Category Archives: Lifestyle

My fabulously friendly feathered friend

I’m not known to be much of a bird lover.

A traumatic experience involving a blue budgie and a typhoon in my early years put paid to that. And then there were the bullying ‘Doves of Peace’ …..

So with the exception of our glorious divas – six silver and gold wyandotte and one baby bantam who I am totally smitten with ,other birds ( although totally wonderful to listen to and watch from a distance) leave me relatively unmoved – particularly by their proclivity to make disgusting our deck cushions ( always the cushions with such accuracy and never the floor….) and newly washed windows.

But a funny thing happened a few weeks ago that has got me thinking about things much deeper than bird poo.

One day a fantail flew into the kitchen.

It was totally unphased about the new surroundings and took perch on a gladioli and then the bird box.

Ok, at this point I have to admit I have a bird box in the kitchen. It was a gift from M and is just adorable – as are all his amazingly thoughtful gifts. It’s a piece of art and far too good to be a bird house…. so it now happily lives in the kitchen.

As I have done many times in the past in various places when birds overstepped their rightful place, I went to shoo the bird out and hoped that they did so without depositing their poo everywhere which they tend to do when stressed.

It had other ideas and exuding an almost bird zen, looked at me, ignored me and then went for an unflustered fly before leaving. And no poo.

I thought nothing more.

I was out picking plums. Guess who decided to come and sit on the branch where I was picking? Totally unphased at the movement of both me and branch, chatting away like a good neighbour catching up on the news and only leaving after escorting me back to the house.

Then, while feeding the divas, who decides to sit on the food feeder ? Who decides to give me ( in the car) an escort from the gate down the drive and then sit on the door as I attempt to get out?

Working in the garage – who keeps me company by swinging off the door opener cord?

And then, when cutting the grass – not frightened by the power and noise of the ride-on mower ( unlike the Doodles…).

The list goes on.

What is now a ( several) daily occurrence , I’m beginning to feel like Snow White ( ….from the movie, when she sings and the birds and woodland animals follow her and sing along…)

Getting in touch with my inner Snow White

M ( being the practical one) says all fantails are territorial and that these were all different birds…

Unphased about him inadvertantly trying to kill my fantail buzz, I assured a sceptical him that I can recognise it ( I think they have slightly different markings – if they don’t, let me pretend).

Then I had a ( jokingly) deep and meaningful thought. What if this was something more – what if this little bird was reaching out to me in some way – a message from something none of us understand. I’ve often read stories about people believing that spirits can return in bird form for a variety of reasons – and always write them off as people with waaaay too much time on their hands – or bonkers. Or both.

My little friend – who I have not named as that really did seem like the first stop to crazy town – continues to follow me pretty much everywhere. I know his call and even with doors shut I know when he’s ( or she’s) around. Today, he was sitting on the door handle for me….

I don’t think it’s a sign. Nor do I think there’s anything more to this than a delightful and unexpected experience that has made me smile often and enjoy this little creatures company and antics.

In his short lifespan, he has delivered more than he was ever destined to and to top it all off, has shown impeccable toilet habits. For me, that’s definitely worth celebrating.

Fi

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Checking out the indoor bird house
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Picking plums
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Trying the door….
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Kylie and Gaga – two of our beautiful Divas

Ladybirds Ate My Wifi

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Lovely wifi eating ladybirds

 

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

In Auckland when we lost our internet connection ( and alongside it, very quickly our sanity – #firstworldproblems) it was normally storms, power cuts or greedy teenagers gobbling up our monthly allowance.

But in the almost 2 years since we moved to Paradise, even though we are distinctly of rural setting and have lived through some significant events including earthquake, our wifi has never been affected.

Until today.

A few minutes ago I heard something I never thought I could hear in this life or any other.

Ladybirds had managed to find a way to take up residence in the receiver box on the roof and block the signal. Not just any old insects or ( as expected) likely  rodents….., no, these were ladybirds. About 50 of them.

And then the clincher, “ and this is about the third time I’ve seen this happen over the last few weeks….”, said our straight faced technician. So, serial wifi blockers.

Why is it that the thought of ladybirds gathering in such a way is almost poetic and they are so easily forgiven for the disruption they’ve caused to my ability to work and ( let’s be honest) be on social media today! A mouse gnawing through a cable would receive much harsher comment…and treatment.

So, we may be able to survive earthquake and storm but when it comes to ladybirds, there is no contest.

I’m now off to liberate said clever ladybirds into a new and not so disruptive environment.

Fi

The sweet side of life

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Edinburgh’s Luca’s ice cream – back in the day 

 

I love Marlborough. I may be a relatively new import but my fresh eyes appreciate it every day. It makes me smile, inside and out.

So when I was asked to share my blog on ‘searching for the good life ‘ in Admire , I didn’t hesitate!

Moving to a new area gives you the opportunity to reevaluate what is important to you, what you have left behind and what makes your new hometown great.

Amongst a long list of revelations are some that have made life just that bit sweeter.

Literally…..

I’m thinking sweets. Sweet treats. Cakes. Slices. Just like Grandma used to make ( or sometimes even better…!)

In the bigger cities, you are swamped with homogenous offerings that are mass produced and fill shelf after shelf of the vast number of bakeries around town. They satisfy a sweet tooth or craving but that’s about all. No one is ever going to ask for the recipes.

However, visit any home bake stall at a school gala or similar and just make sure you’re there early as they are always the most popular, sell out quick and make a tidy contribution to fund raising.

Books on home baking, jam making and preserving crowd the shelves and most of us can admit to having a few in the kitchen – either for use or (more likely ) decoration !

We love it. We can’t get enough of it. Honest, simple and ‘home-made’.

And lucky for us, Marlborough does it well and does it in abundance.

We are blessed with the number of high quality cafés that cater for every craving. But the stand out is the vast array of authentic baked goods that we are spoiled with . Most are lovingly made fresh each day.

Trust me, this is not normal.

Normal is the generic and standardised produce mentioned above that floods the larger town and cities.

Whether it’s a slice of heaven in the form of the lemon syrup cake with mascarpone and vanilla buttercream filling from Ritual, or the fabulous date and cinnamon scones that follow a precious recipe from generations of talented family chefs from CBD, or many many on my list, we are spoiled for choice.

Baking and treats are an emotional issue. They connect us with memories and can transport us in an instant to happy times gone by – often involving parents and grandparents.

When I was growing up in Edinburgh, it was a family treat to go to S Luca ice cream parlour for a chocolate nougat wafer or a ’99’  with their incredible vanilla ice cream ( there were 3 flavours back then – vanilla , chocolate and strawberry but they were all amazing). Then when my girls were growing up in North Yorkshire , it was Suggits ice cream in Great Ayton for their treats. Both have been around for a long time. In Marlborough we don’t have an ice cream shop with such a history, but we should and luckily we have one that merits longevity. D’Vine gelato transports me back to the best of the best. Not only that, but they make their own fudge on site – another treat destination for young and old alike. As we start our own next generation this year, I’m looking forward to many reasons to take them there for their treats.

Now although I will admit to having a selective sweet tooth, I’m very particular when it comes to choosing my empty calories! Not any chocolate will do ( I’ve been known to re route business trips to allow me to visit See’s candies in the USA for one particular chocolate…….I kid you not). But I’ve happily adapted to some of the wonderful creations at our very own chocolate factory – Makana – with the Marlborough salted caramels being my go to when I need a bit of a chocolate fix. How lucky are we to have our very own gold ticket to visit whenever we want – and get free samples too!

There are so many reasons to be happy here in Marlborough. Some more important than others.

Sweet treats and nostalgia may not have been top of my wish list when it came to moving but it has arguably been the icing on the cake…..…!

Fi

 

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Makana Chocolate factory in Marlborough

Something’s bugging me

Literally .

Although not just something . I know exactly what it (they) is (are).

There were a few things that failed to make it on to the property particulars when we moved to Marlborough and, more specifically, to Paradise.

One was the wind in late spring / early summer. Although we had visited the area many many times, we must have just hit lucky on avoiding the wind. Windy Wellington – your more beautiful and slightly wine addled neighbour across the Strait can most certainly give you a run for your money on the wind front – at least for part of the year.

But that’s not it.

What’s bugging me is bugs.

Not affecting me personally, but there’s most certainly a fleeting possibility of threat for our precious babies budding out in the vineyard.

At a certain time of year (now) , the brown beetles or May bugs ( creatively named after their annual appearance in the northern hemisphere ) awaken from neighbouring paddocks to strike fear into the hearts and pockets of grape growers. The bugs choose to burst into life as the sun sets on beautiful days and, from nearby paddocks, aim for the moon and land on the vines. If they get their chance they will then happily procreate and eat their way through the leaves and buds, potentially causing damage.

My first reaction on hearing about our unknown challenge  was confidence that there must be something that could deter them ( or more accurately blitz them into oblivion). But being organic, with a karma-esque attitude to living things, we have found our options are limited.

So, our ritual now is an enforced walk of the vineyard every night as darkness creeps in. Torches in hand, we inspect the leaves and flick the bugs to the ground, where they can no longer do any damage.

No matter how many times we are told by those who have considerable experience in this : “ you’ll know when you have a problem” – ( thankfully, we haven’t found out so far) – we still spend our time cursing the little bug(ger)s and counting how many we knock off. Although a swarm in the thousands is what we are told will indicate an issue (?!) , we still feel the overwhelming need to protect our babies and that’s where it gets compulsive. We are the equivalent of first-time parents. Anxious to do the right thing but no experience yet to give us any real perspective. Being told that we are probably the only growers paying such attention is little comfort.

Although small numbers of bugs will not cause damage, the very fact they are there ‘bugs’ M & I . So we currently spend our evenings knocking as many off leaves as we can, while acknowledging nightly that we can’t get around every single vine.

But we still try.

A good friend who is born and bred in both the area and the industry and therefore experienced in such matters, not so reassuringly said to me, “ you really don’t have a problem until they’re mating on your eyeballs….” .

Now there’s a less than comforting thought to hold for the next few weeks…..

But. 

And there’s always a but!

This has given us the pleasure of having a nightly walk together under glorious inky skies. The doodles happily chase hedgehogs and whatever else they pick up a scent on. We talk. We appreciate our surroundings. We count blessings.

Welcome to Paradise !

Yours (hopefully) bug free,

Fi

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The little                  brown bug(ger)s!

Nothing new under the sun

It’s been on my mind a lot of late that more and more of us are looking to upcycle, recycle, reuse and repurpose. Some through necessity but mostly out of choice.

I don’t think it’s just an age thing – although age certainly does bring increased sentimentality. But also, I’m finding, a desire to reconnect to the past through objects that have seen their fair share of history and, in turn, have many stories to tell.

When we moved into Paradise – one year ago to the day – there were many connections to the past. The original homestead burned to the ground some years ago but the fireplace and sliding lounge doors were saved and are now part of our farmhouse. When M and I first saw them ( not knowing the history) we immediately talked of changing them but a year has softened out attitudes to many things. History and connections to the past being high up on the list. Horseshoes litter the paddock that is now home to about 3000 baby vines  (just planted for your future Pinot Noir drinking pleasure!) and a variety of broken bits of old china, glass and some parts of old farm equipment that cannot be explained.

We also have a woolshed. A fabulous, wildly romantic, over 100 year old woolshed overlooking the vines with the beautiful Wither Hills in the background, that I dream of converting to a wonderful accomodation retreat for visitors ….. Sadly my enthusiasm has met with the bare faced practicalities ( from those who know far more than me)  that it is riddled with wood borer and likely to collapse at any time…..But, not to be outdone I am playing the repurposing card and tugging at the historical heartstrings, so we may yet find a way of keeping her raw and natural beauty for generations to come to enjoy – even if she’s being enjoyed in a slightly different way than our wooly four legged friends !

We have also taken a real pleasure in sourcing pre-loved furniture that can be lovingly restored and given new home and meaning. Visits to antique shops and on line searches have become a hobby that only a few years ago would never have been part of our thinking. And I love it.

I also seem to have come full circle in my style choices. When living in the North Yorkshire Moors, my 19th century ‘Weavers Cottage’  would only entertain being filled with suitably old style furniture and effects. Sadly these were no longer wanted as they made way for a modern style in the next life stage and I pine after their loss.

Thankfully there are a few items we still have and treasure from family that take pride of place in our home . M’s favourite chair from his beloved Granny which could tell many a tale, being just one.

Sentimentality and connection are such a powerful part of who we are and those items that reflect that are to be cherished.

Fi

 

Brancott homestead, Marlborough
The original homestead

 

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The Woolshed

 

Of frost and fans

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Frost fan against an indigo dawn

On the many visits to Marlborough before making the permanent move , I have always loved seeing the large but elegant fans in the vineyards which make up the stunning landscape of the area.

They were almost reminiscent of days spent in Holland and the beautiful windmills amongst the fields of bulbs .

That’s where the similarity – if indeed there ever was one – ends .

Our baptism of frost came on day 2 in Paradise . Frosts can wipe out your budding vines and destroy your crop for the current vintage year and even beyond . It’s not a vineyard owners friend at this time of year . Fair to say , no one thought to mention this on the sales particulars …..

But , enter the fans . Without getting all technical , they warm the air by helping it circulate around and stops frost from settling . To do this they are big .And tall .                And noisy . Very noisy .

We are surrounded by vineyards so the culmination of all the frost fans jumping into life is loud – and unmissable .

Last year , as first timers , our response system was based on watching the weather forecast from several sources ( in case one was wrong ) , then based on that , me waking up every hour to look out the window to see if the temperature sensitive alarm lights were showing the right colour for us to leap into action . There are 3 colours of alarm  . One says get ready to move , the second says run quickly to your vineyard and the third says find another day job . Suffice to say that after you see the first colour , your chances of sleep after that – until the sun has risen and starting spreading her warmth – is limited at best.

Then there are the frost pots . Or Dante’s Infernos as I fondly(?) renamed them . Fiery scary noisy heaters that warm the areas the fans can’t reach.

And then there are the helicopters . Larger vineyards bring them in at massive cost to fly low and move the air around their vines. A skilled and precise job with no air traffic control and only night sight vision keeping them , and all of us below,  safe. Not for the faint hearted . No surprise then to know that Richie McCaw was piloting over our heads most of the night . ( I can’t say that didn’t add something wonderful to the overall experience !)

I’ll never forget one moment when standing in the middle of all of this , having the thought that it’s the closest ( thankfully) I’m likely to get to a war zone.

M , being the more practical , was thinking of the commercial opportunities of offering overnight frost experiences to Marlboroughs visitor population …!

Our first night was spent walking around making sure everything was on and operating and then waiting in the hands of Mother Nature .
The payback for this disruption to your nights sleep however is more than compensation . Achingly beautiful sunrises – the likes I have never seen before .

Thankfully these frost events, we were assured, were few and far between and there had never been two in a row . That is , until our third night in paradise .

But this time I knew the drill and knew what would make an overnight stay amongst the vines, more palatable .Pillows, blankets , food , hot drinks and extra clothes are now a permanent fixture in the Ute and ( to be really honest )make it a bit of fun and you always have a spectacular sunrise to look forward to in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. Reality kicks back in when you then just have time for a quick shower before travelling somewhere or skyping a client !

As I’m typing this I’m on a flight heading home to Paradise with frost predictions for the next two nights . It’s the weekend so slightly more manageable than a busy travelling work week , but the thing I’m most excited about is seeing the next most amazing dawn .

How fortunate are we .

Fi

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  Buds worth protecting

 

Choosing the good life….

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Adorable photo courtesy of   Kaikoura Cheese

 

In the absence of rampaging sheep this week and with precious little time to create anything new and delicious in the kitchen of late, I have been thinking a lot about what it takes to go in search of the good life.

I watched a wonderful TV programme the other evening about a fairly new business run by a young couple, near where I live. They made a conscious choice to look for the good life for themselves and their young family. Their business idea was good – growing a goat herd and making the milk into artisan cheeses – and I am delighted that they are being very successful.

But what really struck me as their absolute defining factor was their unwavering commitment to each other and their family.

That underpinned everything and drove all of their decisions. Both of them had their own responsibilities and had full trust in each other. Both respected ( and admired)  their particular differences and what that brought to their lives and knew it was the bedrock of their success. You got the feeling that as a result of this, they put a lot of love into their products and had fun together doing it.

For them the good life is creating a livelihood that allows them to balance looking after their family and each other. You just know that that was the most important thing for them.

It was uplifting.

It was inspiring.

Have a look by clicking on this link  :

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/content/tvnz/ondemand/shows/c/country-calendar/s2016/e30.html

This is what I believe is the good life and I wish them every success in the world.

Fi

 

 

For more information :

http://kaikouracheese.vendecommerce.com

The taste of Paradise…in a cake

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A taste of Paradise.Thank you to the wonderful people at Delicious for this amazing photo.

 

If I could sum up my first year in Paradise in cake, this would be it.

I had fully intended to blog are about food and less about drama but drama beat food hands down in the ‘keeping me busy ‘ stakes !

But this gem of deliciousness is worth sharing . And making.

I tasted it – or something like it- at the Marlborough Farmers Market where the lovely Lee works through the previous night in someone else’s kitchen to make some amazing ‘as they used to taste ‘ baking. Then I searched for something similar to allow me to make at home and played around with it until it tasted like heaven on a  plate.

You know how wine tasting can sometimes come up with very poncy descriptions for wines, well this is my equivalent for this marvellous and yummy cake. This cake transports you to a farmhouse kitchen groaning with nature’s bounty. Fresh from the country range. Sitting around grandma’s table. It’s squishy but firm enough to wrap in some greaseproof paper for an al fresco morning tea. it’s a cake to make friends with. Good friends. Long term friends.

But don’t take my word for it. Be good to yourself and have a go. I dare you not to have a Betty Crocker ( or equivalent) moment !

Enjoy

Fi

  • 50g each sultanas and raisins
  • 6 tbsp medium-sweet cider ( who am I kidding – be generous here – and one for the cook!)
  • 215g plain flour
  • 15g cornflour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 300g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 175g butter, softened
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • 750g eating apples (about 6-8), peeled, cored and cut into 1cm pieces
  • 100g lightly toasted walnuts, broken into small pieces – from your own trees if you’re really lucky!

 

How to make Paradise cake

  1. Put the sultanas and raisins into a small bowl, cover with a few tbsp of the cider and set aside for at least 2 hours or overnight.Be generous. And enjoy a glass yourself !
  2. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm round, loose-bottomed cake tin. Tie a thick band of folded newspaper around the outside of the tin, so it projects about 8cm above the edge of the tin, and secure it in place with string (this will stop any over-browning). It’s a bit of a phaff but keeps cake nice.
  3. Sift the flour, cornflour, baking powder, salt and ground/grated spices into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and butter and beat on a medium speed for 1 minute, stopping and scraping the mixture down the sides of the bowl, if necessary, until well mixed. Try not to eat all of this before baking….
  4. Add the eggs and mix on low speed for a few seconds, then increase the speed and beat for 1 minute until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 3 tbsp cider.And pour yourself another glass.
  5. Fold in the prepared apples, sultanas/raisins and walnuts. The mixture will look too thick and too appley, but don’t worry. Trust me ! Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and gently level the surface.
  6. Bake for 1 hour 25 minutes ish, covering loosely with foil or a double sheet of baking paper once it’s richly browned on top, until it is firm to the touch and a skewer pushed into the centre comes away clean. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack. Remove from the tin to a plate, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.
  7. Make friends and enjoy your own slice of paradise.

 

 

 

We live in a zoo…

Those close to me have heard me say this many times over the last year.

What was once a relatively spic and span home life is still adjusting to a life slightly less pristine and more accomodating of the boots and overalls of life on a farm.

In addition, the various animals and birds that have become part of this bright tapestry of life in the country grows almost by the day – notwithstanding the Doodles best efforts to keep our chicken numbers down…. ( but that’s another story..)

A casual aside from the previous owners when they left was to keep an eye on the geese and make sure we went on an egg hunt at the appropriate time to ensure we weren’t overcome with their offspring. Our 5 handsome geese are relatively self sufficient and magnificent beasts. Apart from one of the Doodles latching on to the tail of the largest gander while being walked by City daughter and hubby and being rescued by said hubby as the gander sought to wreak revenge, they have been quite free from hassle ( the geese that is, not City daughter and hubby…!)

However ( and isn’t there always a however…), the year has flown by and we forgot to go looking for eggs.

“I think we have babies” said M as he headed off to rescue the Ute that had starting sinking in mud ( …I don’t even ask anymore).  He was right, five fluffy bundles were paddling around the dam in the creek. But although my animal husbandry is limited, I do know that geese don’t dive under water and hold their breath.  Ducklings. 5 very cute ducklings and two very protective and squawking Paradise Ducks just daring me to go any further . Nice.

And then we saw them. The goose parade. 2 pairs of grown ups and six babies all happily parading around the paddock. Too late for any family planning assistance there then. So, resigned to having doubled our geese family , we started to head back when we were lunged at by the remaining highly agitated and hissing female goose. Why? From a safe distance we could count 7 large eggs that she was protecting and just waiting to burst into more life.

So we were 5 and now we are ( or soon will be )  18.

What to do now is the interesting dilemma. I’m secretly thrilled that we have cute babies from healthy birds living well and causing us minimal problems, but 18 ( not including the neighbouring ducks) may be a tad excessive. As I’m not quite at the ‘land to plate’ stage of my immersion to country life ( i.e. can’t eat them), good homes are now being sought and I’m determined to do a better job of planning our ever expanding menagerie next year.

Fi

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“I’m sure those aren’t geese”
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“Yep, those are….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

51 things I love about you Marlborough ……the final 11…

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Canadian poppies 

I don’t know why I picked 51 – well actually I do – it was at our front gate when I had another ‘ that view is stunning’ moments. It stuck with me. But it could be so many more.

This is my final 11 and again, in no particular order. Every day brings more to add to the list.

41. Escalators. Yes really. The only two in Marlborough – based in the wonderful Clubs of Marlborough. A novelty that attracts visitors.

42. Clubs of Marlborough. If you’re not a member , you should be. And not just because of #41 above….

43. Conversations. We have them. Lots of them. With strangers. In the street. In the shops.All over the place.

44. Daffodil Day. The town turned up. It was a mass town event that only small towns can do and do well.

45. Our hospital. Wairau hospital is small but very efficient . It is peaceful. It has more time than bigger city hospitals. Its good to know it’s there if you needed it.

46. Wild flowers. At this time of year the Canadian poppy populates the still dry river beds and turns them into a sea of glorious orange. And Verve – the flower farm, makes it easy to spread the wildflower love at home too.

47. Bubbles. Although Marlborough is world famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and increasingly its fabulous Southern Valley Pinot Noir , we also have bubbles. And good bubbles at that. World class, french beating bubbles at No 1 Family Estate.

48. Pollard Park An oasis of outstanding beauty and tranquility in an area of beauty and tranquility.

49. Seasons. We have them. But each is underpinned by being the sunniest place in New Zealand. Official !

50. Picton. A beautiful spot and much more than the “place to catch the ferry”.

51. Beauty. we have it in abundance. Whether for the perfect wedding ( an unashamed plug here for my Celebrant work!) or for those lucky enough to call it home. Natural beauty makes things better and enriches lives.

Thanks Marlborough.