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Flightseeing & Wine Tasting recommendations on the South Island

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Hi there,

We're firming up our plans for our 3 week NZ holiday at the end of October and have some random questions?

Does anyone have any experiences to share regarding flightseeing on the SI? We are looking at a couple of different options. 1) Helicopter tour over Franz Josef/Fox/Mt Cook or helicopter to/from Franz Josef glacier hike and 2) Fly/cruise/fly between Queenstown and Milford Sound. Wondering if it's worth the $, worth the views, any safety concerns?

Also, we'll be spending a few days in the Blenheim/Renwick area. Any must-see wineries/restaurants/sights that you'd recommend? We like pretty much all varietals!


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    Some considerations for the flightseeing options: The helihikes at Fox and Franz Josef are very weather dependent and often get cancelled. October is Spring and the weather is often wet and unsettled. Be prepared by allowing yourself 2 overnights and book the first flight you could conceivably make. If that is cancelled, they'll book you on the next available flight.

    The best option for touring Milford Sound from Queenstown is the coach/cruise/fly. The road between Te Anau and Milford is stunning and has many places the coaches stop for you to look around. Many think the road trip as fabulous as the cruise.

    We did an hour helicopter flight with two landings in Fiordland. It was fabulous! We've also done the helihike at Fox. I was less impressed but I think because the weather was deteriorating, the guides didn't take us too far afield that day. But hey, at least we got to do it!

    Makana Chocolates in Blenheim gives out free samples and their Macadamia Toffee is fantastic! They stay open until 5:30, the wineries close at 5.

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    We did the glacier heli-hike years ago - Fox - really enjoyed it, particularly as it took 7-8 visits to the SI before we could do it - (weather was always shite) AND we had spectacular weather the day we finally made the trip.

    It wasn't much of a hike though, more a poke around on the glacier, as the tour only goes as fast as it's slowest participant and we had some really slow folks.

    I've never done the flight to Milford, but have driven the road a dozen times or more, and I personally find the drive and all the brilliant walks enroute more of a highlight than the cruise itself.

    Regarding wineries in Blenheim - so many good ones to choose from. Villa Maria, Allan Scott, Cloudy Bay, St Clair, Wither Hills, Wairau River, Seresin (one spray away from organic). So much good wine, so little time...

    Suggest you take a tour if you plan to imbibe much - you can often select where you want to go - and include a winery that offers a nice lunch.

    And then there's Nelson and Upper Moutere...oh my!

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    As you can probably guess, you'd have a hard time finding Marlborough sauvignon blancs that aren't good, and often excellent.

    How many wineries do you plan on visiting? You will be spoiled for choice. Over two days on our last trip to Marlborough, we visited Yealands, Lawson's Dry Hills, Wither Hills, Fromm, Spy Valley, Brancott, Villa Maria, Framingham, Nautilus, Te Whare Ra, St. Clair, Nautilus, Johanneshof Cellars, and Moa Brewery Bar. Lest you think I'm a lush, I don't taste every wine on offer—sometimes I'll only try one varietal, and sometimes just taste, swirl and spit.
    Brancott, Wither Hills, St. Clair have restaurants.

    Two wineries that produce a range of varietals I'd heartily recommend are Lawson's Dry Hills and Spy Valley, both family-owned. Lawson's Dry Hills Reserve Pinot Noir is consistently a good value. My husband loves both wineries' rieslings and gewurtraminers, and we both enjoy Lawson's pinot noir rosé. FYI: Spy Valley is named for a nearby satellite communications monitoring facility.

    If you like to try more gewurtraminer, I recommend Johanneshof Cellars, in the direction of Picton. Their pinot gris and riesling are also standouts.

    For more good rieslings, I recommend Framingham. They also made good pinot noir.

    Two large-production wineries you should visit are Villa Maria (still family-owned) and Brancott/Montana (now owned by Pernod Ricard). Both wineries were founded by Aucklanders of Dalmatian/Croatian ancestry. Brancott's tasting room/cafe has a pretty hilltop location with a view of vineyards below. Though you can find some of the wines of both of these wineries in the U.S., you can taste and/or buy a wider range of their varietals here, as well as their reserve and single vineyard wines. Villa Maria's mid-range Cellar Selection (gold label) wines are great values and their Reserve and Single Vineyard wines (black labels) are among the country's best. Brancott insisted we watch a video before tasting.

    You might want to visit Cloudy Bay, owned by multinational luxury group LVMH since 2003. Founded in 1985 by Australian David Hohnen, Cloudy Bay was instrumental in raising the profile of Marlborough sauvignon blanc and garnering international attention for this wine region. Its pioneering winemaker Kevin Judd left the winery in 2009 after 25 vintages and now has his own winery, Greywacke, also in Marlborough and open for tastings by appt. only.

    Astrolabe is another excellent Marlborough winery that's open for tastings by appt. only, but their wines are widely available.

    Many Marlborough wineries charge for tastings, which count toward purchases. I thought Cloudy Bay's tasting fee was a bit steep. All the same, they make great wine. I like their Pelorus sparkling wine and pinot noir. Their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc made it onto Wine Spectator's 2015 Top 100 wines list.

    If driving up to Marlborough from Kaikoura, you might want to visit Yealands. Its vast "Seaview" vineyards are in Awatere Valley close to the sea. In general, Marlborough's wineries are not as close to the ocean. Before tasting, they insisted we watch a 6-minute video about the winery, its sustainable practices, and its founder, but some folks got around this by showing up just as our group was exiting the screening and then following us to the tasting counter. My husband found the film interesting, but my interest dropped off sharply after three minutes. They poured their more day-to-day wines, none of their higher-end reserve and single vineyard wines. But they didn't charge for the tasting, so I have no right to complain. Many wineries allow you to taste their reserve and single vineyard wines for a charge. They didn't, though this may have changed.

    Following the tasting, we drove around the property. The winery, grounds and views are impressive.

    Hunter's is a family-owned winery with a cute restaurant that we didn't get to last time, but been to a couple of times before. Their Miru Miru sparkling wine is refreshing drop.

    Have you seen this website?

    We had a great meal at Hotel D'Urville:

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    Thanks for all of the great info. I knew that October would be a wet month, but the timing works out best for us. Let's just hope the weather gods are smiling down on us for a few days!

    deSchenke - which tour company did you do your heli-tour in Fjordland with?

    Melnq8- 7-8 visits before doing the glacier heli-hike. Yikes - i guess I won't hold my breath since we only have 3 days there in October.

    Diamantina - 14 wineries in 2 days! That must be some kind of record :-) So many options to choose from...will definitely check out the local website

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    >>>deSchenke - which tour company did you do your heli-tour in Fjordland with?<<<

    This one:

    Our original plan was to take this trip with a landing at Luxmore Hut to walk down that portion of Kepler Track to Lake Te Anau and water-taxi back. The weather did not cooperate and it was on our third day in the area we could fly. Since this was our travel day to the Catlins, we had to do the flight and drive off, rather than spend 3 hours hiking.

    It was a fantastic flight and I highly recommend it! The landings at Campbell's Kingdom (alpine lake, waterfall) and Mt Kidd (slight covering in snow- in Feb! and views all around) were so different from one another.

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