Driving State Highway 1 to Marlborough is a post-quake revelation, as the road’s reconstruction continues.
Vast rock gardens protrude from the Kaikoura Coast shoreline, reshaping the seascape with an other-worldly aesthetic. From the road, the sea now seems to be a lot further out.
The ongoing road work around Ohau Point and at Irongate is particularly compelling – where mountains have been “moved” to resurrect the highway.
After departing from Christchurch, in just over four hours, the Awatere Valley was reaching out to greet me as I arrived into Seddon, the gateway to New Zealand’s flagship wine region.
With over 30 cellar doors studding the Marlborough Wine Trail, my first stop was at Yealands Estate, the world’s first carboNZero winery, established nearly 10 years ago.
Inspired by his love of the land, Peter Yealands, a towering wine eco-warrior, has passionately harnessed the sustainability ethos. Nestled on the Seaview Peninsula, the roof of the winery is taken up by the nation’s largest solar panel installation (over 1300 of them), while wind turbines, native plantings and free-range animals, from the over-friendly chickens (who rush you, en masse, like a group of muggers) to miniature Babydoll sheep, are all part of the mix.
I savoured many of his signature vineyard features by taking a self-guided drive on the 7km White Route Tour. The expansive vistas across the undulating folds of the vineyard, and the rolling Aratere landscape, are a visual symphony of nature in harmony.
Lookout Point is a celestial vantage point to gaze across Cook Strait, while the South Island’s tallest mountain outside of the alps, Mt Tapaue-o-uenuku, looms to the west. I also encountered another Peter Yealands trademark, music in the vines. Just as Prince Charles swears by talking to plants, Peter lavishes his impeccably maintained vine rows with lashings of classical music. He’s adamant that it boosts their fruit production.
Onwards to Blenheim, I did more winery-hopping along the “golden mile” in Renwick and Rapaura. As the sun bathed the Wairau Plains in golden warmth, I chuckled at the sight of numerous middle-aged visitors cycling their way from one cellar door to the next, in alarmingly wobbly fashion. Sauvignon Blanc and oysters. Could there be a better pairing?
I had my fill at Cloudy Bay’s Raw Bar, a very swish seasonal affair, swathed in well-groomed lawns and gardens, adorned in hanging egg chairs and oversized couches. I also ventured to one of the nation’s most decorated craft beer enterprises, Moa Brewery.
Beyond the tasting room, their beer garden’s picnic tables and shady trees is a sparkling setting for easy indulgence. Don’t overlook the food-truck – a converted 1974 Land Cruiser, from which Sandy’s Grilled Meat Company cooks up a storm.
I plumped for a Pablo Burger, a drizzling, decadent taste-bud sensation bookended in buns.
For a complete change of scenery on a Marlborough mini-break, head out to Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, located on the site of Blenheim’s historic aerodrome.
Two exhibition halls showcase vintage aircraft, from the two world wars. The Great War exhibition, Knights of the Sky, features a trove of aircraft, both original and full-scale replicas, on long-term loan from Sir Peter Jackson.
Many planes are fully airworthy, and can be readily deciphered by whether a drip tray is situated under their belly. Knights of the Sky is now complemented by the World War 2 showcase, Dangerous Skies.
The magnificently theatrical dioramas and captivating scenes depict the aircraft in compelling context – some recreate actual incidents, like the plane that crash-landed into the only tree standing on Flanders. They are sumptuous works of art, so thoughtfully and meticulously created. And the human stories behind the respective pilots of the aircraft are vividly brought to life.
Beyond the flying machines, the treasure chest of rare war memorabilia is simply gob-stopping, including personal items belonging to the famous Red Baron himself. I was particularly struck by the display of artefacts connected to Hermann Goering, including the cap he was wearing in 1945 when he was captured by the US 7th Army.
A variety of aviators are given the full-star Weta Workshop mannequin treatment, like Kiwi pilot, James Hayter, who was shot down over England and parachuted to safety, dropping down in the middle of a garden party. The assembled lovelies promptly swooned over him and offered him a stiffener. Just imagine it – quite the floor show.
The collection of magnificent flying machines are indeed magnificent, but the personalised human dimension threaded throughout the exhibitions, and the storytelling prowess, packs a poignant punch.
•Where to stay? Slap bang in the heart of Blenheim, just around the corner from that glorious urban oasis of Seymour Square, Blenheim Palms Motel delivers a delightfully relaxed and stylish roost. All studios and units are fully serviced, elegantly appointed and individually styled, with free wi-fi and the full sweep of Sky Channels. Whether you’re travelling solo, as a family, or have romance on the menu, there’s a room to suit you. The Spa Suite is a hands-down winner with the loved-up. Ann and Ian are charming hosts, who will go out of their way to ensure your Marlborough getaway is a memorable one. www.blenheimpalmsmotel.co.nz