I was lucky enough this year to spend my Christmas and New Year visiting family in New Zealand and spent three weeks exploring the South Island from Nelson on the north coast down to Lake Wanaka and Queenstown, 2 to 3 days drive further south. If there is ever a country that makes you feel quite how insignificant you are in the world, then New Zealand is it. The vastness of the Canterbury Plains surrounded by the Southern Alps – mountains as far as the eye can see – can make you feel a tiny blot on the landscape, and that landscape is simply stunning  – enhanced by the lack of traffic on the roads, which makes driving a pleasure.

Apart from the jaw-dropping scenery, the Tasman area around Nelson is home to New Zealand’s Great Taste Trail. The locals have established the trail initially for cyclists, and it takes in an amazing number of independent cafe’s, breweries, and of course wineries. Nelson is famous for its wonderful wine industry and is home to both large and small estates, from the well known Waimea down to the boutique Rimu Grove. So, if you can find a willing driver you can spend a very relaxing day touring around the local wineries.

And beer drinkers are not forgotten either, Nelson claims to be the Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand.  We visited Founder’s Brewery in the heart of Nelson, together with McClashins where you can have a tasting of 6 of their beers and ciders, and Sprig & Fern – one of their bars was voted the Best Bar in NZ in 2012. And these are just three of the dozen craft breweries in the immediate area.

Of course you will need some food to soak up all of this wonderful alcohol. On the taste trail you can cycle across to the wonderfully named Rabbit Island, have a swim and then take the ferry across to Mapua, which is renowned for its local fish and smoke houses. You can try the famous green-lipped mussels, or maybe some smoked Hoki or Warehou.  The Jester House on the trail serves organic food, with lots of gluten-free options, in beautiful gardens,  where you can feed their friendly eels while looking at local art.

Kiwi’s always seem a very laid-back, relaxed bunch, but they do know how to get the pulse racing. I think my highlight was White Water Rafting down the Buller River – not for the fainthearted and for me a wetsuit is never a good look, but we also did a lot of walking (always seemed to be uphill) and swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea.

So I’ve returned to a cold, wet January in England very relaxed and a little bit rounder, but with some wonderful memories.

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