We took a trip to the lower North Island, which I wasn’t familiar with at all. Starting in Wellington, we worked our way up through Masterton to Hastings/Napier (the Art Deco capital of the world, allegedly) then to Taupo and back down toward Palmerston North.
Having read about the promise of wide, warm, golden sand beaches and Cape Kidnappers, which just sounds cool, I knew it would be a stop on the way to Napier. Because of my directional challenges and inability to read a map, we missed the warm sandy beach but did get as far down the road as we could to view Cape Kidnappers. Aptly named by Captain Cook after an attempt by a local Maori to abduct a crew member of his in 1769. The only way to get out to that stretch of land is by a tour or a very long walk. It’s a gannet breeding area and would have been nice to see but that beach was calling my name. Turns out I was WAY off course in finding it, as we found out later.
Napier is a quaint seaside town located on Hawke’s Bay. Unfortunately it was a rock beach (I can’t seem to escape those) but the shopping made up for it and it was sunny and warm. This town had been leveled by an earthquake in 1931 and over 250 people were killed. Art deco was the popular style at the time and the town was rebuilt in that fashion.
There were a bunch of seaside wall art paintings which I just love!
Near the port there was a small tower with more paintings on it as well.
The walk along the port had these gorgeous purple flowers and of course the ginormous bumble bees were there as well.
New Zealand has the best flowers and gardens…this one in the Centennial Gardens had a waterfall.
A pier had a cool covering over it which drew people in (although there was really nothing to see at the end of it).
Destined to find that spot called Ocean Beach, we headed out on a nice sunny day and finally came across it! This was the view at the top of the road looking onto it.
Fairly deserted, we staked out a spot in the sand and relaxed.
Round about 3:30 it started to cool down and people began leaving. We weren’t far behind.
We drove past Craggy Range winery which had these huge cattle statues in their front lawn. Unfortunately, they were closed so we weren’t able to do a tasting.
On to Taupo via the Thermal Explorer Highway. Taupo lake is in a caldera (volcanic crater) which is as big as Singapore! There’s still a slight possibility that it may erupt again someday. I booked a room for two nights which included a private tub in the back yard that can be filled with hot thermal water. Hopefully the volcano will keep a lid on it until I’m done.
Mount Tauhara was the first thing we saw before cresting over the hill and getting a view of the lake. On the horizon you could see three volcanoes: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. People from around the world come to do the Tongariro crossing, a 19.4km journey through this dual World Heritage site. It ranks in the top 10 single day treks in the world.
We went on a sailing trip in fairly choppy waters and it was the only day the three volcanoes were visible during our time there. We grabbed some shelter in Acacia Bay where there was no wind at all. The hills were dotted with very unique and individually designed homes. Most of these are only used a few weeks out of the year as vacation homes. Must be nice.
These Maori rock carvings were done in the 70’s.
Later that evening we parked along the lake and watched the sunset.
We checked out some thermal terraces that had hot springs and took a walk through an area called Craters of the Moon. A barren, steamy area that, in black and white, certainly would remind you of the Moon! I was actually reminded of Woody Allen’s “Smoke and Fog.”
Some ducks provided a nice photo op as well.
Along that same stretch of road was a sign for another thermal walkway so we popped in, not thinking we’d see all of these cool animals!
Peacocks strutted their stuff, trying to impress the females. Rabbits hung out in cages, chickens with their chicks ran around looking for food and alpacas seemed annoyed, ready to spit in my face.
We stopped into a shop called the Bee Hive and I picked up some honey. Found some of that Manuka honey I’ve been on about. Anybody up for some? It costs about as much as a hotel room!
As we traveled toward Palmerston North, we drove on the Desert Road through the Rangipo Desert. Weird, right? No cactus here! Just tussocks and sand. It sort of reminded me of being back down south on the farm. It resembles a desert due to the low amount of rain as well as the sterilization of seeds from volcanic eruptions about 20,000 years ago. You’d think something would have sprouted up by now, but the soil quality is bad so only tussocks and snow grasses remain.
It was nice to be able to see more of the country and I finally feel like I have a great overview of New Zealand’s terrain. I won’t forget how fortunate I’ve been to live here but am still in complete denial that I’m so close to the South Pole. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the weather!
We’re 11 days into Spring and it’s been a mixed bag so far. The nights are still quite cold with lows in the high 30’s and daily highs have been in the low 60’s. The sun feels quite hot when you’re in it (or maybe I’m just becoming accustomed to the cold). By far, it’s my favorite time of year here. It means I can plant flowers and my veggie garden starts to show signs of life again!
Some of the first lambs appeared on a friend’s vineyard so I took the opportunity to go see them. They always run if you get too close. I heard a mother snort at her baby when I got near and it stood up and bolted by her side. No cuddling possible, unfortunately. Their thick, saggy coats allow for fast expansion as these lambs grow quickly over the course of the next couple of months.
Folks here use the sheep to “mow” the grass and they do a great job! It’s also a wonderful way to get free fertilizer for the vines. They have to shift them to different paddocks because they run out of grass to eat pretty quickly.
I’ve found a TON of mantis egg sacks all around the property and keeping a close eye on them. There were some early hatchlings, which I know know were not new emerges because I found a SUPER tiny one yesterday…only about a millimeter long. I plan on bringing in an ootheca (egg sack) and trying to ‘incubate’ it so I can watch the babies. I’ll have to free them soon thereafter though so they don’t starve or eat each other!
We went to my favorite park, which always seems to change. This time there were huge camellia trees which I had never noticed before (not even sure how that was possible) and the roses had all been cut back.
The weeping willows were starting to bud.
Here are some photos of flowers on this magnolia tree showing a few stages of blooming. It needs that furry coat to keep warm during the frosty nights!
The flowers were all smiling up at the sun!
I had to say hi to my favorite huge tree.
The acorns are gigantic, I almost thought they were peanuts!
These odd looking flowers look very different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S.
The golf course was looking immaculate as always.
As we approached the gazebo, all of the ducks and seagulls were enjoying being fed or simply hanging out in the nice weather. The duck was floating close to his girlfriend and the sun caught his colorful emerald green head perfectly! The water is so clear you can’t even tell it’s there!
Kudos to the folks who keep this park looking so beautiful! I always look forward to going there. Hopefully the nice weather will get us out more and I’ll be able to blog a little more often!
We went to a local winery who was celebrating Bastille Day (a few days early) called Clos Henri. According to Wikipedia (because I didn’t pay attention in history class), Bastille Day Commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790.
People stood in line, salivating at the smells coming from the food truck, while others warmed up with some coffee as the French music played in the background. The era of the music sounded like it could’ve been coming from an old phonograph. Images danced in my head of a mad butcher chopping up his meal while laughing maniacally. It set the scene for what was yet to be found around the grounds.
A huge sow easily dug up the top of the grass with her nose, unable to find much to eat, occasionally being handed a half ear of corn from her keeper.
As I sampled some of their Sauv, the man explained that the two types (clay side and rocky side) were divided by the fault line. Even though they weren’t far from one another, the taste was quite different (I liked the rocky side best).
There was a local honey producer on site with a small display of bees and some samples of yummy manuka honey…the good stuff! I’ve mentioned before about manuka honey and it being some of the most expensive type of honey available due to its medicinal qualities. Two little girls pointed out the queen to me, with a blue spot painted on her back.
Another interesting sight was this fake guillotine. Nice backdrop though, if you really had to go this way!
Although it was chilly and we left right before the rain hit, it was a nice experience and we didn’t lose our heads (helpful when needing to drive home).
I had been asked to do a post on the foods of New Zealand a while back and I finally got inspired to do one today! I’ll preface this by saying that NZ is not known for its cuisine and the prospect of going out to eat is a bit underwhelming. Here, you won’t find your plate spilling over with food as you do in the U.S., nor do you EVER get a free starter to munch on while waiting for your main to appear. More often than not, in the starter section of the menu you can find bread on offer for around $6 to $10 USD. Wow…I know. We’re used to getting it free, aren’t we? I will say that recently I had one of the best seafood chowders in my LIFE (pictured above) that had fish, mussels and I believe clams (which are few and far between here). It came with two slices of bread and cost $13 USD.
But I’m not going to talk about restaurant food today. It’s about what you’ll find in the homes and on dinner tables of the locals. The one great thing about being here is that a lot of folks grow their own fruits and veggies. I love being able to do this. It’s not only therapeutic, but it also saves money on the sometimes very expensive produce at the store, plus you know it’s ‘clean’ and chemical free. I’ve just planted cauliflower, carrots, celery, spring onions and more lettuce. I’m pretty sure these should be cold weather veggies, as I recall still being able to pull carrots and cut off broccoli down in Middlemarch in the dead of winter.
I’ll categorize these and try to include photos where I can. I figured one of the best places to find some were in the grocery store flyers that seem to appear about 18 times a day in my mailbox. So here we go!
Ahh the good ole Vegemite! Can’t say I’ve actually tried it, nor do I have any intention to. You’ll find it in almost every home here and they spread it on toast or plain bread. Somehow, “concentrated yeast extract” just doesn’t scream out EAT ME!! But hey, they seem to love it.
I’m constantly amused by how cereals we know and love back home are named something completely different here. Rice Krispies are Rice Bubbles and Raisin Bran is Sultana Bran. You say “raisin” here and people just look at you funny. As I had eluded to in a previous post, the cereal aisles here are dismal. You can find Fruit Loops (at a premium) and Coco Puffs, Special K, Cheerios (but they taste nothing like the ones we have in the U.S.) then a bunch of other healthy type cereals I have no interest in. Which brings me to Weet Bix.
These are weird. They’re compacted, dry, crumbly bars that turn to mush immediately once milk is added. You see these in just about every household too. They now have different kinds and this has to be THE most popular cereal (as the blurb on the box suggests) I’ve ever seen here.
I’ll add in honey here since it’s also used on toast for breakfast sometimes. Back when I first arrived in NZ, I was introduced to creamed honey. I fell in love immediately. I wanted to take this bottle to my room and eat it all to myself. It’s basically honey whipped full of air and it is simply amazing. Manuka honey is also popular here which comes from the nectar of the manuka tree. It can be found in different price ranges from around $8NZ to $150NZ for a small jar. It has been used as a hospital grade product for combating nasty infections that can’t be healed by traditional medicine. There have been reports here recently of people stealing beehives that are known to produce manuka honey. It doesn’t taste that much different, but the properties of it are what make people nuts for it.
Fruits & Veggies
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Kiwi. There are a couple types here, the green and the golden. Always plentiful and delicious, packed full of vitamin C and other goodies your body craves. The golden kiwi are a bit sweeter and also more expensive. Kiwi’s grow on vines and you’ll see them set up like a grape vineyard, just a lot taller. I recently did a YouTube video discussing feijoa, kiwi berry and kiwi’s if you’re interested in watching it here.
Speaking of the feijoa, we have a tree bursting with them currently. They look like tiny avocados and have the texture of a pear. Very sweet smelling and easy to eat, they’re a nice sweet treat any time of the day.
Then you have the usual suspects…mandarin, orange, grapefruit, apple, strawberry, cherry, pear, plum, peach, lemon and sometimes lime. Our mandarins are starting to ripen now and we have a bumper crop!
On the veggie side, one of the first things that comes to mind are beetroots.They seem to be used in almost everything here. A strange little root here is called a kumara. First time I saw them was down in Middlemarch sitting in a metal bowl on the floor in a back room. They looked like little red bumpy carrots and I had no idea what they were. Can’t say I’ve ever tried them but they seem to be popular. They call zucchini “courgettes” and refer to broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower as brassicas (which technically is the scientific grouping of cruciferous veggies).
Prices vary during the year for things like tomatoes, which can reach $17 USD a kilo in the winter. This is when I become unhappy. Fruits skyrocket (might as well buy frozen) and I feel like scurvy is starting to set in.
I always get depressed when I go to the meat department. It’s still hard for me to convert NZD to USD on the fly so when I see a steak is $15, I scrunch up my nose and envision money flying out of my wallet. That translates to $10.32 USD which is still highway robbery. I’ve NEVER had a filet mignon here simply because two tiny ones…and I mean fit in the palm of your hand, cost about $17 USD. Meat is not a good subject for me which is now why I see sausages as being so popular here. I’m lucky enough to get chorizo here but don’t eat it very often.
And by the way, hot dogs are a no-go here. You can find what they call “American hot dogs” packaged like they do above, but they look even creepier than the ones back home. They do a LOT of sausage sizzles outside of hardware stores or for fundraisers which include grilled onions if you want them, wrapped in a slice of white bread with either BBQ sauce or tomato sauce (NOT ketchup) for about $1.75 USD.
PIES! Oh god…the pies. You’ll find these in every bakery, grocery store, gas station and the likes. Finding GOOD ones though is the challenge. You get to know where they are eventually, but a lot of the time it’s goopy filler and yucky crust. These are savoury pies, not fruit pies. Most of the choices go something like this: steak, steak & mushroom, steak & cheese, pepper steak, lamb, vegetable, chicken, pork. We have a little place that’s wildly popular on Saturday that sells jerk chicken pies. People come from miles to get them. They have a really nice steak and bleu cheese too. Those cost about $4USD and are a bargain considering how filling they are. I can eat one for lunch and not be hungry for 7 hours.
New Zealand is known for its lamb, but seriously, how could someone eat something that darling!?!? Not me! I don’t even want to talk about it.
I made the mistake once of buying corned beef without actually knowing what it was. I was looking for a normal beef roast and couldn’t find one but there were a TON of these silverside roasts. They weren’t exactly cheap either, so I went with it. Threw it in the crockpot and waited all day. Only to find it saltier than the dead sea. Learned my lesson. I actually did find a beef roast the other day which set me back around $11 USD and was only enough for 1.5 meals. It’s a splurge.
You’d think that being an island in the middle of nowhere, we’d have a wide selection of seafood, right? Wrong. I’m a die hard shrimp fan (or prawn, as they call it here) along with scallops and even a crab now and then. I have never seen shr…errr…prawn come out of NZ. EVER. It’s all from Australia or Asia and it’s expensive. AND they always have the head on so you’re paying for something you just throw to the cats. I’m completely over it and rarely buy it. Scallops are crazy pathetic. The “sea” scallops aren’t much larger than bay scallops and they always come with the roe attached and are also expensive.
You want fish or mussels? You came to the right place. During the summer, whitebait is really popular. These are tiny silver fish that are only used in patties and eaten whole. People go nuts for them here. I’ve seen them frozen in blocks all stuck together and they have cute little blue eyes. Sniff.
You can find mussel shells scattered all over the beaches here. Matter of fact, I have some shells at my feet. They are HUGE! No, I’m not at the beach. Don’t ask why they’re in my living room.
There are different kinds, green lipped (which are smaller) and these (no idea what they’re called). You can also find scallop shells, but not in the same numbers as these.
I buy breaded frozen fish because it’s affordable and actually very good. It’s usually Hoki which is a nice white flaky fish or Tarakihi. You can also find Gurnard and Cod…all good. Fish and chips obviously is the thing here with a lot of takeout shops wrapping it up in butcher paper. Unfortunately you are charged for very tiny packets of tartar (tartare here) sauce or tomato sauce (still no ketchup) and you’ll be lucky if they throw in a lemon wedge or two. But it’s extremely filling, rarely being able to polish off those fries (chips).
Last, but not least we come to the sweet section of New Zealand food…DESSERTS! I’m not exaggerating when I say there are at least 2 bakeries on every corner of any given town. If memory serves me correctly, I’d say there are at least 15 in my little town which includes coffee shops because they all have cases with bakery items in them.
You’ll always find “slices” which are basically some type of bar such as lemon curd, caramel, brownie and jam types. Dangerous little things. Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a bakery freak. I dream about them, I frequent them and I drool over pictures of them. However, since coming to NZ, I’ve learned to just feed my eyes instead of my stomach. It ain’t easy, but my waistline thanks me. I rarely treat myself to anything anymore but I do pop in to take a good long look at what’s potentially available.
One of the most popular desserts here is Pavlova. It’s a meringue type cake that has different toppings on it (kiwi is usually present). It’s very light being that it’s whipped egg whites and crunchy. One slice is never enough. I think this particular pavlova was devoured in one sitting during Father’s Day down in Middlemarch when I was on the sheep farm. Very popular for Christmas also.
So that about wraps it up. Hopefully this gave you some insight as to what New Zealand food is like. Curry and Thai food is popular here as well and I’ve started making more of it at home because it’s really good. If anything, the lack of exciting food has taken me on more adventurous routes to different cuisines. Oh, you also won’t find Mexican or BBQ here which is a serious bummer for me. I’ll re-emphasize that you folks in America have it really good, so don’t forget it!!