Monday, April 25, 2011

Chocolate & Wine

After breakfast at café Ujazi, where Nicola again ran into a colleague from Wellington, we popped into the i-site to find out about gannet tours. The world’s largest mainland gannet colony is found at the picturesquely-named Cape Kidnappers. This is only accessible via authorised guided tours – there is no access for ordinary vehicles. Unfortunately, around the end of March the gannets start to depart for Australia, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we would save this particular adventure for another time…even though the leaflet tells us that it’s “more fun than you ever imagined!”

Instead, (and after checking that it was open) we drove out to the chocolate factory at Silky Oak Chocolates. This has a museum of chocolate, which we dutifully toured, and watched some cringeworthy Cadbury’s TV adverts from the 50s and 60s. We then headed to the shop and bought a selection of chocolates, and went to the café for a cup of extreme chocolate with chilli. This turned out to be more like chocolate sauce than hot chocolate, and was topped with whipped cream and chillis.

Extreme chocolate with chilli

We sat outside as it was a lovely sunny morning, and were watched by some extremely podgy-looking sparrows. Wonder what their diet consists of?

Next on the agenda was to visit some of the Hawke’s Bay wineries to be found in the area. The intention was to get some lunch at one of these, but we were thwarted in this ambition, as it appears to be an incredibly popular pastime to go to a vineyard for lunch on Easter Sunday – who knew? Both the vineyards we tried were fully booked. So we tasted the wines at Te Awanga and Elephant Hill, and bought some wine.

The elephant at Elephant Hill vineyard

We drove to nearby Havelock North, a small town south of Napier, and found ourselves a pub to have a quick lunch in – fish and chips and pasta, nothing too exciting. Afterwards we explored Havelock North on foot, but with very little open, this didn’t take us long.

In the early evening we went to explore the wetlands and estuary area just outside Napier. It was largely deserted, with just the occasional oystercatcher and heron to be seen. We walked around and took some pictures, then came home.

Age Of Aquarium

We wandered along Marine Esplanade, admiring the view – the wine-dark sea and all that – until we happened upon the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Naturally, we went in to take a look.

Unlike many aquaria, they don’t just stick to water creatures – they try to cram in as much as possible! There was an exhibition of New Zealand’s dinosaurs. It was previously thought that there was no possibility of finding dinosaur fossils in New Zealand as all the rocks are too new – yet recently there have been some finds. This was crowbarred into the aquarium on the basis that some of these were plesiosaurs, elasmosaurs and other aquatic types.

New Zealand does not have a vast array of wildlife, so whenever they have an opportunity to show them off, they do so; there is a tuatara and a kiwi enclosure – so we finally got to see both of these. The tuataras were just sitting around doing nothing, which is their main activity, but the kiwis in their darkened kiwi house were very active, moving about and looking for food, as well as interacting with each other in ways definitely not suitable for a family audience. There are photography restrictions throughout the aquarium, and especially inside the kiwi house, so no pictures.

Oh, and they had some fish…various tanks of different marine habitats containing all kinds of fish that live in rivers or in the sea around New Zealand, and including a perspex tunnel so that you could walk through the tank containing the sharks and rays.

The chap in the gift shop told us that it was feeding time for the sharks at 2pm, but we decided we didn’t want to hang around for an extra half hour, and that it was, in fact, feeding time for us too, as we’d had a hard day’s walking around and were feeling decidedly peckish. We walked back into the main centre of Napier and found ourselves a bistro for lunch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Art Deco City

In the morning, we again drove down into town, parked up, and went for breakfast at Café Divine, where Nicola immediately ran in to one of her colleagues from the Wellington City Chorus. When I could drag her away we ordered cooked breakfasts, then headed along the road to the i-site to book ourselves on a guided walk around Napier at 10am.

Before the walk could begin, we had a look around the Napier Easter vintage car show. A whole bunch of cars (and the occasional truck) were parked in the Colonnade, so we took some pictures of them.

Ant Hill Mob Car

We set out on the walk, and our guide explained about how and why Napier is the Art Deco capital of the world. For the long version, read this, but the short version is that, after the earthquake in 1931, the city’s planners, along with the New Zealand government, decided to rebuild using the styles that had become fashionable since the mid-20s – what we now characterise as Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Stripped Classical, the Arts & Crafts style, and Spanish Mission style architecture…although at the time this was all lumped together under the banner “Modernist”. In only two years, the city centre was rebuilt. Also, several buildings which had been recently built at the time of the earthquake survived, and these are also part of the history of the town. Of the 164 buildings erected between 1920 and 1940, 140 are still there today.

Amongst the significant developments of the Art Deco style is the former Bank Of New Zealand building, now occupied by ASB. This is one of the few buildings to incorporate Maori designs into the decoration.

Maori fern and wave designs on the BNZ building

Other buildings show the continuing connection to the UK in New Zealand, such as this one that incorporates Liberty’s of London into its stained glass.

Whilst many of the original buildings still stand, a lot of the shop fronts and glass have been replaced. Fortunately some remain, such as this one, the Crown Of Thorns design:

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a strong influence on the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements; his trademark rose motif is found in many stained glass works, like this now sadly defunct music shop:

After the tour we watched a short film about the earthquake and subsequent rebuilding, then went out again to look at the the city with our new-found knowledge. In amongst the ordinary shops of the city, there are a fair few antique shops that specialise in 1930s artefacts and clothing. We wandered into a couple and found out that, amongst other things, those 1920s-style beaded dresses weigh a ton! They’re full of hand-stitched glass beads, and they hadn’t figured out how to make lightweight ones.

After a spot of lunch we then headed back towards Bay View (where we're staying) check out a vineyard there. More on that later.


For our Easter holiday, we decided to visit Napier. “Napier’s lovely” they said. “It’s full of Art deco buildings”. So we popped down to our friendly neighbourhood car rental shop and got ourselves a RAV4.

There are two ways to get to Napier: go round the Rimutakas on State Highway 1, or go over the Rimutakas on State Highway 2. I was advised to take the latter route as SH1 would be packed with people going off to the West coast for their holiday break. Whilst I find the concept of Bank Holiday traffic jams in NZ somewhat laughable – I don’t think they have the concept of 20-mile tailbacks on the M4 – we nevertheless took their advice and went over the mountains – similar to the route we took out to Castlepoint and Martinborough. It’s about twice the distance at 325 km from Wellington, and what with stops for lunch and coffee, it took us over 5 hours to get there.

We arrived in Napier in the late afternoon and, after checking in to our accommodation, immediately set off into the centre of town to look around in the remaining sunlight. “It’s quiet, Sarge”, I remarked. “Yeah…too quiet. It’s a trap!” Well, it wasn’t, but all the shops were shut for Good Friday. They take their religious observance seriously here…at least, the law forces retailers to do so. We had a quick look around and took some pictures of the Art Deco buildings.

We found somewhere for dinner at Estuarys Restaurant, and then headed back to our hut for an early night.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Culture Vulture

On Wednesday night we headed to the Downstage Theatre for our first taste of New Zealand’s Thespian arts…viz, their production of The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again. (Watch this, it's a Youtube thingy.) This is a spoof James Bond (durr!) done with a particularly NZ flavour, and included such memorable characters as Gerald Bloke, and Spare Person. It was lighthearted and quite funny, with a few LOL moments and some jokes that clearly referred to Kiwiana that went right over our heads (who *was* that suited man?)

Afterwards we went for dinner at Hippopotamus, the restaurant inside the Museum Hotel, and one of Wellington’s finer fine dining restaurants. It contains some frankly odd décor – can’t make up its mind whether to be olde worlde or modern – but the food was good, nay, excellent. As usual I have some gripes about the service – something that NZ just doesn’t seem to get right, for reasons unknown.

We have joined an organisation called the Scientologists…nah, just kidding! We’ve joined an organisation called the Entertainment Book, which gives discounts on restaurants from fine dining to takeaways, as well as entertainment, activities, days out, hotels, car hire, all that kind of thing. This was done through Nicola’s choir, and we used it to good effect at Hippopotamus, almost recouping the cost of joining in one fell swoop! One more dinner and we’ll be in profit, and from then on the world is the seafood mollusc or arthropod of our choice. We shall continue our exploration of the Wellington dining scene, and report back here. Hopefully I’ll find somewhere that measures up to my exacting standards (other than Matterhorn, which has so far been faultless).