Today we saw the New Zealand town of Gisborne at its very best. Not only were we one of the few ships ever to actually dock here rather than anchor – being (only just) small enough to pass through its narrow harbour entrance - but the sun shone, and this often-quiet town was in party mood, as it celebrated a Polynesian festival.
A cynic might say that Gisborne doesn't have much going for it. It's an isolated town in a region dominated by agriculture, without many must-see sights, which is mainly a timber exporting port. But, what it lacks in tourists (or tourist sights), it makes up for in the friendliness of its welcome, in the beauty of its beaches, in the quality of its winelands, and in the strength of its agricultural sector. Between me and Tracy, we saw aspects of each of these today.
So, while Tracy visited a sheep farm, and had a fascinating morning watching the sheep dogs and sheep shearers at work; I had the much more taxing task of going on a wine-tasting tour, visiting a couple of the gorgeous boutique wineries that Gisborne is becoming increasingly famous for – the town markets itself as "New Zealand's Chardonnay Capital".
To be honest, it can be a bit gruelling starting your wine consumption at 10 in the morning, but the enthusiasm of the vineyard owners, and the easy-drinking wines they produce, made our wine-guzzling a little easier. By 11.30am, we had tasted ten different wines! Just for the record, and to prove that I was a little discerning in my tasting, I thought that the Pinot Gris were the best.
On the way back, the bus was a lot more lively than it had been first thing in the morning, and when we were taken to an absolutely gorgeous, but almost totally deserted white sandy beach, we were thinking that we'd arrived in paradise – or maybe that was the wine talking?
In the afternoon, we headed into town, which wasn't really a place of architectural beauty, but it was attractively situated on three rivers and facing a wide seafront and beach. As the first place that Captain Cook ever stepped on New Zealand soil (in 1769), the statues and monuments to Cook were fairly prominent.
By now, the temperature was getting to boiling point, but the festival itself was only warming up, so we lasted as long as we could before the heat (and wine-induced dehydration) drove us back to the cool of the ship.
Another great day in New Zealand – we think we need to spend longer in this beautiful country.