Down Under: South Island Banks Peninsula


For the next week and a half, we have a rental car and will be doing more driving and sightseeing on the road. We’re also staying at a bunch of different places as we work our way farther south and then west to end up near Doubtful Sound.

Today we left the serenity of Marlborough and flew north from Blenheim to Wellington (15 minutes in the air) and then connected to an hour flight from Wellington to Christchurch. There used to be direct service from Blenheim down to Christchurch, but no more. Fortunately, the first flight was on time as there was only thirty minutes to connect. We got off one plane, walked to the new gate, and boarded the second flight. We didn’t stay in Christchurch, but got another car and drove the approximately 45 miles over to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula.

This peninsula is shaped like a horseshoe curling around the harbor and was named for Joseph Banks, the naturalist who voyaged with Capt. Cook. It’s stunningly beautiful; the mountains are contrasting shades of green, and we wound around up and down and around enjoying the sun and the view.  

About halfway we stopped outside Lytleton for lunch at the Blue Duck Café, a simple straightforward place. We ordered ham and cheese sandwiches and an order of chips (read fries) that came with ketchup and aioli. The owner was chatty (who in this country isn’t, we now think) and told us he spent eleven years in London as a head chef, but got tired of the hours and returned to New Zealand to have his own restaurant. We talked a bit of politics with him (we want to export our president or gain asylum for ourselves; he bemoaned the fact that New Zealand still doesn’t have a formal government more than three weeks after the election), and then were on our way.

We missed a key turn toward Akaroa, our destination, but it turned out that Pigeon Forge Way gave us some wonderful views of Akaroa harbor we might not have gotten. That meant several stops for photos.

Akaroa was founded by a Frenchman and, consequently, reflects both French and British influences. We’re staying less than a mile outside town in what I would call a “cabin in the woods”, but what here is a cottage. There is no restaurant for food service and hence, after checking in, we went into town to wander around and buy provisions for breakfast. There was a lovely French bakery (croissants and sausage rolls), several French cafes, and a butchery whose cases were laden with tempting looking cuts of lamb, homemade sausages along with the usual chicken and beef. Backpackers must be regulars here in the summer as there was also an adventure center and some lodges and accommodations designed with them in mind.

Temperatures today were the coldest we’d experienced, and it’s windy. I’m very grateful for my on-sale L. L. Bean cashmere pullover sweater and the short down jacket I purchased at Costco some months ago. I wore them both!

We dined at the Little Bistro on the main street that seemed to be popular with the townsfolk. I tried their local littleneck clams with saffron cream (quite tasty) and the salad with pickled rhubarb and blue cheese (nice combo) while the C.P. had roast chicken and rosti potatoes. It was all very satisfying.

Down Under: Marlborough Pt.2


Yesterday we enjoyed a lovely day in the Marlborough region. It was sunny and even got warm—into the 60’s! Breakfast was a lovely spread of meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, pastry and bread and jam. Genial general manager Peter plopped down to chat and to help us plan our day, area map in hand.

He recommended the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center which initially was a building and commentary about the early planes used in WWI with lots of restored examples. That was so popular they added a second building with a smaller collection of WWII fighter planes from the Allies and the Germans. I knew the Chief Penguin would find this museum of interest and I was willing to go along. Given that these were the real planes and all restored and, supposedly, able to be flown today, it was more than I had expected. I certainly did not read all the commentary about their dimensions and how many battles they saw, but was overall impressed.  

Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson was significant in the museum’s creation, and there were several life-size scenes of figures in battle gear, the figures reminiscent of those at the Gallipoli exhibit at Te Papa, only not oversized. I was also taken with the various war posters from England and the US and even France as well as a three-panel display of 5,000 red poppies. Each one was knitted or crocheted or sewn.  

Lunch yesterday was at the Rock Ferry winery and was another lovely experience. The temperature was perfect, the sun was out, and we sat on their porch overlooking a small garden area with picnic tables on the lawn surrounded by flowering trees and blooms. It was almost like being in your own personal garden!   

Following Peter’s recommendations (they’ve been very reliable!), we ordered the fish of the day over coconut risotto with lime and coriander and a side salad and the open-faced steak sandwich with sautéed onions, fries, and a salad, and for dessert the Snicker tart (very rich and sweet).  Here in New Zealand, tasting rooms are called cellar doors and virtually every winery has a full restaurant.

Our last stop was the Makana Chocolate Factory for a look through their production window (they appeared to be making one of the nut brittles) and then a slow swing around the shelves at the many temptations. We left with some macadamia chocolate brittle and some dark chocolate peppermint panache. We’ll see if it all makes it home unopened!

We again sat outside by the stone fireplace before dinner, this time chatting with Lisa, Peter’s second-in-command, and learned about how, although born in New Zealand, she acquired a posh British accent. Her folks came to the UK from Britain and she was born here, but then they returned home and she did all her schooling over there. She has traveled extensively and we shared the joys of those international experiences. We were again the lone diners, but appreciated the chance to chat with British waiter Ben and to learn more about his plans for next year—more travel!

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).

Down Under: Marlborough


On Monday, we reprised the water taxi from Charlotte Sound back to Picton and then got a rental car to drive the short distance to our next port of call. In yet another example of the kindliness of individuals here, the women at the Cougar Line office offered to take our luggage and keep it while we walked to the ferry terminal, home of the rental car agencies. It wasn’t a very long walk, but a lot easier without dragging suitcases.

We are now staying outside Blenheim, in this celebrated sauvignon blanc wine region, at a lovely country home called Marlborough Lodge. Open not quite a year, Marlborough Lodge was a Catholic convent in another era, but was moved to this location and the interior gutted and re-modeled with modern plumbing and appropriate Victorian style furnishings. The building dates from the early 1900’s and is large, but not overly grand. Several parts of it have been enlarged including the kitchen area. It’s simply lovely and sits on several acres of land with extensive gardens and its own vineyards. Over the weekend, the lodge hosted a wedding party, but we were the only guests our first night and had the full attention of Peter White, the general manager.   

Continuing the informality of this country, Peter greeted me with just his first name and proceeded to sit down with us,  give us an overview of the lodge and the region with suggestions for where to have lunch, and then a building tour ending at our room. Before dinner, he invited us, his usual practice, to join him for a drink and some canapés. Despite the definite chill in the air, we opted to sit outside by the stone fireplace—albeit bundled up in several layers and making use of the lodge’s wool blankets—for a sauvignon blanc that had been oaked a bit making it a bit rounder and less grassy, along with some chorizo beignets. 

The two dining rooms inside are light and attractive and in Harvest, the more formal one, one wall is dominated by a vivid scene of bushes with brightly colored blooms. The menu offered lots of choices and we could order whatever we wanted to try (part of the room rate). We tried a number of dishes, but discovered the portions were somewhat larger than we expected. Especially tasty were the local king salmon and the pumpkin risotto.

For lunch earlier in the afternoon, on Peter’s advice, we ventured to Brancott Estate, about 20 minutes away and sitting high on a ridge. You park on one level, and a winery staff person comes along in a van to take you up to the top where the tasting room and restaurant are located. It was a perfect lunch! 

Both for the food and the marvelous view of the vineyard spread out below, its orderly rows making a wonderful tapestry of green and brown. My ora king salmon on skinny noodles in dashi broth was sublime and the Chief Penguin’s monkfish on a potato concoction with asparagus equally delicious. Paired with the recommended wines, it couldn’t have been any better!

Note: All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).

Down Under: Te Papa to Blenheim


On Friday by prior arrangement, we were hosted at Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, by Liz Hay and some of her colleagues.  

After a warm welcome, we chatted over coffee before meeting with the director, Garant and Dave, COO. Over lunch we had more time with Liz along with Patrick, who oversees the installation teams around the world of their traveling exhibits, and Mark, collection manager. The California Academy of Sciences presented their exhibit, “Whales,” which the Chief Penguin and I saw in New York before he signed the contract for it to come to San Francisco. It was/is a fabulous exhibit which incorporates material about the Maori culture, giving it a social history component in addition to the science and study of those large mammals.

Moari meetinghouse (

The museum opened in its current location on the waterfront in 1998 and it’s a beautiful and striking building. We were with museum staff all day and consequently, wished the day had been longer so that we could have explored even more of it. Mariah, our guide for the public floor and part of the paid staff, is Maori and she gave us a lot of context for the exhibits. She is both proud of and a bit defensive about her Maori heritage so touring with her provided a perspective we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. She grew up in Wellington and said as an “urban Maori,” there was a lot that she was not exposed to. Only recently, as an adult, has she been learning the Maori language. Her siblings have not embraced their Maori roots in the same way. She also stated that since the 1990’s there has been more positive feeling between Maoris and Caucasians, and more Maori have been elected to serve in parliament.

The second half of our tour included going behind the scenes to see the collections. These Maori artifacts are viewed as sacred and, therefore, we were required to leave our backpacks and handbags in a locker outside. Upon entering, Mark, the collection manager, gave a short prayer in Maori before we proceeded. Their collection includes weapons of various sorts made of stone or wood, beautiful woven baskets, and gorgeous ceremonial robes made with feathers from various birds.

Maori weaving (

Today, collection managers in New Zealand museums must be Maori themselves if it’s a Maori collection. Mark is Maori, did some required training, and is currently studying toward a master’s degree. He is also a weaver. Around his neck, he wore a pendant made of New Zealand greenstone, a type of jade. Before we left the collection room, he gave another prayer, returning us to earth and grounding us. The Maori are a superstitious people. Outside the door at the water fountain, he took a few drops of water and sort of sprinkled them over his head and face, a cleansing act. We copied his actions.

Aside from the Maori artifacts, meetinghouse, and large-scale renditions of the Waitangi Treaty on opposite walls in English and Maori, the museum has an art collection, several cafes, and an exhibit on the Battle at Gallipoli that has been open for two and a half years and is still wildly popular. It features the stories of six individuals involved in this WWI battle (soldiers, commanders, and a nurse) with lots of photos and commentary from journals and letters. But the most striking thing about it is the six human figures, 2.5 times life size, that are rendered realistically down to the hairs on their head.  



On Saturday, we flew from Wellington to Blenheim which is about 20 minutes in the air, but far preferable to the often rough crossing of the Cook Strait which takes three to four hours. At Blenheim we were met by a chatty driver, named Matty. A young man who grew up on a vineyard nearby, he now works as a driver and boat captain for one of the local firms. His grandfather had been a sheep farmer, but when grape growing became popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s, he converted his land from sheep to grapes. Today the family sells all their grapes to one of the big vintners. Matty took us the roughly 20 minute drive from the airport to Picton, a small burg where we would get the water taxi out to our hotel on the Queen Charlotte Sound.  


We had a couple hours to wait before our scheduled taxi on the Cougar Line and it was lunchtime. We chose a café on the street facing the beach and enjoyed fish and chips and fish cakes. It was sunny and quite warm until a stiff breeze came up, chilling us considerably. We wandered the short side streets checking out the shops and restaurants. Cruise ships dock here, which explained the unexpected number of gift and souvenir shops and the many small restaurants.

The Cougar 1 could accommodate up to 28 people if some sat outside. We were happily inside for the 35-minute trip. The wind raised a few whitecaps making the trip rocky for a bit, but then the boat just bumped along until we reached the dock at Bay of Many Coves.    

This is a secluded woodsy property of small buildings clustered up the steep hillside. Dinner several levels above the waterfront was lovely and the whole place is very peaceful. The busy season starts in November and there were only a few other guests.

The rest of the day we mostly vegged out—reading, gazing at the view, and enjoying the tasty meals and slower pace.

Note:  Te Papa photos are from web; other photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).