Situated in the heart of wine country, I spent my first six months in New Zealand working at a winery in Blenheim, enjoying the endless sunshine.
Six months is a lot to cram into a few minutes but here are the highlights of my life in Blenheim, New Zealand:
LIFE IN BLENHEIM
After arriving in New Zealand, I toured around the North Island a bit with my friend, Jennifer, before we traveled to the South Island and I traveled a bit more. But we couldn’t afford to wander forever and so we both found jobs at a winery in Blenheim, New Zealand.
Blenheim is situated in the region of Marlborough on the north tip of the South Island of New Zealand, with only the Cook Strait separating the town from the capitol city of Wellington on the North Island. The town of Blenheim supports around 32,000 people; a decent size for New Zealand. It is located at the end of a flat valley carved out by glaciers leaving behind stony soils. There was not much going on in the region until the 1970s when it was discovered that the stony soils grew uniquely delicious Sauvignon blanc grapes. Ever since then the entire valley has been populated by grape vines and wineries and is world-renowned for its distinct style of crisp Sauvignon blanc. I like to refer to Blenheim as the town that exists because it has to, not because it wants to. The town seems to exist solely to support the wine industry and its workers.
CLOUDY BAY VINEYARDS
And so I found myself working in the cellar door (what the kiwis call a tasting room) at Cloudy Bay Vineyards. It was a beautiful vineyard that produces very high quality wines. Guests from all over the world stopped by to taste our Sauvignon blanc as well as our pinot noir, chardonnay, and sparkling wines.
I was never a huge wine connoisseur but working at the winery taught me a lot about the wine making process and how much the location and soil influenced the flavors of the grapes. The job also came with a lot of perks as I found myself enjoying some amazing wines I could never afford, getting tipsy at the Marlborough Wine and Foods Festival, and attending some exclusive events!
As autumn rolled around, it was time for harvest or vintage as they call it in the wine world. Jennifer and I got to get out in the vineyards and try our hand at picking some pinot noir grapes and testing the sugars in the lab. Once the grapes have a certain sugar level the wine makers and viticulturists decide to begin harvesting the grapes.
All of the grapes were handpicked except for Sauvignon blanc. There was no way the grapes could be handpicked fast enough so machines were used to harvest the vast amounts of Sauvignon blanc grapes. Loads of backpackers with working holiday visas (the same visa I used to come to New Zealand) arrived in town to help with the grape picking and wine-making process during vintage time.
Though working at Cloudy Bay kept me busy, I found lots of time on my days off to get out and explore.
WHITES BAY AND RARANGI
While Blenheim is located on the actual bay called Cloudy Bay, the beaches are rocky and not good for swimming (the bay got its name from Captain Cook who remarked how murky and cloudy the water was with all the silt from the Wairau River). Just a bit north of the bay was another, much more suitable beach called Whites Bay. This beach was sandy and looked back towards Blenheim.
Another beach nearby was Rarangi which was stony and not good for swimming. However there lie a secret cave filled with glow worms. My friends and I spent many a night with a bottle of wine, staring at the glow worms and talking for hours.
My favorite swimming spot was a bit of a drive from Blenheim. The highway cuts through a mountain pass towards the town of Nelson and along the way there is a one-way bridge over a narrow gorge. The Pelorus River cuts through the gorge creating a deep swimming hole that is the perfect place to jump off the high rocks. The location was also used for scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies.
HIKING / TRAMPING
While Blenheim was located in the flat Wairau River Valley, the surrounding mountains were littered with tracks (the kiwis name for trails). On my days off I regularly found myself hiking or biking off into the Wither Hills, a nearby farm park which was used for cattle and sheep grazing as well as for walking and biking recreation.
Eventually I strung up the courage to plan an overnight hike to tackle Tapuae-O-Uenuku (Mt Tappy). This proved to be the scariest hike I have ever done but was incredibly rewarding.
A few hours to the north I even tramped across one of New Zealand’s Great Walks on the Abel Tasman Coast Walk.
And when I traveled a bit farther south to the seaside town of Kaikoura, I was able to hike up Mt. Fyffe and check out the seal colony nearby.
LIFE AFTER BLENHEIM
As my six months in Blenheim grew to a close, I was excited to see more of the South Island. My working holiday visa did not allow me to work at a job for longer than six months so it was time to move on. I packed away my summer memories and my belongings in Blenheim and headed south. I don’t know if I will ever be back in Blenheim, but something tells me I will. I’ll always remember climbing the mountains that blocked the rain and provided endless days of sun, all of the amazing wines I got to try, and the refreshing swimming holes.
I spent many nights in the Wither Hills watching the sunset and time would stand still just for an instant. My six months in Blenheim rushed by but I’ll never forget all the memories. Here’s a great track from Kygo:
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