Long weekends traditionally inspire epic trips to the hills amongst our friends. A session down at the pub one night - sorry café - resulted in a more sedate version for the forthcoming Show Weekend. A weekend where everyone's needs could be met - some of the time.
We wanted to combine a bit of biking, a lot of eating, even more drinking and lots of generally unacceptable behaviour. Not sleeping in a tent (for a change), plenty of sunshine and a competitive element to satisfy the serious MTBers (short for Mud, Testosterone and Bananas) completed the brief. And so the Tour de Marlborough was conceived. The tour would be a multi stage event around the more select (and closely situated) wineries of Blenheim. That handily solved the eating, drinking and cycling requirements. As for the sunshine... Jim had promised that a good looking anti-cyclone was nudging on through. "The place to be - Blenheim."
The first stage (by car of course) took us from Christchurch to the Old Convent in Kaikoura. An up-market bed and breakfast run by Marc, a most amiable Frenchman and his New Zealand wife, Wendy. Rooms go for $65/double upwards and include a huge breakfast, crisp white linen and free confession. If your wallet stretches to it, a night in the Mother Superior's room is a must.
Having flashed a bit of French around over breakfast and compared notes on Tarte Tatin recipes, we left Marc and prepared to forge northwards. A quick sorting-out was complicated by discovering 11 bikes for just 10 people? We feared that we had lost someone until we concluded that the spare bike belonged to our house-sitter still back in Christchurch. But we were not to be distracted... on to Blenheim for the business end of the trip. There was a short reprieve at the start line when Suzanne produced an enormous bacon and egg pie. Far too big to carry and perfect fuel for the grind ahead. After a spot of lunch we swung into our saddles - seven on mountain bikes and three on old one speeds. These proved no disadvantage at all: one gear propels you from one winery to the next quite adequately (especially when you're only capable of going the one speed); they don't take up good conversation time (no use discussing the merits of indexed shifting or hydraulic brakes); nor do you need to complete a Murray Dwyer course to ride one. We encountered some difficulty fitting Nikki's dog, Maunga, into her backpack - he wasn't having a bar of it. He eventually agreed to ride shotgun in a picnic basket strapped to the trusty one speed.
A 30 minute slog into a mean head wind delivered us to Cellier Le Brun and a bit of bubbly to crash start proceedings. Some ground rules were established here - including swallow don't spit (contrary to what your mother told you). After slaking our thirst with a couple of bottles of Taché and attempting to make intelligent remarks about the brix level, we pedalled down the road to Nautilus. From memory they do a particularly good bubbly also (quel bloody dommage!).
Then on to Wairau Valley for snacks and dessert washed down with their excellent Sauvignon Blanc. From here we hit Merlen Wines where the tasting procedure is organised in a Germanic sort of way. You pay for a rack, glasses with five wines and tasting notes which you work through privately, without having to make well founded comments to the wine maker. Just as well, as our logical thought processes were misplaced a winery or two back.
Hunters was the last stop for the day, just in time for last orders. A beautiful setting, great menu and consistently good wines make this a mellow spot to hang out. The final stage took us on a sobering hike around Blenheim's back roads before rejoining the support vehicles. Fortunately Guy had a handle on our where-abouts and made a great show of donning white points men's gloves, stopping the traffic (including a tour bus) and directing us round the crucial right hand turn.
Our second night of no camping was in a quaint bach at Waikawa Bay, just out of Picton. Baches are great. They're cheap, they're everywhere, and... they belong to someone else. Saturday saw the athletes go for a blast on the Queen Charlotte Walkway, while the aesthetes amongst us did the deck chair shuffle. Nothing like catching up on those back issues of New Idea and Mills & Boon that you inevitably find in a bach.
Sunday and another sunny day. It's tough on holiday - but we punched on. The party split in two with the cycle Nazis breaking away to explore some more local rides while the main bunch enjoyed a languid lunch at Allan Scott's Winery. Wrap your laughing gear around his Riesling and you'll want to strap a case onto your carrier. The food hit the spot and we were served by the sort of waitress you wish every restaurant had. She proudly declared that she was "Warehouse trained" - no wonder that man's rich! We reunited with the peleton at Hislops in Kaikoura for a final coffee and debrief. The conclusion - food, wine, sun, sea, bikes, books and baches definitely mix. As if we didn't know.
To find accommodation all over the country, get a hold of "Baches and Holiday Homes to Rent" . It'll change your life - swear to god.
There are zillions of great mountain bike rides around Marlborough including the Queen Charlotte Walkway, Tennyson Inlet-Nydia Bay, and Onamalutu-Canvas Town, amongst others. Check out Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides South Island ($29 from Ground Effect) or "Hot Rides" (available from Bike Shops the around Blenheim and Nelson).