If ever I was going to have a heart attack, this would be the night – had to leave the room twice, my heartbeat climbing to an alarming rate. When did I become such a Rugby fan? I whoop it up when Tony Woodcock scores our first & only try. I groan along with my countrymen when Piri Weepu misses his goal kicks. We’re sharing his pain. We can’t let the French snatch the cup away. Not this time. A collective ripple of despair as yet another 1st five-eight succumbs to injury. Aaron Cruden, our little braveheart, is replaced by Stephen Donald, the 4th choice who defines the true meaning of irony when he kicks the match deciding goal. Only last week he was out white-baiting and now he’s just become part of a legend!
The last five minutes is the worst and best of times. It takes just one person to start the chant. “All-blacks, All-blacks”. The sound of thousands of Kiwis in full voice is terrifying and wonderful. These giant heroes of ours draw on the last of their strength to hold the French at bay. The final whistle blows. I weep..but only to prevent the possibility of a triple bypass, you understand.
Just one more place to visit before we ‘saddle the horses’ and leave Marlborough. This wasn’t on our list, but I’ve just seen a stunning piece of art by award-winning Ceramic Artist, Fran Maguire. We head out to her studio which is located between Blenheim and Renwick. Halfway there, I need to use the bathroom but can hold on for a while. Fran’s work is constantly evolving, each theme depicting a stage in her journey. Here’s is an artist where artistic integrity is everything and to heck with trends. See these little pots here, don’t ya just love the black & white stripped one with the mushroom top. Michael’s a bit squeamish about it. “Those mushrooms are poisonous” he says. What an absurd reason for not liking a piece of art – honestly, some people!
For sheer beauty of form, Fran’s contemporary sculptural works would be considered by many to be the jewel in her crown. My eyes rest on a flawless cylindrical sculpture that opens into two perfect halves. I’m also drawn to the swirling snail shapes Fran creates, each with their own timeline depicting significant events through life. Michael has this flawed theory that if an object is of no practical use, then why buy it, but when I decide to purchase, he just smiles benignly. It’s not until we’re back in the car that the pressing need to use the bathroom returns. How odd that I forgot about that for a while..
The day has finally arrived for the first of our bicycle tours through New Zealand vineyards and what better place to start than the famous Marlborough region. The vines are still looking quite bare at the moment, but we’re enjoying a gorgeous crisp Spring morning with vivid blue skies. The sun’s on my back and it’s happiness on a stick. Now listen up folks, some of the roads are gravelly, so it pays to slow down in places, but a lot of the time you will be riding on tarsealed surfaces and plan the wine trail of your choice beforehand. I forgot to pack my padded bike pants. No problemo.
Our first stop is Framingham’s Winery. The tasting staff look pleased but rather astonished to see such ‘early birds’. Apparently visitors don’t usually appear before 10am. This property is beautiful outside with lovely grounds and relaxing, styly interiors. I like the discerning staff at Framingham. They understand that everyone is different. Some punters like the whole ‘spiel’ and others like to be left alone to take their own notes. I enjoy the hands-on approach. I gotta tellya, the Classic Riesling is beautiful with a lingering dry finish (that’s what it said on the notes) You know there’s always that funny wee moment when I have to use the spittoon and there’s no elegant way people! At best, I’m left with an embarrassing chin dribble, (that’s if it doesn’t rebound up my nose). Nuff said, here’s ME raising my glass to YOU.
All this fresh air is invigorating so I race Michael to the next winery, Forrest. One of Forrest’s wine’s is the Doctor’s Riesling and it has a very cute label on the bottle showing the silhouette of a man riding a bike. He’s dressed in Victorian style clothing complete with top-hat and flapping coat-tails. Forrest also has a wine called called Gruner Veltliner, a cross between a Savignon Blanc and a Riesling..interesting…
I’m back on the bike and pedalling towards Seresin Winery what a beautiful location. I admit, there’s definitely a change in my energy levels but will ignore the creeping paralysis in my legs. Jim is taking us through the tastings and informs us that Seresin is also known for it’s beautiful oils which can be sampled and purchased at the on-site shop. I would like to linger but more people have arrived and selfishly, I don’t want to share the attention we’re been getting from Jim.
So we’re biking…we’re biking and suddenly, I HIT THE WALL! Yes, within seconds, my legs and bum bones turn to solid concrete. This is where the nine-year-old kicks in. “It’s just around the corner, just a few minutes to go” Michael goads and gajoles until I finally see our accommodation looming ahead. Must’nt grumble – it’s been a fabulous morning so I graciously strike a thoughtful pose for the camera…it helps to relieve my sore bum.
For the next two nights, we’re staying at one of two suites at the strawbale constructed Strawlodge. There’s a message of welcome printed on the blackboard outside and that’s always a positive start. Hosts, Nettie and Jane along with Texas, their adorable Lab, give us a brief tour of the property. Texas tends to take up the position of team leader and we fall in behind.
There’s more here than initially meets the eye at Strawlodge. (Just ask Texas. He knows). Nettie takes us over to their newly built honeymoon cottage situated further from the main house – love at first sight for me – Superking bed, recliner seats and beautifully crafted handmade furniture. Think I’ll book that next time. Perhaps best of all Strawlodge has it’s own vineyard and produces a Savignon Blanc that according to Nettie, is guaranteed to knock your socks off. So whatdaya think of the view from the breakfast table?
We’re settled in nicely and now it’s time to explore the LOCAL LOOP of artisan food producers and top attractions. Our first stop is HEDGEROWS HYDROPONIC strawberry farm and the attraction by which all others will be judged! What a find! We’re taking a tour around the massive glasshouses with co-owner, Mary. She and her husband Ian are retired farmers and were looking for a less hective activity to fill their day. Wow, Mary had no idea how labour-intensive this operation would be but she and Ian are hooked…and everyone else it seems. I’m about to find out why.
Throughout our walk through the massive glasshouses, Mary is constantly feeding us with different varieties of strawberries. I want to refuse the fourth but it’s fruity aroma is irresistable and the cutest little strawberry pops right on in. Of all the varieties grown here, the Albion is my fav. I can honestly say I haven’t eaten a strawberry with this intensity of flavour and sweetness, since I was a child…nuff to make a grown woman cry.
We need to get chocolate to go with the strawberries..oh yes we do and where better than just up the road at Makana Confections, also based in the Bay of Islands. You can’t leave this place without a purchase. Michael wants to have his photo taken from inside the glass window, where you can actually view the chocolates being made. There’s a protracted discussion between Factory and Shop Manager and it’s all becoming a bit ‘complicated’ so to save any awkwardness, we withdraw the request. I purchase a box of Cherry Armagnac Truffles (delish) Dark Chocolate Syrup and a chocolate candle. My descent into gluttony is now complete.
…but no, I spoke to soon. We have to visit the darlingest place called ‘Traditional Country Preserves’. You could be mistaken by thinking you’d stepped into a child’s fairytale book. We open the door and a little bell rings. There’s a cheerful soul behind the counter. Is it ‘Mrs Christmas’? Well if it is, she’s been very busy making Christmas Cakes this morning and the smell is gorgeous. Whiskey Marmalade, now that’s a different take on the original. I adore the bitter taste of this particular breakfast jam and not many people get it right these days, but these guys have. Beautiful texture and huge chunks of real orange and lemon. Oh, and they serve Devonshire Teas in the garden and upstairs. No more food thank you. We’re saving ourselves for dinner at Hotel d’Urville.
We’re visiting Marlborough wine country, about 100km from Nelson. Finally our dream of bicycling through the Marlborough vines is about to come true. But first, before checking in to our accommodation, we’re visiting Lake Timara Lodge, a beautiful 4-bedroomed historic homestead. The usual kerfuffle occurs at the gates intercom. I’m hissing out instructions to Michael about which button to press, when I’m struck with a dreadful thought – I hope we’re not being heard through the intercom by the staff at lodge headquarters. Such thoughts fly from my head as the gates slowly part allowing us access into this magnificent 600-acre property. Think massive rosebeds, lakes, hilly knolls and private seating arrangements, some of which only two can share – a giant English Garden really.
Debra is showing us through the Lodge today and she is standing at the beautiful entranceway to greet us. At this level, I expect olde world courtesy but it still gives me immense pleasure when it happens. Guests choose Timara specifically for it’s gourmet & wine experience and host and chef, Louis Schindler, has worked for some of the finest Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. I actually did a cooking class with him some years ago. Don’t think I’ll mention it though -it was not my finest hour. With a property like Timara, some of what you pay for is dining on your terms, so for example, if you don’t want to sit with other guests or you prefer to have another room available or a special menu, it will happen. Whatever your heart desires. Sigh.
I love the smell of the old wood featured throughout this house – reminds me of Christmas, spices and candle wax. The four suites are individually named and reflect their location in the lodge. I’ll have the Garden Suite thank you. Should I sully my reputation by jumping on the superking bed? No, such beautiful white bedlinen deserves respect. Michael and I mutter instructions to each other about angles and light, until Debra steps in and kindly offers to take a photo for us and you know what, it actually turns out to be the best one.