Saturday, March 29, 2008
Our hotel in Aitutaki, Wednesday and Thursday night, was a "chalet" (that seems incongruous here, but it's what they call them) with big bedroom, kitchen, and nice bath. We were a coconut throw from the white beach. Our flights to and from Aitutaki were easy, and only about 40 minutes in length. The airports are so small, you just get there about 30 minutes before the flights leave, and the guy playing a ukelele stops singing and says, "okay, if you are going to Rarotonga, get on the plane now." It's amazing.
Tonight, someone blew a conch shell at 5:00 pm. and announced, "happy hour." What a place.
I can't put up pictures, because this internet service is so very slow. It's just not worth it. I'll put them up when I get home.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Dinner was at a local restaurant and consisted of fresh Parrot fish stuffed with crab and shrimp, marinated in coconut mile, and wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. It was gorgeous.
I have already spent 40 minutes writing another blog, which got lost when I tried to publish it, and this internet connection is very slow, so this will be short. We fly out tomorrow night about midnight, and will be back in LA about noon on Sunday. Home on Monday.
I'll try to post some photos and another addition to this later. Right now, I want to hit the lagoon before happy hour! We are staying at Pacific Resort a Sandals property. Got upgraded to a garden suite, and it's absolutely lovely. What a paradise. Island show tonight!
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The island is lovely, just like a Pacific island should be and like you've seen in the movies. There are white sandy beaches, tall coconut palms, and mountains in the center of the island. Our hotel is right on the beach, and there's great snorkeling right out our door and down two flights to the beach. Because we are on the top floor, our view is amazing. The reef is a long way off shore, so we have lots of fairly shallow water to explore, and there are lots of fish to be seen. Some are quite different from the ones we are used to in the Caribbean. The food is very good, and we've both eaten mostly fresh fish. Tonight, the restaurant in our hotel is open, so we will eat there, with a rhythm and blues singer performing. That should be interesting.
The flight over from Auckland was only 3 hours and 35 minutes on a big 777, and very comfortable. The lunch was delicious - can you believe it on an airplane? At reception, the friendly representative of our tour agency hung gardenia leis around our necks in welcome.
This morning we went on an arts and cultural tour, and because Bill and I were the only ones, we had a private tour. The guide took us to several historic sites of the Maoris, and several artists' studios. We had lunch in town, and will take the island bus back to our hotel after a little shopping. It's a pretty laid back lifestyle, as you might expect. Tomorrow morning we fly to Aitutaki for two nights. Then, back here on Friday to stay at Pacific Resort, a Sandals hotel. It looks pretty posh.
I am sending this from an internet cafe, and didn't lug my computer along on the tour and into town, hence no pictures. But, I have taken some great ones of the blue Pacific and crashing surf on the reef. I'll post them when we get home - or, if we find a different arrangement at the next hotel, which I doubt.
It's great weather. The vegetation is lush and in bloom. Can't ask for anything more. Lots of hibiscus, bouganvilla, crotans, banana trees, papayas, coconuts, etc. We ate island spinach the first night, which I later found out, is Taro. It was delicious. This whole island is delicious!
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Here's the Hole in the Rock from our cruise of the Bay of Islands.
This afternoon we go to the Waitangi Treaty House for a tour at 3:00 p.m., and tonight, we have a cutural show on the Waitangi Reserve. Tomorrow, we'll leave about 9:00 a.m. to drive the scenic route down the west coast of the north island to Auckland. We'll take our time and see the scenery. So, we won't be into Auckand until about 5:00 p.m., and I won't write again until tomorrow evening. We have a free day in Auckland on Saturday, then a day on Waihike Island. Then, it's off to the Cooks.
Happy Easter to all.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
That afternoon, we went out on the Bay of Islands cruise on King Cruise lines. It was a comfortable catamaran with lots of deck space (not at all crowded this time of year) for viewing the 144 lovely islands, rocks, clear lagoons, dolphins, and the Hole in the Rock which our captain succesfully negotiated without our having to paddle. The water is a beautiful green and full of game fish. Lots of people come here for the snapper, marlin, yellow fin tuna, and something called hoki. This is the season, we are told, for good fishing, and there is snapper on every menu. We bought some fillets this afternoon in a fresh fish market, and I'll cook it up for supper in our kitchen.
The first night we were here, we ate at "Only Seafood," which has a website, if you want to check it out. I had yellow fin tuna seared in soy sauce with bamboo shoots and cashews. Excellent. Last night we ate at Cafe 6 Bistro. It's German so I couldn't pass us the sauer braten, and it was delicious. Bill had pan fried whiting. We haven't had a bad meal in NZ, especially when we order seafood. It's all fresh and plentiful.
Kerikeri is another area of orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards. They say, you stick something in the ground and it grows. The soil is volcanic. The Maorie word "keri" means "dig," and the area was named because all the new "European tribes" did when they arrived was to dig holes and plant stuff.
We were picked up promptly this morning at 7:45 and taken to the airport to fly in our 6 seater small plane up the west coast of the north island to the very top. After a scenic 45 minute flight, we landed on a grass strip where a comfortable van picked us up to drive to Cape Reinga where a light house marks the northernmost tip. It was amazing to see where the two great oceans, the Pacific on the east and the Tasman on the west, meet in swirling currents. The fishing there is supposed to be great, too. Next time . . . .
Our van took us next to a morning "picnic" of fresh muffins and coffee on a deserted white sand beach where dolphins sometimes visit. Then, on to the famous huge sand dunes where we took boogie boards almost to the top and slid down. It was tough going in the soft sand, but I made it up and down twice. Bill insisted on going higher up the third time, came flying down, hit a small mogul and became airborne rolling three times to a final stop in the sand. It's good sand is softer than snow, but he is complaining of a sore shoulder this afternoon. Thank goodness for Celebrex.
The flight down the west coast back to the airport was even more scenic as we flew over white sliica beaches, green clear rocky lagoons (you could even see the little sharks on the bottom), and the many islands, most of which are desserted. It was quite a day and a wonderful trip.
I'll upload some photos tomorrow morning, as we have until afternoon before our tour of the Waitangi treaty grounds. This is the second time I've written this as I lost it last time on our hotel website. I'm now at the internet cafe next door and the connection is much better.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
We left our beautiful cottage at 6:30 a.m. to drive to the airport in Nelson. Actually, being Americans, we arrived way too early for a NZ domestic flight. We were told to get there at 7:25 for an 8:10 flight, but just didn't trust that. So, there was no problem turning in the Budget Rental car, and we were the first to arrive for the flight. Sure enough, the locals started turning up about 7:40. There are no security lines, and the NZ check-in lady only looked at our passports because I offered them as proof of our names on the tickets. There are not only no security lines, there is no security on flights within NZ with under 68 passengers. So, you check your bags and board the flight. In Napier, they delivered the bags on baggage carts, and you simply lift yours off, and off you go. Budget had our car ready, we signed a paper, were given the keys and were driving to lunch at Sileni Estates within 10 minutes. Amazing. There is a great sculpture garden at Sileni with affordable sculpture pieces. I wish we lived here, I'd buy some.
Sileni is a big winery, imports to the US, and has a great outdoor restaurant. We had a nice pizza with local feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes; and shared a salad. Good Sauvignon Blanc wine. We then drove through acres and acres of vineyards on both sides of the road to Havelock North, which is a very up-scale town with lovely shops (Eilene you'd love the shoes and clothing), and boutique food stores of every kind. The North Island is definitely greener and more affluent than the South Island. After visiting Te Mata Winery, the oldest in NZ (110 years old) and sampling some of their wines, we checked into our "colonial" homestead B & B out in the country. There are walnut trees dropping nuts all over the ground, almond trees, avocados, and olive trees surrounding us. It's an amazing bountiful land. We also see more apple orchards here, and viturally thousands of acres of vineyards on everyside. The valley is flat and wide.
After a short nap, we drove up Te Mata Peak, a hair-raising narrow road with steep drop-offs and no guard rails, had a glass of wine to celebrate arriving safely at the top, photographed the views, and then drove back down (it was easier after one glass of wine - not two), to Havelock North to the highly recommended restaurant, "Diva." It was devine (sorry, it really was). We had snapper, lightly crusted and sweet. Also, a boysenberry creme brulee to die for. The young chef, Ben Cruise (sp?), was trained in England, and knows what he is doing!
Tomorrow, we have an art deco tour of Napier, then lunch at Mission Estates above Napier. This is really a different part of NZ. It is obviously more "posh," and there are incredible modern new homes on the road up to Te Mata Peak. There were lots of "people of a certain age" enjoying wine with their friends at tables outside at the restaurant tonight before going on to dinner. It's got Cashiers beat, hands down. Can't wait to see of Napier lives up to its reputation.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Today, we drove up to two wineries in Upper Moutere, Kahurangi (which produces 29,000 cases a year) and exports to the US (I have tasting notes, Neil), and Neudorf Winery which is smaller, "Charlie Trotter" in Chicago has their wines. Both wineries have been here for a long time and have older vines than those near us at Ruby Bay. We also visited Neudorf Dairy which makes incredible fresh sheeps' milk cheese. Lunch at our cottage on leftovers, a little nap, and a long walk through the country roads. The pickers left two bright red apples on one of the trees, and they just fell into my hands! We met the wine-maker who works on this vineyard, Atilla. He and Sam, the owner, are anxiously watching the grapes. A hard rain now would be devastating for the harvest.
More Kiwi slang: "Sitting on my choff" - well, you probably have figured it out; Pokies = gambling machines; jangles = flip flops; chilly bin = cooler; crib = small vacation home on the north island; bach (comes from bachelor pad) = small vacation home on the south island. Sign on the side of a milk tank truck = "Milk Moooover."
We have an early flight to Napier tomorrow morning.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Last night we had fresh seafood in a local cafe (http://www.smokehouse.co.nz/) on the waterfront in a tiny little village, Mapua, just 10 minutes from where we are staying. We had an outdoor table looking over a little bay with a few small sailboats and dinghies anchored. The sun was setting over the mountains behind Nelson, and with the tide low, the water was calm. The air was delightfully cool. There were several tables of locals and a few tourists. A young couple came in with three children, two little girls, and a baby about 4 months old. After ordering their food, the mother saw me admiring the baby, picked him up and brought him over to our table to introduce "Joseph" to us. He smiled a big happy dimpled smile at me, and she handed him over for me to talk to him for a minute or two. It was the most spontaneous and friendly encounter. Now, where else have you been lately where that might happen?
We spent the morning yesterday kayaking in Abel Tasman, It was cool and slightly overcast, so we avoided the danger of getting sun-burned. A bag lunch followed, then we were taken by water taxi to Onetahuti for a walk back down the Tasman track to Bark Bay. The sun was shining by this time, but we were in heavy shade for part of the track with 50 foot fern tress and heavy green moss on the forest floor. There were two sparkling waterfalls, golden sand beaches, and crystal clear emerald water. We saw a colony of seals on one of the islands, had a good 2 hour walk which was pretty steep in several places, and then joined our water taxi (right on time, again) for the return trip ot Kaiteriteri. It was a great day, and we returned to our cottage for a cold glass of Pegasus Bay riesling. It just doesn't get any better.
The landscape is so beautiful. The towns look like the 1960's. Of course, we are still on the south island, and there are fewer people here than on the north island, but there is just no traffic compared to the US, and all two-lane roads. By the way, the music that is played in cafes and pubs is all 1960's Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Bill and I can sing along with all of them!
I'll post some pictures this afternoon.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
This is our view yesterday morning of the Marlborough Valley from our hike up the Wither Hills Farm Park trek. It was a pretty steep hike with lots of trails we didn't follow, but a good 1 hour workout. There are hundreds of acres of vineyards in the valley and adjacent ones. Hopefully, the big wineries won't take over the boutique wineries in the valley. There seems to be some cause for concern.
We went to the Sunday morning farmer's market in Blenheim which featured local farmers and local residents being themselves. There were fresh cheeses, produce, crepe stands, expresso sellers, locally raised nuts and milled olive oils. What fun! We bought a baguette, a soft cheese, the reddest plums I've ever seen, candied almonds, and Manuka honey - all locally grown or produced. After our trek up the hills, we visited Matua winery and bought an exceptional bottle of sauvignon blanc which we enjoyed with our fresh picnic lunch. We also stopped at Villa Maria winery for a tasting. Back to our nice apartment for a short nap, then back to work, visiting Montana (Brancott) and Dryland wineries. Montana doesn't use this in their name on the US imports because of the confusion with our state. Also, it being a huge winery, they also bottle under the Stoneleigh name, which accounts for all the acres of vineyards we've seen in Marlborough carrying that name. Dryland is also the producer of Nobilo and Monkey Bay - two of our favorite wine labels, so there is another "mystery" solved. The Matua sauvignon blanc was labeled Paretai Sauvignon Blanc and is only available from restaurants and some wine stores in the US. It is wonderful.
We ate dinner at the restaurant at Vintner's Retreat. Bill had the rack of lamb, and I had the Marlborough salmon which had a salsa of red peppers, green onions and pomegranate seeds! Both were delicious.
Her's some pinot gris grapes, sidewise. There is netting used throughout the region to prevent the birds from eating all the grapes. We are now at Ruby Bay Lodge in their guest house, which is a private cottage just for guest use and includeds every amenity. Check out their web site: http://www.rubybaylodge.co.nz/ We have met the Scottish owners, tasted their wines, and are enjoying the lovely platter of cheeses and meats on our porch while admiring the view of their vineyards and the Tasman Bay. What a luxurious place to spend four days. There are bay-side cafes and restaurants within a 5 minute drive. Tomorrow morning we sea kayak, walk, and cruise the Abel Tasman park.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Here is Bill in the rose gardens of the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch. The roses are beautiful right now, as it is the second summer blooming - like September in the northern hemisphere.
We visited three wineries this morning: Hunter, Cloudy Bay, and Allan Scott. They are all within a five minutes drive of our lovely apartment-style hotel. Thanks, Bob, for the recommendation of Allan Scott. It is, indeed, a great winery with a garden and an outdoor restaurant. Bill had an oyster and bacon pie, and I had green mussel and shrimp salad. Both were great with the Allan Scott's sauvignon blanc. It was the best s.b. we tasted today. The others, although higher priced, were very acidic. This afternoon, we took a nap, (Eilene, our rest day was today) and then drove into Blenhiem, which is really just a small "farm" town, to find an ATM, visit a petrol station, and do a nice walk in the park along the river. The flowers are blooming. The walking path lies along the public golf course. So, after a nice hour-long walk, we are back at "home" fixing a salad in our little kitchn for supper. Eating out every meal gets old. Actually, we've had breakfast in almost every morning, as every hotel has coffee makng facilities, and yogurt and fruit are easy to find in local shops.
Tomorrow, there is a local market at the fair grounds, so we'll go there before doing the Wilton Hills walk and then more wineries.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Boy, these NZ rental company people are efficient here. This is a second time a Budget car has been delivered to our hotel, right on time. Very little paper work, and away we went. We were out of Christchurch and on the road by 8:45 a.m. It's a gorgeous drive up through the North Canterbury plain where there are rolling high hills on both sides of the road, very green, with happy sheep nibbling along. As we got further north, the road ran right beside the green Pacific with mountains on the left. We went through some pretty twisty mountain roads with cedars and big pines on every side, then down into Kaikoura which is famous for it's whale watching tours. We skipped that in favour of a seafood lunch at the Pier Hotel on the bay. Bill had a rich seafood chowder - cream based - and, I had the local crayfish, which is like Florida crawfish. Delicious. (By the way, Karolyn, Finz in S. Bay is closed.)
Back on the road, we drove along the Pacific for another 45 minutes and spotted seals sunning themselves on the rocks. It looks a little like the rugged California coast. Then, back inland for another 45 minutes through dry brown high hills again. It's a very dramatic landscape against the brilliant blue sky. The Awatere Valley appears one of the newest vineyard areas with 100's of acres of newly planted vines. Got into Blenheim about 4:00 p.m. The Marlborough Valley is wide, flat and full of wineries. There are grapes everywhere you look. Our hotel, The Vintner's Hotel, is separate one-bedroom apartments - beautifully furnished, modern, and with a huge bathroom.
Oh, this morning, we stopped at Pegasus Bay vineyard about an hour outside Christchurch. What a lovely setting with rose and herb gardens, views, and excellent wines to taste. Neil, the dry riesling is terrific.
Tomorrow, is Marlborough wineries day. We are right among the vines here, Staet Landt is across the street, and Cloudy Bay is around the corner. It's pretty amazing.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Today, we went to breakfast in the cafe at the cathedral and then over to Town Hall (just half a block from our hotel) to meet Ken Oxford who is Larry and Mary Jo's friend here in Christchurch. He gave us a VIP tour around the huge performing arts center he manages, and we are meeting him and Steph for a drink at the Warner Hotel, a historic place next to the cathedral.
We then walked through the Art Gallery (all free) and the huge arts center which is housed in the old buildings of the University of Canterbury. Since it is cloudy and cool, you can imagine you are in England as the buildings look like those at Cambridge or Oxford, only smaller. The arts center has a collection of galleries, artists' studios, and shops. It is reminiscent of Biltmore Village in Asheville. Had lunch there at a great wine bar called Annie's. Soup and salad was delicious. It was a short walk from there to the botanical gardens where we strolled along the River Avon, saw the incredible exhibit of begonias, the fern house and the formal rose gardens. It is lovely.
Tomorrow, the car is to be delivered at 8:30 a.m., and we are off to Blenheim.
Cheminne is the winner of the "bingo wings" contest. Clever girl!
Springfield which is about 1+ hour across the Canterbury Plain. There we were picked up by "No Hassle Tours" who took us to the Waikamakiri River for a jet boat ride with "young Matt," an experienced jet boat "driver." The river is run-off from the snow fields in the Southern Alps, and aqua blue with a little milky cast. Absolutely beautiful. Of course, we were given the usual thrills of running up to cliff-sides on the river and swerving away at the last possible second and 360 degree turns in the middle of the river. You've seen it on tv. It was great fun and the scenery was spectacular. (Sorry, I keep using that word.) It was rough coming back against the current, but exhilarating.
Then, we were taken in a unimog (a big four-wheel-drive army vehicle) up to a sheep and cattle station owned by an individual family for the last 4 generations. It is 10,0o0 acres with 7500 sheep, and I don't know how many Aberdeen beef cattle. Gorgeous country and gorgeous livestock. The ride was really rough. Would rather have hiked in, and could have done it in the same time, but we were captive. Lunch in a cafe, then by van to Arthur's Pass (look it up on internet) to catch the Alpine Express back to Christchurch.
Now, what a day! This country is so un-spoiled. It reminds me of the countryside in the US in the 1950's. The houses are all small, though nice, and there are no inter-states or big subdivisions, and absolutely no billboards. It all look vaguely familiar, which only you of our generation and older can understand.
More things we like about NZ:
Every restaurant puts a big pitcher or carafe of fresh tap water on the table, no questions asked. It is cold and clean (sometimes iced), and one doesn't have a choice of "gas or no gas," for goodness sake.
You can bring your own wine to most restaurants - and the corkage fee is usually $5.50 NZ. That's a lot less than we pay in Cashiers.
Every motel and hotel, so far, has had laundry facilities. Pay attention Europe. You can't find a washing machine there at any price.
We also love the Kiwi slang:
Stickies - after-dinner sweet drinks
Sallys - Salvation Army charity shops, every town has one
Puku - bellies, especially on men, it's a sign of prosperity
Road maggots - big camper vans (or SUV's in our country)
Now, we'll see who is following this blog. The BIG question - What are "bingo wings?"
Whoever answers correctly in 24 hours gets a free flight to NZ. (NOT)
Check out Mansion House Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 (Savvy). It's soft, well-balanced, and delicious. That's for all of you who love good sauvignon blanc. I hope it's available in the US. Neil?
Will try to download and upload some pictures tomorrow. Just haven't had the time or energy. Also, will tell you about the incredible Burmese restaurant we ate dinner in tonight. One of the best meals, Bill reports, that he has ever enjoyed. I'ts called the Bohdi Tree and has a website.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Things we love about NZ:
There is no traffic
The roads are beautifully signposted
No tipping is expected
The food is fresh, local, and excellent
The people are incredibly unpretentious, genuinely friendly, and helpful
The public restrooms are always clean
Children walk and ride bicycles to school
We go on a bush trip tomorrow out to pick up the Alpine Express train and back to Christchurch and through the national park west of Christchurch. We went to two wineries this morning on the way back to the airport. Peregrine is gorgeous with very modern architecture. Check out their website: www.peregrine.co.nz
Everyone here is interested in the primaries tomorrow in Ohio and Texas. It's amazing how much this part of the world knows and cares about politics in the US.
Bill did a "walkie" around the property this morning while I worked on the computer. Rocky Range consists of 100 acres of lovely raw property, not much grass, lots of wild thyme, bees, and lavendar. The views are magnificent. Late in the morning we headed for Black Ridge winery the southermost winery/vineyard in the world. We ate a picnic lunch by Lake Dunston between Cromwell and Alexandra. It's a power lake, turquoise in color, and surrounded by steep barren mountain slopes. The countryside looks like the Colorado mountains.
After lunch, we drove on into Cromwell to visit Wooing Tree winery owned by friends of our new friends in France, Sue and Micaela (where we stayed in the Loire Valley in October.) Steve was expecting us and shared a glass of his award winning pinot noir. He is looking for a US importer, so I took his card to share with Neil and his friend Rob who works for Country Vintners. Wooing Tree is on the floor of the valley and is fast producing some of the best wines in the country. We then, drove up to Mount Difficulty for some of the most beautiful views of valley and mountains in the area.
Dinner back at Monteith's restaurant in Alexandra. They have wonderful warm lamb salads. Delicious.
Tomorrow we fly from Queenstown to Christchurh.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Drove back through Queenstown area and out into the Central Otago. We stopped for lunch in the Gibstown Valley winery, immediately off the road and easy to find. (Everything in NZ is easy to find.) There is very little traffic and everything is well-marked and signage is easy to follow. Excellent food and excellent wines.
Stopped at the "Big Picture" for a big-screen helicoptor tour of the Otago wine district and tasting of six pinot noirs. Interesting experience, and, my favorite, was stopping at a local fruit orchard stand for fresh peaches, greengage plums, cherries, pears, and apples. All are grown here in the Otago Valley. Incredible.
Our B & B tonight is "Rocky Range" which is locally owned by a Texan and a Kiwi. Lovely couple and gorgeous facilities. Every need is accomodated graciously.
Tomorrow is for more wineries and a good hike in the rocky terrain.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
This morning, we are off to Central Otago and more wineries, then overnight at Rocky Range in Alexandra. (They have a website if you want to take a look.)
We are much happier now that our luggage arrived while we were on the walk yesterday. It got here about 4:30, 5 days since we saw it in LA. It's amazing how little one can get by on.
Hopefully, I'll be rested enough to download some photos tonight and get them attached to the next blog.