FolkestoneJack's Tracks

New Zealand’s largest wine cave

Posted in Gibbston, New Zealand by folkestonejack on January 1, 2016

A suitably relaxed start to the first day of the year saw us head out in late morning, driving the short distance to Gibbston Valley Winery with the memory of their rosé wine still fresh in our minds from yesterday.

Gibbston Valley

One of the many vineyards in Gibbston Valley

The valley is dominated by vineyards today, but things were very different in the early 1980s when Alan Brady planted his first vines here. He went on to establish the first commercial vineyard in the Gibbston Valley and the winery followed in 1990. The scene today is somewhat reminiscent of the Rhine valley and the wine trail has become part of the tourist appeal of Queenstown.

Taking up the opportunity to go on one of the hourly tours of the wine cave proved to be a great move, giving a wonderful insight into the processes involved in winemaking in the valley. The wine cave itself was quite astonishing – a 1400 cubic metre tunnel and cave blasted 75 metres into the schist mountain twenty years ago (a feat that apparently took three months for the tunnellers who had previously worked on the Clyde Dam) and it remains unchallenged as the largest Wine Cave in New Zealand.

Our tour guide, Paul, explained that the cave provides the perfect environment for the 400 oak barrels of wine stored along the walls, though even in these conditions the angel’s still take their share (the breathability of the oak barrels allows the angels to take a 6% share of the wine through evaporation).

In the cool of the cave we sampled Gibbston Valley’s Pinot gris, Pinot blanc and Pinot noir as well as gaining an appreciation of the taste of wine taken straight from the barrel. The highlight was a drop of their rather fine dessert wine Late Harvest, a stunning blend of Riesling and Pinot Blanc, which was more than enough to persuade me to part with some cash for a bottle.

The wine cave

The wine cave

As if this wasn’t enough, a cheesery is located next door to the winery, serving up a very generous sharing board of cheeses, biscuits, grapes, cherries and chutney. In fact, sufficiently delicious that we had to make a stop on the way back to pick up some extra supplies for our evening meal!

It wasn’t all cheese and wine today, we spent a very enjoyable afternoon wandering around the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown with its rather splendid library (a modern building, built to a design intended to fit in with the historic character of the town) and the fascinating chinese settlement from the 1880s. It took great willpower not to walk into Gibbston Valley’s artisan café on Buckingham Street…

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Driving up the devil’s staircase

Posted in Gibbston, Milford Sound, New Zealand by folkestonejack on December 30, 2015

The 186 mile journey from Milford Sound took us back through the Homer Tunnel and onto the state highway towards Gibbston via Te Anau and Kingston. It is a long and somewhat awkward drive that takes you considerably further away from your destination (as the crow flies) at first but it’s not without points of interest. The winding stretch up the side of Lake Wakatipu, known as the Devil’s Staircase, was particularly memorable with its rises and falls.

The Devil's Staircase

The Devil’s Staircase

The traffic flow on the first part of the route tends to be tidal, with very little traffic out of Milford Sound in the morning and plenty coming in, leaving us with a largely empty road. In contrast, the last part of the journey was the most painful, skirting Queenstown at a crawl before making it into Gibbston in late afternoon.

Our route took us past what remains of the Kingston Flyer, one of the most high profile steam railways in New Zealand but sadly out of action for a few years now. We stopped off at the Kingston terminus and could see the locomotives fenced off in a compound and the station building looking rather forlorn.

The line originally ran from Invercargill to Kingston, where passengers could embark on a steamship for the crossing to Queenstown. A small monument on the waterfront reminds us that the Wakatipu steamers Mountaineer and Earnshaw were assembled in this vicinity on 11th February 1879 and 24th February 1912 respectively.

The Kingston Flyer compound

The Kingston Flyer compound

In its preservation days the line that the Kingston Flyer travelled was considerably shorter, with its final incarnation seeing trains on the eight and a half mile line between Fairlight and Kingston. Neither location seems to have offered passengers much in the way of attractions besides a ride on the train which perhaps limited its appeal. Nevertheless, the railway has a gorgeous setting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the mountains as a backdrop so it is a shame that it hasn’t proved to be more successful.

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