Wine, Seals & Suicidal Bunnies

12/30 – Narrated by Alaina (wine country) & Mike (Seal country & the evening drive)

It amazes me how well we have managed to sleep in Dora. Mind you we did purchase an egg crate mat for the bed and I have been sleeping with ear plugs, but for the most part, the cold nights + warm bed has equaled a good night’s sleep. This morning I slowly rolled over, checked my phone and it was 9:45! Dora was parked in the shade so I didn’t realize how late it was!

We quickly got up, showered and headed out to the Marlborough wine country. I had read about this great B&B that rented out bikes for people to travel to the different wineries, so we pulled into a typical neighborhood and boom, there was a line of people waiting to get their bikes. We were tempted to get the tandem but passed 😉

Our plan was simple: try to stay off the main road and go to the smaller wineries where there is no distribution outside NZ.   

Our first stop was Gibson Winery and it was the perfect place to start our tour. It is a small vineyard (6 acres) run by a husband and wife team. The husband handles all the wine manufacturing and the wife, Julie, handles the front of the house… Sound familiar? (Cough, cough, Angela). Julie was so informative and it was by far the best Pinot Gris we have had on the trip. No year is exactly the same as they try to ensure they use the best of the harvest’s capabilities. While a very small winery, Virgin Atlantic selected their wines to be served in business class… Alas something we will most likely never have the luxury in enjoying. 

Our second stop was Forrest, a much bigger winery. They had stunning grounds and a resident corgi that Mike quickly fell in love with. The wines were ok, but the bean bags on the lawn were enough of a draw for me to get a glass of bubbly and have us spend some time there.

The third stop was Bladen. Another very small winery but we loved the overall warm and friendly feeling the moment we arrived. Like Gibson, this was a husband/wife operation and Dave was handling the tastings. I loved the Sauvignon Blanc here, it was smooth and refreshing. Once we finished our tasting and met the winery dog, Vinnie (short for vineyard), we struck up a conversation with some folks that pulled in on Harley’s. It was a great conversation about their next US road trip from Houston to New Orleans and I of course had to share what I love about the city. They were impressed with how much we have managed to accomplish in our 20 day time period and gave us a few tips of where to stop as we continued our way south – including a great spot to view a waterfall & some more seals – obviously Mike was intrigued.

After Bladen we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then biked to Moa, a brewery located right next to Cloudy Bay, the largest winery in the Marlborough region that is available internationally. Moa had a great spot in-between the vineyards and having tried a bottle of it in Akaroa, it brought the trip full circle. We again plopped on some bean bags out on the lawn and enjoyed a beer tasting and cider.  
A note about the Marlborough region. It’s stunning and every winery has a distinct character. Some are affluent and perfectly designed, others are a mom and pop shops built from the love of a good wine. There are 190 wineries in the region and it’s a huge driver of business. Biking by the miles and miles of vineyards just showed the labor that goes into creating the best annual crop to make something that people appreciate. I am so thrilled we had the time to experience the region.img_0125
Sadly we returned our bikes and headed south. This is where I hand it off to Mike.

Before we even arrived to where the seals were said to be, the area, Kaikoura, was stunning. With enormous waves from the South Pacific crashing on the black sand beaches to our left & glowing mountains to our right, this was one of my favorite drives of the trip.

As we drove along the ocean all of a sudden I had to swerve to avoid an animal that was sticking his head out into the road. A bunny? Nope. Stote? Nuh uh. Possum? Wrong again. A FREAKING SEAL was checking out the traffic. Can you imagine if we’d gone this whole trip without contributing to the roadkill statistics & when we finally did hit something it was a damn seal?? Luckily I was able to avoid him & we told ourselves the scare convinced him to turn back around to the safety of the beach.

But seeing him let us know we were in seal country! Only a few minutes later we noticed more seals, this time laying in the grass a few yards from the road. Lucky for us there was a small parking lot nearby & we were able to get out and get close enough to one big guy to start feeling nervous that he might not like us & do something about it! There were probably 5-10 seals in this area plus a bunch more right below us on the rocks in the water. It was amazing being that close to them. We could see all of their features – big ol’ eyeballs looking at us, their whiskers, even any scars they had from battles or rocks or whatever else gets to them from time to time.  
After getting as close to this guy as we felt comfortable being & with the sun starting to set, we jumped back into Dora since we wanted to check out the waterfall & seal pup area before we lost the daylight. A few miles down the road we spotted the landmarks we’d been given & pulled into the parking lot. Before we even started up the path towards the waterfall we could see across the street to the rocks along the ocean & they were COVERED with seals. Hundreds of them. It was insane. We obviously planned to scope that side of the road out once we finished the quick waterfall hike.
The path to the waterfall goes along a very pretty stream that drains out to the ocean and as we were maybe 10 steps past the parking lot & onto the path a seal comes swimming down the stream right past us! It was amazing & startled the heck out of us.  

Excited about what the rest of the path had in store we continued onward. A minute or so later the path elevated above the stream a bit & we looked below to see 2 more seals wrestling & playing & just being adorable. A minute later and we look to our right to see a mama seal & her pup lounging on a rock.  
These things are everywhere. As we get closer to the waterfall, one more guy comes up the stream from behind us and starts hamming it up & giving us a show in the pool in front of the waterfall. He was swimming all over, floating on his back, doing headstands & giving himself a bath in the waterfall. Which was stunning by the way. The seals stole the show but this was an awesome waterfall to behold.  
After the entertainer went back down the stream we decided it was time to go check out the seals we’d seen across the street (after stopping and watching the mama & pup for a bit more & 3 other playful guys near the entrance to the path on our way out).   

The colony along the rocks was insane. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said hundreds. They were everywhere – look closely anywhere on the rocks or in the water in the picture below & you will see tons of them:
As we walked along the coast we were snapping pictures left & right as each one seemed to be closer to us than the last. As we finally decided it was time to go, one guy even climbed up the hill into the parking lot! Pretty sure I could have hugged him with no problem as I slowly crept to about 2 feet away to snap pictures & he just watched me without budging. He would have made such a good big brother from Rugby…   
I could have stayed there all night but as the sun was setting & we had plenty of driving ahead of us, we needed to get on the road. We were treated to a spectacular sunset over the mountains & ocean on our last evening with Dora as we made our way towards the next destination of Hanmer Springs & their famous thermal hot pools.

As the sun set & darkness crept in however, we realized that we had a lot longer to go than we thought. And we had a “scenic drive” ahead of us – meaning steep mountains & sharp curves – what else is new. And in addition to having to drive in the darkness (which we had mostly been successful in avoiding until today), it’s also the time of night when the rabbits come out. So to say this was the most stressful drive of the trip was an understatement. We decided to camp at the nearest campground in Wanui – but that was 37km away. 37km of dark, steep, hairpin-turned, suicidal kamikaze bunny-filled trademark New Zealand roads. Thankfully we made it here without incident. A few close calls with the bunnies – including one dope who ran in front of us for nearly a km, doing s-turns from one side of the road to the other but never actually getting off the road so that we could drive by him.
But now we are happily in bed & looking forward to a WELL earned day of relaxation & some pampering at the hot springs in the morning before heading to Christchurch and saying goodbye to Dora in the afternoon :-(.

2 thoughts on “Wine, Seals & Suicidal Bunnies

    1. Loved the vineyards/ I had forgotten about Cloudy Bay. We carried it for years/
      The seals frolicking at the waterfall were adorable.
      When darkness falls over the coast, it’s best to be in a safe place. So relieved you made the drive without incident. Love you. Mom and Dad

      PS: Whavb thappened in Murchison?

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