Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wine and dine

Jordan and I enjoy a glass of wine, as perhaps you do. But we were offered a new experience to go along with wine drinking - that of grape picking. So early in the morning off we went with friends (Ed and Fran of SV AKA) to the Cottle Hill Winery just a short distance from Opua New Zealand. We met the very friendly and gracious owners who gave us a few instructions on what to do and what not to do.

We did not actually pick the grapes, we clipped clusters from the vines...with very sharp clippers. Number 1 rule is to keep your fingers away from the clippers. The owners, Mike and Barbara, had previously spent a few hours clipping many of the excess leaves from the vines which left the grapes quite visible and therefore seldom necessary to search for them behind the many leaves. Many other wineries do not do this which makes it more difficult for helpers to find and clip away the grapes.

Jordan ready to clip hanging grape clusters

We clipped and then dropped the grapes into a yellow bin at our feet. Before the bins got heavy, we dumped them into a bin at the end of the row where they would be picked up by a truck when full. It was amazing how fast it all went. After a couple of hours, we all went up to the house for a coffee break where we were provided with a snack and refreshments. Then back down to the vines for more clipping till lunchtime.

Job well done (Barbara, Ed, helper, Judy, and Fran in front)

Mike and Barbara offered everyone a superb, barbecued lunch and free wine that they had made in previous years. They also handed out samples of their new walnut tasting liqueur (and grappa for those willing to taste) - double yummy!

Then to reward us for our 'hard' labour, they sent each of us home with our choice of spirit. I chose the grappa and Mike handed Jordan a bottle of their new liqueur as he knew how much both of us loved it. Hopefully, this will be on the market soon! We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to Mike and Barbara of the Cottle Hill Winery for this unique (and delicious!) experience.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Seeing a live kiwi bird was high on our list of things to do and today would be the day. So from New Plymouth (North Island of New Zealand), we didn't waste too much time heading back on the last day of our tour of the North and South Islands.

Along the way, we noticed a black sand beach (Waitara Beach) where we saw fishermen with unusual contraptions. We decided to investigate and had a chat with them as they explained how they fished from the ocean with it. They have a self-propelled torpedo that tows out a fishing line over a kilometre with numerous baited hooks. After an hour or so, they haul it in with an electric motor winch and drag up whatever they catch. We watched them bring in a half dozen snappers, 1 about 7 lbs.

Electric fishing line winch in foreground

At noon, we stopped for a quick lunch at a picnic table we spotted before proceeding to the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park...

Roadside wino

A kiwi is a bird with hairy feathers and tiny useless wings. To see one in the wild is rare because their numbers are much depleted and they are nocturnal. So we had to settle on seeing them in captivity. At Otorohanga Kiwi House, it was not a real clear viewing of the kiwis as their enclosure is kept dimly lit so that they are active for the viewers. But we were able to espy the adorable flightless birds running around. About the size of a chicken, they lay the largest egg of any bird in relation to their body size. And they are the only bird in the world with external nostrils at the tip of their long beak.

Below, not real, but stuffed kiwis on display

We considered staying just south of Auckland but remembered there would be rush-hour traffic the next morning (Monday), so we pressed on finally staying at Warkworth, north of the big city.

The next and last morning of our trip (March 4th, day 11), it was an easy ride to our destination, but we did make one last stop at a 'sheep shop', a touristy hobby sheep farm and retail store. For fun, they sprayed some of their sheep pink with a water soluble spray. Why? Who knows, maybe an insider Kiwi meaning.

Pretty in pink (NOT photo-shopped!)

Tired and sore after a total of 4,609 kilometres, we delivered our bike back to the shop at Whangarei in time to change, get a delicious Thai lunch, and catch the bus for the 1-hour ride back to Opua and Sea Turtle.

It was a great motorcycle tour on great roads and we timed the weather perfectly. We hit no rain and it was warm to hot most of the time. However, we were both happy to get back to our floating home with its relaxing atmosphere!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Speeding along

The next morning, zigzagging the South Island of New Zealand along picturesque farmlands, we bypassed the City of Christchurch that suffered a devastating earthquake in 2011.

We made a short detour off the road as it had been suggested that the best bakery of New Zealand was located at Darfield, something that Jordan just had to investigate. The best? Well, it was good and we also had a good lunch, but it didn't qualify as the best in Jordan's opinion, an avid pastry lover. The search will continue.

We have seen some amazing geography with a real WOW factor throughout our tour of the 2 islands from flatlands to grasslands, from snowcapped mountains to glaciers, from green hillsides to bare faces, along with flowers, boulders, and beaches. We weren't expecting such a variety of landscapes and scenes.

Building-sized boulders scattered on the slope

New Zealand has been experiencing a drought. As we crossed over many bridges, we witnessed large areas of rocks and pebbles in the riverbeds with little to no water. As sad as this is for farmers, it made us very happy to have no precipitation during our motorcycle trip!

Jordan peering down at rocks in low water level of river

We then continued, with more highway traversing as we headed west along spectacular Arthur's Pass which is the highest of the 3 main passes - staying at Reefton, the first town south of the equator to receive electricity in 1888.

On day 8 of our travels (March 1), our last and third pass across the 450 km long stretch of the Southern Alps was scenic Lewis Pass which is higher than Haast Pass but lower than Arthur's. Arriving in Picton well into the afternoon, we managed to procure passage on the 18:15 ferry to Wellington on the North Island. It would put us in after 21:00 so we phoned the motel that we previously stayed in and booked their last room!

Back on the North Island, the next morning we took a route along the west coast for awhile...


Jordan in front of bright, blue, beautiful blossoms

...experiencing again No Vacancy signs everywhere. Finally at a 'last chance motel', we crashed on our ninth day at New Plymouth.