Greetings from New Zealand.
Robin and I are travelling with Linda-Kathleen (LK) and Rich Simons. We left Vancouver on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and arrived in Auckland at 5:35 a.m. Sunday. The flight was pretty uneventful, some turbulence, but no one was flying through the air.
We flew business class, and I know it might seem tacky to complain about that, but, Air New Zealand has configured the 787 in a bad way. Yes, there are pods, and yes, they lie flat, but wow, they could not have made it more difficult. Each seat has a “guest” seat – just perfect for putting your feet on, and a table that comes down, so you can have a guest to tea. The aisles are really narrow, so the crew has a bit of a time getting their trollies etc. through. But the weirdest decision was how the seat becomes flat. On AC, you push a button and the seat reclines, and then goes flat, your feet tucked beside the seat in front of you. ANZ requires staff to push a button and wait while the back of the seat flips down forward, slides down to become flat so your feet are on the guest seat. If you are tall enough your feet actually protrude into the aisle. The staff unroll a mattress and a blanket and you can lie down. Of course at this point you can ONLY lie down. When it is time for breakfast, the staff turns the bed back into a seat. There are oodles of buttons that do various things.
We were met at the airport and whisked through. We had already applied for and received our Electronic Visas, and filled out the entrance card – mine apparently incorrectly, as I had indicated that I did NOT know what was in my suitcase. The border guard made everything seem funny, and we were stamped to enter. We were told that we had to have the NZ e-visa but no-one asked if we had one.
Our driver was waiting and we walked outside – luckily not far as it was absolutely pelting down rain. Our drive to the ferry was quite short, and we got a bit of a look at Auckland, although not of the taller buildings as they were clouded in. Steve (driver) said that some of the clouds were from the smoke coming in from the Australian wildfires.
We had tickets on the 7:00 ferry to Waiheke Island, and made it in plenty of time. The trip was about 45 minutes, and good until we hit the open water, and then it was pretty wild. The northwest winds were gusting to 35 knots, and not typical of this time of year.
We are staying at Mudbrick Vineyard. We have a cottage each on a hill with the most beautiful views. We arrived here about 7:30 AM, and knew that we would not be able to check in until 2:00. However, not even the restaurant, where we had hoped to have breakfast and spend some time, was open and there was no where to leave our bags. Chris, our driver here, suggested that he keep our bags, drive us into the town (the largest on the island) where we could have something to eat and wander around, and then call him when we were ready to go back to the hotel. Sunday morning, 7:30 a.m., not much open in the small town. We wandered a bit and then had breakfast. By now the rain had stopped, it was warming up and we continued our walk around the town. We walked through the shops (still closed) and up along the coastal path, and then down to, and along the beach. The waves were quite wild and there were a couple of kite surfers out. Quite exciting to watch. As the day turned warmer, more and more people were on the beach, and by the time we had walked along the whole bay, back up the hill and into the town again, the place had woken up. There were lots of people walking around. It is our first time in NZ, and everyone has always said how friendly Kiwis are, and certainly everyone we have met so far is. Everyone we pass on the street, or on the small walking paths says Good Morning.
We decided it was time to go back, called Chris, and returned to the hotel. The room was not ready, nor would they let us leave our bags in our cottages, so we returned to the main restaurant. A little tired and grumpy now. We sat outside and had coffee. Loads of people were arriving for wine tastings, mostly quite young. Wanda finally decided our rooms were ready and found a van to take our bags up the hill.
The cottages are lovely, well appointed and quite charming. Hopefully, tomorrow will be nice enough to sit outside. Right now, although it is not raining, it is too windy.
(right now I am sitting in our living room, looking out down the hill, across some vineyards and to the sea. There are some interesting birds around – I will have to look them up)
LK and Rich came to our “house” for bubbly before we went to dinner. There are two restaurants here and we opted for the Archive, the less formal of the two. We had a really good dinner – a huge appetizer plate to share – focaccia bread, hummus, seafood spread, olives, eggplant dip with harissa, meat balls. Robin and LK shared a lamb plate, fabulous potatoes that we all fought over. Rich and I shared the Braised goat, also terrific. Good wine, as you can imagine. Wanda sent over a beautiful cheese plate for “our long wait” – so much that LK took some home. Breakfast was also good. Portions here are HUGE. We will have to make a point of sharing.
The lodge is buzzing with workers laying down a new patio and paths with old bricks – mud brick color I think—not surprising since this is the Mudbrick winery.
Honey picked us up at 10:00 for our days tour. She has some things in mind, we chat a bit, and mix up the itinerary. She is really charming and we like her right away, and do so for the rest of the day.
First stop, open early especially for us is Obsidian Winery. Tiny, tiny. We are met by the winemaker and a young woman who is very knowledgeable. Turns out she is from BC. They make several types of wine, some in tiny quantities (a couple of barrels to test if the soil is good for a new type of grape). Surprisingly, they make a Tannat – and they are both surprised that we (I) like it, let alone know about it. Their production is TINY, so not likely to find any of this at home. Besides the tannat we taste tempranillo, montepulciano, and a Bordeaux blend. Surprisingly no pinot noir—seems that the island is too hot to grow pinot.
Next stop StonyRidge, where a table set for a wine and food pairing taste awaits us. A delightful young Frenchman leads the tasting. He has lived in many parts of the world, finally settled here and has “no intentions of ever returning to France”. We sample a Chardonay, Bordeaux blend, syrah blend. Each paired with a small appetizer, mine served on a rice cracker, not the lovely nut and seed one the others get. The cheese one especially set off the last wine. One of th appetisers had a bit of smoked salmon. We inquire where the salmon is from (local) and what kind (chinook).
We have cancelled lunch and tasting at Tantalus, and head instead to the award winning 372, on the beach (although with the rain really heavy now, it doesn’t look like a beach) in Onetangi.
Honey is welcomed profusely by the owner and joins us for lunch (she is a Vegan and we give her the pitch for Daiya cheese). The waiter is charming and really funny. The food was superb. LK and Rich shared oysters and had Tiradito (carpaccio fish). I had Panelle (and shared the lamb with Robin). He had a lovely salad. We all shared the fried smoked potatoes with green goddess dressing.
Robin had read about a feud between Australia and New Zealand, each claiming naming rights of Manuka honey – well known for its medicinal properties, and apparently a multi billion dollar export crop. The honey is made by bees that get the nectar from a plant of the same name. Both NZ and Australia have a plant with that name but they are different and New Zealand claims that the Australians are debasing the brand by making the honey from an inferior plant. So, Honey, our honey, has made an appointment at the Honey House. www.waihekehoneyhouse.co.nz
The owner was waiting for us. He had about 2 dozen small containers of different honeys. Some just natural, but fed on different plants. Some, with added flavors. Some medicinal – one that is supposed to be good for strep throat, but having had rheumatic fever twice already, I would not count on that. We tasted all of these. Honey should not be kept in the fridge – I will remove mine when I get home.
Do not eat the really runny stuff – the American stuff he called it - it should not be like that. Creamed is good, and you can shorten the time it takes to make it creamy by adding a bit of older creamy stuff. We had a delightful time. Apparently, Canada has a huge honeybee industry – although more for pollination purposes than for honey making/eating. Honey bees are rented out, for canola crops, or fruit crops for example.
There is an interesting bird here – Takahe – largish, flightless. They seem quite used to people, we have one that is outside our cottage most of the time. The Honey House owner has a group (they live in a commune, the females sharing a nest and the rearing of the chicks, although they know whose are whose by the dots on the eggs) that lives in the bushes nearby and he feeds them apples. The adults came out first, then the alpha male, and then the females went into the bush and brought out the chicks. The adult females actually hold the piece of apple in their raised foot, rip off a small piece and feed it to the chicks.
Our next stop was to the studio gallery of Gabrielle Lewenz. She is an American, and her husband obviously did very well at something – their home is huge. Her studio is beautiful, her art interesting but pretty pricey. We can see their house from our cottage – it is the large terra cotta building at the bottom of the hill.
All in all, a pretty good day, despite the weather. We again had dinner at the Archives, this time ordering the appetizer to share and a salad.
Next day, Tuesday I think, the weather is again terrible, pelting rain and very windy. We have a leisurely breakfast by the fire then go into town. We look at galleries with some quite interesting art and sculpture. An interesting feature of the town is the movie theatre which has comfortable furniture instead of rows of seats.
The weather started to improve so we head back to our cottages. We had so much breakfast that we don’t bother with lunch. Robin, Rich and LK go out for a walk. I stay warm in the cottage, read and write this. They arrive back from the walk just as the rain starts again.
Tonight we are going into town for dinner at an Italian restaurant and tomorrow off to Auckland.