The Canterbury NZEW started out with a bus ride up to Picton on Friday evening – a great excuse to skip any other potentially mundane Friday afternoon commitments! We arrived in the dark so had no idea of what sort of place we had come to. All was revealed the next morning when we woke to the sun peaking over the pine tree-covered mountains, the blue sky & aqua-coloured water glistening off each other in some sort of secret agreement of Mother Nature. After a light breakfast we headed down to the foreshore for our kayaking adventure. Our two guides gave us a thorough safety briefing & showed us how to become pro-kayakers all in about 30 minutes. Before we knew if we were let-loose in our double kayaks, off into the pristine waters of the Sounds. The scenery was phenomenal, with lots of scenic treats along the way – birds, seals and an interesting baches set amongst the rich green forests. After paddling for about 2 hours I was sure we were getting picked up by taxi at the other end. But, after a short picnic of hot tea/coffee & yummy slices, we were back our boats for the long stretch home. It was made enjoyable by some of our party serenading us along the seas, some competitive strokes and lots of chit-chat in all the boats. Needless to say when we arrived back to dry land we were more than ready for a hot meal of Fish ‘n’ chips (& chip sandwiches) for lunch on the foreshore. A free afternoon was welcomed, with different activities on offer such as a soak in the spa, shopping, hanging around in hammocks or one of the commercial activities available locally. We were picked up at 6pm that evening & taken to the famous Hans Herzog Winery in Blenheim. Here, we enjoyed a wine tasting with our lovely & knowledgeable guide, followed by a delectable, dainty & delicious 3-course dinner where we sampled some of the finest cuisine New Zealand has to offer. Yummy coffees were served up just before we left, and the after dinner entertainment, “Mini” the cat strolled in for cuddles all around. After a much-needed rest, we had an early start for our Swimming with Dolphins tour on Sunday. After about an hour of searching, we came across a playful pod of Hectors dolphins who gave us quite a show! We were availed many chances to take some great photos & see them right up close as they swam & danced right past us in the water. As these dolphins are protected we were unable to swim with them. Unfortunately on this occasion, the other dolphins in the Sounds must have been hiding as we didn’t see one that we could swim with! But that is part of the beauty of choosing an eco-tour company – they don’t make the decisions about when we swim, the dolphins themselves do. We enjoyed a fantastic boat ride with commentary, great guides & of course the unforgettable Hector Dolphin show. One of us took up the opportunity to swim with a playful seal which I am sure is an experience that will remain with him forever! The final part of our weekend was the journey home along the stunning East coastline on the scenic “Coastal Express” train. More stunning scenery, comfortable carriages & great facilities provided us with a relaxing & enjoyable journey home to Christchurch.