I started drinking wine as a teenager when I lived in the Loire Valley with a wonderful French family. My hosts had stopped producing their own wine only a couple of years before my arrival but there was still plenty in supply during my stay. I can picture the grape stomping tray in the garden shed and I recall wondering at the time about family members' foot hygiene. Our village was surrounded by rolling countryside with vineyard after vineyard - if only I'd had the inclination to learn about wine appreciation and wine-making back then.
There were some efforts to teach me wine appreciation during my stay in France. I recall being encouraged to swirl wine around in the glass to look for its 'skirt' - which seemed to me ridiculous, and an unnecessary delay in the drinking process!
Similar to French coffee, the home-made wine we drank was thick and strong. Ever since, pretty much any wine has seemed fancy by comparison. I have been far from discerning in my wine preferences.
Having reinvented myself as a tour operator, I am in the enviable position of taking people to the Wairarapa on wine-tasting tours. Some of these people are wine officionados, but most are simply looking for an enjoyable day out.
Hearing passionate wine-makers speak about the complexities of their craft and the level of hard graft they put in has given me a new appreciation for wine, along with a sense of duty to do it service. In fact it's more than that - I'm curious to find out whether my senses have a hope of ever identifying "smoked game on the nose" or whether my taste buds can find "passionfruit and fresh lime aromas" in a wine.
Making up for lost years, I was recently coached on how to 'taste' wine. By un-glamourously swilling the liquid around like mouthwash, I was taught to release the wine's flavours. The next step involved opening my mouth and breathing air in over the top of the wine (DO try this at home! It'll save you embarrassment in public).
Above: The Cottage Cellar Door, Te Kairanga Wines, Martinborough
I was quite chuffed to learn that a French woman named Marie Zelie first planted vines and produced wine in the Wairarapa in the late 1800s, near my birthplace of Masterton. Marie's pinot noir was even tasted in Paris! I imagine that locally she would have trouble convincing anyone at the time to stop quaffing whisky or beer long enough to sample her wine. And to add insult to injury her vines were apparently ripped from the ground during the ensuing prohibition period.
It wasn't until almost a century later that wine-making came back to life in the Wairarapa, The first four main wineries to establish themselves did so around Martinborough in the 1980's. Dave Cull has produced an interesting book about the development of the wine industry in the area - suffice to say that there are now over 20 small wineries in and around Martinborough producing high-quality wines.
Below: Dining above the vines at the Vineyard Cafe, Margrain Vineyard, Martinborough
If you fancy getting a small group together for a fun day of wine-tasting - talk to Sue for an experience that is tailored for your group. Our fabulous new 12-seater minibus loves the run over the hill.
You make the world keep spinning.
You make the world a better place for all of us.
Welcome Tours is hugely appreciative of the various roles that volunteers play in sustaining our environment, nurturing wildlife, contributing to the arts and making them accessible, providing hospitality to visitors, researching heritage and sharing these discoveries.
We benefit from your efforts on our tours. What's more, personal encounters with volunteers can make an experience particularly memorable. A fine example of this was a recent visit to the delightful Shannon Railway Station Museum. Our Discovery Day Trip guests were enthusiastically welcomed by volunteers Judith, Pat and Tony who provided us with a talk and a cuppa - their hospitality and passion for local history made the visit extra special.
Wow! Welcome Tours has celebrated our one year anniversary.
Over the past twelve months we've been testing our place in the market and refining what makes Welcome Tours unique. Our small-group guided tours are designed, not only for visitors, but for people who are familiar with the region - including those who have spent a life-time here.
We pride ourselves on:
Our guests are rewarded with interesting and enjoyable experiences. We are rewarded with happy guests who provide consistently positive feedback and repeat custom. It's definitely win - win. And we love to see the number of people who join our tours on their own and obviously feel comfortable because they come back for more.
Thank you to those of you who took the plunge and tried something new with Welcome Tours in our first year. For us, it has been a pleasure. Here's to many more adventures...
You can read about our upcoming Discovery Day Trips from the Kapiti Coast here. Stay tuned to find out what part of the region we'll be offering the tours to next.
It's a tricky business isn't it? ... deciding what to hold on to from the past. Somehow I'm now of the generation that is entrusted with the guardianship of family history. It feels like a big responsibility.
I admit that I didn't used to have much interest in the past. Historic photos sometimes grabbed my attention, particularly those that showed the early twentieth century era that my grandparents grew up in - through the photos I could imagine the crazy rate of technological change experienced during their lifetimes.
Now though, I've come to appreciate that going back only two or three generations earlier, my family were among the earliest European settlers in New Zealand.
Wow!! Like really, WOW!! How amazing would it be to step back into their shoes? How extraordinarily different this new land and the new life of those very early settlers must have been from what they knew in their homelands.
Take Alice's parents for example. Alice Russ is pictured here with her husband Thomas. Her parents James and Sarah Horn sailed into Nelson aboard the Prince of Wales on 31 December 1842. In James Poppleton Horn's later life he recorded some fascinating memoirs that give me an inkling into their lives as Nelson established itself. I doubt that James could have imagined what a gift he was giving future generations when he put pen to paper.
I'm pleased that my mother has written and shared 'snippets' of her childhood for our family to enjoy. In fact, I've taken to recording some memories of my childhood in a notebook myself. In the words of Louisa May Alcott:
I appreciate now that learning about James, Alice and others who have passed before me helps me to understand who I am, and the time and place I live in. But I am shaped by so many strands of cultures and circumstances. The broader the interest I take, the better.
Aside from James Poppleton Horn and my mother who have done their bit to preserve memories, I am really grateful to the heritage devotees who put in hours, dollars, and hard yards to protect and preserve treasures from the past. We'll be visiting some of these enthusiasts on the Wairarapa Heritage Tour in September. The motorcycle and side car pictured here are part of Gaye and Francis Pointon's magnificent vintage automobile and motorcycle collection, and the splendid vintage sport leotard is from Henry Christensen's private treasure trove of rural relics at Mt Bruce.
Excitement about the Wairarapa Heritage Tour is building, so be in quick if you'd like to join this adventure. Staying at Llandaff will be the perfect setting for our Heritage excursions.
I look forward to hearing from you - 04 478 6033.
Gardens are being announced and the planning and preparations are underway for the annual Pukaha Mount Bruce Wairarapa Garden Tour. Each year Welcome Tours puts on a small-group tour in conjunction with the event, departing from the Kapiti Coast.
I sat down for a chat with Alison, a guest on the Welcome Tours Spring Garden Tour in 2017 to ask what she thought of the weekend...
What was your impression of the gardens you visited?
The gardens we went to were all so different. Some small, some large, some colourful, some green. Apart from one I wasn’t keen on, the rest were brilliant. I couldn’t pick a favourite.
I was impressed by the hundreds and hundreds of roses. The clipped hedges. The loaded wisteria which was like a waterfall. Beautiful…
It was lovely to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch in one garden. The owner even brought us a cup of tea and made us most welcome. I think the hosts enjoyed having admirers of their gardens.
Did you connect with any of the properties in particular?
Brancepeth was very special. As a homestead on a large rural property, it took my heart and soul. It reminded me of the holidays I used to have as a city kid, staying with relatives on a large farm in North Canterbury.
The place was so well maintained and the history of it was very interesting. It has magnificent trees and I read that one of them was planted by one of the boys who brought it out from England as an acorn in his pocket.
Were they any surprises in the gardens?
There were lots of sculptures, fountains, and bird baths in the gardens… so much beauty and architecture. A blue Himalayan poppy was a favourite for me and a colourful cottage garden was a lovely balance to some of the larger lawns we saw.
Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to at the Gardens Weekend this year?
I’m looking forward to seeing a whole lot of new gardens in 2018.
Do you have any tips for first-timers on the garden tour?
It’s worth taking time to plan your route so that you see different types of gardens and you’re not too rushed. Sue took care of that for us and it worked well.
Keep an eye out for the owners - we loved the way they talked to us. That was a highlight. They shared their knowledge and experience and some of them had a question or two for us as well.
The images below are from Old Tablelands, the first garden to be announced for the 2018 Wairarapa Gardens Weekend...
If you would like to join Welcome Tours as we visit the gardens this year, please see here for more information, or call 04 478 6033.
All alone with a forest full of birds... that was my amazing experience a couple of weeks ago.
We hear a lot about the mental health benefits of getting outdoors. Well, I've always known that being close to nature does me good, whether it's sitting on the coast gazing out to sea or undertaking an expedition like hiking the Queen Charlotte Track.
I hit the jackpot recently by staying overnight with family members in a little cottage in Nga Manu Nature Reserve on the Kapiti Coast. I hadn't visited the reserve before but I learned a lot about it. Nga Manu is administered by a Charitable Trust, with a primary focus on New Zealand native bird conservation. The reserve has been open to the public since 1981 and covers approximately 15 hectares of predominantly coastal lowland swamp forest.
The watch tower, a viewing position by the lake, Nga Manu and adjoining blocks from above.
The best thing for me about staying over in the reserve was very early on Sunday morning when I crept out of the cottage on my own. Just me and nga manu (the birds). Magical.
In the still of early morning I was surrounded by the sights and sounds of different birds. Sitting quietly in several different spots in the forest paid dividends. I was visited by a busy quail family and a majestic white-aproned kereru. Tui and piwakawaka (fantails) were plentiful. Pukeko were very curious about my presence and a pair of paradise ducks honked to each other to reunite on the lake. The colours of a chaffinch up close were stunning and my bird identification skills were put to the test by a cute round robin (best guess!).
Paradise ducks reunited, a kereru on high, the endangered Whio
Apart from the birds that come and go as they please in the reserve, Nga Manu also has a number of aviaries and a nocturnal bird house. Birds in enclosures make me feel a little sad but it was very special to see the beautiful endangered whio (blue duck) which is part of a captive breeding programme at Nga Manu - the aim being to boost their population in the wild. It was a privilege to watch two curious kiwi going about their business in the dim light of the nocturnal enclosure.
Finding and sharing these experiences is what Welcome Tours is all about. Nga Manu is good for getting up close and personal with nature without having to bust a gut in the process, in fact most of the area is flat enough to be accessible by wheelchair or buggy. In addition to feeling zen from being at one with nature, there's an opportunity to learn about and support wildlife conservation. How good is that? For a particularly unique and memorable experience, I do recommend staying overnight in the cottage.
Welcome Tours has a gentle nature escape lined up that you are welcome to join. In November we're heading over the hill for the Wairarapa Spring Garden tour, which incorporates the annual Wairarapa Gardens Weekend. We'll have the opportunity to visit private gardens that open to the public exclusively for this Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre fundraiser - an excellent cause. Hop on board!
One thing is for sure - you never know what Wellington will serve up next. Last weekend these free-styling zebras were out doing their thing, as cool as cucumbers on Cuba Street.
The zebra crew were a roaming feature of the event-packed Cuba Dupa festival. Even the rain could do little to dampen the vibrant party atmosphere around the 'Cuba Quarter'. With many of the 250 performers wandering amongst the crowd between shows, kookiness was everywhere.
And food???!! The choice from street food stalls was amazing. The Whittaker's chocolate and plum doughnut was to die for (hmmmm, perhaps one shouldn't have too many of those...)
A couple of weeks earlier the colourful Wellington International Pride Parade filled the city streets to the sensational beats of Wellington Batucuda. It was impossible not to get caught up in the rhythm and vibe of the celebration.
Summer brought with it Wellington's neighbourhood festivities as well, with market stalls and family-focused entertainment events. The kids dancing at the Island Bay Festival in February were a highlight for me, and it was pretty special to see that the Fred Dagg's Kiwi gumboot legacy lives on.
Events compete for attention in a jam-packed buzz of cultural activity in Wellington. Pigs in muck we are. I haven't even mentioned the annual Gardens Magic concerts, Waitangi Day events, the Pasefika Festival, Readers and Writers Week, the Fringe Festival, the opening of Te Auaha, the New Zealand Festival, or Chinese New Year celebrations.
Several years ago Wellingtonians were chuffed when the Lonely Planet travel guide described our city as the "coolest little capital in the world". Size aside, I reckon we're possibly the coolest capital, full stop.
Quarrying at Owhiro Bay is thankfully well behind us and now days this spectacular piece of coastline is even graced with a landscaped visitor entrance and a designer information centre. If you are keen for a hike around the coast, it's a good idea to come here on a Sunday when the area is closed to vehicles. And if you visit between May and August you will be treated to the sight (and smell!) of a colony of fur seals hauled up on the rocks at Sinclair Head. They are definitely worth investigating - from a safe distance!
Speaking of marine life, Taputeranga marine reserve was introduced in 2008 and stretches from the old quarry at Owhiro Bay around to Princess Bay. The resurgence of sea life within this 854 hectare protected area is stunning. It's definitely worth getting amongst it with a mask and snorkel (and preferably a wet-suit - the water here is NEVER warm!). They say the sea floor around the island is now teeming with crayfish and that the crays are so at ease, they don't even bother hiding in the crevices anymore.
In my view the moods and spirit of the South Coast are captured well in artist Michael McCormack's paintings. Good on Michael for gifting the mural on the side of his studio gallery (pictured) to the people of Island Bay. It's a lovely feature.
Discover some of Sue's favourite spots with her on the Wellington South Coast Discovery Day Trip. Thursday 19 April 2018.
Have you paid much attention to the Wellington waterfront lately? I mean, really taken a good look at what's there? Sure, it's a great place for a stroll on a gorgeous day - picturesque with a buzz of activity. But if you start peeking in the nooks and crannies and paying attention to the information around you, you'll be treated to a wealth of art and culture. And it couldn't be easier, with a number of helpful guides that make this discovery a breeze.
Let's start with the Wellington Writer's Walk. Sculptural quotations dotted around the waterfront pay tribute to Wellington in the words of New Zealand poets, novelists and playwrights.
To spur you further along your cultural journey, there's a Waterfront Sculpture Trail.
One sculpture of note is the Kupe statue which depicts the arrival of Maori in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It was originally on show at the grand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington (1939/40) and has resided at the Wellington Railway Station, the Wellington Showgrounds and Te Papa. Now cast in bronze, the statue seems at home on the waterfront, standing proud in front of Te Wharewaka o Poneke function centre.
Of the 13 sculptures on the trail, my personal favourite is Nga Kina by Michel Tuffery. It reminds me of summer holidays. At present Nga Kina is backed by a building site, but it's still worth a visit.
Left: Kupe by William Trethewey (1939), Centre: Nga Kina by Michel Tuffery (2012). Right: Fruits of the Garden by Paul Dibble (2002).
And call me unobservant but I only recently noticed the large Paul Dibble sculpture Fruits of the Garden that sits high in Frank Kitts park. This is best viewed from the park, but can be seen from the waterfront walk as well.
If you would like to join a small group, Sue is hosting a guided tour of Wellington Waterfront on Thursday 22 March.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear - you never know when you'll get hit by a bus."
Thanks to wee Colton's early arrival two weeks ago (pictured), I have joined the auspicious Grandparents Club. I am absolutely delighted! Now as a grandparent, when the time is right, I will sagely and dutifully pass on pearlers like the above. I can't wait.
Advice about clean undies is pretty much timeless. But when it comes to advising Colton's parents, I have to keep in mind that a whole generation of new humans has been raised since I was last nursing a wee one. Practices have changed. I check myself before offering outdated and unhelpful advice, and I'm learning from the new parents. It's a great position to be in, I'm loving it!
I often talk about the special relationship I had with my own Grandmother. Grandma Winnie was a big part of my childhood. She did seem sage and wise - she was also lots of fun. Grandma shared her love of birds and music and she had the patience to teach me so many things.
I can picture Grandma's face at the window for hours on end as I showed off various inane 'talents' I was trying to master. (Seriously I have no talents. In fact going cross-eyed is the only trick I thought I had nailed in my whole life and to my dismay I found out recently I don't even do that properly).
Grandparents and grandchildren do have something really special going on, don't you think?
If the kids are happy on holiday, everyone's happy, right? The full activity programme takes care of that. And opportunities for family story telling are woven into the programme.
Grandma and I would have had the BEST time on this tour! Perhaps Colton and I will one day too.
When I think of my new delightful wee grandson and other grandchildren to follow, I think about the impression I want to leave. Like my own grandmother before me, I hope to be patient and comforting, to have truckloads of fun with my grandchildren, and to love them unconditionally. That will be a job well done.
Oh, and it's nearly my turn to endure "Watch me!! Watch me!!", "Look what I can do!!". Fair's fair, after all.
Bookings for the Fun Times tour are closing on 19 December - if you are interested, you'll need to be in quick!
Sue is the Director and Chief Explorer at Welcome Tours. Sue blogs about new discoveries and the things that matter to Welcome Tours.