Think Marlborough in New Zealand, and wine is the first thing that comes to mind, most probably the ubiquitous sauvignon blanc.
But the region, on the top of the South Island, is also famous for craft beer, as my wife, Marie and I discovered, way back in 2005.
You can imagine how much the industry has grown since then, with New Zealand regarded as being to the forefront of the craft brewery game.
Australia has done a good job of playing catch-up, but in 2005 I think the Kiwis were way ahead of us.
Marie and I embarked on a 32-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island in January/February, 2005, starting in Christchurch, heading south, and then travelling to the north, along the wild West Coast.
We headed to Blenheim, in the Marlborough region, after spending four nights in Motueka, where Marie had worked in the tobacco industry as a young back packer, in 1970.
We left Motueka on Thursday, February 3, stopping for lunch on the waterfront at Nelson, where we devoured delicious local scallops.
Then we drove through the beautiful scenery of the Bryant Range, stopping to admire young people swimming in the rock pools.
On our first full day at Blenheim, we explored the local area, including Villa Marie and Mahi wineries, stopping for lunch at the latter, dining in a beautiful outdoor setting, the smell of blossoms in the air.
A drive to Cloudy Bay climaxed the day, but the view was hardly worth the effort.
New Zealand was experiencing a heat wave around this time, and, as luck would have it, there was a beer festival at the Blenheim Showgrounds.
Now, Marie had had not drunk beer since her Lion Red days, at Motueka’s Post Office Hotel, but she had a go at Blenheim, and actually enjoyed the cold ales, one in particular, from the nearby town of Renwick.
Everyone had such a great time at the festival, and there was no crowd trouble. The only incident I saw was a young bloke throwing his empty bottle into a property, as people left the showgrounds and headed back to town.
The day after the beer festival we drove north to Picton, relaxing in the park, watching the ferries come and go.
From there we drove to Anakiwa, where the Queen Charlotte Track starts. The path looked so inviting we made a vow to come back one, to do the whole walk.
We bought fresh mussels from a store at Havelock, and pondered how lucky the Kiwis were to have such a plentiful and cheap supply of this delicacy.
Hamner Springs was our destination on Monday, February 7, and we drove south along the Kaikoura Coast, where there were lots of smelly seals. We had the obligatory lobster from a roadside caravan.
Marie didn’t like the Kaikoura area – too brown, and not enough trees for her.
We drove via Mt Lyford, to Hanmer Springs, where, much to our disappointment, the walking tracks were closed because of the fear of bush fires. Yes, the weather was hot, but to us, pretty much par for the course, for many parts of Australia. We didn’t bother with the hot springs, for which Hanmer is famous. A cool mountain stream would have been more fitting.
On our second night in Hamner, we joined Ian and Maureen Grage, from Ware in Hertfordshire, England, for drinks. Their life seemed to be one long holiday, as they made the most of things, following Ian’s payout, after giving long service to the insurance game. I was 52 at the time, and still a long way off retiring as a rugby league writer for ‘The Courier-Mail’.
On Wednesday, February 9, we drove south from Hamner to Akaroa, via the Lincoln University campus. Just down the road was Southbridge, where All Blacks’ legend, Dan Carter played his early rugby. Just up the road, from the Uni., was the home ground of the Hornby Panthers Rugby League Club.
Our Akaroa unit was at street level, near the harbor. We spent two nights in this town, which is steeped in British and French colonial history, enjoying the beauty of the hills, walking through forests and open fields, with great views around every corner. It was a hot day, and as soon as we got back to the harbor, I ran along the jetty and dived into the cooling waters, just before a spectacular storm hit.
Marie and I enjoyed the pub and cafe scene at Akaroa, and met some delightful locals, who were keen to talk cricket and both rugby codes.
February 11 was the last leg of our hire car travel, back to Christchurch, where we had dinner with Denise Glubb (nee Timms), a close friend of Marie’s from their Bangalow Primary School days, in Northern New South Wales.
They had met again, by chance, when Marie was back-packing around New Zealand in the early 1970s.
We had stayed with Denise and her husband, Tim in 1979. They ran Tillman’s Fine Furniture in Christchurch. In ’79, we had rushed things, trying to see the whole country in 12 days, and with our three-month-old daughter, Melanie, on her first big trip. This time we took it steady, but we still hadn’t scratched surface. We knew we would be back, to once again experience the Kiwi hospitality, and to enjoy the amazing scenery, great food, wine, and beer.
Happy Valley Brewing Co., Stafford is our local craft beer place, in Brisbane, in 2021.
1 Marie Ricketts in Motueka
2 Dining in Nelson
3 Bryant Ranges
4 Marie Ricketts enjoys an ale at Blenheim
5 The beer festival
7 A storm hits Akaroa Harbour
8 Denise Glubb (nee Timms) and Marie Ricketts