If you were to have told me that my first port of call on a recent visit to New Zealand’s South Island was we going to an airplane museum I would probably have dismissed it as a rather boring detour. However, this personal collection of Peter Jackson’s WW1 aircraft in the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center was fascinating. The museum is made up of scenes which actually took place in the war, with authentic models and a collection of rare memorabilia. The guides were so knowledgeable and really bought the museum to life.
A much better know activity in the Blenheim region is, of course, wine tasting. From the museum we went to the Brancott Estate, source of some of my favorite New Zealand wines, several of which we sampled over a delicious lunch followed by a cycling jaunt around the vineyard.
We spent the night at the Bay of Many Coves. Located in the Queen Charlotte Sound, it is one of the most tranquil places I have ever been. All of the rooms are ‘apartment style’, with a kitchen and living area as well as having beautiful views across the Sound and with an abundance of birdlife all around. The best way to arrive is by a ‘Seafood Odyssey’ cruise from Picton, which makes a stop at a salmon and mussel farm en-route where passengers can sample local seafood and enjoy (another!) glass of wine.
The food at the Bay of Many Coves was excellent, especially the amazing 7-course degustation dinner prepared by the creative brigade of chefs who subtly blend lots of flavor and textures. After a long day of food and wine it was time for bed where I slept like a baby, awoken by the sound of birds the following morning. From The Bay of Many Coves you can also walk part of the famous Queen Charlotte Track, a stunning trail which hugs the coast for more than 40 miles and can be tackled as a series of day walks or on a 4-day walk staying at different places along the way (with your bags being transported for you).
The next day we cruised to Motuara Island, enjoying spectacular views. The island, being free of predators, is home to several species of birds who seem fearless of humans. There are also Blue Penguins to be seen in the nesting boxes and dolphins out in the bay.
Our last stop was Kaikoura, a 2 ½ hour drive from Picton following the wild Pacific coast (the Coastal Pacific Train follows the same route). On arrival at Hapuku Lodge we were shown to our treehouse rooms, situated 30ft high amongst the leafy canopy, each room having sea and mountain views plus a log burner and large bathtub. The Lodge is run by Chris and Fiona. A finalist on New Zealand’s MasterChef, Fiona is more than happy to offer guests a cookery lesson (we made fresh pasta for our lunch).
Kaikoura is most famous for year round whale watching and for being a hub for Maori culture. Local guides offer walking tours through the bush, explaining about the food and medicinal properties of the flora, telling some of the Maori legends, showing historic weaving techniques and teaching visitors the traditional Maori greeting – a great ending to my short trip to the South Island.