Oh, Hello

Well, it’s certainly been awhile. But not without a good reason! For the (probably zero) people who read this blog and don’t know me in real life, at the end of July our traveling circus left Dushanbe for the extremely exotic Maryland.

A lot has happened between then and now, but in order to keep things simple, here’s a condensed version of the events of the past month and a half:

  • The trip home was crazy but not terrible. We had excellent service from Somon Air in Dushanbe with our animals. We were lucky in that our flight didn’t stop to refuel in Ashgabat (like most flights had been), and I’d like attribute that to the over 7,000 TJS we paid in cash (in mostly 50’s…sorry) to get the animals on the plane. You’re welcome everybody else.
  • Transiting Frankfurt wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time. We’re pros now. Or at least not novices. Only snag was when the random baggage handler almost refused to let Ren on the plane. YES I KNOW HIS CRATE IS SLIGHTLY TOO SMALL AND I DON’T LIKE IT EITHER BUT IT’S ALL WE COULD GET IN TAJIKISTAN AND HE JUST FLEW SEVEN HOURS AND IS FINE ALSO HE’S MOVING TO AMERICA AND WILL HAVE SUCH A GOOD LIFE IN A HOUSE WITH A YARD ALL TO HIMSELF JUST PUT MY BABY PUPPY ON THE PLANE!!!
  • They let him on. He’s currently sleeping on the couch with his sisters. Spoiled things.
  • When we landed in Dulles it was thunderstorming and the dogs were the last thing off the plane. Ren was hysterically barking as we entered the country. Hello from the insane diplomats! Here’s our puppy we would like to import! Is that cool?
  • Apparently it was. Nobody checked our customs form.
  • Soya did not like traveling. She freaked out most of the way and got so stressed out she had an upset tummy for the first week home.
  • Izzie was a champion. Dottie and Nona also did well, unlike Nona’s previous showing.
  • We moved into our house! It’s small but perfectly-sized for us right now. It needs a lot of love but the addition of our storage furniture has made it feel a lot more like home.
  • We’re still waiting on our stuff traveling on the slow boat (literally) from Tajikistan. It actually should have arrived yesterday so hopefully we’ll be settled by the end of the month.
  • I’ve gotten approximately five million mosquito bites since being home. Point: Tajikistan.
  • Sean decided the first home improvement project he wanted to do was landscape the front yard. I was allowed to operate a rototiller and hack apart the large stump we found with a sledgehammer and hatchet.
  • My new job is with my old employer and it’s awesome. I get to telework three days a week and my new desk arrived yesterday. It’s a writing desk and all I can think of is “why is a raven like a writing desk?” and that makes me happy.
  • Fall stuff was already in stores when we got back. I was annoyed since it’s still summer, dammit,  but then also bought 25 autumn themed candles. So, balance?
  • I forgot I didn’t need to worry about shipping while buying those candles. If you take the item with you at the point of sale there’s no shipping. Just in case you didn’t know.
  • I’ve eaten more seafood in the past month than the past two years. Also, an avocado a day. And salad. Glorious, glorious salad.

Yep. I think that’s everything.

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The One Leaving

We’re busy. But busy doesn’t even begin to describe it. Not only are we working, we are also trying to get plane tickets, and reserve space for the animals on two different airlines, and pack out our house, and I have to find a job, and say goodbye to our friends, and, by the way, we also just bought a house and a car in the U.S. from Tajikistan. So, just a little busy as you can see.

While this is going on around us, internally I’ve been all over the map. And the one thing that has been making me crazy, is well-meaning people making comments like this:

“I’m sure you’re just [insert emotion here].”

“Don’t you think part of that is [insert emotion here]?”

“Aren’t you [insert emotion here]?”

No. I’m not.

I’m not excited. I’m not nervous. I’m not sad. I’m not anxious. I’m not overwhelmed. I’m not fed up.

I’m all of those things, all at the same time. And, also, none of those things.

In the past two years I’ve been the newcomer, the one who watched all their friends leave, and now, the one leaving. In my personal opinion, being the only leaving is the worst. Not only are you doing all the things I mentioned above, you’re also trying to hang on emotionally as your departure date looms ever closer.

So please, bear with me these next few weeks. And stop trying to tell me how I’m feeling. I don’t even know myself.

 

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO)

Well here we are. The very last trip in Central Asia before we leave in a few weeks. Sean and I knew when we arrived we wanted to make the trip out to Eastern Tajikistan (aka the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) aka The Pamirs) since we arrived two years ago. And, of course, for one reason or another, we almost completely missed our chance as time dwindled down. Luckily, we managed to squeeze it in right before pack out.

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We originally planned a six-day road trip from Dushanbe to Murghab which would include the true Pamir Highway and the Wakhan Corridor, but due to the time crunch and proximity to our household goods (HHG) pack out, we decided to cut it down to four. Between pack out, leaving the dogs, and the stress of the bouncy roads/wear and tear on the car I was at my breaking point. Thankfully, Sean knows me well enough to know I needed to get it out of my system and just get in the car.

Though I am a bit sad we missed Murghab, I am glad we didn’t push it too much. Our first day was met with road construction that caused a five-hour delay in getting out to Kalaikhum in Darvoz – the extreme Western part of GBAO – and our first overnight. Then a full day of driving to Khorog. Then a full-day drive back to Darvoz. Then another full-day drive to Dushanbe. Two more days of driving might have made us both crazy.

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The problem with GBAO is absolutely 100% the poor road quality. The paved portions were wonderful and we actually had fun winding our way along the river. The unpaved parts were a complete nightmare. After six hours bouncing around in the car it gets hard to summon the strength to do it all over again. Luckily, this trip was – for lack of a better word – cool enough in my opinion to make it worth the crazy roads.

I mean, when else would we ever be this close to Afghanistan.

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Another redeeming part of this trip was the friendly locals in Darvoz and Khorog. GBAO has it’s own school system where students learn English from a fairly young age. Also, since they don’t get a ton of foreign visitors to practice on, we were a complete novelty. Kids popped out of windows, yelled from across the street, and at one point harmonized for a chorus of “HELLO!” that nearly knocked us off our feet.

The day we left Khorog we took an hour drive south to the Garam Chashma or hot spring, one of many in the area. When we arrived there was only about 15 minutes left for women so I ran in. This was good since 1) I only need about 15 minutes in 42 degree Celsius water, and 2) I had no time to be self-conscious since it’s done completely in the nude.

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Since returning to Dushanbe, lots of people have asked if we would recommend the trip. While the bouncy roads are not to be taken lightly, and if you think about it we drove for four days to soak in a spring for 15 minutes each, this trip was absolutely worth it in my opinion. It was a great way to polish off two years in this interesting region.

Travel Notes:

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Panjikent

On our way back from Seven Lakes, we decided to take a quick detour to Panjikent. We had come nearly all the way, so the 20 minute detour to the city center was definitely not a huge undertaking.

Panjikent is situated on the Zeravshan River only a few miles from the Uzbek border. The road from Dushanbe to the city was newly resurfaced, and driving into town you can almost forget your’re in a chaotic place. Then you hit the main road and reality hits you in the face.

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We didn’t spend a lot of time in the city since we were tired from the hike the day before. I did, however, want to see the bazaar since it seemed to be one of the most photographed places in the city. For anyone who has lived in or visited Dushanbe, this statement will resonate: that bazaar makes the Green Market look like a well-organized, well-oiled machine.

From the bazaar, we drove a few minutes outside of Panjikent to the sight of Ancient Panjikent, then known as the town of Soghdians. The tiny town grew in the 5th century to house many professionals and businessmen. Today, there is a small one room museum with copies of artifacts excavated from the site (the originals are in Tashkent and Saint Petersburg), and you can take quick stroll through the ruins themselves.

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Travel Notes:

  • We didn’t spend a lot of time in Panjikent, but it’s pretty small so I don’t think you have to. If you happen to pass through like we did you can easily see the big sights in a few hours.

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Seven Lakes

Over Memorial Day weekend Sean and I did something for the first time since we’ve been in Tajikistan: we took a vacation in-region completely by ourselves. I realized that as we were driving home and could barely believe we finally got a weekend away alone. I couldn’t have picked a better destination for our first Crocker only trip either.

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I’ve wanted to visit Seven Lakes since I learned there was such a place called Seven Lakes. Nestled in the Fann Mountains, about an hour and a half outside Panjikent, the lakes are like a string of beads as the river works its way down from the mountains, each one a slightly different blue.

From talking to others who have visited, we learned you can drive up to six of the seven, but the last one was only accessible on foot. Also, we heard there are small homestays at lakes four, five, and six, which can serve as a base as you explore the area. Sean and I are not afraid of hiking long distances, so we decided to stay at lake four and hike up to seven; a nearly 16 mile total trek that follows the road until all that’s left is the river.

Luckily, setting up the homestay was extremely easy. I emailed the regional travel office and got a response in a few hours. Apparently the village at lake four is called Nofin and they had availability the dates we needed. We ended up being the only ones there, and the host Jum’aboy and his family were extremely accommodating and welcoming. He was no stranger to crazy Westerners hellbent on hiking to lake seven, so he gave us a few tips before we set out.

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The hike is not for the faint of heart. It’s not so much the terrain that’s difficult – though it is eight miles uphill before you reach lake seven – it’s more the sheer length of the trip. The road is well marked and one of the better routes we’ve been on in Tajikistan for hiking, and you wind your way through a few small villages with friendly onlookers as you make your ascent. The stretch from lake six to seven is probably the most difficult, but the view at the top is completely worth that last difficult mile.

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A few people have asked which lake was my favorite, and lake seven, in my opinion, clinches the top spot only slightly. We had a lovely picnic lunch right next to the water and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. Lake six is also gorgeous with picturesque views of the mountains rising up behind the turquoise water.

One great thing about this hike is you can break it up if you want to. There are homestays at other lakes, and if you want, you can drive through lake six, park in the small town, and then hike just six miles round trip to lake seven. It’s a choose your own adventure kind of trip.

Travel Notes:

  • ZDTA Tourism: English language website for tourism in the area. Great for arranging a stay not only at Seven Lakes but throughout the Fann Mountain region. The email address I used was ztda_zarafshon@yahoo.com and it worked perfectly.
  • Nofin Homestay: Najmiddin run by Jum’aboy is excellent. They had comfortable, simple beds, running water, electricity, and good food. Overall we paid $120 for two nights plus meals.
  • I do think the hiking is best with more stunning surroundings from 4-7 than 1-4, but you can hike in that direction as well.

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Hike Tajikistan, Finally

Sean and I are winding down. We only have 2.5 months left to explore Tajikistan, and it seems like our bucket list of things to do has only grown rather than diminished. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing.

One thing we’ve always wanted to do, but never seemed to find the time for, was Hike Tajikistan. Run by a few expats, Hike Tajikistan is a club of sorts that spends every Sunday when the weather is good exploring this beautiful country. And last Sunday was the first time we were able to attend.

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The hike itself was in Romit Valley, about an hour and a half away from Dushanbe. We had a group of about 30 people, including many Americans from the Embassy. It was a relatively easy hike that was supposed to end at a waterfall. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and when we came to where the last bridge was supposed to be, we found it had been washed away.

Luckily the day was not lost. There was a small waterfall and tiny pool a little ways back where nearly everyone in the group took a quick dip to cool off.

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Hiking in Tajikistan is tricky. The most difficult part sometimes is finding the trail heads, which is why Hike Tajikistan is so helpful. The guides know exactly where they are going. It’s also a nice way to meet new people and get away from Dushanbe for a few hours.

Travel Notes:

  • Hike Tajikistan has a Facebook page where they post their weekly Sunday hikes. Cost without transportation is 50 TJS per person.

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Tursunzade: Tajik Hospitality at It’s Finest

When most people think “tourism in Tajikistan,” they usually don’t think Tursunzade. It’s probably true that most people from the Western world don’t go so far to think “tourism in Tajikistan” in the first place, but that’s beside the point.

I myself didn’t think much of Tursunzade aside from it being the last city we went through before the boarder crossing to Uzbekistan last year. I knew they had an aluminum plant. I knew there was some kind of pottery factory. But that was the extent of my knowledge.

Then my office got a new Admin Assistant who lives in Tursunzade and makes the 45 minute commute to the Embassy each day. Who better to introduce the Embassy community at large to this city than a local? Two weeks ago, we finally made that a reality.

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We began our day at the TALCO aluminum plant’s museum. This TALCO plant is the largest in Central Asia and it’s products are Tajikistan’s main export. We weren’t able to take a tour of the plant itself, but they did open up the museum for a brief tour. As far as Tajik museums go, this one was excellent. It was well organized and kept my interest – which is difficult for any museum to do. A great start to the day.

From the museum we went to lunch. When we travel with the Embassy, I’m very adamant that we pre-order all the food. Service here can be painfully slow, especially when trying to accommodate 50 plus people all at once. We’ve never been to Tursunzade before and therefore never been to this restaurant, I was quite nervous for lunch.

Well, as usual, my worrying was unwarranted. The restaurant fed nearly 60 people in just over an hour. Impressive anywhere if you ask me.

After lunch we went to the pottery factory. This was by far my favorite part of the day. We got an exclusive look at every aspect of their process, from molding, to baking, to painting, to glazing. It was pretty amazing.

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By this point in the tour, quite a few people had dropped off and gone back to Dushanbe. What’s great about this little city is that it’s only about 45 minutes from home and the roads are paved and well maintained. Perfect for a day trip.

For those of us who stuck around, we finished the day at the home-turned-museum of Mirzo Tursunzada, for whom the city is named. He was a famous poet and prominent political figure, and today his home now stands as a tribute to his legacy and to Tajikistan’s national history.

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Besides the pottery, my other favorite part of the day was just spending time with the people of Tursunzade. I know they don’t get a lot of tourism, so everyone we encountered was happy to see us and eager to ask questions, snap photos, and show us their warm hospitality. We ended the day at a riverside tapchan restaurant and were treated to a delicious meal of fish and other traditional Tajik food.

So, while Tursunzade probably won’t top your list if you plan at trip to Tajiksitan, I’d highly recommend giving it a try if you’re able. It won’t disappoint.

Travel Notes:

  • Where We Ate: Regar Restaurant – there’s no website. We had plov and it was Uzbek style which I much prefer over Tajikistan’s version.
  • For more on the TALCO Aluminum plant, the only place I could find decent English information was Wikipedia, unfortunately.

Buzkashi

Buzkashi is one of those cultural experiences you simply must have if you spend any lengthy amount of time in Central Asia. I would equate the experience to witnessing a bull fight in Spain – which I did in 2008. You simply must go since it’s such an integral part of the culture, but you don’t necessarily need to experience it more than once.

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Before I delve too deeply into this blog, I want to be clear. I’m not in any way judging or criticizing the sport. I simply want to state the facts and document this unique experience.

Buzkashi literally means “goat pulling” in Persian, and it’s the traditional sport of the region. A very crude, but simple, description is that it is unorganized, teamless, polo match where horsemen attempt to place a headless goat or calf carcass in the goal. It is believed to have possibly began with nomadic Turkic-Mongol people who came to Central Asia between the 10th and 15th centuries. Today games are played in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.

The reason it took us so long to attend a match is due mostly to the secretive nature of the games. Rumor has it that organizers of these matches do not want a huge group of Westerners showing up and sneering at the national sport. Also, games are usually announced only a few days in advance and, with a limited marketing strategy, word doesn’t reach everyone as quickly as it should.

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Last month we were lucky enough to stumble upon some vague information about a game happening about 30 minutes away. A group of us took a chance and ventured out that morning. Luckily, the directions we had were perfect and even if they weren’t it wouldn’t have been hard to find. Just follow the many vehicles carrying horses. Usually a good indication you’re in the right place.

This particular match was a massive free-for-all. Hundreds of mounted players raced around the field trying to hoist the carcass up onto their horse and hold it there long enough to reach the goal. For most of the time we couldn’t really see what was happening, but it was fun just to be a part of the day.

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I will say, for all the rumored fuss about foreigners attending these matches, everyone was extremely welcoming. There was a definite picnic feeling in the air. Vendors sold food and drinks, and everyone seem to settle in for an enjoyable day. We left after a few hours, but the match was still in full swing when we departed.

Not a bad way to spend one of the first of many beautiful spring days in Tajikistan if you ask me.

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Almaty vs. Shymbulak: A Tale of Two Cities

Now that I finished my (probably overly long) New Zealand series, I can get caught up on some Central Asia things I’ve neglected. The first of which, is our return to Shymbulak Ski Resort, and our first real experience with Almaty proper.

I previously spoke about Almaty about a year ago when we had our first ever CLO ski trip to Shymbulak Resort about 45 minutes outside the city. We had a fun time skiing last year, and a less than fun time in town due to the absence of Kazakh Elvis at Hard Rock Cafe. I left with a good feeling about the tiny ski resort, and a sour taste in my mouth about Almaty itself.

This time around, things completely reversed.

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The ski trip was significantly smaller this year than last. Several people, including my co-CLO, were by chance going to be in town that same weekend. The schedule was much less structured and no one really needed any guidance. We also extended the trip a day so we had more time to explore.

Our friends knew I didn’t have a good Almaty experience last time and were determined to show me the city could actually be a nice escape from the day-to-day stress in Tajikistan. I was skeptical to say the least.

Then, we went to the mall.

We didn’t do a whole ton of shopping, but just the atmosphere was nice. We were in a Western-style place with European shops and, most importantly, no one was staring at us. In Dushanbe, Westerners are an anomaly and we get a lot of looks. Mostly curious, but after 18 months I’ve grown really sick of the attention. In Almaty, we were mostly ignored.

We spent the late morning wandering around the gardens and had lunch at Craft Kitchen and Bar, a great little burger joint that you could easily find in DC. They had good beer. They had good burgers. They had good salad for goodness sake! For the first time I understood why people love this city.

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After more malls and more wandering, we at dinner ate this trendy restaurant called My Cafe. Psst! Want me to love a city? Serve me good food! It’s pretty simple.

After a lovely dinner, we jumped in a taxi to take us to the gondola to head up to Shymbulak. And that’s where it all went wrong.

It was Saturday night, and the gondola up to the resort runs until midnight. The alternative to the gondola was a steep, windy, mountain road that was slippery with ice and snow. No thanks. I like living, or at least not vomiting in the back of a taxi.

Trouble is, when we got to the gondola – that was clearly still running, people were getting off at the bottom being my first clue – the guard told us it was closed. After going back and forth with him and several people they called the operator at the top who finally confirmed that yes, it would run until midnight. Minor issue, probably, but it made me afraid for the 25 minute ride that the car would stop suddenly and we would spend a cold night suspended above the snowy mountains.

We spent the next two days, Sunday and Monday, skiing. I’m not a good skier at all, and Shymbulak is probably right above my ability level. While I can make it down the mountain, each run is a major ordeal and I got less and less confident as the day went on. Plus, it was snowing and I was trying to ski in powder for the first time. So. Many. Faceplants.

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Our friends who convinced me to give Almaty a chance were staying at the second hotel on the hill that night, SnEG. It’s halfway up the mountain and accessible only by chairlift. We – since we were staying at the hotel at the bottom of the hill – decided to eat dinner with them and then either ski or ride down.

Nope.

The chairlift of course stopped running at 6:00 p.m. and the hill had no night skiing that day so we were absolutely not allowed to ski down after dinner. On top of that, the other restaurants at the bottom of the hill closed down so we were stuck eating at the one attached to the hotel. The food was fine, but it would have been more fun to eat with our friends.

After our second day of skiing, the same thing happened. Our friends left that night so we had one more day on the hill. Again, everything shut down at 6:00 p.m. so we were stuck at that same restaurant. This time they forgot Sean’s food and didn’t tell him until after I had finished eating mine. Then they had nothing left so he went to bed pretty hungry. In our tiny, uncomfortable hotel room. Not a good way to end our long week.

So, my final assessment.

Almaty: Good.

Shymbulak: Bad.

Go ski at Shymbulak, but head back down the gondola at night for a good meal and better hotel in town. You’ll thank me.

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Travel Notes:

  • Where We Stayed: Shymbulak Resort Hotel, Almaty – I don’t recommend this.
  • Where Our Friends Stayed: Ritz-Carlton, Almaty – I do recommend this.
  • Where We Ate: Craft Kitchen and Bar, Almaty; My Cafe, Almaty; SNeG, Shymbulak; Chalet, Shymbulak; Paul, Shymbulak – when it’s open, this place is amazing for breakfast and lunch. It’s a French chain that can be found all over the world.
  • Shymbulak Ski Resort – skiing is generally good and well-groomed. They also have full-service rentals which include jackets and snow pants.

Wines of New Zealand

Wine is my absolute favorite of all the alcoholic beverages. I have many fond memories from our first few years of marriage sitting outside on our balcony, drinking wine, snacking on cheese and crackers, and marveling at how adult we were.

I am not at all an expert – as you will see if you choose to continue reading. My assessments below are a reflection of my own personal preference. For the record, I like Riesling, Pinot Noir, some full body reds like Syrah, and apparently Sauvignon Blanc. I’m not a fan of Chardonnay, Merlot, or Malbec.

We visited three distinct wine regions of New Zealand on this trip. Our favorite was definitely Marlborough but we found a few gems in Waiheke as well.

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Central Otago

Central Otago is the land where Pinot Noir is king. It is the southernmost wine region in the world which can come with major difficulties, but wineries persist and often yield unique results. We truly were just breezing through Cenral Otago, so we didn’t have a lot of time to stop and enjoy many cellar doors.

Rockburn

  • What we tried: Pinot Noir, Pino Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling
  • What we bought: Pinot Noir
  • Overall thoughts: We had a really nice time here. We were the only ones in the small shop and it was a lovely start to our New Zealand winery exploration. Worth a stop if you’re in the neighborhood.

Mt. Difficulty

  • What we tried: Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay
  • What we bought: None
  • Overall thoughts: This winery is on top of a hill which gives a beautiful view of the surrounding area. The wine was good, but didn’t totally blow me away like some of the others. We did see this brand in quite a few restaurants throughout New Zealand as well.

The Winery, Queenstown

  • What we tried: Literally everything
  • What we bought: Seifried ‘Sweet Agnes’ Riesling
  • Overall thoughts: This is a wine aggregate shop in Queenstown with over 80 varieties to taste and purchase. It’s magical. They have these dispensers where you can choose if you want a tasting, half, or full glass of wine. I was in love.

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Marlborough

Marlborough is the largest wine-producing region in New Zealand. It put New Zealand wine on the international stage with it’s signature Sauvignon Blanc. The region is also known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and it was here that I learned that sometimes my taste buds play tricks on me.

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  • What we tried: Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Merlot Cabernet
  • What we bought: Pinot Gris, Merlot Cabernet ‘Spirit of Marlborough’
  • Overall thoughts: I’m not usually a Pinot Gris fan, but when they told me ‘this is a Pinot Gris for people who don’t like Pinot Gris” I understood why my taste buds were seemingly deceiving me. Sean is also the one who likes big, bold reds so he enjoyed the Merlot Cabernet quite a bit.

Giesen

  • What we tried: The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc, The August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, The Brothers Riesling, The Brothers Pinot Noir, The Brothers Merlot, Pomme de Gris
  • What we bought: The August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Overall thoughts: These guys have an absolutely huge tasting menu to choose from. They are also the ones who taught me about Sauvignon Blanc which Sean surprisingly also enjoys. Maybe we finally found a wine we can agree on.

Nautilus Estate

  • What we tried: Cuvee Brut, Pinot Gris, Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Southern Valleys Pinot Noir, Four Barriques Pinot Noir
  • What we bought: Chardonnay
  • Overall thoughts: Now it’s probably surprising to see Chardonnay as the top choice for this one when I mentioned above I don’t really like Chardonnay. It seemed to be a theme here that New Zealand Chardonnay is different than other Chardonnays I’ve previously encountered. Chardonnay is usually described as “buttery” and that’s exactly what I don’t like about it. These New Zealand Chardonnays don’t have that “buttery” quality and I appreciate it.

Framingham

  • What we tried: Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, Classic Reisling, Select Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir
  • What we bought: Select Riesling
  • Overall thoughts: Being the Riesling girl I am, this was my favorite winery of the trip. Their Select Riesling is my new all time favorite. It tastes just like lemon meringue pie. The other Rieslings were tasty, and the Pinot Noir was also a winner in our book.

Cloudy Bay

  • What we tried: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pelorus
  • What we bought: None at the time
  • Overall thoughts: Cloudy Bay is one of the brands from New Zealand that is widely available worldwide. I know I’ve seen it in the States, and we actually ordered a bottle Sauvignon Blanc through the Embassy. Truthfully, we stopped here mostly to eat. They have an amazing lunch menu featuring oysters that completely blew my mind. It’s also very pretty and breezy. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Spy Valley

  • What we tried: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir Rose, Pinot Noir
  • What we bought: None at the time
  • Overall thoughts: This is another one that is widely available in the States. Our pick was the Sauvignon Blanc. Sean also liked the Pinot Noir. We will definitely be on the lookout for these when we return home.

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Waiheke Island/Auckland

This is red wine country. Here you will find New Zealand’s Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah vineyards. At this point in the trip we had ditched the car and I’m glad we did since red wine is Sean’s favorite and this way he didn’t have to worry about driving.

Stonyridge

  • What we tried: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec
  • What we bought: None
  • Overall thoughts: This one was probably the most annoying tasting experience. We had to pay per pour, and the staff didn’t seem to care about us at all. I’m perfectly happy to pay for a tasting, it was just quite expensive for a cellar door.

Te Motu

  • What we tried: Te Motu, Kokoro, Tipua, Cabernet Merlot, Syrah
  • What we bought: None
  • Overall thoughts: This was probably one of the more unique wineries. We really enjoyed the tasting and will probably order from them in the future. We ate a lovely cheese plate from here which was the perfect amount of food to go with a wine tasting. Definitely worth a visit.

Obsidian

  • What we tried: Estate Merlot Malbec, Montepulciano, Obsidian Reserve, Viognier, Riesling
  • What we bought: Montepulciano 2013
  • Overall thoughts: We had to hike to this one but boy was it worth it. Best red wines we tried on this entire trip. This tiny winery has had international acclaim, and is pretty famous for their Montepulciano. A definite must see.

Wild on Waiheke

  • What we tried: No wine here. Sean had a beer and I tried a mixed drink. We came here for the food.
  • What we bought: None
  • Overall thoughts: This place is a fun take on wine tastings and beer gardens. There’s a bunch of activities for the kids to keep them entertained while the adults drink. We had pizza and a seafood sampler platter that was a special for the day. Great for a lunch stop.

Cable Bay

  • What we tried: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
  • What we bought: None
  • Overall thoughts: The view here is absolutely spectacular. That’s the only positive from our experience. We got there at 4:30 p.m. and their cellar door should have been open for another half hour but we were told they were closed. Since we had to wait for a bus we decided to each get a glass, but we were annoyed so we probably didn’t enjoy the wine as much as we should have.

Travel Notes:

  • For more information on New Zealand wine in general, visit www.nzwine.com.
  • New Zealand has this great service called NZ Wine Export where you can send them a list of what you want and they will take care of collecting it from the different vineyards and ship it all in one case. Perfect for people like us who hop around to several different wineries in one trip.