weren’t great, we pretty much powered through, and made it to Blenheim in time for an afternoon coffee.
Blenheim itself is not much to speak of, but the wine country itself is absolutely stunning. Wine tasting there is really low key, we were usually the only ones in the tasting room. While I am fairly familiar with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay and other big producers are located in this region) I was very impressed with some of the other wined we tasted, particularly aromatic wines like Pinot Gris and (dry) Reisling. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were also very good, similar in character to Carneros here in California.
After the wine region, we headed to the Marlborough Sounds, just a short drive away. The Sounds is a large region of tree-covered islands and peninsulas jutting from the mainland out into the Cook Straight, which is the body of water between the North and South Island. The contrast between the blue of the sea and the green of the hills is spectacular, and the (very small) lodge that we stayed at had a stunning view right down Queen Charlotte Sound. We took a nice hike on the Queen Charlotte Track to burn off some of the excesses of the wine country. Sunset was memorable.
For the last leg of our trip, we headed West for an hour or so to the town of Nelson. We had arranged a three day sailing trip up to Abel Tasman National Park with a company called Gourmet Sailing. It would be an understatement to say that they lived up to both parts of their name!
During this little expedition we had a little bit of everything. From the sailing side, we started off with unusually powerful winds, gusting up to 35 knots at times, and pushing the boat to 8 or more knots with a reefed jib, and no other sails. We finished the trip with a lovely broad reach for 16 miles across Nelson Bay, with all sails fully deployed and a steady 15 knot breeze. In between, we did some kayaking, some lovely hikes in the national park, slept in some beautiful, peaceful anchorages, and ate tons of really good food. As they would say in NZ, it was absolutely brilliant!
Once we made it back to the harbor, we went straight from the boat to the airport, hopped on a small turboprop from Nelson up to Auckland, then switched planes to a 747, and flew twelve hours across the Pacific and back to San Francisco.
Really difficult to summarize, other than to say… what a trip! Am awesome combination of otherworldly natural beauty, super friendly people everywhere, more opportunities to do fun things than you could possibly have the time to take advantage of, rugby everywhere, great food and wine, and only a three hour time difference so no jet lag! I suspect we will be back…