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Monday, January 15, 2007

Blenheim - New Zealand's Napa Valley...

Blenheim is only about 1.5 hours (80 miles) north of Kaikoura.  It is pronounced (Bleh-num) and is famous for its more than 70 wineries.  It reminded us a lot of Napa, especially because we finally found gorgeous delicious weather here.  This area is known as the Marlborough district and its warm weather allows the grapes to slowly ripen producing some of New Zealand's best award winning wines. 



These are known as "Elevated Trellises".  This is a unique system used mainly in Australia where the weather is really hot.  The trellises let the grapes grow beneath the leaves which form a shade covering for them protecting them from the hot sun.  Generally though, in New Zealand, the grapes are planted in rows with the leaves trimmed as close as possible to the vine to allow for maximum sun to penetrate the grapes.  Very often we see a beautiful rose bush planted at the end of each row.  If the roses get mildew it is an indicator to the grower that their crop may be in danger, like a canary in a coal mine.




This region is famous for its white wines and Pinot Noirs, although it seems that Mindypod is developing a taste for the bubbly over here.  Especially if it is manufactured by Nautilus.  She likes the taste and the magnificent logo.



On our way to Blenheim we couldn't help but turn off the road (in our typical Pod manner of being spontaneous and following all interesting road signs) when we saw the signs leading to Dominion Salt Works



Much of New Zealand's salt needs are provided for from salt purified from the sea at Lake Grassmere.  This salt has many uses in industry and agriculture, as well as being used for water softening, in the production of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, and of course in food.  Interestingly, the largest user of salt here in New Zealand is the meat industry which uses this salt in the treatment of hides and skins.

We saw huge, gigantic mountains of salt.  There were Volvo tractors filling up  big rigs with it. 



And off to the sides and in back of these huge mounds of salt were the evaporation pools.  Sea water is pumped from the ocean through an intake pump to large ponds. Here the seawater is evaporated off by the sunshine and wind leaving the raw salt which is further purified and sanitized for different uses.



Salt making "season" is early October to early March when the sun is at its brightest and strongest.  These evaporation pools have a pinkish cast from the special algae that is formed as it evaporates.

From the saltworks we stopped at Makana Chocolate Factory to watch them hand dip large ginger chunks into chocolate.  They were also cooking up a batch of orange rinds that were going to go through the dipping process.  We do so love those factory tours!




 
Our lodgings were at  the "Old St. Marys Convent" on the outskirts of Blenheim.  This former home of The Sisters of Mercy Convent has only 5 rooms and we were lucky enough to stay here 2 nights with our friend Geoff Bloomingdale.  It was designed by Thomas Turnbull and built in 1901. 



The convent used to be located in Blenheim but was moved here to Rapaura in 5 separate sections about 12 years ago. 
There is also a very nice little Anglican chapel, St. Michael's Church, on the left side of the property that was also moved here.  We stayed in Sister Ancilla's Room. The convent is filled with interesting religious mementos and the vibe is very contemplative and restful.  Our lodge hosts, Dehnam and Layonie were incredibly kind and hospitable.



And the gardens seen from our 2nd story room at the Convent were magnificent too.



Geoff taught us how to play a three person game of pool which we played every night before going to bed...



Here's a bouquet of beautiful flowers that we saw at the Sunday morning Farmers Market...



We had a fun round of golf at the Marlborough Country Club - emphasis on "Country" as opposed to "Country Club".

The stream and ducklings were "OB", out of bounds.



This OB area looked like a meadow but was really a pond covered with a fine growth of pinkish vegetation.



We passed The Mussel Pot on the way out of town specializing in those famous Green Lipped New Zealand Mussels...



See our blog entry "Bon Appetit in Blenheim" for the food delicacies we enjoyed.