For the third time in a year I found myself stepping onto New Zealand soil, though via a different port of entry for once. The flight into Queenstown airport is said to be one of the prettiest landings you'll experience and although my early autumn arrival meant the Southern Alps were lacking most of their snowy caps, I'd have to agree that it beats most urban sprawl introductions to a new land.

My plan was to meet up with an old friend, drive up the the Marlborough region, cycle tour some wineries and then head up to Auckland solo.

Our brief stay in painfully pricey Queenstown was spent mostly cosied up in a warm bar by Lake Wakatipu, sampling the local wines and amazing menu offerings. Sadly, I missed out on a bite to eat at the crazy-popular FergBurger, whose reputation for having a line of customers extending a long way out the door appears to have not diminished.

Next stop on the tour was the other well known mountainy tourist town by a lake; Wanaka. I've heard rave reviews about Wanaka being a flypaper kind of town that many people plan on passing through but never quite leave (some strange magicks in the mountain-clad lake, perhaps?)

Driving through New Zealand's South Island is basically ridiculous. There are scenes that entice you to pull over every 2 minutes and put you at great risk of distraction from hairpin turns through mountain passes or avoiding homicidal tourists who don't know what side of the road they're meant to be driving on.
Two long drives landed us in Christchurch the next evening and then to Renwick for our wine and cycle sojourn (small plug for Watson's Way, that not only hires out bikes at a reasonable cost but also had a great collection of well-laden fruit trees). I'd only ever known the Canterbury region from photos and the landscape certainly didn't disappoint. There's something magical about the rolling sun-browned grasses and yellowing leaves. From freezing our fingers off in Queenstown not two days before, by the time we hit Cheviot, about 100km north of Christchurch, we were baking in the near 30 degree day (point of note, the Two Rivers cafe in Cheviot has the best pies I've ever tasted in my life, along with some fantastic local art for sale).
The final leg of the drive along the Kaikoura coast is something else again, with stunning views over the Pacific and highlighted by a quick detour to a baby seal waterfall playground. Definitely one of those pinch-me moments.
Our final (wine-al?) destination found us in Renwick, a sleepy little town in the Malborough district but, thanks to the burgeoning wine and cycle tourism trade, it sees a decent amount of tourist traffic. Some insider gossip; Renwick is renowned for the Best Pies in NZ (I'm not able to confirm or deny this but all I will say is that they've got some stiff competition down in Cheviot) and if you decide to dine at the local pub (the Cork and Keg), be prepared for the undivided attention of a brown labrador..especially if you get the stew.

Our wine tour was short and sweet, but also a useful lesson in how to properly approach the task as an amateur; less is definitely more. Once a couple of wine flights have passed your lips, it's fair to say that everything starts to taste the same and the hints of rockmelon, grass, lemon zest, pear and in one case turpentine - begin to have less and less of an impact.

The next couple of days were spent recovering in a quaint youth hostel in Nelson, before heading across the Cook Strait...

Another pro-tip - if you're running low on fuel before the run over to Picton - get it here, it's your last chance!

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