Experience Dunedin (Summer 2020)
History, heritage, and a whole lotta coolby Madelaine Empson
My fiancé Dean and I began our trip with a visit to Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, New Zealand’s first and oldest history museum, where we would meet Penny, Yvette, Chris – and Josephine, a 148-year-old double-ended Fairlie steam locomotive. In a private tour, we learned about the first steps Dunedin’s pioneers took in the mud of the Toitū Estuary in 1848 and what has happened to the region and its people over the dawning of two centuries since. Toitū has 14 themed galleries, including the Smith Portrait Gallery, where Penny discovered a picture of her own ancestors – her father’s mother’s great grandparents (I think!) years after starting at the museum. In Dunedin Goes Digital, we ogled the city’s first computer, which weighed around 5.5 tonnes.
We were then taken around the corner to Lan Yuan Chinese Garden, a Garden of National Significance built to celebrate Dunedin’s Chinese heritage and sister city relationship with Shanghai. While the garden is surrounded by the hubbub of the city, it’s a little pocket of stillness and peace that feels a world away. Over a cup of jasmine green tea, Chris shared many interesting facts about Chinese tradition and culture, explaining the zigzag design of the garden. Did you know evil spirits can only travel in a straight line?
After saying goodbye to Penny, Yvette, and Chris and wolfing down a lunch that nearly put us into a food coma at Papa Chous Yum Cha, we headed to Olveston Historic Home for a guided tour. Olveston was built for the Theomin family and served as their home from 1906 to 1966. In 1967, it opened as a historic house museum. What’s remarkable about Olveston is that very little has changed, right down to the wallpaper. The books still line the shelves of the opulent library. The original silverware adorns the dining table. The games room lies in wait for a whisky-flushed flurry of cards and cigars. Olveston feels like a time capsule of a past perfectly preserved.
Speaking of the past, it was time to venture way back to prehistoric times at Otago Museum, where Australia’s Gondwana Studios travelling exhibition Dinosaur rEvolution is on until February. I had a lot of fun engaging in a roar-off with a T. rex and deciding I won. Plus, we made some dino-mite discoveries. Most dinosaurs had feathers!
From tip to toe, Dean and I explored the entire museum – which includes the only fully 3D planetarium in Australasia – with the wickedly funny marketing manager Kate. Thanks to passionate tour guide Emma for talking us through the super strange, oddly exquisite Animal Attic. This is a treasure trove of stuffed creatures and their parts, from insects and shark teeth to escaped lions and rat kings. Don’t ask.
Within the museum is the Tūhura Science Centre, New Zealand’s biggest science centre and the only bicultural one in the world, integrating Te Reo Māori throughout. Science communicator Alice showed us around the centre, which features 43 fun interactive displays and a three-storey indoor DNA double helix slide for the kids – and the Madelaines, obviously. Also inside is a breathtaking tropical forest with a waterfall and thousands of exotic butterflies. In a holiday highlight, a big blue butterfly landed on Dean’s foot and we both froze, awed in the moment.
That night, we headed to Harbourside Grill for dinner in a glass pod overlooking the waterfront. Our night was filled with exquisite food and exemplary service from staff who went above and beyond, even bringing us hot water bottles!
Only after the day’s adventures were we able to fully appreciate our impeccable accommodation at Bluestone on George. Gorgeously appointed with a plush super king bed and a welcome spa bath, our loft apartment was spotless. An easy stroll to the CBD with the friendliest hosts, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to stay.
It was an early rise the next morning for our day out on the Otago Peninsula, which began with a visit to Penguin Place. Our tour guide Bella was knowledgeable and personable, filling the fun bumpy bus ride with stories about the resident yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho). We saw Toby up close and learned all about his sordid affair with Miro, whom he left his wife of 17 years for. The jilted Tash still hangs around, apparently! We also loved hearing about Todd, who used to jump out of the bushes at female penguins walking by in a bid to mate with them. Unsurprisingly, he never bagged himself a girlfriend. We got so close to a group of New Zealand fur seals that they started showing off, with one posing for the camera as if to say “paint me like one of your French seals”.
Next stop, the Royal Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head, the only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross in the world. While we didn’t spot any of the majestic seabirds, we had a great time learning about them and all the work the centre does to protect them with operations manager Chris, and there was plenty to see on the Unique Taiaroa Tour regardless. We ventured through an underground network of tunnels to the secret Fort Taiaroa, housing the world’s only fully restored 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun. It was built to counter the threat of invasion but thankfully, as Chris said, was never fired in anger.
Chris generously shouted us lunch at the onsite Toroa Café before we zipped to the wharf for a salty joyride with Monarch Cruises. I recommend tying this in with the Royal Albatross Centre, as you get to see the birds of the headland from the other side. While I got a bit seasick (thanks to Neil on deck for the peppermint oil fix!) we saw so many amazing species onboard – including not just the northern royal albatross, but the Buller’s albatross, the white-capped albatross, and even a little blue penguin (kororā).
Anticipating how chilly we’d get out on the water, Deborah had reserved a table for us in front of a roaring fire in the ballroom at Larnach Castle for a high tea to die for. We devoured scones, savouries, and sweet treats (then couldn’t eat dinner, talk about overindulgence) before Deborah took us on a quick tour of Larnach Castle, one of my favourite attractions in the whole country.
New Zealand's only castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach for his first wife Eliza. It took more than 200 workmen three years to build – plus another 12 years for master European craftsmen to embellish the interior. It’s easy to see why when you walk through the magnificent halls. The grounds too are spectacular, filled with beautiful blooms that frame sweeping harbour and city views. But the beauty of the estate is in stark contrast to the Larnach family story. After Eliza died in 1880, Larnach remarried – her sister, Mary Alleyne, who died in 1887. He then married Constance de Bathe Brandon in 1891. Soon after, his eldest daughter Kate died of typhoid. Rumours ran rampant that his third wife was having an affair with his son Douglas. In 1898, he shot himself in the New Zealand House of Parliament.
Seeing Larnach’s Tomb with its 17-metre spire the next day at Dunedin Northern Cemetery was an intriguing experience. It has been repeatedly vandalised over the years, with Larnach’s skull stolen and many drunken parties held there. Not pointing any fingers, but the cemetery is in walking distance to Otago University, which we also visited on our last day in the city.
This was a special experience for me. I’d heard that a memorial bench had been erected on the university grounds for my grandad, but didn’t know where to start looking for it. I rang Otago University on the way and spoke with a lovely man for half an hour about where it might be. He was so interested in the story that he came to meet us on campus (“look out for the big hairy dude”, he quipped) and lo and behold, it was exactly where he suspected. We spent a quiet moment sitting where Grandad used to eat his lunch outside the Burns/Arts Building. The writing on the plaque, “ein magnet für viele die ihn schätzten”, translates to “a magnet for many who treasured him”.
After soaking in the sweet scents of the vibrant Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden, Dean and I took a self-guided street art tour. We picked up a map at Dunedin i-SITE to wander the route, popping into cafés, galleries, and shops along the way. Between the amazing works lining the streets, we discovered the astonishing Dunedin Railway Station and found a new favourite burger joint, Good Good. The tour is perfect if you want to see a new side of the city.
After all that walking the day before, our trip to the airport on Monday morning was more waddle than walk. It was time to get back on the plane to reality, but we couldn’t resist craning our necks for one more glimpse of this eclectic, grand ol’ city. Until next time, Dunedin.
Experience Northland (Summer 2020)
A hāngi, a scooter, and an oxygen tankby Sam Hollis
It’s safe to say I was the perfect test subject. Born and raised in the South Island, I had never ventured this far north; I felt like a stranger in my own country as soon as we escaped the concrete of Auckland and set upon the two-and-a-half-hour drive up to Whangārei on Thursday night. We arrived at the beautiful Distinction Whangarei Hotel, over the moon to collapse in our cosy bed to prepare for the adventures that awaited the following day.
When the sun rose on Friday morning, we could finally get a complete grasp of our surroundings. I have to say – Whangārei knows how to put on a show. The bright lights of morning danced off the still Hātea River, which we could almost touch from our balcony. On the other side we spotted the bustling Town Basin, eyeing up restaurants and cafés for later. For a more thorough introduction, we met with Rangimarie Harding of Tu Tika Tours, her joyous greeting setting a tone that would carry through the rest of our time away.
As we drove to her family home for a day of interactive Māori experiences, Rangimarie told us about her life, how she learned to embrace her heritage as an adult. She described herself as one of a “lost generation” of Māori who were not encouraged to express their culture during their youth. Today, she, her husband Merv, and their children take great pride in living and sharing their heritage with others. When we reached the gates, a rush of adrenaline surged through me as it sunk in that I was the only man in our group, meaning I must collect the koha during our pōwhiri. My nerves subsided once I accepted Merv’s challenge, and we were welcomed into their home with open arms. A brilliant storyteller and a lover of laughter, Merv told us about the history of his people and his land. We learned about the arrival of Kupe, the legends of Maui, the arrival of Europeans, and the tribal wars. Next, it was time for class – Korari 101 – where Merv shared the many uses of our native flax and taught us to weave a flower. Following a morning tea of delicious Takakau bread with homemade spreads, we each filled a container with kūmara, cabbage, and meat for a hāngi, which we would enjoy following a tour around the scenic sites of Whangārei. The highlight here was undoubtedly the picturesque Otuihau Whangārei Falls, where water rushes over a 26-metre cliff face before a tall forest. Merv touched us all by describing his connection to the land, which came with a simple, heartfelt message: “we must respect manga”.
We drove to Kiwi North, a museum and heritage park home to the only kiwi house in Northland. There, director of operations Allie Fry introduced us to Raukura and Zeffer, two North Island brown kiwis. We spied tuatara, native geckos, and more fascinating creatures before heading into the museum. While reading about the history of a large, 200-year-old waka and looking over the skeleton of a bush moa, I heard Merv serenade us with a kōauau, a small Māori flute. Finally, we returned to scoff down the food we prepared earlier – I think the fact that mine disappeared in five minutes flat says everything you need to know about the quality.
Whangārei’s cultural offerings continued to roll in thick and fast that afternoon when we paid a visit to the Hundertwasser Art Centre, currently under construction in the town centre for a December 2021 opening. It was based on a design by Friedensreich Hundertwasser himself, a revered Austrian-born visual artist and architect who lived in Northland. The $30 million building will include a collection of Hundertwasser’s art, the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, the largest rooftop garden in the Southern Hemisphere, plus an auditorium, shop, and restaurant. Communications manager Greg Hay showed us around the site, which already showed hints of Hundertwasser’s off-kilter aesthetic: colourful, asymmetrical tiling, natural features, and irregular shapes and forms. It’s clear we were seeing the beginnings of a future cultural landmark, one that I can’t wait to return to.
Following a jam-packed introductory day in Whangārei, Alex and I were glad to rest our legs at The Quay with a pizza and a burger.
Day two began with an early rise and drive to Tutukaka, roughly 40 minutes away on the east coast of Northland. We were there to travel with Dive! Tutukaka to the Poor Knights Islands, a pristine marine reserve that offers some of the best ocean swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving opportunities in the world. Once fitted out with our wetsuits, we jumped on board and headed on our way. The islands have attained the highest level of protection possible from the Department of Conservation, and frankly, I don’t know if I have ever seen a marine environment so pure. The blue water sparkled, its crystal-clear surface a window to the ocean life below; a mysterious world of colourful fish and swaying kelp forests. Our skipper told us about the history of those who had inhabited the islands, although today, about 80 percent of them are covered by pōhutukawa trees and humans are forbidden from setting foot on the land. Fun fact: Buller’s shearwaters migrate here from the North American coast to breed annually – the only place on the globe where they do so… eat your heart out David Attenborough! My diving instructor Hope Whittington said that although she’s been working around the islands for a year, they still remind her of Jurassic Park each time she lays eyes on them. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Our group could barely wait for the anchor to drop before jumping into the water. For me, it was time to dive. Hope put me at ease with an equipment and safety briefing on the boat, assuring me that she’d be there all the way. Strapping on my flippers, my mask, and my oxygen tank, it hit me that I was about to go to the bottom of the ocean and stay there for a long time... I stepped into the water, and after a quick practise session, down we went. I spent the first five minutes or so adjusting to life as a fish. The second I climatised my ears and caught my bearings however, I started to embrace one of the most otherworldly experiences of my life. I swam right through schools of subtropical fish and arches formed by the coral, ultimately spending 35 minutes underwater at a depth of 11 metres. I did it, and I’ve got a certificate to prove it! We spent the rest of the day paddle boarding, snorkelling, and sunbathing on the perimeter of the islands. To top it off, on the journey back we spotted two Bryde’s whales and chased them to catch a rare up-close glimpse.
Back on land we ended the day with a selection of tacos from Red Mexicasa. I have to mention our waiter Gabe, who after only three days on the job, managed to talk Alex into a tequila tasting; downing them was almost as fun for her as watching her reaction was for me.
First up on Sunday, one final adrenaline-fuelled escapade: HeadsUp Adventures atop Whangārei Heads on the northern side of the harbour. There we were given helmets and dropped off at the peak, armed with a monster dirt scooter to find our way down. My assumption that we were in for a leisurely ride was quickly turned on its head (no pun intended) when I gripped the handlebars for dear life, boosting down the bumpy track and drifting around dirt corners. By our third run we had gone from weary tourists to full-blown thrill-seekers looking for jumps and steep runs wherever we could find them. We filled the afternoon by exploring the town on foot, including walking the Hatea Loop and checking out the stunning sculptures that line it.
We woke up in a grump on Monday morning knowing it was time to head home. Thankfully, we had lined up a tour of The Kauri Museum on our way through Matakohe. I must admit, I wasn’t quite sure if this would be my thing – I mean it’s just wood, right? Wrong. The museum’s marketing coordinator Luciana Orr and local expert Pete Panhuis, who has been with the museum for 20 years, showed us around, teaching us all about the history of kauri logging in New Zealand. Kauri timber and gum were once our two biggest exports, and biggest is an apt description, as some kauri logs could weigh up to 100 tonnes. It was extremely desirable, as the tree’s ability to self-prune meant it had no knots and a completely clean finish. The gum was essentially an early plastic that was collected during the gum rush, at its peak between 1880 and 1900. It was used to create varnish, paint, lacquer, and more. We were both awestruck at the sheer size of the museum and its collection, not to mention the passion that radiated from Luciana and Pete.
Four days was simply not enough to squeeze in all that Whangārei has to offer. Each time we swivelled our heads we were bookmarking some attraction or experience for later, and I can’t wait to return to tick a few of those off. Still, our trip was filled with action, culture, teachings, and sunshine, all found in little ol’ Whangārei. Who knew?
Experience Marlborough (Summer 2019)
Freshly shucked happinessby Madelaine Empson
We touched down in Blenheim on a Friday and drove straight to Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This world-class museum showcases World War One and Two original, replica, and even flyable aircraft. The amiable Brian led us through Knights of the Sky – the first space dedicated to The Great War, filled with Sir Peter Jackson’s personal collection – and Dangerous Skies, Omaka’s WWII exhibition featuring a wide range of warbirds.
The museum excels in the stories it tells, which go beyond the wars to the people who fought them. I particularly loved learning about the all-female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces. These women dropped thousands of tonnes of bombs on Nazi targets under the cover of darkness. They were dubbed the Nachthexen, or the Night Witches, by the Germans, who likened the sound of their plywood biplanes to that of sweeping broomsticks.
A highlight of Dangerous Skies is the Stalingrad Experience, set in a bombed-out factory in Stalingrad. This film utilises CGI, laser projectors, surround sound, and incredible audio-visual design to tell the story of one of the most brutal battles of WWII and one of the bloodiest battles in the history of mankind. It is a sobering experience that brings to light the terrible toll of war.
I’m not an aviation buff by any stretch, nor is Dean, but you don’t need to be to appreciate the thoughtfully curated Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. It’s a spectacular asset to the region.
Another asset to the region – in an entirely different way – is Vines Village, boasting a taproom, gin distillery, wine cellar, café, deli, artisan stores, and bungalow all under one roof. Vines Village is like a boutique playground for adults, with an actual playground thrown in for the kids. After filling up on a fried chicken burger and punchy seafood linguine at Vines Village Café, Jeff showed us around.
Jeff and his brother Tim took over Vines Village in 2013. Building it into what it is today, they even put up a shed for Ben, the creator of Roots Marlborough Dry Gin. We were afforded a quick tour of Ben’s distillery and found out that the very next day, he’d be hosting a gin-drinking party for volunteers to help peel hundreds of the grapefruits that would wind up in Roots Gin. Talk about hand harvested and locally made! That sort of ethos permeates through Vines Village.
We found our new favourite Marlborough pinot gris at Whitehaven, located within the village. Julie held a great wine tasting while telling us about the region’s famed sauvignon blanc. We found out that 80 percent of the grapes planted on the 30,000 hectares in Marlborough are sav!
As dusk approached, we checked into Vintners Retreat and nearly fell over when we walked into our fabulously appointed villa. Overlooking vines with rolling hills as a backdrop, we immediately felt at home at Vintners, a feeling bolstered by Kerry’s warm welcome. Our house had everything we needed for a weekend of R&R, though we wish we could have stayed for at least a week.
That night, we headed to the popular Gramado’s for fine dining with a Brazilian flair. We ordered chicken mignon (you can’t go wrong with anything wrapped in bacon) and Wakanui aged rib-eye steak, which was tender and bursting with flavour but very thin for $40. We were delighted by two surprises along the way: a chilli plate and a sneaky bite of Tim Tam cheesecake for dessert. Although we were on a time constraint, our host Kristen couldn’t let us go without something sweet. Our taste buds remain eternally grateful.
After a spa bath at Vintners – bliss – we rolled into bed and rolled right out again. Day two had dawned, and we were Havelock bound.
Havelock is a quaint, historic town with a charming gallery and a handful of cafés and bars. We started our time here at Slip Inn, a picturesque café overlooking the marina. The service was unbelievably slow (20 minutes for two drinks), but the view made up for it. Then it was onto Mills Bay Mussels for the best lunch I’ve had in a long while.
This family-owned tasting room and eatery celebrates New Zealand greenshell mussels by serving them in a range of innovative, unexpected ways. Our tasting platter included raw shucked mussels with garlic butter and panko breadcrumbs, chilli-smoked mussels, crumbed and beer battered mussels, and mussels wrapped in bacon (you just can’t go wrong I tell you). We loved chatting to Art and meeting his wife and kids while devouring these mouth-watering creations.
More mussels were forecast that day, a fact that brought us buckets of freshly shucked happiness. It was onto a Greenshell Mussel Cruise with Marlborough Tour Company next, with entertaining skipper Matty at the helm.
Exploring the stunning Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds, this half-day cruise was one of the highlights of our trip. We learned so much about the Sounds and the town of Havelock (my favourite fact was that it used to comprise 20 24-hour pubs to water the goldminers living there). Matty talked us through the process of harvesting greenshell mussels while we visited mussel farms, even coming across a harvesting vessel in action. The Pelorus Image can take 120 tonnes of mussels a day. That’s roughly 20,000 mussels.
We then dropped anchor for a beast of a feast as birdsong filled the Sounds air. Our group was served bowl upon bowl of huge steamed mussels – each one must have been nine to 10 centimetres long. A perfectly paired Marlborough sav made this the most delicious cruise I’ve been on by far – and the most indulgent. Feeling like we ate the Pelorus Image’s full haul, we got back home at 6pm and promptly fell asleep, not stirring until morning. It was the finest food coma I’ve ever had. Thank you, Havelock!
The decadence was far from over though. It was time to sample more of that iconic sauvignon blanc on a wine tour with Sounds Connection. Our host Don got in my good books straight away by announcing he was there to “tell us some lies about the region and the industry with a few truths thrown in.” With more banter to follow, Don took our initially quiet party to five vineyards over the course of one golden, sunny day.
We started at Wither Hills, which blew me away for the beauty of the building. I distinctly remember the salty sav Sharon served us there, too. Our next stop was Hunter’s, the oldest family-owned vineyard in Marlborough, where we wandered through pretty gardens and even dropped in on an artist in his studio. We then had lunch at Saint Clair, where Sara tailored a wonderful tasting specifically to us. Unfortunately, our meals were disappointing – Dean and I ordered a pasta that featured sumptuous seafood but barely any flavour. The rest of our party raved about the food.
My high point of the day was hearing the story behind the Doctors’ range at Forrest Wines – their riesling was the first wine I enjoyed as a grownup.
By our final destination, Framingham, we were all happily chatting away to one another. Our Sounds Connection tour was an exceptional bonding experience, and I think the wine helped too!
But there was one more vineyard to visit, and it was my favourite by far. After a hearty, upmarket pub meal at The Public House in Blenheim’s town centre for dinner, we arose the next morning and made our way to Spy Valley Wines.
With clever signs and bottle labels written partly in Morse code (Spy Valley is named after the spy base just down the road), our time here was unique in more ways than one. Not only were we given a full tour behind the scenes (a first for both of us), the effervescent Della took us outside to sip a divine pinot noir right next to the vines on which it grows. Dean found the sav of his choice here, while I’m still madly hunting for the 2018 pinot noir rosé. If you only visit one vineyard in Marlborough, make it Spy Valley.
The rest of our final day was spent exploring Blenheim itself. I found it to be a friendly town filled with great food and outdoor spaces. We checked out the lovely Pollard Park and Brayshaw Park, a heritage destination featuring a recreation of a historic street from Blenheim’s early days called Beavertown. Visiting Marlborough Museum at Brayshaw Park was a fantastic end to our trip. Their permanent wine exhibition complements the region perfectly, serving as a wonderful introduction to the many local vineyards. With a mix of rare and unusual wines, wine-making equipment, interactive displays, and more, we marvelled at old bottles of wine – and I mean old! – from places we’d visited the day before. That sense of familiarity gave us a real buzz.
Thank you to Destination Marlborough for an amazing trip that helped us realise Marlborough is wine country and more. We’ve fondly christened it the land of the long green mussels!
Experience Wairarapa (Summer 2019)
On cloud wine in Wairarapaby Madelaine Empson
But while many of us often flit over the dramatic Remutakas for a weekend getaway, noticing the clouds evaporate behind us as we emerge into sun-drenched Featherston, rarely do we get to explore the region for all it’s worth. Indeed, my fiancé Dean and I have taken many a trip to Wairarapa, but usually we’ll only canvas one town. Maybe we’ll do a wine tour in Martinborough or a day of shopping in Greytown. I know, we’ve got pretty tough lives, huh?
This time around, with a fantastic itinerary organised by Destination Wairarapa, we got off the beaten track a bit. Alongside the quintessential city-comes-to-country activities, we were able to explore towns we’d only driven through, visit attractions we’d never seen before, and meet locals who were so passionate about their home, we’re pretty tempted to join their ranks one day.
It all began on a Friday morning when we pulled into Kuripuni Shopping Village in Masterton. Wairarapa’s largest town, I always knew Masterton was a great place for families with good schools, outdoor activities, and events. I had no idea it boasted a boutique shopping and dining hub too!
Our first stop in Kuripuni Shopping Village was the upmarket Screening Room: Cinema & Eatery, where we enjoyed a coffee to recoup from the drive. I was allowed a wee peek into the two cinemas, The Jackson Room and The Cameron Room, and was impressed by how comfortable but contemporary they felt. Dean suggested we see It Chapter Two there that night. Seeing as I noisily scream and shriek my way through scary movies, I was pretty relieved we had another engagement. If only he was into rom-coms…
Walking around the village, through handsome boutique shops offering furniture and designer clothing, homeopathic remedies and baby clothes galore, we came upon a butcher that had just that day opened its doors. Homegrown was generating a real buzz, and after we demolished one of their sausage rolls, it became crystal clear why.
A real gem on the main stretch of the Masterton town centre is Hedley’s Booksellers, which has been owned and operated by the Hedley family since 1907. Walking into the store, I was hit by that gorgeous crisp smell of pages, old and new, whispers of words conjuring magic in the air. It was a real joy perusing the shop, especially the special historic section upstairs.
Then it was off to meet Madeleine for a tour of Aratoi – Wairarapa Museum of Art & History. Our visit coincided with the retrospective exhibition 50/fifty: 50 Years of Aratoi. This was a great opportunity to see incredible works as well as learn more about the local institution that remains the only public collection of artworks in Wairarapa.
A few other exhibits were on display during our tour – Dean and I loved A Song for the Uncoordinated by Ian Chapman, with one aluminium painting seemingly set on Mars not Earth. Another that captured us was Kerrie Hughes – Saga, Forty Mile Bush, featuring large works on Hessian about the artist’s Scandinavian ancestors who came to New Zealand to settle the 40 Mile Bush and build the settlement of Mauriceville.
Aratoi is a part of the Masterton Arts Quarter, which also features ConArt Gallery and Studios, King Street Artworks, and Te Pātukituki o Wairarapa. It’s a great walk around the block for art enthusiasts, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking out ConArt. This is a really special space; a selection of containers where Wairarapa-based artists come together to not only exhibit their work, but create it too. Some of these brightly painted containers hold studios that artists can rent. In turn, the public can come and watch them in action. At the time of our visit, the artists in residence were Lindsay Durrant in studio one, and Rosalie Jurczenko and Karena Patricia in studio two, both abstract artists.
While we had certainly experienced our fill of awesome artwork, we were craving edible fulfilment by this point! So off we trotted to Don Luciano Café for lunch, where I had the. Best. Chicken. Quesadilla. Ever. I’m not kidding; I’ve never had better, which is saying something from a girl who lives in a city with more restaurants per capita than New York. This colourful café, run by a man almost as vibrant as the bright yellow walls within, is well worth a stop for its incredible South American cuisine and onsite coffee roastery. We adored meeting Marvin, who kindly sent us on our way with a bag of rich, chocolatey coffee beans straight from Honduras to drink at home.
One 50-minute drive later (poor Dean, I didn’t shut up about my quesadilla), we arrived at Castlepoint. Voted one of the country’s top 10 most-loved beaches, many will recognise the area for its iconic lighthouse, first lit in 1913. Yes, we made the climb to see it in the howling wind and rain, and I would not have had it any other way. Remarkably, the weather calmed down just long enough for us to snap a couple of pics before the skies opened up again. And so, we ran back down, drenched and cackling with glee. With its panoramic views of the coast, Castlepoint would make a wicked day trip or picnic spot – just remember to take your raincoat!
Checking into Copthorne Hotel & Resort Solway Park was an easy-breezy affair, and we were pleased with our well-appointed room overlooking a playground that looked like lots of fun. This would be a great accommodation option for families, with a swimming pool, games room, and tennis courts for the kids and 24 acres of landscaped parklands, native bush, and fragrant gardens for Mum and Dad to relax in.
Our rumbling tummies sent us to Koi Spice Craft and Whisky for dinner, a modern Indian-Malaysian restaurant located in Kuripuni Shopping Village. It was absolutely bustling, attracting locals and visitors alike for its extensive menu and sleek décor. The food was hit and miss; for our mains we ordered an aromatic Malaysian yellow chicken curry, which was a real standout, but also a chicken mee goreng that was sadly lacking flavour. While the chocolate dessert was delectable, the caramel custard had an odd, bitter flavour. We also found the service very slow. I’d recommend Koi for a drink and a nibble though, as the atmosphere was great.
Phew, what a day! Knackered and well past those hopping, bopping teenage years, we were in our very comfy bed and fast asleep by 9pm.
Gorging on the never-ending buffet breakfast at Copthorne Hotel was a great start to another action-packed day. Saturday began with a visit to Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, an unfenced sanctuary for native wildlife in Mount Bruce. Coffee was our first port of call at the centre. I was charmed by the sign at Kākā Café asking diners not to feed the birds: “Please do not swat them away – just move inside. After all this is their home and we are the visitors.”
That’s exactly how it felt walking through the lush 942-hectare reserve (well, not all of it!) with Noeline and our cultural guide Everlyne. At Pūkaha, the wildlife is safe and cared for. We saw plenty of wild birds who clearly felt right at home and eels that responded to Noeline’s voice alone, as well as beautiful endangered birds within aviaries. Here, we met weeny green kererū chicks, a cheeky breeding pair of kākā, and a kōkako named Kahurangi. Raised by a male ranger, Kahurangi ignored all the females gaping at her, but flew over when Dean spoke. That was a special moment.
We loved exploring the forest with Noeline, whose stories focused on Pūkaha and its inhabitants, and Everlyne, who shared spiritual and traditional tales of Rangitāne and the tangata whenua (people of the land) along the way. Everlyne also told us the myth of the great tuatara during a public talk, where we learned that the reptiles breathe as little as once per hour during hibernation!
Feeling refreshed and at peace, we headed off to Martinborough for a wine tour to end all wine tours.
It started with a stop at Green Jersey Cycle Tours to pick up our bikes for the journey. Embarrassingly, I can’t ride a bike. It’s either super common or the staff were just really kind and hid their shock at my predicament. And so, we were given a two-seater quad cycle. This bad boy wasn’t a tandem bike – it was more like a pedi cab, and was too wide for the footpath so we had to take it on the road. Seated about 30 centimetres off the ground, pedalling at about 10 kilometres per hour (Dean says I didn’t help at all, which my calf muscles and I resent), we were often overtaken by cars and sometimes even amused people on foot. This just added to the fun of the day, especially after a wine or three.
Our first stop was the lovely Luna Estate for lunch, where we dined on dumplings to die for in a gorgeous outdoor setting. The engaging Tash took us through a great wine tasting, with the 2016 Blue Rock Pinot Noir standing out to me for its elegance. A new hotspot is Moy Hall Wines, where we sampled the sweetest wine I’ve ever encountered, the Noble Rot. We then pedalled to the metal to get to Te Kairanga, who kindly let us in five minutes before closing so I could try their pinot gris, which has always been amongst my favourites. Haythornthwaite Wines was our next destination; I just loved chatting to Susan and Mark about their wonderful drops. Do try their gewürztraminer. Another wild ride later and we were at Margrain Vineyard just as Kate was closing the cellar door. We’re very fortunate she stayed open for us, as each varietal we tried here was just exquisite. Then it was time for Dean to furiously pedal back to Green Jersey while I pretended to move my legs, laughing all the way.
Just kidding, I really did pedal Dean.
We rounded off our wine tour with a stop at The Wine Bank. This stately tasting room offers over 60 local and national wines to try from innovative dispensers. Tastings, half glasses, and full glasses are available at the push of a button. Excuse me for a minute, heaven’s calling.
It was time to line our bellies, and the award-winning Tirohana Estate was just the ticket. We could not have had a more delicious meal. Did someone say fillet of beef poached in beef stock, topped with bacon-bourbon butter? Spiced pumpkin bread and butter pudding? Goats cheese and apple croustade? I highly recommend this incredible restaurant for its sumptuous fine dining fare and impeccable service. Dinner at Tirohana Estate was the perfect end to the perfect day.
Waking up the next morning, we were able to take stock of our grand surroundings: The Royal Hotel in Featherston, which we’d checked into the day before but hadn’t had a minute spare to spend in. This boutique hotel is themed all things steampunk, making for a unique and luxurious stay. Rob generously put us up in the honeymoon suite, said to be reserved for King Tāwhiao and Queen Victoria. Well, we certainly felt like royalty! You can feel the history of this place in the air. I think I might’ve even seen a ghost standing at the foot of the bed at midnight, but that could have been the wine talking.
After a lovely morning spent people-watching from the well-placed windows overlooking the main street in Featherston, we drove to Greytown for a groovy breakfast at the proudly local café The Offering. I wasn’t game enough before lunchtime, but Dean demolished the café’s signature dish, the Funky Dog. Wait for it; these are pork saussies hand-crafted next door by Greytown Butchery, and Dean’s Morning Glory was served with bacon, an egg, two hash browns, and hollandaise in a pretzel bun. It was awesome. Morning glory indeed!
We then headed to one of the highlights of our Wairarapa weekend away: Stonehenge Aotearoa.
A full-scale, working adaptation of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England, this is a monument of stone circles, which can be used to track solstices, equinoxes, signs of the zodiac, and more. Built by members of The Phoenix Astronomical Society specifically for its location in the Wairarapa countryside, this open-sky observatory combines modern scientific knowledge with Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Celtic, Polynesian, and Māori starlore. Stonehenge Aotearoa can be used to teach maramataka (the calendars of time and seasons) and navigation, which we learned plenty about on our guided tour with Richard Hall.
A born storyteller full of wit and knowledge, banter and charm, Richard rapidly became my favourite tour guide ever. Without him, the myriad mysteries of Stonehenge would have remained just so. Instead, he lifted the veil to provide a glimpse into the fascinating world of astronomy. Highlights of the tour included a sonic exploration of the natural amphitheatre that is Stonehenge, and learning I’m not actually a Leo. I’ve got all the Leo traits though, so I’m just going to ignore this wee titbit of info and continue to be the showbiz-loving lion I am.
We left Stonehenge feeling both inspired and hungry for more. Thankfully, decadent nibbles were next on the cards! While exploring the picturesque shopping village of Greytown, filled with trendy boutiques, quirky furniture stores, and quaint antique shops, we discovered Taste Wellington – a divine milk chocolate infused with salt, coffee, and caramel at Schoc Chocolate. On our way home, we visited C’est Cheese in Featherston to chat to cheesemaker Paul and complete our takings from the weekend: a holey trio of cheese, chocolate, and wine. With an unbelievable garlic and chive gouda in hand, we drove back over the Remutakas, eager to continue our taste of Wairarapa from home.
Experience Kāpiti (Summer 2019)
Where kiwis tread and birds singby Sam Hollis
We departed Wellington by car on Saturday morning. I didn’t even have to sacrifice my signature sleep in, as Ngā Manu is under an hour away via the motorway. We stocked up on snacks and barbeque supplies and made it to the reserve by 10:30am. Soon we were greeted by friendly staff who checked us into Theo’s Cottage, a quaint little home away from home. We began with a tour of the many enclosures with Rhys, who set the tone for all those who helped us throughout the weekend: friendly, fun, and above all else, passionate. We saw kākā, tuatara, North Island brown kiwi, and more before firing up the barbeque and eating amongst the natural surroundings. What was immediately noticeable were the distinct personalities of each species; shout out to Jimmy, a kea who spent the majority of his time with us staring at his own reflection in a mirror (I can’t say I blame him).
Next, we joined some other visitors and fed the eels with Lucy. She introduced us to Joy, who took us through the lowland swamp forest, which showcased the size of Ngā Manu (15 hectares in total) and the scope of what they achieve as a nature reserve. This one was all about the trees, and our short tour came with a story around every corner. It felt as though we had stepped back in time, experiencing the wonderful variety of flora that would have been common in New Zealand 200 years ago.
It was mid-afternoon, and we were glad to take some time to explore on our own. We sat in silence by Top Pond to soak in the sights and sounds as something new grabbed our attention each time we swivelled our heads.
We travelled off-site for dinner, equipped with a helpful list of recommended restaurants from Ngā Manu. We failed to account for the fact that England was battling South Africa for the Rugby World Cup that night and had to sit at an outside table at Long Beach Tavern on Waikanae Beach, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise on the still, warm night. Even better than the location was the food. We opted to split two pizzas between us accompanied by chilli cheese fries, a garden salad, and a glass of Laphroaig. Even after a long day we couldn’t finish it, overestimating our hungry stomachs. Still, I’m never mad at leftover pizza. Afterwards, we climbed the bank across the road to nab a view of the beach at sunset before making our way back.
Back at the reserve we met Matu for the kiwi night encounter. He told us beforehand that the others who were booked to join us had pulled out at the last minute; they missed out! Thus the tour became even more intimate and we enjoyed the freedom to fire questions at Matu whenever we wanted. Frankly, I was shocked at how little I knew about our national symbol. He let us hold a model of a North Island brown’s egg, which can weigh up to 450 grams, the equivalent of a woman carrying a six-year-old child! We headed out to the enclosure cautious of every step as we desperately tried not to startle the two kiwis wandering around. A dim red light provided us with just enough vision. Although we entered at what is usually their feeding time, these kiwis were less interested in their dinner and more interested in… how should I put this? Each other. Even Matu was surprised at their behaviour and said he’d never heard the pair make so much noise. Still, we managed to catch sparse glimpses of the birds, which felt more special than I had considered it would. Jeremy and I thoroughly appreciated our honest conversations with Matu. He explained Ngā Manu’s philosophy on the rehabilitation of native species and how the territorial nature of the kiwi (they are surprisingly intolerant of one another) complicates the process. It is important that people take the opportunity to see these birds with their own two eyes to appreciate how rare they really are.
The next morning was not as luxurious as the one prior as we had to make sure we were up and at ‘em in time to catch the ferry to Kāpiti Island by 8:30am. We drove for 20 minutes, checked our bags for any uninvited guests, and wiped our shoes clean of any mainland remnants. The ferry was quick and painless, taking only 15 minutes. Stepping off the boat felt like stepping into an alternate reality. Kāpiti Island Nature Tours guide Rose led us to a small hall and gave our group of around 25 people a rundown on the island’s history, what to expect on our travels, and how to treat it respectfully. The island is about 10 kilometres long and two kilometres wide, a true paradise for flora and fauna. In 1897, Prime Minister Richard Seddon introduced a bill to Parliament that recognised Kāpiti Island’s diverse abundance of native species, making it one of the oldest lands in the world to be recognised as a wildlife sanctuary. Today it is completely predator-free.
Rose explained the two possible routes towards the summit, the zigging and zagging Wilkinson Track or the straight and steep Trig Track. Pfft, steep… yeah it was really steep, and we did have to take a few breaks to reboot. Thankfully, we found it was an experience worth taking our time with. Aurally, there were sounds all around us that piled mystique onto the already entrancing world. Visually, the forest began to fog and dampen, and the sunlight cutting through the branches made the climb feel transcendent. Sadly, the fog stuck with us at the peak and what I’m sure would have been a stunning view was spoiled by sheets of white. The walk descending the Wilkinson Track was an entirely different exploit as we got our first proper glimpses of the array of birds present on the island, including hihi, weka, and a particularly ostentatious kākā. While the return walk was estimated to take three and a half hours, we sped through it in about two. I’d recommend you slow it down and take your time, particularly if you only intend to stay for the day.
We boarded the ferry at 3pm and crossed to the north end of the island where we would be lodging for the night. We walked up to the lodge with a group of roughly 15. It was wonderful that we shared this time with others; every person had a unique background and their own reason for being there. Manaaki was to be our host for the evening, and he began by filling us in on his fascinating family, who reside on and protect the island to this day. He checked us into our hut, which was appropriately minimal with only two bunk beds to its name. The beauty of them was their location. You only needed to step through the sliding doors to come face to face with colourful kererū, tūī, tīeke, kōkako, and more.
Manaaki joined us for a get-to-know-you session over wine, cheese, nuts, and vegetables before dinner. We then readied ourselves for the highly anticipated kiwi-spotting tour. The island is home to between 1200 and 1400 little spotted kiwi, the largest individual population anywhere. We split into two groups, formed a line, and headed out with only a red light to guide us. There are no guarantees here, either you see some or you don’t, which is why we were absolutely stunned when a rambunctious little kiwi ran right across our path, stepping over Jeremy’s feet. While Manaaki attempted to follow it with his light we drew his attention to a spot in the bushes where another one stood mere metres away. We spotted one more deeper in the forest, along with some gecko and tree weta.
Our return ferry was booked for 3pm the next day, which gave us plenty of time to explore the western end of the island. This end was inhabited by gulls; when I say inhabited, I’m talking Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds kind of inhabited. Don’t worry, they left us alone, although we almost made the fatal mistake of venturing into a nesting area, which would have been an experience in itself. This concluded our time on the island. We packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed back to the mainland and home to Wellington.
Between our time with the good people of Ngā Manu Nature Reserve and Kāpiti Island Nature Tours, we had a fun, comfortable, and educational experience in Kāpiti. For tourists, I’d recommend this trip as an escape from suburbia into native New Zealand. For Kiwis, I feel it is even more important. It truly puts the exclusivity of these creatures and plants into perspective and gives you the unique opportunity to see them in an environment where they thrive. Seeing this made us wish they could do the same on our main islands. It’s a weekend away that you’ll enjoy at the time and be even more grateful for long after.
Experience Top of the South (Winter 2019)
A grand adventure in the scenic southby Madelaine Empson
I’m unashamed to say that the first discovery we made was a ginormous big breakfast at Café Cortado, which we scoffed enthusiastically before tottering to the foreshore playground. Because I’m a three-year-old at heart, we just had to go on the swings in this impressive rainbow wonderland, a great drawcard for the pretty little town.
The next discovery was The Edwin Fox Museum. Here, you can learn about and even board a berthed ship with a fascinating history. The Edwin Fox is the last surviving ship that took convicts to Australia, the oldest surviving wooden ship that brought immigrants to New Zealand, and so much more. We loved meeting the friendly and passionate Karen, who I could have chatted to for hours about that amazing ship. Alas, we had another amazing ship to get to!
The family-owned Beachcomber Cruises runs a great little tour called the Mail Run Cruise, the only official, licensed New Zealand Post rural delivery service by water in the Queen Charlotte Sound (Tōtaranui). After meeting Beachcomber’s wonderful marketing manager Jess, we hopped aboard the sleek boat with no idea we were in for such a holiday highlight.
Our skipper Steve was super fun, and even elicited the best safety briefing I’ve ever heard. His crewmate looked us dead in the eye and declared: “The further you sit from Steve, the better.”
We learnt a huge amount from Steve’s engaging commentary and had a blast exploring The Sounds on the mail boat. We delivered the mail to a number of Tōtaranui’s permanent residents, meeting their furry companions along the way. The dogs of Queen Charlotte Sound know what to expect when the boat pulls up (treats, treats, and more treats), and so come running down to the dock yapping and yelping, bouncing and barking to the delight of all onboard.
When we arrived at our final destination – joy! Another dog was waiting for us on the dock. The wee Kina jumped straight onto the boat (to be hastily removed), while Dean and I met our Arapawa Homestead host, Antonia Radon.
Located in the Marlborough Sounds, the 18,500-acre Arapawa Island offers panoramic sea views and a glimpse of old-world New Zealand. There are four accommodation options on the Radon family farm, which includes a pāua raising and pāua pearl business. Dean and I had booked into Gunyah, a beautiful home on the top of the hill. After dropping our luggage off and taking us back down, Antonia decided to move us to the Little Colonsay Beach House; other guests wanted to swap accommodation. Because we’d seen Gunyah and even had a fire built for us, we couldn’t help but feel we were missing out on a special experience staying there.
Antonia’s kindly French WWOOFer Arnaud then took us on a motorbike to the Perano Whaling Station. With severe drops along the way, this was a steep and scary drive – we both felt very uncomfortable without safety gear. Arriving at the otherworldly historic site in one piece was a relief. Surveying old abandoned oil vats and rusted whaling paraphernalia, we imagined everything that had happened there as whispers of the past spluttered onshore in the froth of the waves.
Our pāua farm tour began by entering a wet environment that we weren’t given gear for – so yes, we got a tad wet! With interruptions throughout, we found it hard to follow. Antonia’s husband Mike was away and she had lots of guests to deal with on her own, so we understand why the experience was a little haphazard.
As Antonia had told us, Arapawa Island is “a special part of New Zealand that we like to share with people”, and we felt this sentiment deeply that evening in her home. We shared stories over a hearty homecooked meal (locally raised lamb chops, with a divine homemade lemon meringue pie to cap off the evening). The next morning, we awoke to eggs from the chooks on the farm – a nice touch – and were treated to the grand finale: eel feeding. There must have been at least 12 of those huge slimy fellas all fighting for attention, some jumping out of the water to nibble at pāua guts. Antonia petted some of the eels, which made me giggle and squeal to no end. Both of my hands remained firmly planted in my pockets.
Then it was onto our private charter back with Picton Water Taxis and straight into the car to Kaikōura. Because of the 2016 earthquake, there are still infinite roadworks on the way. But the delays are made bearable – and even fun – by the fact that every single roadworker waves. By the end of the drive, I felt like the Queen, palm raised in constant salutation. We saw hundreds of seals dotted about the coast. Hint: if you have kids, play “spot the New Zealand fur seal” instead of “spot the yellow car”. We played both games anyway, because, you know, three-year-old here.
In Kaikōura, we enjoyed a seafood lunch at The Pier (with one garlic-butter crayfish to die for) before heading to the Point Kean Seal Colony. While Dean got some fantastic shots of the seals, we didn’t risk getting too close. One of them still waddled after us for a fair distance, which was equal parts thrilling and terrifying.
That night, we checked into Lavendyl Farm for a relaxing evening in cosy Mahoe Cottage. One three-hour Scrabble game later (I won), we conked out and arose to a freshly baked loaf of bread from our generous and warm host Myra.
Our tour of the gorgeous and fragrant four-and-a-half acre gardens was made all the more delightful with Bonnie, Myra’s golden retriever, in tow. Myra has a wicked sense of humour – when we walked into the shop and tried to take our muddy shoes off, she chortled: “don’t worry about your feet; the dog doesn’t.”
We loved learning about all the different products Myra creates out of the 50+ varieties of lavender onsite (honey, hand cream, and more). Come time to say goodbye, Bonnie nearly gave me her favourite leaf as a parting gift, but thought better of it and scampered off with it between her teeth.
Our time with Whale Watch Kaikōura was our next trip highlight. The charismatic emcee Hadlee chatted amiably throughout the two-and-a-half hour cruise on Paikea the catamaran, passing on curious titbits of information. Did you know that the sperm whale dives nearly 3000 feet below the surface? It would be easier for a human to exist in space than to explore the ocean at those depths.
In the words of the lovely chief whale-spotter Amelia, someone onboard must have been wearing their lucky socks; we had not one, not two, not even three, but four whale encounters. With an average of one or two sightings per cruise, we all felt blessed by the presence of Matimati, Ngā Whetū, and a mysterious, unidentified sperm whale. Dean got some killer tail shots and just when we thought it was all over, we were greeted by a pod of dusky dolphins, who somersaulted and trilled within an arm’s length of us. Bouncing off the boat, all grins, we hopped straight into our car to make the two-hour drive to Hanmer Springs.
Checking into the well-appointed Heritage Hanmer Springs gave us a taste of the luxury we were in for over the next 12 hours or so. Our first stop? MK Restaurant, a dumpling-lover’s paradise.
We ordered Japanese pork gyoza and – wait for it – potato, cheese, and bacon pierogies, Eastern European dumplings. I should have listened to the hilarious chef and maître d’ Mirek, who warned I might not be able to fit dessert in after the pierogies. In stubborn defiance of my now uncomfortably tight pants, I ordered a dessert simply entitled ‘banana cinnamon’. Oh. My. Goodness. I would drive for hours just for another taste of this beautifully handcrafted dish.
Then it was time to waddle (just like that fur seal) to Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. On a cold night, the hot pools are heaven. I can picture how magical they would be with snow dusting the distant mountains in the daylight, too. This would be a great place to take the kids, with a thrilling hydroslide that we were too nervous to ride due to our recent excessive dumpling consumption.
Suffice to say, we had one of the best sleeps ever at the hotel and after enjoying a brilliant buffet breakfast, headed to the thermal pool’s spa complex for a pampering session fit for royalty. Our massage therapists Helen and Karen checked in with us regularly to make sure we were comfortable at all times during our couple’s massage. This was total indulgence, as was soaking in a private pool with a handsome view.
It was a struggle to make the four-hour drive back to Picton when we were that blissed out, but make it, we did. Our time in Hanmer Springs was the perfect conclusion to our scenically stunning stint in the Top of the South.
Experience Whanganui (Winter 2019)
Loving the River Cityby Annabella Gamboni
I was kindly invited up to Whanganui for the city’s annual Vintage Weekend by Whanganui and Partners, the district’s economic development agency. Since 2012, the citywide party has taken place on Wellington Anniversary Weekend, drawing thousands of people from all over the country.
With festivities due to kick off on a Friday evening, my companion (my father – lucky me!) and I drove up from Wellington that afternoon. We ran into some nasty traffic around Kāpiti, and so were running unfortunately a little late for our first scheduled activity, a cruise on the Waimarie with the Andrew London Trio.
We hurried to check into our accommodation, the Rutland Arms, before driving down to the riverside. My first impression on this admittedly rushed trip through Whanganui’s city centre was that it was very, very pretty. The buildings display original façades, there are trees on almost every corner, and the view of the river in the distance is lovely.
Before I could get carried away admiring The River City, however, it was time to explore the river itself. My dad and I hopped on the Waimarie just in the nick of time, but were still greeted with a complimentary glass of bubbles. Thanks to our tardiness, there were no seats available on the boat, but we actually preferred our little spot on the bow, where we could enjoy the scenery and catch a breeze. It made for a very pleasant way to spend the evening, especially as the band struck up a lively brand of jazz.
The Waimarie is an original paddle steamer that languished at the bottom of Whanganui River for about 50 years before a group of dedicated volunteers restored her to her former glory. I was invited down to the boiler room to see how it all works, and chatted with the two engineers on duty. Basically, they shovel a lot of coal into a fire that they need to keep burning or the steam would run out and our lovely trip along the river would come to a grinding halt.
Relaxed and enchanted by Whanganui already, Dad and I headed back to the Rutland Arms for a bite to eat. It was only upon our return that I had a real chance to check out the hotel. Our room was gorgeous, with high ceilings and sash windows. The pub and dining area downstairs were traditionally decorated (but not outdated), with dried hops, tap badges, and other bits of local memorabilia. We were amongst only a few customers enjoying a late dinner, but the ambiance was friendly. As the night was warm, we took a seat outside in the quiet courtyard with a cold glass of craft beer. Our meals that night were both generous and delicious; I enjoyed a dish of fresh tarakihi, while Dad feasted on lamb and summer vegetables.
We woke up on Saturday to a morning of bright sunlight, and blue sky that promised a scorching day. Our first stop: the Retro Market, hosted by the River Traders and Whanganui Farmers Markets. I have to say, we were mighty impressed – it’s the biggest outdoor market I’ve been to outside of Wellington, with somewhere upwards of 100 stalls. There were heirloom tomato growers, artisan cheesemongers, florists, bric-a-brac, homemade children’s clothing, and of course, vintage goodies.
As the on-street stages were still being set up, we decided to go for a stroll through Whanganui before taking a look at the vintage car display. I fell in love with a pair of earrings that Dad had to drag me away from at a local jewellers, while he fell into a happy retail rabbit hole at The Burrow, a yummy delicatessen. We also poked our noses into the Waimarie Museum to learn more about the vessel we had so enjoyed the previous evening. Inside, there’s a model paddle steamer you can clamber into, as well as photographs galore, videos, and other artefacts.
In just a few minutes of walking, we stumbled into Wheels on Victoria Ave – one of the Vintage Car Club’s major events for the weekend. The mammoth display included over 200 classic cars, including open-top, elevated vehicles from the early 20th century, Australian-made behemoths, and even a Jaguar E-type that had Dad drooling. “It’s a piece of art, that is,” he said, at least three times. I, a newly-licensed driver at the age of 26, was busy wondering how anyone could park those hot rods.
It was a swelteringly hot day, and unbeknownst to us, it was about to get hotter. At 2pm we were scheduled in for a workshop at Whanganui’s famous NZ Glassworks – Te Whare Tūhua o Te Ao, again only a couple minutes’ walk from Victoria Avenue. It’s the centre for glass art in New Zealand, housing a small gallery and open-access studio.
Greeted by the lovely Riley at the door, we were led down to the studio where we would each be making a glass paperweight. After a quick safety briefing, the tutor Brandon helped us choose the colours and styles we wanted within our glass creations.
I went first. Under the calm and clear guidance of Brendon, I had fun making my colourful little blob of glass – the people watching in the gallery even clapped when I was finished! The hardest part, most definitely, was picking up the molten glass with the iron rod. Brandon said to treat it like a spoon in honey, which was definitely useful advice, but harder than you think when standing in front of a 1000°C crucible.
Sweaty but smug, we emerged from NZ Glassworks one cool skill richer. After a quick snifter in the (packed) Rutland Arms, we put on finery fit for a black-tie evening. We were off to two evening affairs; first up was the Majestic Affair @ The Square, a fancy three-course meal catered by Mint Café.
Here, we were seated outside on a long table with about 20 other diners. The atmosphere was lively and convivial, and we were treated to some amateur dramatics while we waited to eat. Unfortunately, our drinks took a long while to come out – we didn’t get them until our mains were nearly finished – and while the food was delicious, it distinctly lacked vegetables. I love meat and potatoes as much as the next gal, but I couldn’t help but think some side dishes could have added some welcome colour and texture to the meal.
Our stomachs nevertheless fit to bursting, we headed off to Saturday’s grand finale: The Dazzle Ball. It was housed in the Whanganui Racecourse, only a few minutes away in the car. Inside, guests were grouped around round tables with a dancefloor and stage at the rear end of the room. The mood was celebratory, and everyone was dressed to the nines. Canapes were circling, drinks were pouring, and the photobooth was popping.
The mood was further enhanced by the first bit of entertainment for the evening: a group lesson on how to dance the Charleston. It was light-hearted, old-fashioned good fun – and something that would rarely happen in Wellington (us city types are much too self-conscious). Later on, there was a parade of costume competitions, amazing swing dancing, and live music. What a night!
Sunday dawned bright and early, thankfully slightly less warm and a little breezier than the day before. Our final stop on our whirlwind Whanganui tour was a trip on the Mainline Steam Train. It departed Taupō Quay with us, plenty of kids, and older people on board. While the steam locomotive in front is a restored original, the carriages were reasonably modern, complete with air-conditioning.
The trip to Kai-Iwi was tranquil and extremely scenic. At times I went out to the dedicated viewing platform for a breath of fresh air. I have to say, travelling by train certainly does seem like the most civilised way to cross the countryside.
Dad and I agreed that we were pleasantly surprised by our weekend in Whanganui. That’s not to say we had low expectations, but that the River City was unusually diverse, artsy, and friendly, with a totally unique atmosphere. It’s at once a country town and a cosmopolitan little place bursting with artisans and artists.
Next time, I would love to enjoy Whanganui at a slightly slower pace – something tells me that the place is best appreciated languidly, as you drift through its pretty streets. I’ll be back, Whanganui, with friends, or perhaps my partner, for a relaxing, sun-soaked holiday.
Experience the Catlins (Summer 2018)
A different worldby Madelaine Empson
Located along the Southern Scenic Route, the Catlins stretch about an hour and a half’s drive from one end to the other. Dean and I would have been smarter to fly into Invercargill; it would have taken us just over an hour to get to our accommodation in Curio Bay, whereas the drive from Dunedin airport took two and a half! However, driving the entirety of the Catlins – not just twice to get there and back again, but four times in total – gave us a great indication of the area. We treated it like a little road trip, aka a good excuse to stock up on snacks!
The drive was the first but by no means the last thing that surprised me about the Catlins. Scenically, you could mistake the terrain for any other stretch of rural South Island countryside. Except in the middle of farmland as far as the eye can see, you might spot a sign pointing out a waterfall. Follow that sign, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of native forest, another world, in five minutes flat. Then it’s back to the main road, to farmland again, like it never happened.
My favourite moment of the drive, and one that never got old, was driving over an unassuming hill and suddenly finding the ground below us had turned into ocean. Florence Hill Lookout watches over sweeping Tautuku Bay, a magical beach we didn’t get to frolic along due to maniacal weather – but more on that later.
Dean and I arrived in the Catlins after a leisurely drive, replete with a stop to meet the generous, charming, chuckling Clutha District marketing manager Toby, at about 4pm. On the way to our accommodation, we found a rustic information centre and museum in Waikawa, and popped in to say hello. We found the museum a little eclectic, but the staff knowledgeable. Ruth was particularly well-versed in sawmilling, the main industry in the Catlins between 1870 and 1970.
Walking into our accommodation, Curio Bay Salthouse, was like walking into a dream. The apartment is fabulously appointed with all the mod cons one could ever need, but it was the view that temporarily stopped our hearts beating. With floor-to-ceiling windows and access to a deck perfectly placed to watch the sunset over the water, hector’s dolphins trilling in the distance, we both could have happily sat in the lounge for days.
Alas, no rest for the explorers! After I spent a good five minutes squealing with delight (Dean is more of the ‘appreciative grunt’ type), we put our bags down and went straight out the door to Curioscape for dinner and more.
Curioscape is a one-stop shop for tourism in the area. It offers a campground, interactive museum, viewing platforms to spot yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho), a café, bar, and restaurant, and notably, a pristine Jurassic Fossil Forest.
The team at Curioscape have taken one of only three accessible petrified forests in the world and concocted a great activity around it: a living forest walkway just across the road. Walking between both is quite the activity. I have to admit, my very smart brain perceived the petrified wood to be humble rocks at first. But after Dean let me in on the ‘secret’, standing on whittled-down trees that were millions of years old was unreal.
Dinner at Curioscape was a lovely affair, with great service from Georgia. The restaurant itself could be made into a very special, intimate dining area with a little redecoration, but serves its purpose well as a transient space for travellers to enjoy a coffee or wine before hopping on their merry way again. The meals were expensive but the food good and the portions huge. I managed a quarter of my steak, a dismal effort, before having to unbutton my jeans and call it a night.
Then it was a quick dive through the impressive interactive gateway, a high-tech museum offering great insight into the area, before hitting the hay.
Fabulously, our sleep was interrupted by penguins! Thank goodness Georgia told me ‘hoiho’ means ‘noise shouter’, and not to be alarmed if they come crashing and bashing under the house at midnight. Sadly, that was the closest we came to a yellow-eyed penguin in the Catlins, although the area is renowned for them. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears blocked!
Dean and I arose early the next morning for an action-packed day of adventure. Our first stop was a place I’ll never forget: Nugget Point. I’d advise travellers to allow two hours to fully absorb the majesty of this place, and to bring a camera with a good zoom to spot fur seals basking on the rocks on the way up. At the top of a meandering, seal-laden 20-minute walk, we arrived at the grand ol’ Tokata Lighthouse, built in 1869. The sheer beauty and magnitude of Nugget Point is something I can’t put into words. Feeling as if one step would send me tumbling over the edge of the universe, I shed a tear at the lookout. We made our way over to Roaring Bay after that to spot yellow-eyed penguins, but the little yellers were nowhere to be heard.
After lunch, we moseyed on to Owaka Museum, which we found very impressive for such a small town. Owaka, meaning place of the canoe, is the largest settlement in the Catlins – although this means a population of less than 500 people! With its informative displays, interesting artefacts, and friendly staff, Owaka Museum is well worth a visit.
Next we met Blair of The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai. An artist who creates curious installations out of found objects, Blair is a local character and a half. He’s crafted his private museum out of shoes and bike wheels, rubber ducks and cricket balls – and believe me, I’m barely scratching the surface here. The Lost Gypsy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A room in which every key of a piano activates a different sound, light, or movement (think the wig of a mannequin head lifting clean into the air) was one of my favourite places in the whole of the Catlins.
At this point it started pouring with rain, but Dean and I were not to be deterred. We had our walking shoes on, after all! So it was on to Cathedral Cave.
Here we met the fabulous Liz, who kindly lent me her personal waterproof jacket. After a classic New Zealand bush walk, peaceful and serene with plentiful punga, we arrived on a breathtaking beach. The landscape was made all the more atmospheric by the lighting now crackling in the distance. As feral waves crashed against the shore and rain thundered down our necks, we ducked into the shelter of the majestic cave, its mouth gaping like a great black hole. At 199 metres in total passage length, Cathedral Cave is currently one of the 30 longest known sea caves in the world. I hummed a ditty in the cavern, and was told famous opera singers often do the same. It’s a shame we didn’t have a ukulele in our backpack to enjoy the heavenly acoustics!
Sopping wet but spiritually satisfied, we made our way to Whistling Frog for dinner. How divine. The food was absolutely worth the price, my succulent Southland lamb a tender medium rare and the homemade black aioli an evening highlight. Our waitress Nicole was attentive, helpful, and bubbly, and we loved meeting her husband: Whistling Frog’s head chef Sam, who makes “the best pies known to man”, according to a delighted Dean.
Our bellies fit to bursting, we fell into an instant food coma and slept straight through till morning.
Our last day in the Catlins was again jam-packed with activities. We were up at the crack of dawn to visit the famous Purakaunui Falls, the three-tiered beast you see pictured here. The bush walk to McLean Falls, the tallest in the Catlins, was dotted with mystical, moss-covered trees and ever-changing scenery.
We then stopped into Earthlore Wildlife Gardens. Run by Gordon and his wife Janine, this bug park is all about encouraging kids to get off the screens and outside for a spot of natural play. The littlies will love feeding the donkeys, meeting the geese, watching the flea circus, and playing dress up. Kids at heart, Dean and I enjoyed posing as spider and fly in a silly episode of giggles and grins.
Our final stop? Catlins Brewery at Kaka Point, where we met the MacGyver-esque brewer Norm and his business partner Peter. A cider modelled on a dry English draft took my fancy, while Dean raved about an earl grey Weiss beer – a surprisingly delicious brew born out of a lost bet! These two warm gentlemen will spin yarns with you for hours over a merry pint or five. Fair warning: if you’re visiting, do book a hotel in the area.
Many travellers just pop through the Catlins without realising how much it has to offer. If you’re willing to get off the beaten track and perhaps a little down and dirty, you’ll discover infinite wonders in this undisturbed natural paradise. Our two days felt like a blessing, but even still, we would have loved more time to explore the Catlins. It truly is a different world.
Experience Central Plateau (Summer 2018)
Terrific Taupōby Annabella Gamboni
My good friend (and excellent chauffeur) Amy accompanied me for the trip. We drove up on a Friday and made it to Taupō within five hours, including a quick road stop at Taihape’s iconic Brown Sugar café. For Wellingtonians looking to save a bit of money, I’d really recommend driving over flying – the trip is relatively painless, especially with the addition of the Kāpiti Expressway along State Highway 1.
Not ones to waste time, we headed straight to HukaFalls Jet for part one of a hair-raising combo of activities. We had booked ourselves in for a fantastically well-priced deal called the JumpJet, which featured not only a jetboating tour, but a bungy jump later that day at Taupō Bungy.
Our jetboat driver, Liam, was lovely – very Kiwi, but also gentle and friendly. Before we departed for our journey, he said a karakia for the river, which I very much appreciated as a New Zealander.
The trip itself was great fun. Because the boat is rudderless, you can skim over sticks in the water, weave around obstacles, and best of all, go really fast. My favourite parts were when we spun around in a tight circle that Liam called a 360, and the approach to the bottom of the Huka Rapids.Lightly drenched (or in Amy’s case, soaked), we made our way to Taupō Bungy, just a quick drive away. The team were running a little behind schedule, but advised us to take a seat. I’m not sure whether it made me more or less nervous to watch others dive off the platform above the Waikato River. Certainly the view was very pretty.
It was suddenly our turn. The fantastic operators at the top of the jump welcomed us up and performed reassuring checks on our harnesses and ropes. I volunteered to go first. I only really allowed myself to think about the 47 metres below us as my toes shuffled towards the edge. Knowing that the longer I stood on the platform, the worse the nerves would get, I raised my arms and dropped.
Free-falling is a strange and quite terrifying sensation. It’s one that I’m not sure I liked, but one I’ve been thinking about a lot since. I think I was in shock the whole way down. Thankfully, the Irish lady in the boat that greeted me (upside down, in mid-air), was very kind and ignored my shaky limbs.
Wet and wide-eyed, but unperturbed by our adventures, Amy and I checked into the Acapulco Motel on Rifle Range Road. It’s mere minutes from the centre of Taupō, and the lake’s within spitting distance.
That evening, we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner at The Brantry, just a quick walk from our accommodation. The food was lovely and the service impeccable – but I wish we’d visited a little later in the year to benefit from a spring or summer menu. The evening was warm, and most of the dinner options were rather rich (deliciously so!). Minor gripe aside, it’s a fabulous place to share a romantic evening with a loved one.
Our second day in Taupō started early at the local farmer’s market. After grabbing a coffee and bacon butty, we headed down to the marina for our scenic cruise to Lake Taupō’s Māori carvings. The Chris Jolly Outdoors launch was roomy, with two floors. Amy and I grabbed a seat on the upper deck, sat back, and relaxed. Honestly, we couldn’t have picked a better day for it; the sky was summer’s deep blue and the water calm. The carvings were as beautiful as the lake itself.
The cruise finished at around 12:30, and with grumbling tummies, Amy and I made our way to the Huka Prawn Park, located right beside the HukaFalls Jet we’d visited yesterday. A working prawn farm, it offers family-friendly activities like fishing for prawns, feeding baby ones, and an in-house café. Unfortunately, we found the Prawn Park rather disappointing; after paying $60 to get in, we did not catch a single prawn.
Feeling a bit ripped off, to be honest, we headed back into town for lunch at The Storehouse. It had been recommended to us by locals, and it was gorgeous. With its high ceilings, minimalist decor, and thoughtful menu, it would happily slot onto any Wellington street. Our meals and coffee were very tasty, particularly Amy’s epic fried chicken sandwich with slabs of white bread.
Thinking we’d better walk off all that deliciousness, we made our way to Craters of the Moon, a famous geothermal walk just 10 minutes out of town. Although rather more bushy than I’d imagine the moon to be, the craters themselves were very cool – bubbling and hissing from the pressure stored below. It was a very pleasant walk, and one I’d happily recommend to anyone.
On our final day, we had planned to spend a whole day in Turangi, about 40 minutes south of Taupō. The weather was a little lacklustre on day three, but it didn’t prevent us from hopping on a bike for a guided tour from Tongariro River Rafting. Our guide, Finn, was patient and knowledgeable – did you know there’s a plant named tutu that’s so toxic it can kill an adult with a single leaf?
Because Turangi is known as the trout fishing capital of the world, we made sure to head to the National Trout Centre straight afterwards. We were kindly shown around by James, the aquarium manager, who spoke about the work they do there with passion and humour. Afterwards, we were invited to feed the trout inhabiting the centre’s network of creeks and streams.
Next on the agenda was a bush walk; specifically, the two-hour loop around Rotopounamu Lake in the Tongariro National Park. Even with the cloud cover, the lake was true to its name: a lovely shade of blue-grey-green. The walk itself was pleasant, too, mostly flat. In the summertime it would be a great place for a picnic and swim, as it’s got a couple of sandy beaches.
After all the day’s activities, we decided to quickly check into our accommodation, the Settlers Motel, before heading out to the Tokaanu Thermal Pools. On recommendation from Finn, we paid for 25 minutes in a private room – and it was so worth it. It was the perfect way to wind down after an active day.
Our final night was low-key; we simply relaxed in our motel rooms. I have to say that I was bowled over by the cleanliness of our facilities – the shower floor was so polished, I could have used it as a mirror.
Overall, I was supremely impressed by Taupō and Turangi. While I already knew the region would be beautiful, I didn’t realise how varied the activities would be. There’s plenty to do for families, couples, and friends on just about any budget. Taupō, you were terrific.
Experience Queenstown (Winter 2018)
There’s something in the airby Madelaine Empson
My partner Dean and I arrived in Queenstown on a Friday morning for a weekend filled with adventure and adrenaline. We booked our trip during off-peak season: in May, just weeks before the snow brings skiers and snowboarders in their droves. In fact, just one week after we left, the whole town was blanketed in white. We watched the process happening while we were there: every day, there was just a little more snow dusting the peaks of those awestriking mountains.
If you’re not a ski bunny (I can barely balance on two legs let alone two sticks), I couldn’t recommend early-mid May to travel to Queenstown more. It’s cold but not miserable, most tourist attractions and activities are still open (just), and the streets aren’t overcrowded. Don’t get me wrong: there’s still a whole lot of people experiencing all that this scenically-stunning town has to offer. It’s not a tourist mecca for nothing. But like our disorganised selves, you’ll have little trouble booking your dream activities on short notice in May.
On that note, our first stop was Arrowtown for a spot of gold panning at Dudley’s Cottage. Fortunately I rang ahead; Allie was just about to close early until the ski season began. She kindly held the historic cottage open for us, and after a gorgeous 20-minute drive from our accommodation (the well-equipped Copthorne Hotel and Resort Queenstown Lakefront) we arrived, bundled in beanies, gloves, and scarves. The gloves wouldn’t stay on long however; it was time to plunge our hands into the freezing water troughs outside for a gold panning lesson from A, the most animated and entertaining instructor I’ve ever encountered.
At Dudley’s Cottage, you’re guaranteed to find gold during your lesson. It’s bottled up for you in cute little see-through vials which you can then take home and brag about to all your family and friends. If you’re game, you’re then guided to Arrow River to try your hand at the real deal.
The gold-famed Arrow River is a tributary of the Kawarau River – which incidentally we would jet boat over and bungy into the next day. Dean and I enjoyed a copper-hued autumnal walk there from the cottage, armed with shovel and pan, before our first and only holiday disagreement ensued. To gold pan, you must first dig a hole. I thought that hole had to be dug in the middle of the river, regardless of the season. At two degrees Celsius I of course sent Dean to do the job, before thinking twice and ringing Allie back at the cottage.
No, you dig your hole on the shore.
We had such fun gold panning and may or may not have found an extremely rare gold nugget, which we only realised after Googling it later. By that point, Dean had already thrown it back into the river. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
Because Arrowtown is wrapped in mountains, more so than Queenstown, it loses its sun at about 2pm in autumn. Our afternoon trip therefore presented the coldest temperatures we experienced on our minibreak (except for a minus nine degree stint the following night, but more on that later), and I would recommend you visit earlier in the day to make the most of your time in the charming gold rush village. However, being so cold meant we had an excuse to enjoy a hearty, warming, rustic dinner at The Stables.
After savouring their famous lamb, which is slow-cooked in a rich tomato and red wine sauce for a whopping 10 hours, we left feeling beyond satisfied. Sitting by an old boiler fireplace in what felt like an alpine cabin shrouded by candlelight was just the well-nigh winter warmer we needed.
The next day, we rose early for the activities we’d booked in Queenstown: a KJet jet boat ride on three waterways, and a 43-metre plunge at AJ Hackett’s Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre.
Established in 1958, KJet was the world’s first commercial jet boat operator, and is New Zealand’s original jet boat ride. It’s a family-owned business, which shows. Every team member we encountered was lovely, from Jess who printed our photos and buckled me up in my lifejacket to Jalan, our enthusiastic driver.
At an hour, the jet boat ride is the perfect activity to squeeze into an action-packed holiday. It’s not going to leave you exhausted, but will fill you with enough exhilaration and energy to keep you on a high for days. Covering the mighty Kawarau and Shotover rivers, and featuring skims and spins galore, we had a blast with KJet. Our ride also included a visit to the Queenstown Underwater Observatory, where you can get inches away from huge trout and slinky eels. Pressing our noses on the glass, we popped a coin in and watched these sea creatures slither into a feeding frenzy.
Next up was the bungy, and although this would be my third time rashly diving into an abyss, I found myself becoming increasingly nervous as the jump loomed closer. Dean, a bungy virgin, was suspiciously calm – even while on the ledge. He kept his head screwed on while I quite lost mine. Luckily, my jump guide was heaven-sent; just as I was about to chicken out and back down, he helped me through my fear. My screams reverberated through the valley, bouncing off the river below and likely deafening all within a 10-mile radius. It was awesome. There is nothing quite like the thrill of a bungy jump – it’s something that has to be experienced to be believed, and what better place to experience it than the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre, the first commercial bungy jump operation in the world?
On the way back to Queenstown as we were driving through Lake Hayes, an attractive vineyard caught my eye: Wet Jacket Wines. We couldn’t possibly visit Central Otago without trying its famed pinot varietals, and the pinot noir did not disappoint. The kindly John took us through a tasting, the fully-functional woolshed onsite, and then to Whitestone Cheese, a maturation room boasting stunning cheeses to sample and buy. That’s right, Wet Jacket is a one-stop cheese and wine shop, and well-worth a visit.
Wandering through the many exquisite galleries and shops in the town centre afterwards (an ink on canvas work by Sofia Minson at Art Bay Gallery is still firmly imprinted in my mind), we stumbled across Minus Five Ice Bar, where everything, and I mean everything, is made of ice. The cups. The bar. The seats. Rugged up in massive coats, we had a boogie inside and a delicious fruity cocktail (served up by amiable bartender Ponthus), before emerging freezing but charmed. Thankfully, the manager Emma walked us straight over to Minus Five’s sister bar Little Blackwood, where Lucy warmed our hearts with delicious cocktails. An Espresso Martini and a London Cut (a superb house-created cocktail featuring gin, mint, cucumber, and chilli-infused ginger syrup) later, and we were off to Fergburger.
Fergburger is something of a Queenstown institution. Almost every local we came across – and tourist, for that matter – told us we had to dine there. After a massive, meaty, mouth-watering Ferg Deluxe, I’m inclined to agree with them.
It was back to the hotel for us then; I had a hankering for a peppermint tea, and the concierge kindly brought a few teabags straight to the door. Ah, the room service life.
The next day I woke up with a killer cold, and had to write off most of the day in bed. We made it out that evening for two things: a terrifying trip to Fear Factory, and a stunning Skyline Gondola ride to dinner and a romantic stargazing experience.
Fear Factory Queenstown is New Zealand’s scariest haunted house attraction. Well, that’s their tagline, but I do not dispute it. It’s hard to say whether I screamed more walking through the pitch-black maze, or jumping off the bridge. I can definitely say that the adrenaline in this case cleared my sinuses.
After a recovery walk back to the car, in which I had to shiftily skirt my eyes around every corner to make sure no actors dressed as ghouls were about to jump out at me, we pulled into the Skyline base. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have picked a worse night weather-wise to ride the elating gondola to the panoramic restaurant and bar at the top. Fog galore meant we couldn’t see anything, although I can imagine the views would be unlike anything else you’d hope to see in this world. The buffet dinner at Stratosfare was excellent, with more options than I’ve seen before in dining of this kind. The banoffee ice cream in particular was to die for. Understandably, the stargazing experience was cancelled, but exploring upstairs we found three amazing artworks made entirely out of jellybeans – I think each one would have featured enough beans to fill the night sky!
Although that darned cold lingered for weeks after our trip, I’d catch a million more just for another glimpse of Queenstown. What an outstanding holiday destination.
Experience Gisborne (Winter 2018)
Getting to know Gisborneby Annabella Gamboni
Our first port of call was a set of wheels – a car is an essential tool when exploring the rural region of Gisborne. The woman behind the counter at Thrifty, located inside the airport, was friendly and knowledgeable. While my companion and I probably didn’t absolutely need the roomy Rav4 we were provided, the large boot did prove useful during the trip. She was happy to explain how the car’s GPS and push-button key systems worked and pointed us in the direction of our first stop: the Eastwoodhill Arboretum.
After a pleasantly scenic 50-minute drive along Gisborne’s winding country roads, we arrived at the Arboretum. We stepped inside the pretty reception and were immediately greeted warmly by name. We were then taken out for a tour, first by foot, and then on a longer drive in an open-top buggy. Our tour guide, Dan, was quick to assure us he doesn’t usually do the tours – his official title is Assistant Plant Curator – but he was an excellent host nonetheless. I learnt more about trees in the hour and a half we were at the Arboretum than I have in my 25 years on this planet – and we loved seeing the gorgeous views of trees in their autumn colours.
We bade farewell to Dan and the team at Eastwoodhill, and jumped in the car for our next stop: the Rere Falls and Rockslide. We were informed that the man-made waterfall is packed with visitors in summer, but on this rather grey day, we had the place to ourselves. It made for a magnificent view, and our interest was piqued by the information stand that told us about Gisborne’s river cleaning efforts. Suffice to say, if it was any warmer we would have jumped on a boogie board and rode down the Rockslide, as is custom!
The drive back into town was just under an hour. As we were running a little early, and we hadn’t had anything to eat since before our flight, we decided to pop into a favourite local café. Even at 3pm – well past peak lunch time – Zest Café still had plenty of choice in their cabinet, as well as an extensive lunch menu. Like almost all of the customer service representatives we came across in Gisborne, our waitress couldn’t do enough for us, and made us feel right at home.
Up next on the agenda was a rather more intellectual activity: a visit to the Tairāwhiti Museum. Regarded as one of the best provincial museums in the country, the museum was surprisingly big. We spent most of our time perusing the fascinating permanent exhibition Watersheds: Ngā Waipupū, which told the story of local iwi and Pākehā settlers; in other words, all the historic forces that have shaped Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) as we know it. Outside, there were more interactive exhibitions to explore, like the Wyllie cottage – the oldest standing colonial cottage in the region.
Before checking into our hotel, we stopped by the Harvest Cidery, which was conveniently right around the corner. General Manager Teresa gave us a warm welcome and invited us to sample all of the ciders Harvest produce. Her manner was informal, but very informative. Owner Hamish also gave us a tour of the brewery, which can produce a whopping 23,000 litres of cider per day.
Just after 4:30pm, we checked into our accommodation at Portside Hotel. Our room was pleasantly spacious, with an adjoining living room, kitchen, and huge bathroom. All amenities were accounted for; we even had a full working oven and Sky TV. After watching a waka ama crew paddle past our window, we strolled down the road to our final destination for the day: The Dome Cinema.
Housed in a large, colonial-style building on the corner of a main road, The Dome comprises a hall space where the movies are screened, and a very cool restaurant and cocktail bar. On this chilly Saturday, the place was humming; we managed to score a seat at the bar and luckily, the last two tickets to the evening’s final film screening. After a long day, we both chose hearty dishes for dinner, and were rewarded with beautiful bowls of fresh pasta, made in-house. The film itself was an unusual, but highly enjoyable cinemagoing experience. Owner-operator Sally (who everyone seemed to know by name) ensured every customer was comfortable in their seat (or beanbag!) and brought round ice cream at intermission. Next time I’m in Gisborne, I’ll be racing back – I need to sample more of their incredible cocktails!
The next morning, Hannah and I arose early to prepare for an action-packed day. The air was still cool, but the day was forecast to be sunny, so we headed out just before 7am to catch the sunrise at the Makarori Headland. After a quick, though steep, trek up the hill, we enjoyed a peaceful few moments soaking in the spectacular, pink-and-gold speckled ocean and sky.
With tummies rumbling, we headed off to the Gisborne Farmers’ Market. Located on the river, only a minute away from the museum we had visited yesterday, we reached the market a little too early. As the friendly baristas at the coffee cart were already set up, we grabbed a (perfectly brewed) hot drink and strolled down the pretty riverside until we reached the Gisborne Botanical Gardens. At just past 9am, it was deserted save for a few joggers, and very, very pretty. After spending some time strolling around the lawn, perusing magnificent cacti, and sampling the playground’s flying fox, we walked back to the market.
At a tick past 9:30am, it was suddenly packed. People of all ages were strolling around the stalls, catching up with friends, and listening to the sounds of live musicians. I sighed over the high quality and low prices of the groceries, while Hannah was drawn to the scrumptious hot food on offer. Not wanting to miss out, we sampled sumptuous pork dumplings, luscious oliebollen (Dutch-style doughnuts), and delectable meats from Manurau Game Birds. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I could have stayed at the market for easily another hour – all the stall-holders we spoke to were friendly and passionate about their products.
After a quick game of mini-golf at the Gisborne i-SITE, we drove out to Sunshine Brewery’s headquarters for a spot of lunch and to sample their brews. Famous for their classic lager, Gisborne Gold, this brewery is beloved amongst locals. As their brewers aren’t in on the weekend, we unfortunately didn’t tour the facility. However, we did spend a lovely, relaxing hour with a flight (sampling platter) of crisp, flavoursome lagers, and a pizza from the food truck stationed outside.
Our next attraction was undoubtedly the one I was most excited for. We were booked in for a Reef Ecology Tour to visit Ngā Tamariki O Tangaroa (the children of the sea) that afternoon! On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by our hostess, Chris, and our tour guide for the day, Nina. Alongside a group of a dozen or so fellow tourists, we climbed into waders that strapped up at our shoulders and grabbed a wooden stick to aid our walking on the reef. We were briefed by Nina on basic stingray safety (don’t step on them; don’t touch their tail), and made our way into the water in single file. Tours only go out during low tide, so the reef is easily reachable on foot; the water only made its way past my knees a couple of times. Once we had settled, a couple of stingrays and half a dozen kingfish swarmed around us, accustomed as they are to Dive Tatapouri’s guides. We were lucky enough to meet four stingrays, the largest of which, Tara, is estimated to be about 150kg! However, they were all incredibly friendly, gently butting our boots like cats for pats and nibbles of kahawai. I was incredibly impressed with our guide, Nina's knowledge. I asked her where she had studied marine biology, and was totally gobsmacked when she said she was still at high school.
We warmed ourselves with a quick shower back at Portside before heading out to our final destination on our Gisborne adventure: the iconic pub and music venue Smash Palace. If you’ve never popped in for a pint, Smash Palace is also known for its artfully cluttered décor; record sleeves paper the walls, bicycles hang from the ceiling, and there’s even an entire fighter jet in the garden.
At 6:30pm, it was still reasonably quiet; a set of four bands was scheduled to start at 9pm. At the bar, we were met by owner-operator Daryl, who kindly guided us through the drinks list and menu. Watching him warmly interact with other customers and locals, it’s clear he has a knack for hospitality, and is well-liked by his regulars. After a full weekend, I admit we didn’t stay to watch the bands… But we loved our evening at Smash Palace all the same.
Even in early May, I was delighted to find there was still plenty to see and do in Gisborne. While it’s a much-loved summer destination, I would argue it’s just as worth the trip during the colder months. I loved getting to know the distinctly laidback, creative Gisborne character, and will absolutely be making a return visit.
Experience Nelson/Golden Bay (Summer 2017)
Dreamy daysby Madelaine Empson
We arrived in Nelson around 11am and, knowing we wouldn’t be picked up until 3pm, had no idea what to do with our bags. Thankfully, we discovered we could leave our luggage at Nelson City i-SITE, and proceeded to explore the city unburdened.
Our day in Nelson began with a mouthwatering lunch at the picturesque River Kitchen. After relaxing with a coffee (or two) by the riverside, we perused the shops and galleries of Trafalgar Square and stopped to enjoy a local wine at Cod & Lobster Brasserie. This upmarket restaurant is wonderfully placed at the foot of the steps to Nelson’s landmark cathedral. Our waiter, Jake, was cheeky and mischievous – he kept trying to add truffle fries to our order, and wore an outrageous feathered headband for no apparent reason. His spark was the highlight of our experience here. I do so regret not trying those truffle fries now.
We were then picked up by Golden Bay Coachlines for our trip to Takaka. The views from the top of Takaka Hill are astounding, and our driver Diane was engaging, lovely, and informative. She went out of her way to make sure we were taken care of, and dropped us off all the way back at the depot in Takaka so we could collect our rental car. Thanks to Lorraine of Golden Bay Coachlines for organising this impeccable rental!
Dean and I hopped in the car and drove… straight across the road! Our accommodation, Anatoki Lodge Motel, was literally a stone’s throw from the town centre. We arrived and met Lynley, who showed us to our spotless, comfortable suite and recommended the best spot for tea that night.
Heeding her advice, we dined at Brigand Café and Bar. What an excellent restaurant! I’m told that it turns into the local joint every Thursday in the summertime thanks to an open mic night that attracts the whole community. Both starving, we ordered the Bone-in Rib-Eye, which came out perfectly cooked amidst sautéed rosemary potatoes and tasty seasonal veggies. Following our evening at Brigand, we returned not once, but twice over the two days we spent in Takaka.
After a great sleep in a comfy bed, we headed to Ngarua Caves on Takaka Hill first thing the next morning. I’d recommend this affordable activity for families – there were heaps of kids on the tour and they had a blast exploring the stunning caves. So did we! Our tour guide Ben was a young and animated fellow who led us through the caves with ease. We learned all about stalagmites and stalactites; finally, after 25 years and all thanks to Ben, I now know the difference! Highlights of the tour included holding a real moa bone and standing in the pitch darkness of the ‘cathedral’ (a cavernous, resonant section of the cave) after Ben turned off all the lights.
Following our journey through Ngarua Caves, we were all set to embark on a Farewell Spit Eco Tour. Unfortunately, the tour was cancelled due to the weather. We were really looking forward it, as I know the tour company is one of the select few that has permission to take visitors to Farewell Spit, where awe-inspiring sand dunes overlooking 35 kilometres of coastline await. On the tour, you can enjoy a cup of tea at a historic lighthouse and get up close and personal with NZ Fur Seals, Godwits, Knots, and other Northern Migratory birds. I know all of this because my parents have been before and said it was fantastic:
“We felt as if we were the only people on Earth”, Frances told me when I returned home, making me extremely jealous. On her tour, Frances says she got closer to a seal than she’d ever been before, and that she and my father felt “transported to another world; a world untouched by human hands. It was New Zealand’s scenic beauty at its rawest.” Well! Needless to say, we’ll be taking a tour with Farewell Spit Eco Tours the next time we’re in Collingwood.
After a spot of shopping in Takaka (such sweet little boutiques!) we retired for the evening to recoup for the next day’s adventure at Anatoki Salmon.
Now, I must warn you that I am not a fishing girl (in fact I’m quite afraid of fish), nor do I enjoy eating salmon. However, that has all changed after my experience at this amazing freshwater fishing destination.
We arrived in the morning in the pouring rain to be greeted by Dan, who gave us all the info we needed and geared us up for our fishing experience. We were left to our own devices and caught a huge (1.14kg to be exact) salmon within three minutes! I’ll admit to letting Dean take the reins on the actual fishing part of the morning, but I did (rather bravely I thought) hold the fish after we caught it. We handed our catch over to the staff, who hot smoked it in basil and garlic in under 20 minutes. While we waited, we went down to the quaint onsite café and ordered accompaniments to eat with the salmon (ciabatta and garlic butter). When it arrived, impeccably presented, I gingerly took the nibble that would change my perception of salmon forever. If you’re not a fan of salmon, I can’t even describe the taste of Anatoki’s to you (it’s just too good), but you absolutely must try it. Despite a valiant effort, we couldn’t finish our 1.14 kilos, so Dan vacuum-packed it for us to take away – an awesome service, and perfect for travellers.
We had a wonderful time at Anatoki Salmon. In fact, I think it was the highlight of our whole trip. It is fun (the kids will totally love it), the staff are so friendly and accommodating, the salmon is divine, and the locale is stunning to boot. We even saw a live peacock!
Feeling satisfied and joyful, we boarded the bus back to Nelson and were delighted to find Diane in the driver’s seat again. That evening we checked in to Tahuna Beach Holiday Park, which would prove a fantastic spot for a summer holiday for the whole family. Giant trampolines, mini golf, go karts, the beach at your doorstep… what more could the kids want? Brekkie the next morning at the onsite café was delicious. We could have happily relaxed here in the sun all day drinking the superb coffee, but alas! It was check-out time, as Rodd from Vintage Wine Tours had just pulled up to reception to collect us.
Rodd had arranged a five-stop tour of Nelson’s vineyards for us that included lunch. He had also very helpfully offered to drop us off at the airport straight after the tour, as we were due to fly home that day.
Our first stop was Seifried Estate, where we were led through five varieties by our engaging host Jacqui. The Aotea Sauvignon Blanc, which is widely distributed in the UK and Europe but only really available at Seifried’s cellar door in New Zealand, is exquisite. Even though we would soon be boarding a plane and had no room in our bags, we couldn’t resist buying a bottle! We repeated this somewhat unwise process at two other vineyards along the way – Brightwater Vineyards, whose 2017 Sophie’s Kiss Rosé is irrefutably the best Rosé I have ever tasted; and Waimea Estate, where a 2016 Albariño (one of Spain’s most distinctive white wines) with notes of white peach, jasmine, and the seaside captured my attention.
The highlight of our tour was the incomparably stunning Kina Beach Vineyard. Tastings at Kina Beach are by appointment only, and Rodd is one of the only tour operators who takes his guests here.
Kina Beach Estate sits atop a hill and overlooks the Tasman Sea. It is completely private; Dean, Rodd, Lou (the site manager and our host), and I were the only ones on the premises. The second we arrived here I felt at peace with the world – like time had stopped. We also discovered that you can stay onsite in an historic Old Schoolhouse, or a boutique romantic cottage for two, and were permitted a sneak-peak into both.
While in the purpose-built tasting room with Lou, who I took an immediate liking to, Rodd had what I can only describe as a lapse of judgement. In the middle of our tasting, he spent a solid five minutes “talking shop” with Lou about a future booking, which clearly made her uncomfortable – she wanted to get back to the wine, which is what we were there for! Dean and I sat in awkward silence and stared at our empty glasses while we waited for Rodd to stop talking at (not to) Lou. I felt that this was not appropriate and certainly put a damper on an otherwise blissful experience. If you want to talk business with someone, ring them after you’ve taken your clients on a private tour that cost them $370!
Though friendly, chatty, and well-organised, we really felt that Rodd could have been more engaged with us as individuals. However, we will definitely be going back to Kina Beach Vineyard the second the accommodation becomes available. I can’t think of a dreamier holiday destination.
Special mention must go to the café we lunched at on our tour: Jester House Café, where you can feed eels while you eat! Jester House offers an awesome environment for families, replete with a playground, huge garden, and fairy tale-like accommodation – think a night in a giant boot!
Sadly, it was then back to the real world for us. We’ll never forget our trip to Nelson/Golden Bay, and maybe I’ll even start sneaking salmon into my diet – only if it’s Anatoki’s though.
Experience Hawke’s Bay (Summer 2017)
The hardest part is leavingby Susan Barker
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and checked into our accommodation, Beachfront Motel in Napier. The motel is upscale, comfortable, and the staff are very helpful. It is located on Marine Parade, which allowed for a stunning view of the sea and easy access to restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions (in these departments you will be spoilt for choice). Our first impression was how relaxed the locals are – it felt like a scene out of a film, with families strolling along the streets on a pleasant evening with the sea metres away and incredible Art Deco architecture at every turn.
Our first adventure was a day on the Mohaka River with Mohaka Rafting. We decided to go on a grade 3 rafting trip, but the company offers gentler trips for families, grade 4/5 outings for those who want more of a thrill, and overnight excursions if you really want to go bush. When we first arrived we were immediately greeted by owner/operator Norm, who provided wetsuits and jackets and talked us through what would be happening on the day. This was my first time white-water rafting and I was a little nervous, but there is no question: Norm and his team are the very definition of ‘safety first’.
Once we reached our point of entry on the river, we were helped into lifejackets and helmets before hopping aboard the raft. While we were floating towards the first rapid and things were calm, our raft’s guide, Dave, showed us the different paddling techniques and took us through the instructions he might call out. I felt this was the best way to learn, as hearing the instructions on land is quite different to putting them into practise on the river. By the time we reached the first rapid I felt confident, safe, and secure. I quickly learned that white-water rafting on this grade is intense excitement followed by periods of floating along. However, the beauty of the land and river are enough to keep anyone engaged. In addition, if you are lucky enough to have Dave as a guide, you will find he is extremely well-versed when it comes to history. At one point he showed us a sheer rock face where some of Te Kooti’s people escaped the English (in the 1800s) at night during a storm. It is one thing to read about this event, but to see the rock face and picture was incredible. He also shared things he has learned from people in the community that may not be common knowledge, such as the story of a local man taking the task of un-obstructing the river (after a slip) in his own hands, following Council’s decision to let nature take its course, by utilising some handy dynamite. From my point of view, there was never a dull moment.
At one point on the river we floated through the most stunning gorge, the stone cliffs towering over us as we drifted past large boulders, all lit by the soft green of the river. It felt like real New Zealand – untouched. While I know this may sound highly romanticised or perhaps I was under the influence of Dave’s recounting of the past, the area was charged with a different kind of energy – it felt sacred and everyone on the raft was silent. This was a major highlight for me, as moments like these are rare. The day concluded with tea, coffee, and biscuits beside the river where Marilyn, our lovely bus driver, was waiting to collect us. It was a very full day and I noticed many contented folks fell asleep on the bus ride back.
Ultimately, if you want a full experience on the river with thrilling rapids; stops along the way to view points of interest; to learn about local legends; and to discover parts of New Zealand that you can only access via the river – Mohaka Rafting is the way to go.
After a long but fun-filled day on the river we were pretty wiped out, but luckily the next day we started with a relaxing game of golf at Hawke’s Bay Golf Club. It may have been obvious to others that we were from Wellington when we commented on how warm and lovely the day was and were told that it was poor by Hawke’s Bay standards! This 18-hole course is about a 10-minute drive from Hastings and is currently undertaking some renovations, but the earthworks are contained and do not impact the course’s functionality or atmosphere. The setting is tranquil and everyone we encountered was friendly and accommodating. On a sunny Sunday, it felt like the ideal place to be, taking our time, enjoying the sound of birds, and having a go on the green. I am not an avid golfer, but Hawke’s Bay Golf Club definitely had me reconsidering how I spend my weekends.
The next item on our itinerary was a driving tour of the area, including stops at some wineries with Bay Tours and Charters. We were picked up from our hotel by Mark in a BMW that was at one time used to chauffeur John Key. Mark began by asking us what we were interested in, and we said we were keen on learning some more history. From there, Mark drove us around the area, pointing out sites of interest and even answering trout fishing questions from my partner (I was definitely impressed that we did not have one question Mark wasn’t able to answer, I don’t think there is a better guide in the region).
We visited three wineries and first on the list was Sileni Estates. Mark informed us before we began the tastings that he wanted us to start with a larger winery, then visit a small boutique operation, and finally come back to a large establishment to see what conclusions we would draw. I have to say that it is quite the experience visiting the wineries with Mark – all of the staff know him well and you certainly feel like a VIP for the day. He shared a lot of information about each winery with us, including the types of wine they produced and their harvesting process. I found this extremely helpful because once we entered the tasting room, I felt I had baseline knowledge and that made the experience that much better. Sileni is a beautiful winery and it is a popular venue for weddings. In the past, I have not been a huge fan of their wine but found once we moved up in quality they have some stunning wines on offer (yes, I may often shop from the lower shelves at the supermarket).
The next winery we visited was a very special place called Moana Park. This winery has quite a different back-story, and I encourage those visiting to take a tour of the premises because they have a very different process than most of the big boys in the industry. We learned on the tour that all of their wines are free of allergy-inducing additives and are certifiably vegetarian and vegan. I did not realise that most wines have a fining agent – like egg white or animal proteins, and often contain many chemicals. Here you know the wines are in the purest state possible. Moana do not produce the same wines every year, they go with what grapes are the best quality and their motto is, “Unpredictable, but that’s the way we like it”. It is rare these days to come across a business with these principles, particularly when larger wineries are scooping up smaller ones with increasing regularity in Hawke’s Bay. These standards come across clearly in their wines; they do not taste ordinary. You take a sip and the flavours are immediately very different from what you are accustomed to. Mark told us before we arrived that one of their whites (Viognier) would blow our minds. As always, Mark was right. I have never tasted anything like it and my partner, who prefers red on every occasion, wanted to buy a bottle immediately. We concluded our tasting at Moana with a scrumptious cheese platter that Mark provided that included several cheeses from Hohepa Cheesery. This outstanding organisation provides curative education and social therapy for children, young persons, and adults with intellectual disabilities, and produces remarkable products, like their cheeses, onsite.
Our last stop was Mission Estate Winery, established by missionaries who first grew grapes for communion wine. It is a place that is postcard perfection. Set on a hilltop in a large historic seminary and surrounded by well-maintained gardens, it boasts stunning views of Napier. The wine was fantastic but nothing felt extraordinary (we had been a bit spoilt by Moana Park). However, if you are looking for the ultimate setting for an event or a gourmet meal accompanied by fabulous wine, this is the place.
Almost everyone we met said that Hawke’s Bay had it all and the lifestyle was unbeatable. In fact, by the end of our trip I was quite sure the people of Hawke’s Bay must conspire together to encourage visitors to move to the region (Mark was pointing out potential real estate on our tour). I think this is testament to two things: the first being that everyone we met was warm, engaging, and extremely welcoming, and the second being that Hawke’s Bay is a wonderful place and people who live there know it. I was starting to agree: beautiful rivers, the sea on your doorstep, numerous vineyards, unlimited activities, glorious weather, friendly faces, and no traffic!
Be warned, the hardest part of visiting Hawke’s Bay is leaving it.
Experience Wairarapa (Summer 2017)
With romance in mindby Madelaine Empson
Our accommodation was on Main Street, just a five minute walk to the town centre and all the charming boutiques that characterise it. Pulling up to the gate, I already knew we were in for a treat. The fairy lights were on (what better welcome can you get?), and the garden looked lovely in the moonlight. We walked in to find the heaters on and the house cosy and inviting, and in the bedroom, I spotted my personal favourite touch: a bag of M&Ms on the nightstand. The place (called Suite 22, booked through Airbnb,) had a wonderful historic feel about it – high ceilings, chandeliers, and an outdoor bath completed this vibe, but it also had all the mod cons you could ever ask for. We had a great night’s sleep and awoke early (10am, that counts as early for a Saturday right?) for the big day we had ahead of us.
The day began with brekkie (brunch, I suppose, if you’re going to argue that we weren’t up early enough for breakfast) at Brasserie 74. Formerly 2 Short Whites, this beloved café is right in the heart of Main Street. Dean and I indulged in the most classic breakfast (okay okay, brunch) you can get: The Big Breakfast. Everything on the plate was beautifully presented, carefully considered, and cooked to perfection.
After we returned to Suite 22, Jill arrived at our front door to take us on the Half Day Martinborough Wine Tour. Martinborough Wine Tours were fantastic when organising this tour for us, recommending and booking the most romantic vineyards at my request.
We visited Te Kairanga Estate, Tirohana Estate, Haythornthwaite, and Luna Estate, learning so much from Jill about the region’s viticulture along the way. It’s hard to pick a favourite, because each vineyard offers something quite unique: Te Kairanga Estate is gorgeous, the outdoor area (complete with beautiful, well-established oak trees) particularly inviting, and a peppery pinot noir definitely caught my attention here; Tirohana Estate has an intimate indoor tasting room, replete with old film props from owner Raymond Thompson’s former life in the film and television industry; Haythornthwaite was planted the year I was born and its owners, Mark and Susan, are perhaps the loveliest couple I’ve ever met, plus the 2010 Gewürztraminer (named Susan) is to die for; and our kitten is called Luna, so of course I’d be partial to Luna Estate. In all seriousness regarding Luna Estate though, it’s a stunning vineyard, our host Rebecca was outstanding, and the fries (a surprise treat courtesy of Martinborough Wine Tours) were mind-blowing.
Our Half Day Tour was an incredibly special experience – we picked up heaps of interesting facts, sampled delectable wine, and felt like royalty every step of the way.
The next morning, we hit the boutiques of Greytown. I bought two jackets from Encore on the first day of spring (not very clever, but I couldn’t help myself in that store) and Dean a new pair of suave work shoes from Deluxe.
Then it was home to relax and dream about going back to the Wairarapa! Fabulous shopping, fine wine, sumptuous cuisine… we couldn’t have wanted for more.
Experience Central Plateau (Summer 2017)
On the flyby Susan Barker
My partner and I arrived in Turangi and our first port of call was Sporting Life, a retail shop that sells everything fishing related. I found the staff there extremely friendly, highly experienced, and possibly best of all – very good humoured. They are the go-to guys for hiring or buying gear, finding a guide, and getting general info regarding river conditions.
After sorting out our gear we checked into our accommodation, Creel Lodge, which is within walking distance to the river and the township. The Lodge is comprised of different sized self-contained cabin units that are nestled in very well-maintained gardens. The rooms are affordable and modern, and there is a small fishing supply shop and café onsite, which I must say, offers the best coffee in town.
I have tried fly-fishing twice before without success. Learning to cast at an expert level can take years, so fully expect to get tangled up in your own line and for flies to get caught in your clothing (and quite possibly your skin). At the beginning of our trip, I spent many hours wading in the river with no expectation of catching a fish, just trying to improve my cast. I found this relaxing and peaceful in itself – standing in the river, taking in the surrounding mountains and the greens, browns, and yellows of the bush.
But at the end of the day, I wanted a trout. If you want to accelerate your success rate, I would highly recommend hiring a guide, which costs around $250 for a 3-hour period. My partner and I arranged to go out on a boat to the Tongariro Delta with Bill Grace, who has over 20 years of fly-fishing experience. We left the dock at 7am and the scenery was stunning – all water, mountains, and clouds. Bill was the perfect guide for me because he was knowledgeable, easy-going, and provided gentle coaching without being too pushy. After being out for a couple of hours, I hooked into my first trout. It was mad excitement on the boat and I realised hooking the fish is half the battle, because there is still the matter of ‘playing’ the trout. These fish do not go down without a fight, and you have to master letting the trout run and then gently winding it in. However, with the expert instruction of Bill and my partner, I managed to get the trout close enough to be netted. Getting your first trout is a real rush and justifies all the hours you have put in to learning techniques.
The following day was spent trying my hand on the river, as the next milestone was to land a trout on the river. This involves wading out to your comfort level and just casting, casting, and more casting, waiting for a tug from an elusive trout. I felt several but lost them and then finally it happened – I had a fish on the line. The trout was definitely feisty and I had to play the fish while balancing in water up to my chest. After a tense five minutes, my partner scooped up a beautiful rainbow trout in the net. What a victory! It reminded me of a quote from the book I mentioned before: “To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”