Thursday, 14 February 2013

Bungy jumping gnomes, scary roads – and a bit of wine

Queenstown, New Zealand.

It’s where you go if you want to be chucked out of a plane, thrown off a high bridge with a Velcro bandage round your ankles, hurtled down the rapids in a dingy, or anything else to boost your adrenalin.
It’s also a rather beautiful spot.  Surrounded by craggy peaks, rolling hills and a dazzling lake, it’s a good place to take a scenic (and gentle) boat trip, or just go for a walk and gaze in wonder at the beauty of this land.

Or you can watch. 

That’s what we did.  We went to Kawarau Bridge and watched people jumping off it – with their feet tied with Velcro.

Kawarau Bridge - a scenic place to jump off a bridge

Here the scenery is entertaining as well as stunning – enhanced by the sound of people screaming as they plunge towards the raging river below, screaming as they’re jerked up again, screaming as they swing around.  For me, there was enough thrill in that, enough wonder at the parents who watched their daughter jump.  Brave of them.  And the poor girl who stood there 43m above the river on a tiny platform, screaming to the crowd that she couldn’t do it, with nothing to stop her toppling off apart from the man persuading her to jump.  But she did jump.  And for all her bravery, she ended up being hauled upside-down into a boat and then had to walk all the way back up again.  To heaps of applause.

After that, we visited a winery that was recommended in the information centre.  ‘You have to drive along a cliff to get there.’  Well, we wouldn’t expect anything else.  And, after taking a wrong turn a few days ago and traversing Danseys Pass while low on fuel, we up for the challenge.

The road to Chard Farm vineyard cuts high along the side of the river, in sight of the bungy jumpers. It’s a narrow unmade track and it twists and turns, giving views of the raging river far below.   ‘Hey, we’re higher than the bunjee jumping bridge!’ says Eddie, as I beg him to keep his eye on the road.

But it’s worth it.

The Bungy Jumping Gnome at Chard Farm Vineyard
This was our first New Zealand wine-tasting.  We went through the range, whites to reds, weren’t keen on the whites (chardonnay, reisling, gewurtzraminer, all too sweet for our taste), but loved the pinot noirs.  There was no sauvignon blanc on offer because ‘that’s a Marlborough grape, and this is Otaga – here we do pinot noir.’  And very good it was too.  So good, we were reluctant to throw it away (we still had a long drive ahead).  At least it didn’t go to waste.

At Chard Farm the left-over pinot noir gets made into brandy
Distilling for your own use is perfectly legal,’ says the cellar door manager, as he invites us to pour our left-overs into a large glass.  ‘So I make brandy from the left-over pinot.  Want to try it?’  I have a sniff, which is enough to make my eyes water.  ‘Good stuff,’ squeaks Eddie.  

‘Want to try the vodka?’  offers the cellar manager.  So we try the elderflower vodka – very good.

But we go away with a bottle of Chard Farm Pinot Noir.

Chard Farm and its cliff-top driveway

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