The Marlborough region is just over Cook Strait from Wellington. It’s known for the scenic Marlborough Sounds and Sauvignon Blanc wine.
Taking the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry to Marlborough
I chose the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry over the Interislander as it was marginally cheaper and their Wellington terminal is closer to the city. The Interislander has also had a terrible summer PR-wise with regularly cancelled sailings due to their ships (aka lemons) breaking down. A propeller was even lost in Cook Strait.
When I went to book the crossing, Bluebridge’s online booking system was down. A quick look on Twitter confirmed that had been the case for several days. After calling, being kept on hold for some time, and even tortured with some terrible singing, I left a message for them to call me back. It took them several hours but my call was returned.
Mike and I had been keen to try out the sleeper service where you board at around 11pm, have a private room and magically wake up in Picton around 5.30am but it wasn’t available the morning we wanted to go. After later reading some of the reviews on tripadvisor, I’m confident we got much more sleep at home. Even as foot passengers we had to be at the ferry terminal an hour prior to our sailing from Wellington.
The Jetty coffee bar closed quarter of an hour later, despite a growing queue. The lone staff member said she had to get on the boat. There was a lot of complaining and it was a very bad look. Couldn’t they at least keep someone there until we started boarding?
There is a serious lack in glamour boarding and exiting these ferries as a foot passenger. When you get on a Cruise Ship at a terminal it’s all very fancy. To get on the Bluebridge you walk up a metal vehicle ramp, walk through a fumy vehicle deck (in this case close by a sheep truck) and climb a lot of narrow stairs. Bluebridge’s marketing tends to promote the service and the ferries without showing their interiors and focusing on the scenery instead. It’s an impressive tactic really.
The Santa Regina was built in 1985 (and is therefore older than me). It is very pokey inside though the lounge we were sitting in had couches which gave the area a cozy feel. However the TV screens dotted around the room were playing an alarmingly loud movie which was inescapable, as was the screaming from a children’s play area in the corner. Windows were surprisingly small and lacking. Outside on the deck the smell of diesel was strong (as you might expect) and the larger top deck was very exposed though better.
We returned on The Straightsman which was an immense improvement. Built 20 years after the Santa Regina in 2005 The Straightsman is bigger and is the Bluebridge ferry which offers private cabins for an additional charge. It has a soundproof movie area and children’s playroom and a much bigger dining area. I also highly recommend the $5 pancakes.
We picked up our pre-booked rental car from Budget – a ‘Compact Manual’ model so I could learn to drive a manual car per my 30 Before 30 list. The car was a very fuel efficient, cute blue Toyota Yarris. I got an initial lesson in a carpark (I wasn’t a complete beginner so knew the basics of working with a clutch and gear stick) before bunny hopping and stalling my way up and down a remote stretch of road by the Saint Clair Winery.
By the end of the weekend I was fairly competent and confident enough to drive on State Highway one but was far from mastering the reverse hill (or truthfully any kind of) start. I really appreciated the fact we could leave the car at the Bluebridge terminal and hand the keys in at the counter. It saved a taxi fare as well as a lot of stress.
Accommodation in Marlborough
I booked Vintners Hotel Marlborough for the night. Our unit was sunny, private spacious and modern and we made use of the Spa Pool facility. There was a card and small gift of a pot of cherry jam as a thank you for booking which was lovely of the host and greatly appreciated. My second thought however was that we should buy bread and have it on toast for breakfast. Surely this significantly reduces consumption of the $20 per person breakfast on offer in the restaurant?
The best Wineries in Marlborough
Our first stop was Hunters for lunch. I’d emailed the restaurant more than a week prior to make a reservation but it was clearly not required as we could have sat at any table in the joint. We ordered a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine the Marlborough region is known for.
My salmon was melt in your mouth material and the Creme Brulee and Crepes with local honey Mike and I shared for desert were divine.
The hostess at Saint Clair the following day was incredibly knowledgeable, explaining everything from harvesting to the reason for the gun-shot like noises we’d been hearing continually (elaborate bird scarers and men on quad bikes with guns).
My favourite winery we visited was Cloudy Bay – we sat on the deck in the sun and consumed bubbles, freshly shucked oysters and goats cheese with bread and honey. But the peace was quickly disturbed by the arrival of a lot of kids on the back of a pick-up truck. After a quick game of petanque we moved on and left them too it.
For a bit of variety we also stopped in at the Moa Brewery to taste their range of Cider and Beer and while it seemed at the time like carrying a large box of their heavily discounted stock home was too big a mission to handle, I kind of regret not purchasing anything to take home.
In all cases the tasting fees were reasonable and the staff lovely. I’d recommend taking a few days out in Malborough when you get off the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry before continuing down the South Island.