Exploring Picton and the surrounding area

As part of our travel planning we have discussed our approach to the road in some depth, having found that we do tend to have two different travel styles.

One of us likes to stop at all places of interest along the way without the pressure of getting where we are going. The other prefers to get from point A to point B with a surgical strike approach.

So one of our first challenges is to be able to meet somewhere in the middle, by getting to our destinations in a timely fashion, with a rough plan of when and where we will be, but with enough time built in to stop in to places of interest along the way. Of course, the fur baby is happy so long as we plan in enough walk and swim times for her and meals are on time.

Our first destination is, of course, beautiful Picton, and we don’t want to rush off from the surrounding area as there is so much to see and do. There is a free-parking area for an overnight stay a couple of hundred metres from the ferry terminals on Dublin Street. We found this to be really convenient as it’s centrally located with a large field next door and an easy walk to town. Also a little further up the same road within walking distance is the Picton Village Bakkerij. It produces European baking treats and we loved the offerings and the fact that it opens early in the morning. If you love warm bread and other delicious bakery delights to start the day, this is the place.

We strolled the town checking out the marina, local park and shops, sending our first batch of postcards, which for us is a ritual whenever we travel. Who doesn’t love getting things in the mailbox that don’t require a reply with payment?

And with the new installation of a gas oven in our motorhome, we wanted to test our baking skills and needed a muffin and baking tray, but, on a travel budget didn’t want to pay the earth. So we walked the Picton township in search of a second-hand store (another of our rituals), and to our delight discovered that Picton has one of the best. The shop is called ‘2nd Time Around’ situated on Wellington Street and what it doesn’t have isn’t worth having. We also managed to score a seat organiser which straps to the back of the driving seat and it has proved to be invaluable for the storage of the cluttery, but much needed items: sunglasses, reading glasses iPad, iPod and phones etc. Sometimes it’s the small unexpected things in such a tight space that make all the difference.

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We had heard about a concert on the Picton waterfront, which we were both keen to check out. Coming from a big city we approximated that the concert would be on for a fair few hours, so we decided to pack a picnic and head in to what we thought would be midway through the show – only to discover the band was packing up on our arrival. All was not lost, though; we had a wonderful picnic anyway, with the sun shining and the palm trees majestically lining the foreshore setting the scene.

Mental note to ourselves: in small town New Zealand, be on time for events.

Our next mission was to travel further into the region. We had heard that the DOC camp at Aussie Bay was accommodating to dogs and it was situated right on the water’s edge of Grove Arm, further along from Queens Charlotte Sound – so we decided to drive down Queen Charlotte Drive to check it out as a potential destination.

We had also been warned that Queen Charlotte Drive was full of twists and turns and was definitely a road to be driven with care, so our plan was to unhitch the tow vehicle and drive it separately in convoy – which in hindsight was a good plan. The scenery and views were breath-taking and for all that we heard about this area, we were not disappointed one bit. We would highly recommend everybody take this road and soak in the views of ‘The Sounds’, which left us awestruck and wanting more.

Upon arrival, we discovered that the Aussie Bay location was indeed beautiful but had a very steep entry and, with sadness, we felt though that it was going to be too steep for us, especially as we were still getting used to what our motorhome was capable of. It’s all still a learning curve, but we have made a promise to return once we were armed with more experience under our belts.

So feeling slightly despondent about not finding our first destination to be right, we consulted the DOC brochure and armed with our DOC camping permit and dog permit we headed for our next stop: Rarangi. This is approximately eight kilometres northeast of Tuamarina, in between Blenheim and Picton.

Both sides of the road leading into Rarangi are dotted with vineyards, making it an especially appealing entry. And hallelujah! What a wonderful campground we found. We parked right next to the beach and protected ourselves from the wind by some trees as it was fairly exposed. When we walked to explore further around Cloudy Bay, the setting looked moody and overcast but very beautiful with the surrounding Robinson ranges as a stunning backdrop. According to our map, Mount Robinson stands 1036 metres high.

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There are 20 non-powered camping sites there and we found the facilities top notch with flat parking spots, toilets and cold showers available. Our fellow campers also told us about the Whites Bay campground which is north of Rarangi after a drive over the steep ranges on a narrow, winding gravel Port Underwood road; but apparently a totally worthwhile trip. However, as no canines are allowed, we didn’t make the trip over.

Our fellow campers were regular visitors to Rarangi and hailed from Dunedin. He made his own whiskey and was kind enough to offer us a taste. There were two varieties on offer so both of course were put to the test by the whiskey drinker in our duo. The result – one was found to be extremely smooth while the other could have been used to fuel a plane. The taster slept soundly.

After having a good nature fix at the campsite and taking in the sea air, we decided to head into Blenheim to restock supplies and empty everything that needed emptying. We also wanted to check out the best places to stay and had been chatting to lots of fellow travellers along the way who had shared their destination tips with us.

Blenheim’s Waterlea Racecourse seems to be a highly popular place to stay and upon arrival we understood why. The setting is both picturesque and peaceful, adjoining the golf course and looking onto the Richmond ranges. Apparently Blenheim frequently competes as being one of the sunniest places in New Zealand but is also known for its wind – and we definitely experienced plenty of both. We also learnt that Marlborough became a separate province in 1859 and of course it is now famous for its vineyards and wine.

After a stop in to the i-Site, we found out about the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail which can be taken as a guided tour (or pick up a map and choose your destinations independently) to visit some of the iconic Marlborough vineyards.

Having our bikes with us, we opted to pick up the map and cycle the trail but to only stop at three destinations – given we wanted to make it home in one piece. Some advice from us: if partaking in this activity, keep in mind that while it is a cycle tour, the vineyards are often places one prefers to arrive at looking semi-presentable and not in attire suited for the Tour de France. Plus pack a deodorant and plenty of water to avoid arriving frazzled and dehydrated.

The vineyards have tasting options for all price ranges and we found the staff to be both knowledgeable and helpful in their recommendations. The varieties of wine on offer were fabulous but Cloudy Bay was a standout for us.

We also stopped in to the Moa Brewery cellar door which we would highly recommend. Again there was a tasting option which allowed us to try all of its delicious craft brews and we found them to be generous samples. The surroundings are very relaxing with indoor and outdoor seating and they even had a hand-crafted Moa to greet you at the door. Classic.

We made it home in one piece and would recommend this adventure to everyone who enjoys the outdoors, cycling and a lycra-free tipple.


Read the full article in issue #138 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine (on sale now!). Subscribe here.

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