Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hic Sunt Dracones

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, and we headed towards Wellington’s waterfront for the second day of the Dragon Boat Festival. On the way down Cuba Street we were accosted by a chap with a camera who told us he was photographing people at the bucket fountain for use in a university project. He emailed me the picture:

By the bucket fountain

We then continued down to the harbour. Sunday was the schools’ competition day; we found seats in the grandstand at the finishing line, and watched a couple of the races. As we had no particular affiliation, we didn’t stay long, and when they broke for lunch before the finals, we decided to do likewise, and headed for Mac’s Brewbar for a refreshing beer, then wandered along to Capitol, our favourite café of the moment, for a spot of lunch accompanied by a Tuatara beer.

After lunch we took the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens:

We didn’t want to do the whole Botanical Gardens tour, as it's quite steep in places, and any hills that you go down have to be ascended again to get out. So we set off down the road back to The Terrace, which is downhill all the way.

Name And Shame

In the evening, we went down into the CBD to get some dinner. Unfortunately the restaurant that we planned to go to wasn’t open on Sunday (should’ve checked before leaving) so we went round the corner onto the harbour front and ended up in Foxglove, one of the better establishments in that part of town. On the way we had to fight through hordes of people queuing outside the TSB Arena, waiting to see a Lionel Ritchie concert. Foxglove, I’m afraid to say, has joined the far-too-long list of good restaurants in Wellington who can’t seem to get things right; in this case bringing three main courses out, and the fourth ten minutes later. They did, however, take it off the bill…but you’ve got to get these things right, surely?

Anyway, that was pretty much the end of Ma & Pa’s brief sojourn in Wellington. On Monday, they packed up and left and flew to Melbourne in the afternoon, for a well-deserved rest.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Over The Hills And Far Away

On Saturday, we hired an SUV and took the parents out to Martinborough, a town to the east of Wellington over the Rimutaka mountain range. Martinborough is based around a wine economy, and there are a number of vineyards within walking distance of the town centre, although we decided to drive so as not to wear ourselves out too much. It was a lovely warm sunny day, and possibly a little too hot for extended walking.

With no particular plan in mind, we first visited the tourist information centre, who provided us with a map of the vineyards which also indicated which ones were open to the public, and which had catering facilities.

First stop was the oldest vineyard in the region, and the one that bagged naming rights: the Martinborough Vineyard. We tasted several of their wines, and I bought a couple of bottles of their pinot gris. Most of the vineyards produce a range of varietals, but the standout wines are the pinot noirs.

After that we headed round the corner to Margrain, where we tasted their sparkling wine as well as the pinots, chardonnay and rieslings. They make two very different reislings, and I picked up some of the sweeter variety for drinking with Thai food. I also got a bottle of their botrytis sauvignon blanc, which has an unusual herby flavour to it.

It was getting on to one o'clock, so next place we headed to was Vynfields, which is an organic vineyard. Despite this, we decided it was worth going to! They have a slightly different approach to marketing, and provide you with a tasting tray of wines for $15/20 (depending on how much wine you want to drink), rather than the $5 tasting fees that the other vineyards charge (which is refunded if you buy any wine). We also had lunch there – a shared platter of antipasto and cheeses with bread. Together with the wine, it made for a very enjoyable, lazy lunch out in the sunshine.

At this point I handed over driving duties to Nicola, as she had been abstaining from the tastings. We headed back into the town centre to pick up postcards from tourist information, then drove back over the mountains to Wellington.

This was our first visit to Martinborough, but I’m sure it won’t be our last – there are plenty more vineyards for us to try, and we intend to work our way around them systematically (or haphazardly, which seems more likely). Then we’ll go back to the beginning and start again.

For those of you who are interested, Martinborough Vineyards wines are available from Majestic and Victoria wine; whilst Margrain wines are available in Oddbins. Go check them out, and enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wellington Nights

After a hard day’s wandering around Matiu/Somes Island, we headed into Wellington’s heady nightlife district, Cuba Street, for dinner at Matterhorn. This is one of the best restaurants in Wellington, and also boasts a bar that is rated as 16th best in the world.

We turned up at around 730pm, and had cocktails in the bar – vodka martinis and cosmopolitans – before having dinner in the restaurant. Check out the menu options here – we had the steak, venison, snapper and soufflé. Each. No, not really!

There wasn’t anything chocolatey enough for me on the pudding menu, so Pa & I shared some cheese instead.

Island Life

Yesterday, Ma & Pa Wilsher arrived in Wellington for a short 4-night visit. Last night we dined simply chez moi, and today we went out on a pre-arranged tour called “Ships & Chips”. This involved turning up at the Wellington Museum at 11am, to be given a guided tour of the museum by an entertaining and enthusiastic member of the staff. The Wellington Museum is spread over three floors, and you could spend a day or longer going round all the exhibits. He gave us an edited highlights tour, concentrating on three very important parts of the museum, and giving us a lot of info on Maori legends at the same time. The tour also included magic, where we sat down and watched a presentation of the Maori legend of the creation of New Zealand and Wellington Harbour. Turned out it was all done with smoke and mirrors (the presentation, not the creation of New Zealand and Wellington Harbour).

At around midday the tour finished, and we went outside to catch the ferry to Matiu/Somes Island (“MSI”). It gets its name from the English name given to the island in the 18th century, and the Maori name for the island. There was some disagreement about what to call the island, and in 1997 a decision was made to call it by both names, which is how it is known today.

On arrival at the ferry, we collected our fish’n’chips lunch, to eat on the way – all part of the deal. The ferry dropped us off at the jetty, and we were informed that the next boat back was in 20 minutes, and the one after that in three hours. As it was a nice day, we decided to stay for the three hours.

The first thing you do when you arrive at MSI is go to the Rat House. This isn’t some German Parliament building – it does exactly what it says on the tin. MSI is a predator-free island, and they want it to stay that way, so the first order of the day on arrival is to ensure that you haven’t brought any unwanted visitors with you. This includes seeds of mainland plants – they’re trying to restore the flora to native species only, and the mainland positively abounds with introduced European plants, so soles of shoes are vigorously inspected for mud. Once they’re satisfied that you’re pest-free, they release you to tour the island.

At the top of the island is an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. Early on in the Second World War, Japanese planes from aircraft carriers had been seen from New Zealand, and it was decided that air defences were needed for the capital. As it turned out, the US rooted the Japanese out from the region fairly early on (the battle of the Coral Sea) so by the time the battery was operational it was redundant, and no shots were ever fired in anger. The concrete emplacements are still mostly visible, although the trench system has since gone, and the weapons themselves have been removed.

The island has also been used extensively as a quarantine station for animals (livestock) arriving in New Zealand for farm breeding, as an internment camp during both world wars, as a leper colony (as the unfortunate story of Kim Lee testifies), and as a fortress by the Maoris before Europeans even arrived in Wellington. Nowadays it is used as a predator-free nature reserve, and is one of an increasing number of places to have a tuatara population.

We went about the island in a fairly haphazard way, but covered pretty well all of it in our allotted time period. We were searching for tuatara, but didn’t see any. We saw plenty of common skinks,

and also red-crowned parakeets

and fantails (as usual, they wouldn't stay still long enough for me to photograph them), and the occasional North Island robin. The giant wetas failed to turn up as well – there were various boxes placed in the undergrowth where wetas were supposed to hide out, as they like the dark, but none of the ones we looked in contained any sign of life. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll see them another time.

After that, it was back to the ferry, and the mainland again. After a hard day’s walking around the island in lovely autumn sunshine, we needed a rest before going out in the evening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Filling The Basin

On Sunday, we headed down to Wellington’s cricket ground, the Basin Reserve, for a charity fundraiser for the Christchurch earthquake. Two guest teams had been assembled from cricketers past and present, and a few rugby players and actors, some of whom were in New Zealand for the filming of The Hobbit. Amongst those present either playing, coaching or umpiring were:

Shane Warne
Sir Richard Hadlee
Nathan Astle
Martin Crowe
Russell Crowe
Sir Ian McKellen
Martin Freeman
James Nesbitt
Ritchie McCaw
Tana Umaga

The Reserve was full (unlike on other occasions when we’d been there to watch the cricket) and a large proportion of the crowd were wearing the red & black that Canterbury’s cricket and rugby teams play in.

Shot, Bro!

There was entertainment before the game got underway, in the form of Jason Kerrison, singer from NZ band Op Shop, who gave us a couple of tunes. Then, after a minute’s silence, the national anthem was sung by Kristin Darragh.

And then the game began. Although it was a “friendly” match, no quarter was being given…but as there was a $1,000 bonus being offered for every boundary scored, there waren’t many lunges to stop the fours reaching the rope. Unless, that is, you were the twelfth man, who’d paid top dollar on Trademe for the privilege, and who made a heroic diving stop to save one such boundary.

Tana Umaga, former All Blacks captain, had a bowl, and took the wicket of McMillan, one of Christchurch’s stalwart batsmen; before taking a stunning catch and dismissing Dion Nash for a duck in the next over. He’s no slouch, and the Black Caps should keep an eye on him…!

At half time, there was the promised encounter between Shane Warne and Prime Minister John Key. The first ball was a tricky one…

Warne delivers his trademark underarm ball to the PM

After that, Warne bowled properly (-ish), but the PM was up to the task, and hit him to the boundary twice, with his attempt to hit a six off the final ball of the over bouncing just inside the rope.

After the break, Wellington came in to chase the 225 total set by the Cantabrians. It looked like a hopeless task, and, although they managed one over with 3 sixes and two fours, they were (in typical Wellington style) always behind the required run rate, and finished up with 215.

Yet another good day out at the Reserve, and all in a good cause, with over half a million dollars raised on the day.

Wellington Triathlon

Nicola went to take part in the Wellington triathlon on Saturday, which was being held in Oriental Bay. As you may know, a standard triathlon involves a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle ride, and a 10km run. Here’s the cyclists doing their cycling thingy:

Nicola’s role in all this was not to compete, but to act as a marshall, keeping unwary pedestrians from crossing the road and being mown down by a horde of unstoppable cyclists.

Nicola indicates the direction from which cyclists may appear
Naturally, she went mad with the power of the high-visibility vest, and had to be forcibly restrained from setting up a secret HQ in an extinct volcano and assembling a private army of  minions and henchpersons.

It was a lovely day, so after we’d been back to the finish line to hand in the high-visibility vest, we went for lunch in a café on Oriental Parade – underneath the ill-fated White House restaurant, as it happens. There we had a happy lunch, accompanied (in my case) with a glass (or two) of Tuatara APA, or American Pale Ale, a distinctly hoppy brew. The rest of the day we spent idling about, as we can do in the last days of the Antipodean summer.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let's Get Quizzical

On Tuesday, we went to the usual quiz night at the Backbencher pub – joined this week by Nick and Alannah from Nicola’s work. The questions were difficult (some rounds most teams were scoring 1-5 correct answers) and competition was tight, and came down to a tie-break for second place between us and our arch-rivals in the corner; the tie-break question, set by the landlord's daughter (aged 8) was “in what month was my dog born?” – not the sort of information that’s readily available, or work-out-able from first principles. So I guessed October, and it was right! Second place to us for the second week running. So far, so good.

On Thursday, my employer organised a fundraising quiz for the Christchurch earthquake relief fund being organised by the Red Cross (you can donate here) at one of Wellington’s big sports bars, Four Kings. This was a much more organised affair, involving telly screens, pictures, music and video clips, and two rounds to play our jokers on. There was also a “ponderous poser” where increasingly easy clues (one per quiz round) are given to identify the answer – the sooner you get the answer, the more points you get.

There were also spot prizes being given throughout, and when the MC came round to our section and asked the question (Who do the All Blacks play in the first match of the Rugby World Cup?) Andy sprang to his feet and gave the answer first – thus earning himself a t-shirt and a water bottle. There was a raffle too, so we all bought tickets, and crossed our fingers. Halfway through the quiz they announced the raffle winners…and I am the lucky recipient of a crate of wine! How lucky I am has yet to be determined, as it hasn’t arrived yet, so I don’t know how good the wine is. Also throughout the quiz there were auctions for various prizes (a football signed by the All Whites, that kind of thing) which raised significant amounts of cash.

We’d played our jokers on the final two rounds – Science & Nature (“green, green, we never get them wrong”) and Geography. We’d also got the ponderous poser for maximum points, and, when the final score was counted, we’d snuck up the leader board from nowhere to claim – you guessed it – second prize! We were somewhat gobsmacked ourselves – as John shows in this picture!

What a team!

The prize was a bottle of wine each and a $50 bar tab which we immediately spent on a round of drinks.

Afterwards, some of the tables were cleared and a casino set up – again proceeds go to charity – and we hung around a while, playing roulette and blackjack. There was also a crooner singing Frank Sinatra songs and the like.

So the proverbial good time was had by all, and a lot of money raised for the Christchurch appeal.

On Friday, we went to the Treasury quiz night. This was a much more informal affair, and was being run for fun only – no hard cash was at stake. Although at one point we’d reached the dizzy heights of second place, we failed at the final hurdle and ended up in mid-table, failing to make a three-from-three end to the week. Ah well.

Afterwards we went to dinner at Arbitrageur, a wine bar/restaurant in the CBD that had been recommended to me by John. After the somewhat disappointing experience at the White House a couple of weeks ago, I was somewhat trepidatious, but my fears turned out to be unfounded as they served us with very good food and wine, and didn’t hang about all night! One of their selling points is their food and wine matching, with over 60 wines available by the glass and a waiter who clearly knew his stuff. I was happy to defer to his knowledge and let him select wines to go with my menu choices. I think we’ll be going back to this place. They also do tapas (with wine selections) so we don’t need to go the whole hog from the a la carte menu. We also ran into a couple that we know from our dancing classes there.

Next week, we’re back to just one quiz night…it’s about time we took the top prize again at the Backbencher, so thinking hats on!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Felt That One

Welcome to the shaky isles!

OK, not on the scale of Christchurch (thank god), but we've just felt our first earthquake. It measured 4.5 on the Richter scale. It rattled the walls of the house a bit, for around a second. More here.