Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Waiheke


After a leisurely breakfast at the Coffee Club down the road, we packed up our bags and headed into Auckland to pick up our hire car. When we arrived at the city centre office, it was packed! There were at least five other groups ahead of us, and to make matters worse, one of the staff was involved in a dispute which it turned out had been going on for an hour already! The other two, clearly flustered, were not coping well with the influx of customers – all of whom had booked in advance to pick up their cars at 11:00. I suppose it’s a popular time as kicking-out time of most hotels is 10:00am. But no, not a word of apology, or even acknowledgement of the wait. We finally got our car after 50 minutes, and drove out of town to Half Moon Bay, from where the car ferry departs.

We in fact arrived there in plenty of time, so had a bite of lunch to eat (we’d breakfasted well), and explored Half Moon Bay. That took about 10 minutes, so we had a further beverage and did a crossword before boarding the ferry. The crossing is about 60 minutes, and we sat up on the top deck to watch Auckland disappear behind us.

We drove off onto Waiheke Island, and the short distance to our accommodation, the Kiwi House bed & breakfast on Kiwi Road. There we were welcomed by Tracy, the proprietor, and settled ourselves in, then booked ourselves a table at Fenice restaurant for dinner. Good Italian food – I had a caprese salad and steak, Nicola had the house salad and agnolletti with prawns. Substantial servings meant we didn’t hang around for pudding, and walked back to our B&B.



The next day after breakfast we wandered into town, checking out the location and access to beaches along the way, and after a bit of a walk, visited the Oneroa arts and entertainment complex. This comprises cinema, theatre, museum and art gallery. It was the art gallery we were particularly interested in, and we perused the arts on offer. After a quick stop for refreshing hot beverages and a few moment’s planning, we decided to visit three vineyards all on the central valley, and set out.

First on the list was Stonyridge. This was very busy at the time with what looked like several tours all arriving, and I don’t think we got the best service from them. It seemed to be a bit of a sausage factory, and we were given a choice of tastings. We selected the standard – a sauvignon blanc made from Marlborough grapes, sauvignon blanc made from their own grapes, and a cabernet sauvignon from their own vineyard. Frankly, I don’t know why you’d bother making sav blanc in Auckland, but presumably the market requires it. It was an indifferent wine, and the cab sav wasn’t much better. We paid for the tasting and left.

Our next stop was just down the road at Tantalus Estate, the newest vineyard on Waiheke, and here we were welcomed with open arms. I selected the Reserve tasting, and we had four red wines to taste, starting with a 2015 merlot cabernet franc, and Voilé syrah, followed by 2014 Evoque merlot blend, and Ecluse cabernet sauvignon. The staff were clearly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their wines, and we had quite a long chat about the different techniques and flavours. We looked longingly at the restaurant, but as we’d already booked dinner at The Oyster Inn for tonight, decided to give it a miss.

Our third stop was at Te Motu. We’d been there before, for a dinner at The Shed, which was definitely one of the highlights of our previous visit. Unfortunately they only open it up at the weekends, so our best-laid plan to have lunch there went somewhat aglay. Chatting with our server, however, we found out that the former chef of The Shed was now working at a new place in Onetangi, called 372, so we decided to head there for lunch instead. We finished our tasting with their premium wine, just called Te Motu, of which they gave us two vintages to compare – 2009 and 2012. Whilst both very good, strong, well-matured wines, they demonstrate the difference that the growing season, vintage, and age have on the wines, and why no two wines are the same. Very enjoyable, and good that they have older wines available for tasting.

We drove the short distance to Onetangi and immediately located 372. There, we selected a beef kofte and salmon tiradito, both of which were excellent. I commented at the time that you’d be hard-pressed to find something similar in a seaside resort in the UK. Duly impressed, we resolved to return for dinner on another evening.

We came back and decided to go for a swim at our local beach, which is at the far east end of Oneroa Bay. The water was like a bath compared to our usual outing in Scorching Bay, and there was a bit of a swell with breakers coming in. After that we returned to the Kiwi House to chill out on the deck and have a preprandial beverage or two.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hamlet


We flew up to Auckland on a Sunday to catch some Shakespeares. Landing early, we took instruction from the kiosk jockey at the airport Skybus, and got off at stop 7, crossed the road, and picked up the 70 to take us close to, if not actually all the way, our accommodation on the Great South Road.

We were a bit early and the room wasn’t ready yet, so we went down to a local café to have  a beverage and do a crossword. When we returned, all was well with the world, and we settled in quickly before heading straight back out to the CBD for some lunch at Frida Cocina Mexicana.

In the afternoon, we went down Queen Street to find the Odyssey Sensory Maze in the basement of a building on Aotea Square. This involves a number of rooms with different sensory experiences – there’s one with different smells, a jungle room, some very dark tunnels that you have to feel your way through, a mirror maze, balloons, and scary stuff. Also, you go in shoeless, and there’s often different textures underfoot – swampy and squishy. We’d bought the one hour experience, so once we’d finished, we went through again, knowing what to expect this time. We still managed to get lost in the mirrors, though. Took us a while to get out!

We didn’t have time to get back to the motel so we went along to the Britomart station, there acquired two HOP cards so we no longer look like tourists when we get on the bus, and took the train directly to Greenlanes to walk up to the Pop-Up Globe. This is its third year of operation and, coincidentally, our third year of going to visit. This year has an increased production run and more plays, and has been open since December. Tonight’s choice is advertised as The Best Play In The World – Hamlet.


We’d arrived early so that we could avail ourselves of the onsite catering, and grabbed ourselves a cheese platter, some wine and beer, and found a table. After we’d finished, we took ourselves up to our seats on the middle gallery. The play was performed mostly in traditional style, but with a couple of modern touches: in order to correct the gender imbalance, some of the other characters were played by women as women – for example Guildenstern (or was it Rosenkrantz?)  as were Voltimand and Cornelius. Also, Polonius carried a mobile phone, which went off at crucial moments to comic effect, and eventually led to his death (sorry, spoiler alert: they all die). At the end, they all have a good song and dance (always end with a  song!) and we cheered and hurrahed them all.

Our motel was but a short walk away, so we toddled along the road and went to bed.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Summer Sci-Fi


Last year, we went to see Summer Star Trek. This was their fifth year of performing an episode of Star Trek in the open air, in Aro Park. It was the end of their five year mission, to boldly perform Star Trek etc. etc.

But they couldn’t leave it at that, could they? What would people do? The demand was still there, so this year it has morphed into Summer Sci-Fi. The first instalment this year is The Shakespeare Code, an episode of Doctor Who from the David Tennant years.


We packed ourselves a picnic and took ourselves off to Aro Valley. The crowd was already ensconced when we arrived, but we found a patch out to the side to set up our chairs and enjoy an early dinner. The pre-show entertainment was in full flow, and required audience participation at times – in particular when they split us into two sides to perform the Doctor Who theme tune, with one side doing the bass line and the other doing the wheee-oooh bit. Tricky when you’ve got a mouthful of samosa!

The show started, and one thing was immediately apparent: Martha had been transformed into Mark. Other than that, they stuck fairly accurately to the script, and performed with their usual set made of repurposed estate agents’ signs. As well as having to cope with being an open air venue, and thus needing to shout their lines, the “stage” is on one side of the footpath through the park whilst the audience sits on the other; the performance is thus regularly punctuated by joggers, cyclists, and people walking home. Tennant never had to work under these conditions.


Nevertheless, they pulled it off, and at the end the Doctor won, the baddies were seen off, and (spoiler alert) the play – Love’s Labours Won – was destroyed for all eternity. All jolly good fun! And now, with the wider remit of Sci-Fi, it will be interesting to see what they tackle next year.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rants In The Dark


Circa Theatre’s first flagship production of 2019, Rants In The Dark, is an adaptation of the book of the same name, published by Emily Writes from her blog. I don’t think Writes is her real name. She blogs about being a mum of two small children. Sounds interesting, eh? She blogs about all the things you won’t find on Mumsnet, and tells it like it is. She, quite literally, rants in the dark. It’s stunningly popular.


We went along on Wednesday night to see it. The presentation is of “Emily” basically talking to the audience. She provides little vignettes into her life, with the help of two other actors, one of whom plays her husband (mostly), and with the other they play the parts of all the other characters who come and go – mother, sister, toddler, friends, not-so-friends, doctors and midwives. There’s singing, dancing, and swearing. A lot of swearing. Being a mother makes you swear. She goes through the highs, and lows, of her mothering career so far, including the original rant in the dark, how she blogs, why she blogs, what it’s all about. It was all jolly good fun, and you should catch it if you get the chance. Whilst the audience was predominantly female, it is aimed at “anyone who’s been a baby”. It stars Renée Lyons, known for 800 Words, appearances on Jono & Ben and other New Zealand tv work; Bronwyn Turei, also known for NZ tv including Auckward Love; and Amelia Reid-Meredith, best known as a long-time Shortland Street actor.

Afterwards we crossed the road to go for dinner at Field & Green, who provided us with a  great steak and snapper.




Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Black Clash


Friday dawned, and the reason we’d come to Christchurch was finally here: the Black Clash cricket match. This is a T20 match between the Black Caps and the All Blacks.

But that’s not until the afternoon. In the morning, we decided to take a tour around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. They’re in Hagley Park (everything is in Hagley Park – the cricket ground is there, too), so we walked from our motel to the park. They have all the usual stuff – glass houses, rose garden, New Zealand section, and rock garden; we perambulated these in no particular order, including a stop for refreshment at their café. The plants in the rock garden, in particular, were attracting a lot of bees.


We spent all morning there then headed into the city once again to find somewhere to eat lunch. Our map of Christchurch had clearly marked “shopping and restaurant” areas delineated, so we headed for one of these and ended up in a restaurant called Original Sin, where we had salads of prawn and seared beef.

In the late afternoon, we set out for the Hagley Park Oval for the cricket match. Now, you might think that the All Blacks would have a bit of a disadvantage here, but there were a number of tweaks to the teams that evened things up a bit. Each team was allowed to pick a player from the other sport, and the qualification rules were very relaxed, such that Brendon McCullum opened for Team Rugby as he'd turned out a few times for Matamata. Both teams featured a player from their respective women’s teams as well – Liz Perry for Team Cricket and Kendra Cocksedge for Team Rugby. Both teams included current and former players from their respective sports – notably, Team Rugby featured Richie McCaw, as well as two Barretts (Beauden and Jordie).

The match was advertised as starting at 4:30, but was clearly underway by the time we arrived, so I guess they must have pulled it forwards by 10 minutes or so, and the score was already 23/1 when we found a suitable patch of grass to view from. We hadn’t brought any of our usual paraphernalia (cushions, keep cups, scorebook etc) so just plonked down on the grass. Shortly afterwards a group further up the bank from us decided to move elsewhere so we were able to snaffle their spot and get a better view than the worm’s eye position we’d started in.


Whilst the game was hard fought, there weren’t going to be any shenanigans – when there was a run out, the player walked without waiting for a replay, no review system for lbw etc. There was some good cricket, including batting from the Barretts, bowling from McCaw, and some spectacular catches (McCaw again). Having batted first, Team Cricket set a target of 169 for Team Rugby, and they made it with five balls to spare.

All jolly good fun! Next morning we were back to Wellington, and ready for some proper, real cricket on Friday when the Firebirds try to redeem their somewhat patchy season. They can technically reach the playoff if both the Stags and the Aces lose their next two matches and the Firebirds win both of theirs…so they need to beat the Stags on Friday.



Monday, January 28, 2019

Akaroa


 On Thursday, we took the scenic route out to Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, as it’s very picturesque. It’s a short drive out of Christchurch. First stop is at Little River, a small town whose main purpose seems to be to direct people into the rest of the peninsula. We had a coffee and tea in the café there, and planned a route around the rest. We decided to head up to Pigeon Bay first, then continue on the summit road around to Akaroa.



The summit road is so named because the whole peninsula is an extinct volcano, as is apparent if you look at a map. At Pigeon Bay, we went for a walk and spotted two kereru almost immediately. It was quite hot in the sunshine with little cover from the sun so we didn’t take a walk all the way to the end of the trail, instead turning back after about 25 minutes when we’d reached a shady grove. On the way back, a number of fantails decided to try to tempt me into taking their photographs. Fantail photography is of the type “here’s a branch where a fantail was two milliseconds ago”, but I managed to get a couple.


We drove on to Akaroa and walked along the bay shore, seeking out a place for lunch. Akaroa was originally settled by the French, and the street names and many of the businesses there reflect the French heritage. We settled on The Wharf, and had fish & chips and tuna salad for lunch. Afterwards we walked up to the lighthouse, which was originally placed at Akaroa Heads, at the mouth of the harbour, and moved to its current location by the Akaroa Lighthouse Preservation Society in 1980.



We took the shorter route back to Christchurch, passing the turn-off to Le Bons Bay along the way. Unfortunately there was nowhere convenient to stop so I was unable to take a photo for Duran-spotting.

In the evening we explored Christchurch’s dining scene, and entertainment book, once again – this time ending up in a South American bar and restaurant called Casa Publica. This offers South American specialities such as ceviche, guacamole, and espetadas. We started off in the bar with a  couple of pisco sours before heading upstairs, where we I ordered guacamole casa, which is made at the table for you, and you can chose which ingredients you want to include. I went all in with chillis, red onion, lime juice, coriander and cashews. Nicola had the chicken espetada main, which is basically chicken on a stick.



By the end we were pretty well stuffed, so we forewent dessert and headed back to our digs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Christchurch

Our digs are on Bealey Avenue, which could be renamed Motel Avenue. We found it easily enough, and then found that it appears to have merged with the next-door Prince Of Bealey (presumably, King and Queen had already been taken). Our room is a little smaller than in Hanmer Springs, but it is modern and new, with everything we need, and handy for centre-ville.

In the evening we researched our options for dining and decided on Spice Paragon as being within easy reach. Also, it’s in the entertainment book (I’ve recently upgraded our membership to cover the whole of New Zealand), and this pretty much covers the cost of that.

The next day temperatures were forecast to reach over 30°, so we decided that visiting the International Antarctic Centre would be a good plan. Bound to be cooler there! We drove out towards the airport, and got there well before opening time of 9:00 (we’d been advised to get there early as they get crowded), so we stopped for a quick beverage in the café before heading in. They have all kinds of informative stuff about Antarctica, including the original expeditions and the current research stations there. They also have an Antarctic storm experience, where they give you overshoes and a thick coat to go into a snowy room. The temperature inside is -8°, but they then lower this further by introducing wind, and the windchill takes it down to -18°. At this point some of the less sturdy visitors left, but we, being hardy kiwis, stuck it out till the end. In shorts, natch.


Outside, my glasses immediately steamed up, so we waited for them to clear before heading outside for our next adventure, a ride in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, of the type used in Antarctica. They’ve built a little assault course out the back of the centre to simulate some of the conditions that you meet in the vehicle, then after a short safety briefing (“wear your seatbelt! Hang on to the straps! Press the buzzer in emergency!”) we were off. Our driver took us up and down steep inclines, cambers of 20°, and through snow and swamp. After ten minutes we disembarked, shaken and stirred.

The next stop was the little blue penguins feeding time. Little blues are endemic to New Zealand, and are the world’s smallest penguins. The ones they have at the centre are rescue penguins – they’ve been found injured, recovered under the aegis of DOC, and then transferred to the IAC where they can live out their lives in comfort. This is a life sentence – they’re not released into the wild once they’ve recovered, as many of them have missing or damaged limbs which would make them easy pickings for predators in the wild. On the upside, their life expectancy is greatly enhanced in captivity, as they rarely live more than 6-7 years in the wild, whereas the oldest at the IAC died recently at the grand old age of 25.


We’d pretty well done everything in the IAC so decided to head up the road to the Willowbank Reserve, a wildlife park with exotic and native species. We followed most of the prescribed path through the exotic animals, which included wallabies, possums, otters (we didn’t see any ), but ignored the farm animal section due to lack of interest. The final section was New Zealand natives; unfortunately most of these are in aviaries, and the kaka, kakariki and kea didn’t look particularly happy. Give me Zealandia any day! There was, however, a kiwi house containing four brown kiwi. Unfortunately no photos of these as it’s very dark inside, and naturally, no flash photography is allowed. You have to wait a few minutes to allow your eyes to get used to the gloom, but once you do, you can easily spot the kiwi rootling about and running around.

They also have tuatara, again in cages, and takahe, who were hiding themselves away. We stayed for a spot of lunch in their café, then decided to can our good intentions hatched earlier in the day of a planned walk to Washpen Falls. This was confirmed when we got to the car and the thermometer read 34° - not really weather for a two-hour hike! We headed back to the comfort of our airconditioned hotel room to watch the first ODI against India.

In the evening, we went out to Pescatore, Christchurch’s only two-hat restaurant for dinner. Neither of us wore a hat. Despite this, they let us in and we enjoyed some salmon and snapper cooked cheffy-style, followed by a chocolate cremeux and a curry icecream with pineapple and rice. Although we'd only ordered two courses, they were back and forth with little amuses-bouches and similar throughout the meal - a malt tea and stuffed flower before we began, a "pre-dessert", and petits fours afterwards, so we were well satisfied. It was only slightly marred by the utter dick at the next table who complained about everything. There's no pleasing some people. We left to watch India complete their demolition of the Black Caps in the first ODI.