His signature might have been on every British bank note over the last 10 years, with his face rarely out of the news as the UK’s interest rates flattened, but on this side of the world, Mervyn King was just another name on the guest list at the exclusive Timara Lodge hotel on the outskirts of Blenheim last weekend.
Our hosts for the weekend were Lynn and John, friends of my sister and brother-in-law, and Lynn works part-time in this small, luxury hotel, close to where they live. It only takes eight guests at a time. She was keen for us to visit, and to show off its magnificent grounds, so we took a detour as we toured the extensive vineyards that surround Blenheim.. “We have Lord Lothbury staying with us this weekend”, she said. “Have you ever heard of him?" “Can’t say we have,” we both said. “On our guest sheet, he’s also called Mervyn King”. “Ohh, I think we have both heard of him,” we replied in unison.
I guess Mervyn and his Finnish wife, must be wine buffs, for this is the main reason tourists are drawn to this part of the country. Bleinheim sits at the top right hand side of the South Island. It is blessed with two long valleys that are exceptionally ideal for viniculture and over the last 30 years the industry here has exploded. Thousands of acres of vines, run off in every direction and new vineyards are springing up all the time. It’s extremely likely, that if you have a bottle of NZ wine in your fridge, it probably came from this area.
|Making a purchase at "Spy Valley" winery|
But I get ahead of myself (and that’s a joke, by the way, as you will see soon). Since we have been in NZ I have not felt quite right. I felt a bit dizzy when we were at the zoo, a couple of days after we arrived, and these dizzy spells got more frequent as the days went by. I also felt a bit nauseous, a bit like you do when you get off a fast, spinning ride at a fair or a theme park. Somebody joked it’s because we are now living upside down, but I was concerned it might be my blood pressure, which is normally spot on. I put up with it for several days before getting Erica to make me an appointment at her local medical centre. You pay a set fee to see a GP in NZ, and there is no waiting for several days like in Britain. She called at 4.30pm Thursday evening and I saw Doctor Geri at 11am the following day. She gave me a very good going over. I was in her office for 30 minutes, so I got value for my $80 (£40). She ruled out a number of options , via the exhaustive tests I had from head to toe, and diagnosed I had vertigo, which is what I thought, and hoped I had. “Sorry, Roger, there is no medication I can give you that’s going to cure it,” she said. “You’ll have to work through it. It might take days or weeks.”
It’s now the following Wednesday, and I must admit over the last couple of days it’s got much better, though at times over the weekend, I was not sure whether my spinning head was due to the vertigo or the wine we were imbibing as we trawled the vineyards of Blenheim and its environs.
You can fly across to the South Island, but most people make the three-hour crossing on the ferry that depart from Wellington’s harbour. The Cook Strait can get very choppy, but we had two really calm crossings in warm, sunny conditions, and John and Lynn were waiting for us when the ferry docked at Picton. We both like Picton, for despite it being the major destination for ferry traffic from the north, and having rail sidings and all the paraphernalia of a port, it is also a pleasant and very attractive little town. The harbour area is bordered by palm trees, and boats of all sorts bob about, overlooked around the bay by some very attractive properties that cling to the hills.
Both John and Lynn come from this area, as have their parents and grandparents, and it was fascinating to listen to their stories of growing up post-war in rural NZ and the changes that have taken place to them and the area in general. They are rightly proud of their little piece of New Zealand, and are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world.
The weather was very kind to us throughout the weekend. Blenheim seems to have its own micro-climate, shielded by mountains on three sides, which is obviously one of the reasons grapes grow so well there. We decided to drive down the coast on Sunday to visit Kaikoura, a town we last stopped in 10 years ago when we back-packed around the country. The journey is a cracker and follows the railway line from Picton to Christchurch for much of the way. Firstly past vineyards and then it hugs the rugged coastline for around 20 miles.
|The coast road to Kaikoura|
Kaikoura is the whale-watching capital of the south island – very touristy, and has not much else to offer. We last stayed there in a backpackers called “Dusky Lodge”. It was one of our favourites. It’s still there and, it’s up for sale. A snip at $3 million (about £1.5m), if anybody’s interested.
We had fish and chips and a bit of a picnic above the beach before returning to Blenheim, though the other three managed to sneak in an ice cream as well, during a bit of window shopping in the gift shops that predominate in the main street.
|Fish & Chips on the beach|
This week it's business as usual, though Livi has been running a bit of a temperature since Sunday, so we are not making any major plans, though we'd like to take her back to the zoo sometime this week if possible. We bought her a zoo pass for Christmas, and like all children of that age, she enjoys experiencing the animals up close. It's a great zoo as well, so we enjoy it too.
|Pat checks out the view on our return ferry crossing|
This coming weekend will be our first staying in Wellington since we arrived, nearly four weeks ago now. Erica and James brought us tickets to see “The Hollies”, who are touring NZ at present for Christmas. On Sunday the kids are going car hunting, and I think I will investigate the “Ukes of Wellington’s” lunchtime thrash, which seems to move about a bit, but is generally in a bar, somewhere in the city centre. Looking forward to see what the standard of playing is like here. Reckon it’s going to be pretty good, so I’d better get practising.