Wine Tasting

At 9.00am nine of us made our way over the ridge of the Queen Charlotte Track to Victoria Bay by various means to be picked up by a water taxi to take us to Picton, where a minibus would collect us and take us on a wine tasting tour.

The wine buffs!

By 10.30 we were downing small samples of wine at our first winery – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and some others.  Individually, the samples were not very much but collectively they added up to be quite a lot.  At 11.00 we were in our second winery going through the whole process again.  Whilst I appreciated they all tasted different I would not have been able to tell which was which without being told.  The descriptions used by our hosts were quite farcical.  How many ways can you describe a glass of wine?  I don’t think my taste buds are working properly because I completely missed the hints of this and the subtlety of that.

Marlborough wine country

Before lunch we were at our third winery and at it all over again.  To make matters worse we were having lunch in the restaurant and this third venue where we drank two bottles of champagne, a bottle of white and sampled a dessert wine.  The white and the dessert were presents to Kelly who had designed the labels and they had just received 5* accolades for all aspects of the wine including the labelling.

By this time I had had enough wine and sat out the next two wineries.  My wine stamina had failed.  I don’t know how the others could keep it going so long, including Angela.  I perked up with our last visit to a chocolate factory, but they were very mean with their samples.

Andy's eyes are hidden but Ben's give the game away

On the water taxi back to Victoria Bay, everybody was looking a little jaded but we were nopt back in our luxurious baches for long and we soon perked up over an excellent roast and a few more glasses of wine.

Angela’a Bit

Had a great day on The Wine Tour of Marlborough………now one of the finest wine producing areas in the world. A Scotsman, back in the 1880s was the first to plant vines.  He was not a typical whiskey swigging Scot, having gained a taste for wine in France.  I enjoyed the tasting but also learning about all the different techniques used to get the best crop; any thing from frost windmills to planting at the time of the full moon.  Fascinating.

We spent the evening at Ben and Kelly’s rented house, they cooked a delicious roast and we left fairly early because we are off at 7 in the morning.  Saying goodbye was an emotional moment, its hard leaving them on the other side of the world again.  However I comfort myself with the knowledge that they will be blissfully happy together and make the right decisions in the future.

Hunter gathering and messing about in boats or the one that got away

Woke up to a gloriously sunny morning with not a breath of wind and the surface of the water was again like glass.  I was feeling excited at the prospect of going sea fishing and catching our meal for later in the day.

We had booked a four-hour fishing trip for the seven of us (no girls allowed!  This was men’s work).  Our prime target was Snapper, a very handsome fish and one which would provide a handsome meal.  We had been told that there were lots of them and we would be catching 5-6lb fish.  Our guide, Brett, a builder/fisherman, took us five miles up Kenepuru Sound to a spot adjacent to some mussel beds where he had had some success on earlier missions.

I have never actually been sea fishing before so, although I listened intently to his instruction, I was sure I was going to forget most of it when the action started.  Our rods were already set up, all we had to do was to load the hook with bait (we were using pilchards) and cast away.  It took a bit of getting used to at first and it didn’t help that the seven of us were crowded into a fairly small place.  A number of us found a pilchard dangling in our faces as we battled to get our first fish.

Kenepuru Sound

Ben and Stephen both caught a fish within two minutes of casting their lines.  It was exciting and it looked as if we were going to land loads of fish.  After another five minutes, when nothing had happened, Adam turned to me and said, “You’re bored, aren’t you?”  I must confess that I was a little disappointed that the fish had not leapt at the chance for me to catch them.  After several more minutes I reeled my line in to find no pilchard on the hook.  The Snapper are obviously a lot smarter that I had thought and can take the bait but not the hook.  Nobody told us about that.  This happened on several occasions and it was becoming a real challenge to catch one.  After about ninety minutes I felt a tug on the line.  I had got one!  The rod strained under the pressure.  I pulled the rod skyward and as I dipped it down towards the water I reeled in the line.  I could feel the fish fighting against me.  The rod strained further and it was clear this was a bigger fish than any caught so far.  Everybody was willing me to reel it in and Brett was giving me instruction.  Wow, this was fantastic!  My first fish!  I pulled the rod up towards the sky again and suddenly all pressure was gone.  The line had snapped.  Deflation and disappointment set in but with a tinge of excitement as to what might have been.

Happy boy!

Damage repaired, I cast again and waited and waited.  Some of the others already had the satisfaction of catching something.  I was afraid that we were going to stand here for four hours and I would have nothing.  I found that if I held a finger on the line I could more easily tell when a fish was nibbling the bait, rather than just watching for the end of the rod to twitch.  Half an hour later my concentration paid off and I felt a nibble and was able to detect when the fish had properly taken the bait.  The rod strained and I began the process of drawing in the rod and reeling in the line.  I was not going to let this one get away if I could help it.  I could feel the fish thrashing around on the end of the line but I could also feel that I was winning this time.  Soon the fish came into view as it neared the surface, and then it was out and in the boat.  I had caught my first fish.  I was so pleased.  I was particularly pleased by the end of the session because that was the only fish I caught.  Naturally, I would have preferred to have the excitement to have lasted longer and been more often, but it became clear that fish naturally do not want to be caught and that it is a challenge for both fisherman and fish.

In total we caught ten fish, all Snapper.  We were going to eat.  Returning to the jetty at Portage, Brett filleted the fish for us and also gave us the wings, which he said taste of chicken.  Stephen had a go at filleting, getting some experience for when he catches fish in Indonesia.  Brett had also gathered a bucket of enormous green mussels for us to take home.

We decided not to waste any time and cook our spoils for lunch.  Twenty fillets, ten wings and a million mussels plus salads, bread and a load of extras fed 12 very easily.  There is something very special about eating food you have worked for and is extremely fresh.  Despite periods of minor boredom and frustration, it was a really enjoyable four hours and gives me the desire to do something similar again.  There cannot be many more beautiful places in the world to go fishing.

Havelock here we come

After recovering from the feast, ten of us chartered a boat to collect us at 5.30 and take us up Kenepuru Sound to have a look at Havelock.  It was a stunningly beautiful evening and we drank beer, wine and champagne on the ninety-minute journey through the sound.  By the time we docked in Havelock there was no time to have a look so we went into the Slip Inn, on the waterfront and had dinner, a superb meal.

Another fab meal

Havelock is the mussel capital of the world but none of us could face more mussels after our lunchtime feast, which is probably a bit of a shame.  My steak was fab.

Soon after 9.00 we piled back on to the boat for the journey back to Portage in the dark.  Stephen took to the control and it was interesting watching the sonar picking up the shoals of fish beneath us.  If we had had sonar in the morning we might have been able to catch more fish.  While Stephen was driving, the captain brewed tea and coffee, although there was something rather special to liven them up.

Angela’s Bit

While the ‘boys’ went fishing Anna and I had some girlie time, showering, hairwashing and generally chilling out and chatting, even though it turned out hot in the sun!  The house we are renting is very comfortable with all mod cons including a spacious deck with gas bbq and amazing views.  The bbq came in to its own when the fishermen returned with their ample catch of snapper and mussels.  13 of us sat round the table and ate and drank merrily.

Paddle Power


Woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep.  Not sure the same can be said for some of the young people nursed hangovers.  I think as I got up some were just settling down to some much needed sleep.  Drawing back the curtains, I was greeted with a perfect scene, bright sunshine glistening of glass smooth water.  This really is heaven on earth.

Following a very leisurely breakfast we sorted out the mess our room had become and transferred everything up to the bach a little way up the hill from the hotel.  I was keen to get the ‘jobs’ done as there was some playtime to be had in such wonderful conditions.  Attached to the hotel is an adventure centre where we could hire kayaks.  A number of us wanted to do this so at 1.00 we gathered for our safety briefing, which included watching an eight minute film.  In it we were warned to expect the unexpected and a whale leapt out of the water and crashed down amongst some kayakers.  Andy Rankin’s eyes, which until this episode had been almost glued together, were out on storks and he began to regret having got out of bed.

The happy kayakers

We had booked the kayaks out for four hours but we were barely 100 yards off shore when a number of us were beginning to think, ‘Why did we say we wanted four hours?’  It got easier as we got into the swing of things.  I shared a kayak with Stephen.  I sat in the back, which meant I had to steer as well as paddle.  Multi-tasking does not come easily and I kept losing contact the peddle on the left side and had difficulty finding it.  Popping ashore, out of sight of the hotel, just in case anybody was watching, we remedied the problem by swapping position.  Problem solved.

Looking good

We had a planned route but within half an hour of setting out the wind picked up and a swell on the water began to develop, particularly in areas less sheltered from the land.  It made for good fun but we soon realised that if we went the full distance a large part of our return journey would be into the wind and the swell, making it all the more difficult when we were beginning to tire. We cut short our route, but still managed to cover quite a considerable distance and were out about two and a half hours in total, which was long enough.  We were quite wet from the spray and the sunshine of the morning had been replaced with some threatening clouds.  The temperature had also dropped and combined with the strengthening wind it was becoming quite chilly.  We will know tomorrow that it was long enough when our shoulders are stiff.  I might also have some problems in the groin area from the sitting position and the bracing of the knees against the side of the kayak.  It was great fun, though.

Angela’s Bit 

I was sure I would wake with a headache!  But no!  hooray!

Today the sun shone and the promise is for continued good weather.  I am looking forward to enjoying this pretty spot, in a more relaxed manner.

Anna and I sat on the veranda of The Portage Hotel, sunning ourselves gently and watching people come and go.  The clear up operation after the wedding was in full swing.

At 2pm we took over the house, which we have rented for the next 4 days.  It is very modern and convenient with the same, now commonplace, breathtaking vistas.

I cooked spag bol for 12, so normal service is resumed!

What a day!

As the day progressed the weather began to improve.  The sun made every effort to break through and just as quickly as it did so another brief shower dampened our excitement.  Kelly, throughout the morning and into the afternoon, was getting updates from Father Brian as to his progress from North Island to South Island.  It was touch and go.  The airline was also keeping us up to date with the situation and we heard that the plane carrying Father Brian had reached Blenheim but was circling the small airport, contemplating landing.  Fortunately it landed.

Stephen, Anna, Angela & Adam

I found myself taxiing people up to Ben and Kelly’s bach for hair and make-up and then discovered I was to collect the bride and bridesmaids and take them down to the Portage.  The weather was gradually improving.  The priest arrived in Jim’s van at 5.00 and delayed things a little as they still had to get themselves ready.  Eventually, about 20 minutes late all was ready and Kelly looking absolutely stunning emerged with Kay and Megan, the bridesmaids, and I drove them down to the portage.  As we arrived the sun came out and the temperature went up several degrees.  As Kelly walked across the lawn with her father and down to the front of the assembled gathering, Father Brian was still organising himself, putting on his robes and sorting through his papers.

Kelly & Ben sign the register with Father Brian

It was incredibly relaxed and informal.  After the introductions and welcome the serious business of the marriage took place.  Although it wasn’t serious at all, it was full of humour and smiles.  The only serious bit seemed to be my reading from the First Letter from Paul to the Corinthians.  The happy couple looked just that and are so right for each other.  The setting was perfect with glorious views looking out across the sound.  This is what we had come to New Zealand for; it had just taken us a month to find it.

Adam & Anna

The ceremony over, we all had a surprise in store.  A motorised catamaran was organised to take us all out for a cruise around the sound for an hour during which time we were to drink champagne and eat canapés and mussels.  By now all cloud had dissolved and the evening sunshine was the icing on the cake.  The sound looked stunning and the company was great.

Returning to the Portage we were ushered into the function room where the reception was being held.  Once we were all there Ben and Kelly processed in to the Star Wars theme.  It was here where traditional procedure did not follow.  Before we ate, Jim, Kelly’s father spoke.  Ben responded and Kelly also gave a speech.  All speeches were very good.  Ben got a little choked when he professed his love for Kelly.  It was remarkable that he had got this far through the day without displaying emotion.  He has a reputation for being emotional at times and there were plenty of reasons why he should be emotional today.

The wedding breakfast was a buffet of superb food, fish, salads, potatoes, lamb and beef.  It was all really tasty. After the main course it was time for the Best Men, Rijan Slater and Ben Shutes, both old school friends of Ben, to do their worst.  They did a good job and appropriately told the assembled friends and family a few truths about Ben in his pre Kelly days.  They certainly had enough material to choose from.

After the sweets we danced the night away until shortly after midnight.  While Angela and I sidled off to bed, many of the younger revellers kept the party going well into the early hours!

A great end to the day after such a worrying start and a really happy occasion.

Angela, The Mother of the Groom’s view of the day 

After the worries about the weather in the morning it turned out perfect in the end.

Having had a very stressful early morning; woken by the ‘almost cyclone’ storm, things were not looking good!  There had been severe weather warnings issued across North Island and the Marlborough Sounds where we were staying.  My imagination ran wild at 4am thinking that the roof might blow off or there would be a landslide.  Luckily we felt we were in a little part of paradise and the end of the day was a complete contrast to the start.  It turned into a magical dreamlike experience and I will treasure the fond memories.

Ben and Kelly have put a huge effort into planning their wedding and all that work paid off.  They chose a vintage theme.  Kelly’s dress was stunning, a straight, sleeveless, cream full-length shift with a slashed back from neck to waist and fully bejewelled!  It sparkled in the welcome sunshine and she looked reminiscent of an early Hollywood star.  Gorgeous!

The service was brief but touching.

The happy couple, Ben & Kelly on the cruise

The cruise, which followed was a surprise to most of us guests and it was an ideal opportunity for the photographer to do his stuff.  The beautiful scenery, wooded hills dropping steeply down to the sea and the occasional building peeping through the foliage was all the more appreciated from the boat.  The sun continued to reflect brightly off the water, echoing the light on Kelly’s crystal dress.

We had a lot of fun at the reception; cheery conversations, laughter and tears with the speeches, dancing and photo booth operating.

The seven hours flew by, there had been a lot of activity, not a moment to get bored;  a stupendous evening.

Getting together

Fresh snow on the hills above Kaikoura

The overnight rain had gone and we were greeted with bright sunshine and snow on the surrounding hills!  The wind had dropped to nothing and the sea flattened out sufficiently for the whale watch sailings to go.  The weather forecast on the television talked of the ‘calm before the storm’ and there were over 100 severe weather warnings for the whole of the North Island and the top of South Island.  At the moment it is hard to imagine that the weather could deteriorate so much so quickly.  This is New Zealand and I believe it is capable of throwing anything at us whatever the season.

From the train

The train journey was spectacular with the first 70km hugging the shore line passing flocks of sea birds and colonies of fur seals lounging on the beaches.  On the inland side of the train the mountains rose up majestically.  Eventually we headed inland through the rolling Marlborough wine country, through Blenheim and on to picturesque Picton.  As we got off the train, Adam, Ben and Jez Robertson were there to meet us and help with the carrying of our luggage to the Avis office where we arranged the hire of another car, a larger one this time to accommodate Stephen and all our luggage.  It was good to see the boys so relaxed.

Car organised, we went to the supermarket to buy all the food for 10 people for the two days following the wedding, before driving round to Portage.  The drive was incredible around Marlborough Sound.  It has to be one of the bendiest roads I have ever been on.  With the exception of a short straight section half-way it was bend after bend as it followed the lines of the coast.  It took all my concentration and I was grateful the new car was an automatic.  The scenery is absolutely stunning with tree-covered hills dropping into blue/green water.  There are so many little inlets and coves it is such a fascinating area to explore.  The Queen Charlotte Trek, which passes through this area is one of New Zealand’s top treks and is one I seriously want to do on another occasion.

View from the Portage

Arriving an hour and a half later at Portage we met up with Anna and Stephen.  Our family was complete and it was great to have them all together, such a rarity with them being all over the place.  Ben and Kelly have chosen really well for their wedding.  The hotel grounds drop down to the water’s edge with layer upon layer of hills and promontories disappearing down the sound.  Stunning!!!

In the evening we all gathered for a BBQ and a drink or two to catch up with old friends who had come out for the wedding and to acquaint ourselves with some of Kelly’s family.

In the night the weather changed and the rain beat heavily down on the roof of the apartment we shared with Adam, Anna and Stephen.  The wind howled and we could feel it tugging at the walls and roof.  Several times the noise woke us up.  It lasted for hours.  We could hear water dripping through our ceiling on to the carpet by my head.  At some point in the night Angela persuaded me to put pillows by the doors to stop them rattling in the wind.  I kept feeling cool air blowing across my face and head from the patio doors from the balcony.  It was a wild night.

At breakfast we got a call from Ben, who had had little sleep as their bach at the top of the hill had felt the full force of the wind and shook all night, telling us that the wedding had been put back two hours to 5.00pm.  The priest, who was flying over from North Island, had had his flight cancelled and was hoping to get a later one, hoping the storm would abate. All ferries between the two islands have been cancelled for the day and they have even closed the Queen Charlotte Track and pulled everybody off.

As I write, things are beginning to calm down, the rain has stopped and the sun is trying its hardest to break through the cloud.  Assuming the priest can get here the wedding will take place at 5.00 as planned but it will probably have to be indoors rather than on the ceremonial lawn, which is a little damp and might be a little chilly in this, the worst New Zealand summer for years!