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The view from the Interislander
Taking a cruise in the middle of my cycling adventure was never something I’d planned on, but one could be forgiven for thinking they were on a luxury sightseeing voyage though the Queen Charlotte Sound. In actual fact the boat trip was the crossing between the islands of New Zealand, from North to South on the Interislander. Essentially a practical journey, it must rank as one of the most stunning three hour ferry crossings anywhere in the world. Pulling out of Wellington gave panoramic views of the capital nestled snugly in between the surrounding hills, and within a short time the open water turned into the extensive sounds that protrude from the Marlborough region. The huge Interislander vessel negotiates it’s way through some relatively tight turns as it makes it’s way to the harbour. On either side of the boat one can enjoy breathtaking scenery – native bush, steep and untouched mountainsides, and all in the knowledge that most of this land remains largely unaffected by man’s destructive hand. There is evidence of flora that was introduced by the settlers, but efforts are being made to restore it to it’s natural state.
Omaka's detailed display
Picton was only ever on my route simply because that is where the ferry docked. I had no intention to stay longer than it took me to organize myself for the cycle to the coast. Two days later I found myself still sat comfortably by the waterfront watching the boats come and go, wondering quite what had happened. Marlborough is what happened.
Leaving Lola to enjoy the view, I began my exploration of the region with a trip to the Omaka aviation centre in Blenheim. A self confessed ignoramus when it comes to flying machines, I was primarily attracted to Omaka because of it’s connection with Peter Jackson. Aside from making films, his passion is aircraft, and he boasts a huge personal collection. This centre houses countless planes, original and replica, from WW1 as well as an array of memorabilia. The whole think is funded by Peter Jackson himself, and WETA workshops has provided typically fantastic models to bring it to life. If aviation isn’t really my thing, history very much is, especially WWI and II. Highlights for me included a section of the wing from the Red Baron’s actual plane, and video footage taken of bomber in action. I can’t imagine flying in one of these relatively rickety craft holding a cumbersome, heavy camera over the side. Made ‘em tougher back then, they did.
One of the houses on the hill
I finished the day with a tour around the Seresin winery, enjoying free samples of many varieties of wine that my palate is not yet educated enough to fully appreciate, but certainly content to enjoy nonetheless. Having far too much fun to get back on my bike, I woke early to take a run around the picturesque setting of Picton Harbour. 30 minutes later I’d dragged myself up to a viewpoint overlooking the scene below – boats swaying on a clear blue water, nestled into the looming mountains that rise from the Sound. Had I any breath left to take, it would have been long gone, but 7 months of cycling means a gentle jog up a hill is plenty enough to leave me gasping anyway. The afternoon found me continuing my decadence with a ride on the mailboat ferry. Now this was a real treat for me. Evidently, there are over seventy permanent residents who live around the Sound in locations which are not served by road. Many of them are fantastically remote slices of paradise, popping out of the hillside with nothing around but nature itself. The mailboat does a run a few times a week to take postal deliveries out to these folks, as well as groceries and other bits and bobs. Cleverly, the vessel is modified to take passengers as well so that people like me may enjoy a 4 hour cruise through the channels and waterways of the extensive Sound. The people living out in the sticks are an assortments of farmers, artists, retired business men and those just seeking to withdraw from society. I still ponder if I could deal with it – a more beautiful setting one could not imagine, but that level of isolation would be too much for me I fear. Perhaps I shall just vacation there when I have made my fortune.
Lola checks out the view
After another night of restful sleep in the comfort of the ‘Villa,’ a most homely backpackers located in the town, I capitalised on the cool morning breeze to get started on my Southern adventure. The sun was gearing up for a busy day, and the rolling hills of Queen Charlotte Drive had me sweating profusely before 9am. Despite the windy and hilly road I felt like I could ride it forever – to my right lay the Sound in all it’s glory, and each glace provided me with a picture postcard of a view. It’s times like this that I realize just how lucky I am to be able to ride my bicycle in places like this – the spectacular experience of the ride is inevitably a much more involved affair on two wheel than it would be in a bus or car. After 20 miles or so the road dropped inland, and pushed through the rising and falling landscape until it reached two saddles of reasonable scale. A few kilometers of a substantial grade wound me to the top of the second of these, after which I flew downhill almost all the way to Nelson.
My first night's accommodation
Ah Nelson- a place I will always remember in the sunshine. For the two days I spent there I was treated to perfect weather, and just about perfect everything else. Apparently I had unconsciously decided that there was no hurry to reach the West Coast, and so decided to take another day off. I had just ridden over two big hills, after all. Ahem…
At risk of going soft, I gladly accepted the offer of accommodation from ‘The Honest Lawyer’ on the Monaco peninsula. A few cold beers later in the bar, I headed upstairs to my plush room, and slept like a baby. The hard life on the road is good, but the sweet life in warm beds also has a lot to offer! The rest of my time in Nelson was spent in similarly high spirits. Riding around town I toured the museum of World of Wearable Art, a concept which began in the city and has exploded worldwide. An annual show now takes place in Wellington, but the history and origins are back down south. Fashion is not my area of expertise, but wearable art is an idea I love; like nothing I have seen before. The evening was spent in the company of Woodi – owner and operator of the Wakefield Quay B&B, situated meters away from the waterfront. Kindly offering me a place to stay for the night, it became clear I’d landed on my feet again. The house is a 1905 colonial villa, and the accommodation pure luxury. I felt grimy and undeserving tiptoeing in with my bike gear, but Woodi made me feel so welcome that I soon forgot my lack of clean clothes, not to mention the unkempt appearance. Woodi had tickets to a gig at the school of music, and was only too keen to bring me along. How glad I am that she did. I can’t say I’d heard of Whirimako Black beforehand, but my ignorance should not belie just how large a fanbase her incredible talent has brought. A Maori soul diva, Whirimako performs in both Maori and English with a voice of great power and caliber. My growing interest in all things Maori was only increased by her show, but from a purely musical standpoint it was a delight.
I rode out the next morning still humming some of the tunes, and trying to form the words in my head despite the language barrier. A two day ride west led me through valleys and hills to the Buller Gorge, another example of New Zealand’s ability to leave my jaw on the floor. A night in my tent by the river gave way to the next day, and my eventual arrival at one of the jewels in this country’s very well endowed crown – the West Coast.
Accommodation and activies in Marlborough and Nelson made possibly by local owners and operators, as well as Destination Marlborough and Nelson-Tasman Tourism, see Sponsors page for more details
Coming up next - The West Side adventure - Westport to Haast, and across the pass to central Otago