Friday, March 14, 2008

Hawk's Bay and the North Island

This is the cathedral in Nelson. The downtown streets are all hung with beautiful hanging baskets of flowers like this.

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.

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