Akaroa, NZ

Akaroa Bay
Akaroa Bay

A scenic one hour drive from Christchurch, Akaroa is a quaint little fishing village located on the southern side of Bank Peninsula. Akaroa sits at the edge of a beautiful harbor inside the eroded crater of a huge extinct volcano. Originally a French settlement, the streets have French names and local restaurants focus on French cuisine. The French settlers who arrived to establish the town in 1840 thought they were the first colonists of a new French territory, however the Treaty of Waitangi was signed just days before they arrived, which gave Britain sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.

Donkeys in Akaroa, NZ
Donkeys along the road outside Akaroa, NZ

We arrived in Akaroa amid a downpour, so Jay decided to keep driving beyond the town to give the clouds time to pass by. That’s when we came upon these two donkeys huddling in their shelter to avoid the rain. Later in town Jay learned that the larger donkey on the right had lost his good buddy – a goat, and had been despairing, so his family had gotten a second donkey to keep him company. Ahhh.

Due to the wet weather we did a quick walk around town, and began the trek back to Christchurch. Another recommendation was to stop at the Little River Art Gallery. This was easy as they are along the Main Road SH 75, the road to Akaroa, and their building stands out as a contemporary structure in a very rural setting.

Little River Cafe and Art Gallery, Little River, NZ
Little River Cafe and Art Gallery, Little River, NZ

The Little River Art Gallery was impressive, showing the work of top quality New Zealand artists. Sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry were on display. There is also a lovely cafe attached and there we discovered friands. Tasty little almond meal cakes originally from France. The server suggested we try the Blueberry Lemon Friand which was gluten-free. Here is a recipe:

Blueberry Lemon Friands

10 TBSP butter
2 cups confectionary sugar
1/4 cup gluten-free all purpose flour or regular
1 1/2 cups almond meal
6 egg whites
2/3 cup blueberries
2 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425° with convection. Grease 12 1/2-cup capacity friand pans or muffin holes.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer, swirling pan occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until light golden. Remove from heat. Set aside for 15 minutes to cool.

Sift confectionary sugar and flour into a large bowl. Stir in almond meal. Make a well in the centre. Gradually add lightly beaten eggwhites, folding in until combined. Add butter and fold in until well combined. Stir in berries. Fill friand pans with mixture, about 3/4 full.

Bake friands for 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 375° convection and bake for 8-10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar. Serve.

Christchurch, NZ

Revived after our 5 nights in Nelson we are ready to head to Christchurch. Jay was there in November/December of 1975 after a summer gig in Antarctica installing some electronics he had designed for a University of MD atmospheric project. We have been thinking about visiting since then, so I am excited to finally see it, and Jay is curious about how it will appear 35 years later.

Leaving Nelson en route to Christchurch, we decided to check out a couple vineyards around Blenheim. Our favorite for the wine was Lawson’s Dry Hills Winery. Visually very modest compared to others, but producing some lovely white wines. We enjoyed their Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Late Harvest Riesling immensely. Decided to buy a bottle of the Pinot Gris to enjoy during the remaining travels and tuck a Riesling away to share with friends back home. During this trip we have driven the coastal routes more often than not, never tiring of our first glimpse of the sea on a new shore. Today we travel down State Highway 1 and experience the South Island’s east coast – this area is known for crayfish, whale watching, seals, dolphins… an abundance of marine life to eat and view. There is stretch of road about 4 km that has signs indicating seals in that area and we spotted a few driving by.

Black Sand Beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ
A black sand beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ

The owner of Lawson Winery had suggested we stop at The Store for lunch. It is midway between Blenheim and Kaikoura in the middle of nowhere, located in a scenic spot along the highway (good signage). They have a large outdoor patio out back where we dined in the sun cooled by the Pacific Ocean breezes and entertained by the most aggressive seagulls we have witnessed yet!

After a fun, full day of traveling we arrive at Pomeroy’s on Kilmore, a boutique guest house located inside Christchurch’s ‘Four Avenues’ (just 4 blocks from the city centre) and our resting point for the next 3 nights. Pomeroy’s historic Old Brewery Inn is literally a stone’s throw away next door and once we are checked in we head over for a brew and dinner. Steve Pomeroy, the owner, is often about and ready to see to your every need. Hearing I eat gluten-free he had fresh gluten-free bread brought in from his favorite German bakery (which he had to do twice, because it was so good all the guests ate it). Another great feature of Pomeroy’s – the breakfast room. Every morning they have a continental breakfast of toast, cereal, tea, coffee, fruit, jams, butter… served in a lovely dining room furnished with antiques. Just like home.

Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ
Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ

Cathedral Square is a casual 15 minute stroll away – although there are many interesting distractions along the way. Our first evening we took a walk into town after dinner and spotted this sculpture – the next morning Jay returned with camera in hand.

911 tribute in Christ Church, NZ
A sculptural tribute in Christchurch to firemen worldwide.

This sculpture stands within a dedicated reserve opposite the Central Fire Station on the banks of the Avon River, and was created by Christchurch artist, Graham Bennett. It is a silent tribute to firefighters worldwide who risk their lives daily in the pursuit of their duty.

The plaque reminds us that “Firefighters are always in the front line and never more so than on September 11, 2001, when international terrorists hijacked four domestic American jet airliners and flew two of them, along with their passengers, into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The two towers imploded and collapsed, and among the more than 2800 dead were 343 New York firefighters. All that remained of the twin towers, and the lost lies within was a mountainous pile of twisted steel and smoking rubble. In May 2002, five steel girders, weighing 5.5 tons were salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch by the city of New York for use in a public artwork to honor all firefighters worldwide. The suspended component or “spear” in its red hot state fell from the 102nd floor of World Trade Center Tower piercing the subway below”.

As Americans who did not witness the carnage in New York City we were deeply moved to find the girders here, half way around the world. And reminded of the horror and disbelief of that day seeing the destruction done to these massive hunks of steel.

Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
An inner court yard at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ

Exploring Christchurch by foot, we ended up at the Art Center. It is a hub for arts, crafts and entertainment in Christchurch, and is located in the neo-gothic former University of Canterbury buildings. This particular day is was gray and cool, so we were looking for soup, and found some great homemade black bean soup in one of the cafes here. After lunch we checked out some of the artist studios that inhabit many of the buildings and came across a textile class – kids sewing, quilting and weaving. Jay took some great photos – notice the cool quilt on the wall!

Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
A boy learns the art of the loom at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Juggler in Christ Church, NZ
Sculpture of a juggler in Christ Church, NZ

A fine rain began as we walked through the Botanical Gardens on our way back to the room. The flowers photograph well, but I was also struck by the variety and beauty of the numerous old trees.

Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
One of the many gardens at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
Roses at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ

Another day we happened upon a group of Maori performance artists… each woman with a chin tattoo.

Maori Singing in Christ Church, NZ
Traditional Maori performance group in Christ Church, NZ

A little research revealed the following tale…

The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian word “tatau”. Captain James Cook used the word “tattow” when he witnessed tattooing for the first time in Tahiti, in 1769.

According to Māori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a young man by the name of Mataora (which means “Face of Vitality”) and a young princess of the underworld by the name of Niwareka.

One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka, and she left Mataroa, running back to her father’s realm which was named “Uetonga”.

Mataora, filled with guilt and heartbreak followed after his princess Niwareka. After many trials, and after overcoming numerous obstacles, Mataora eventually arrived at the realm of “Uetonga”, but with his face paint messed and dirty after his voyage. Niwareka’s family taunted and mocked Mataora for his bedraggled appearance. In his very humbled state, Mataora begged Niwareka for forgiveness, which she eventually accepted. Niwareka’s father then offered to teach Mataora the art of tattooing, and at the same time Mataora also learnt the art of Taniko – the plaiting of cloak borders in many colours.

Mataora and Niwareka thus returned together to the human world, bringing with them the arts of ta moko and taniko.

Napier, NZ

Reading about the Art Deco architecture and beautiful coastline attracted us to Napier. We later learned that the town had been almost completely destroyed by a large earthquake in 1931 and in rebuilding the townspeople went wild for Art Deco!

Arriving in town without a reservation we canvassed the waterfront which is lined with accommodations of all sorts. Our first choice, Pebble Beach, was booked but they recommended the Shoreline Motel which had an oceanfront room with a nice deck where we ate breakfast both mornings. The hotel manager, another friendly, helpful New Zealander, suggested the Mediterranean Wine Bar & Bistro for dinner. After a day of driving we relished the stroll down the waterfront to the restaurant and enjoyed some delicious red lentil encrusted shrimps and tender grilled lamb.

The next morning we headed to the National Aquarium which is on the waterfront and was walkable from our hotel. Feedings are at 1o:00 am so we quickly made our way over in time to see that. There is a cool moving conveyor that tunnels through the enormous tanks of fish, sharks, rays, and large crayfish. We also enjoyed the kiwi area – a large dark habitat where several kiwi live. Not sure how the kiwi birds ended up at the aquarium but we enjoyed spotting them and getting a sense of how they root around with their long beaks. They are very cute. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the kiwi room.

It was pouring when we came out of the aquarium so we dashed back to the hotel and then drove into town for a bite of lunch. Afterwards we walked around the town, picked up some fresh plums and nuts at a local health food store and then headed to wine country – our real attraction to the area.

Aquarium Sea Tunnel, Napier, NZ
Aquarium Sea Tunnel, Napier, NZ
Aquarium, Napier, NZ
Aquarium in Napier, NZ

Mount Maunganui, NZ

Today is a short travel day – we are leaving Hahei in the Coromandel and driving to Mt. Maunganui.  Right out of town we stopped at Cathedral Cove Macadamias. Our first time seeing a macadamia tree, we learned about the challenge of growing and harvesting them in New Zealand. They have a small stand on the farm selling their various products. We bought some of their nut coatings for gifts and ourselves – Macadamia Dukkah, Lemon Kelp Sprinkle, and Chili Kelp Sprinkle. And for breakfast a jar of Macadamia spread. It felt good to support a local farmer.

Around noon we stopped in Whangamata for lunch and chose the Cafe Rossini‎ because the lunch special sounded good and they had wi-fi. The day’s special was a Thai steak salad, which we shared, a tasty spicy marinated steak on fresh salad greens.

Back on the road we soon arrived in Tauranga and checked into our hotel, across the street from Mt. Maunganui. This formerly volcanic mountain rises over 700 feet next to a beautiful white sand beach. The area is filled with cafes and we enjoyed some gelato during the afternoon heat before walking around the base of the mountain – the “easy” walk. The steep hike to the summit we would save until morning. Walking around the base we noticed that sheep were grazing on areas of the mountain. Jay had commented earlier on the practicality of the New Zealanders – and here was a perfect example – a mountain in an urban setting shared by locals, tourists and sheep.

Looking for a break from rich food we stumbled upon Zeytin Cafe, a bustling Mediterranean café on The Strand serving very reasonably priced good food and generous portions. The next day we returned for a carry out lunch to take with us on our road trip to Napier.

Mount Maunganui, NZ
Wild grasses on the trek up Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui
View from the summit of Mount Maunganui

Whitianga, NZ – Coromandel Peninsula

New Zealanders impress us as a very friendly and helpful bunch.  Several people in Hahei had mentioned a great dinner spot in Whitianga called Salt. Whitianga (pronounced Fitianga) is a short 15 minute drive north of Hahei.  The best part of the journey is the little ferry that takes you across the estuary into town.  It costs NZ$2 and lasts about 2 minutes.

Whitianga Ferry
Whitianga Ferry

Salt is two blocks from the ferry, waterside, overlooking the marina.  The place was bustling with thirsty hungry people, all seated outside on a perfect summer eve. The menu offered about five main courses and each one was tempting.  Our waitress offered her favorite – Duck cooked two ways with pumpkin puree and bok choy.  After a long hot day I was happy to be swayed.  Jay was in the mood for seafood and creatively chose three appetizers/entrees… a sublime Kingfish Sashimi with mirin and fresh wasabi, local oysters (raw with shallots & white balsamic vinegar and tempura with aioli drizzle) and a buttery crayfish tail.  Each dish was perfection and suggested wines both from the Marlborough region were spot on – The Edge Pinot with the duck, and a Jules Taylor Savignon Blanc with the seafood.  We had pledged we would not have dessert… oh well, the Chocolate Delice with homemade vanilla ice and crème anglaise somehow graced our table… heaven.

Thames, NZ – Coromandel Peninsula

After successfully navigating the roadways on the left side from Auckland we arrived in Thames for lunch! Our first look at the Coromandel area – lovely terrain with green seas, tropical lush vegetation, big skies full of clouds. We popped into a small organic food co-op on Pollen Street for some almond butter and rice crackers. I must eat gluten-free and I am finding NZ is very gluten-free friendly. Walking along Pollen Street we stopped at Danby’s for lunch and I was served a grilled chicken sandwich on gluten free bread! (not very common in the U.S. as yet). My grilled chicken, avocado, and fresh tomato sandwich was yummy as was Jay’s chicken sate wrap. Danby’s young wait staff was very friendly and helpful.

Danby's Cafe in Thames, NZ

After lunch we continued driving north along Rt 25 to Tapu where we took a back road shortcut over to Coroglen, and then Hahei. Much of the backroad was unpaved but drivable if one is alert, cautious and up for a bit of adventure. We were surprised to see wild hydrangea growing – bright blue – among the tropical foliage.

Auckland, New Zealand

Today our New Zealand adventure begins! Arrive in Auckland at 4:30am on a non-stop overnight New Zealand Air flight from San Francisco. A little disoriented but fairly well rested we take a shuttle bus to the Skycity Grand Hotel. After waiting a few hours to check-in (which we expected given that we arrived around 6am) a very gracious manager upgraded us to a 15th floor harbor view room. The Skycity Grand Hotel is connected to the Convention Center and good rates can be found online. It offers a quiet, calm atmosphere with a modern sophisticated setting. In contrast, the Skycity Hotel across the street has a bustling high-energy atmosphere that revolves around the Sky Tower and includes an iSight tourist information desk, many restaurants and a casino.

Auckland is a walking friendly city – in an afternoon we took in Quay Street and the waterfront, Albert Park and the Auckland Art Gallery. Our early morning shuttle ride took us through Auckland Domain the oldest and largest park in the city.

Albert Park, Auckland, NZ
Gorgeous flower beds in Albert Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Albert Park, Auckland, NZ

Marinita Cantina

Marinita's Cantina in Marin County, California

New Zealand bound from San Francisco, we spent a few nights in Marin County visiting family.  Marinitas was suggested by my brother-in-law for dinner and what a treat. Jay calls it pan-latin fusion cuisine inspired by traditional Mexican dishes… works for me. Loved the “Plato vegetariano” (chile relleno stuffed with grilled corn and queso oaxaca, quinoa pilaf, chard with raja crema, sauteed trumpet mushrooms and chipotle glazed butternut squash – yummm!), Pork Tinga, and the Bistec Argentina.  A lively energy greats you at the door, is held by the waiters and makes for a deliciously fun outing.

Pack light & right

If you’re not going to wear it more than three times, don’t pack it! When I read this at Rick Steves’ travel website I had an aha moment and began paring down my clothing pile. My habit is to put together the clothes I think I might want to take a week or two ahead. As travel time approaches I check the weather of our destination, pull out my suitcase and start editing. This time I happened to look at Rick Steves’ website and found a helpful guide for packing… there is a guide for men as well.