The South island
Picton was pleasant-looking with sailboats moored in the harbor. We docked and passengers began rolling luggage down the gangplank. We had an hour before we caught our train, time for a quick lunch and beer at a Kiwi pub. Of course, there was a rugby game on the tube and the crowd roared and cheered as one team scored. Kiwis are sports crazy — cricket, rugby, and soccer. God love ’em.
We had originally booked a train to Christchurch in Auckland. But talking with other travelers who’d been to the south island, we learned that housing was limited with international workers repairing earthquake damage in Christchurch. We changed our itinerary and decided to disembark in Blenheim in Marlborough valley, famous for its vineyards. It turned out to be a wise decision. Our route followed the west coast through green valleys, pastures, and small farms.
We were very impressed with the modern, comfortable train service. Train travel is the most enjoyable and relaxing way to see New Zealand.
Our destination was Blenheim, the largest town (30,000 pop.) and district capital of the Marlborough wine growing region. The town is located on a coastal plateau surrounded by hills. It’s also an active earthquake zone sitting on the Pacific tectonic plate with the Indo-Australian plate intersecting a few miles north.
We had an unexpected welcoming when we got off the train and asked directions to our motel. An elderly gentleman in the parking lot said, “Climb into my car, I’ll give you a ride.” His name was Ernie, he was retired, and a very friendly chap. “I’m a good will ambassador for the city. I do favors for travelers.” When we arrived at our motel, I tried to give him a tip. Ernie refused, touched a finger to his hat and said, “Enjoy Blenheim. We’ve a lovely town.” He was right.
Taylor River walk
Our modern, comfortable motel was a short distance from downtown. After checking in and storing our luggage, we decided to walk into town along a grassy park with a creek, technically Taylor River, that wound its way into town. The pastoral route passed by modern apartments and impressively designed office buildings that looked high-tech. Ducks nested along the bank and fish swam under bridges.
Blenheim was only about a half mile away along the path with walk ways leading to city streets.
We’ve spent a lot of time in Napa and Sonoma Valley wine areas of Northern California. Blenheim reminded us a bit of Napa with a few pleasant exceptions; there was almost no traffic, streets were quiet, and only few people were shopping and eating at sidewalk cafes. One Saturday afternoon, we walked down streets with no cars in sight.
The largest in Blenheim is Seymour Square with a band shell, palm trees, gardens, and clock tower fenced off for earthquake retrofitting. A plaque in the park related the history of the city founding by European settlers and Maori and Asiatic islanders.
Marlborough wine tour
We’d read a lot about New Zealand’s Marlborough wine growing region where they produce predominantly grapes for Sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and chardonnay. We booked a tour our second day and were delighted by the service, convenience, and a friendly crowd.
We had an unexpected treat during an evening stroll our first evening in Blenheim. We discovered an amazing garden on a residential street behind our motel. We walked through the park at dusk when colored lights illuminated the base of mature pines, willows and along pathways. It created a wonderful touch as night approached and stars came out in the sky.
We promised to return the next day. Pollard Park turned out to be another of the many beautiful gardens we visited in New Zealand. If you love formal gardens, a visit to New Zealand should be in your travel plans.
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