The election news came to us as we settled in at our hostel in Renwick, near Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine country in the north of the South Island. All the Kiwis we met wanted to discuss it, and voice their approval.

New Zealand, and Marlborough in particular, is best known for its white wines: Chardonnays, Sauvignons Blanc, Rieslings, Pinots Gris, Gewurtztraminers, Viogniers. Some areas are dry enough to make good Pinots Noir as well. We took a walking tour – the only ones who did so that day, except for a young Cornish sportswriter who shared our hostel: most people go by bicycle – and sampled some great wines that aren’t available outside restaurants.

It’s good country for wines. After the rocky coast, the bald, green, pyramidal hills grope inland toward the slopes of the Southern Alps, a line of mountains sheltering and keeping dry the sprawling Awatere Valley and Wairau Plain. Wild anise by the roadside, yellow and purple lupin along the hills. This used to be sheep country (of course) but now there are hundreds of vineyards, wooden posts and tiny tree-like vines orderly as a military cemetery, stretching in every direction.

I’m no wine expert but these vintages stood out: Domaine Georges Michel Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (fruity, nice finish); Charles Wiffen Riesling 2004 (also fruity, not too acidic); Huia Sauvignon 2006 (tart, peachy); Staedt Landt Pinot Noir 2001 (perfect red, in my humble); and Herzog Pinot Noir 2004 (terrific “nose”). Some are available in restaurants in the States, I believe. We had a pleasant if preposterously priced lunch of cake and cheese at Herzog, solely because it shares a surname with one of my favorite movie directors.

Strong winds. We heard that up in Auckland they had to close the Sky Tower because of the 85-km winds, an unusual move. The tower – the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere at 328 meters – was built a decade ago to withstand up to 125-km winds, but it can move as much as a meter from side to side and that must be an unnerving experience.

We’ll be up that way soon enough.