A little reluctantly we left our base in Glenorchy heading for a rendevous in Kaikoura on the West Coast but as that wasn’t due to happen for a few days we decided to wing it on the first day and just drive until we got tired, stop and find some accommodation there. This can be risky in New Zealand in the height of summer but we figured that if we stayed away from the main tourist towns we should be alright.
One thing you learn when you’ve been driving for any length of time here is that you can only go for so long before your eyes start drooping and the attention starts to wander. I don’t know whether it’s the light, the straights roads, the fact that you mostly travel at exactly the same speed (100 kph) and don’t see another car for hours or what but go any distance and you have to stop before you fall asleep and crash. It helps that Jane and I share the driving but there is still that period about 3-4 pm when you really just want to pull over and have a snooze.
So, before this happened we found ourselves in Waimate which looked a pleasant enough place. We popped into the local iSite and asked what accommodation and restaurants there were in town. The answer didn’t seem encouraging; the usual take aways, a couple of pubs, a few motels and a holiday park which offered cabins. Any B&B? we asked. ‘Well, yes’, said the helpful lady, ‘there’s one which you passed on the way in but often doesn’t display a sign or there’s Te Kiteroa which is up on the hill and has lovely views and they do meals there. Oh, and it also has a vinyard and winery. Would you like to see if they’ve got a room?’
I think one look at our faces told her all she needed to know so she dialed the number and got Ann who, as it happened was in the local supermaket getting some provisions for that night’s meal. And, yes, she’d be happy to get a bit more food and put us up for the night, just give her 15 minutes before we went up there.
When we drove up the long drive to the house it was one of those moments when you think ‘how did we land on our feet, just like that’. Te Kiteora is a beautifully restored, turn of the century country house with a commanding view of the plains below you and we chose to stay in one of the turret rooms which give a magnificent, near 180 degree view.
The grounds are immaculate and everything about this house spoke of fine, old fashioned quality. Add to that the fact that there are vines growing almost up to the doors of the property and you get a kind of blissful feeling. Enhanced by the fact that Ann announced that dinner would be at 6.30 but before that Gary, her husband, would be giving a private wine tasting down at the winery at 5.30. Did we miss out pergatory and go straight to heaven?
Ann is an English girl, from Essex, Gary, a kiwi but with a somewhat colourful and interesting past. It was while he was working with the UN in Libya that he got the idea to become a vintner. It’s too long a story to explain how that came about but having got the idea what does Gary do but go on a correspondence course in wine production and set up his own winery in these very hills; the vines we were looking at now as we tasted the first of so many excellent wines. You won’t find Point Bush Estate wines in the local supermarket; they don’t have sufficient production for that. But, boy, does Gary know how to turn out a great wine and he proceeded to introduce us and a lovely German couple also staying at the lodge, to all of them. It was a wine tasting to beat all wine tasting because we had before us the man who produced these wines and who knew the grapes which went into each one almost on a personal level.
The great thing was we were able to choose the wine to go with our meal and we plumped for a Riesling. Yes, you read that right, Riesling. Now, back in the 70s (that’s the 1970s to the young ones amongst you) Riesling was exported out of Germany in the tankerful and very successful it was too. But it was so sweet and it fell out of favour, except in Germany, no doubt. But Point Bush Riesling is a whole different cut o’ the jib and our German companions agreed.
So, from being something which we considered as a mere stopover on the way to somewhere else, Waimate and Te Kiteora proved to be quite a highlight. And dawn the next morning so gorgeous that I spent almost an hour photographing it. Yeah, I know, OCD.
We came away from Te Kiteora clutching not bottles of Riesling but one of the best Chardonnay we have tasted and a really great Pinot Noir. I apologise to all our Marlborough friends but the Pinot from this vineyard really was exceptional.
Moving on from Waimate we spent several nights at Mt Somers but I’m going to return to that in another blog because I need to take you to Kaikoura where the delightful Jessica and Kincaid cottage await us.