It’s time to confess my secret obsession with Blenheim.
Does the town make you think of a vivacious Sauvignon Blanc, some stunning Marlborough salmon or freshly harvested clams?
Yes, my fix involves all of the above, but with walking boots, Nordic sticks and time to savour the Wither Hills walkway.
Plan a 48-hour getaway and walk the route each day. You will be brimming with happiness and immeasurable delights – it’s fantastic at any time of the year. Years ago, a lovely local lured me there with the suggestion it was a popular walk, but often a “hidden gem” for visitors.
Once sampled, I was hooked and now I make crazy detours and specify – like some Hollywood diva – that any stop in the area must allow time to go up there.
The great loop takes you up the Quail Valley and then along the ridge and down to the car park – it’s about a one-hour walk, but allow a little extra time to stop and enjoy the views.
It’s easy and before you think it may be beyond your fitness levels, I was overtaken by two sprightly 80-plus-year-olds.
9am: Fortify yourself by heading to the Chantilly Cafe for a great coffee and hot food all presented by the fabulous Pat Sundholm and her daughter Kirsty. Their toasted sandwiches, mac and cheese and counter food will delight you. Leave room for their old-fashioned custard cheese cakes.
1pm: Head to The Burleigh, voted by Trip Advisor as the number-one place in town and famous for their pies. The pork belly and beef and blue cheese varieties sell out quickly, and their sausage rolls will make you weep with delight – their coffee is excellent and service terrific. Order frozen pies to take home.
6pm: Two options here – if you are still in your walking gear and hungry, head to Roast on the Run to eat in and try their delicious, inexpensive roast dinners. Pay the little bit extra for the cauliflower cheese. Most of the meat is their own product, and the secret to their superb flavour and tenderness is long, slow cooking.
Or make a reservation at Arbour Restaurant and sample superb food mastered by Bradley Hornby and served by the ultra-friendly Liz Buttimore. Their seafood plate with clams, salmon and mussels is almost too pretty to eat – but the taste is sensational!
9am: Visit the Farmers’ Market at the A&P Showgrounds to buy fresh nuts, garlic, Kaikoura cheese and cherry juice – just what you need before a walk in the hills. Check to see if the preserve makers have any pinot noir jelly – it’s a great addition to some mayo in a cold roast lamb sandwich.
At noon: Giesen Wines Cellar Door is a must – super staff, outstanding wines – try The August barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc and order their famous platter. Sitting there in a warm, convivial atmosphere overlooking the vines, you just say to yourself, “Why do I travel so far when you have this here in New Zealand?” Order a plate of mussels as well – seriously good!
8.30am: On the way to the airport, make a quick visit to Taylor Pass Honey Co. Take in your own jar and let them fill it with their luscious blue borage honey. If time permits, they are conveniently located right by the car park for the Wither Hills walkway.
An insider's guide to Blenheim
Best Bargain: Roast on the Run – the best dinner for $14.50.
Not to be Missed: The platter and wine at Giesen Cellar Door, giesen.co.nz.
Shopping destination: Just Browsing Antiques, Batty’s Rd, has cheap vintage everything.
Beautiful view: Wither Hills walkway at sunset.
Best Place to People Watch: Blenheim airport. I told British adventurer/TV star and friend of the royals Ben Fogle he had great calf muscles – these things are important, athlete to athlete.
Words: Annabelle White