Yesterday we stayed in the most disgusting backpackers we’ve encountered in all of New Zealand. The bathrooms were reminiscent of frat houses. The carpets were threadbare, and our room smelled like wet clothes left to rot. The place was billed as a backpackers’ “home away from home,” but I tend to think, “only if that home was a flop house.” It was a shame really because it’s right in the heart of Blenheim, the seat of NZ’s famed Marlborough wine region (think Sauvignon Blanc), and it has a stellar backyard with large common areas, but good God people, someone needs to find a housekeeping staff! We were so grossed out we both hesitated to shower this morning.

The experience was such a shame because so many of NZ’s hostels have treated us so well, with comfy beds, well-equipped kitchens and yummy dessert treats. We hated to have a bad taste linger from our last night in the South Island, so we checked out first thing and decided to move on up to Picton today. We set out on a tiki tour of wineries as we made our way to the sister lodge of one of our favorite spots so far, Tasman Bay Backpackers.

Riesling vines outside Renwick, Marlborough

Riesling vines outside Renwick, Marlborough

We hit a very unique organic and biodynamic winery, called Seresin Estate, that uses all wild yeasts in their fermentation process, meaning their process takes longer than that of many other wineries because they have to give the yeasts time to grow and develop in the wine. It introduced a little bit of chaos into the winemaking process, but after a few years, the winemakers can pretty much know what to expect from their vineyards. We also stopped for tastings at Cloudy Bay, Georges Michel, Allan Scott, Wither Hills and Villa Maria. Jason’s chorizo pasta special lunch at Allan Scott’s restaurant was exquisite. (I always like other peoples’ orders better…go figure.)  By the end of the day we found we were more and more discriminating about the varietals we tasted, making more and more use of the spittoons. There is such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to wine, but we bought plenty, so we’ll be able to enjoy most of our favorites again soon.

Now we’re happily tucked in at Sequoia Lodge after a nice soak in the wooden hot tub, freshly rinsed of our Blenheim hostel cooties and sated from our yummy chocolate pudding dessert, courtesy of Sequoia’s staff. We’ll catch our ferry to the North Island from here tomorrow.

Sperm whale tail fluke

Sperm whale tail fluke

On another note, we also went whale watching this week in Kaikoura. We saw two sperm whales—one close up, one far away. Overall it was a very educational experience, but looking back, I’d say it was pricey for the level of excitement we got. I think I’d probably do it again if I wasn’t on a backpacker budget, but maybe we’re just spoiled because of sailing… Even though we didn’t see whales while we were aboard Tahina, most people we traveled with did, and I think the overall experience of living on the water all that time has made us biased about on the water activities. It just seems crazy to us to shell out $$$ for a couple of hours on the water watching sea life when that kind of thing was so much a part of our daily lives a few months back.

I’ve got a couple of applications in for jobs in Auckland, and Jason will be close behind once we’re back in the North Island next week. It’s scary to think that the return to the “real world” is so close to kicking into full effect. It’s been an amazing 10 months though, so while we know we’ll miss it, we think we’re ready.

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