Monday, October 26, 2015


It's long weekend time again - Labour Day - so we decided to take a mini-break to Nelson. We visited Nelson 3 years ago and figured it was about time we went back. Last time we did (some of) the Abel Tasman track, so decided to go in the other direction this time.

We flew out on Sounds Air on Saturday morning, picked up our rental car and drove out to have a look at Havelock, a small town between Nelson and Blenheim. We stopped along the way at Pelorus Bridge - site of a famous barrel scene in The Hobbit:

Looks awful
We drove on to Havelock and stayed there for lunch at the Slip Inn... a pub by the slipway (do you see what they did there?) into the lake, where all the boats are.

Then we headed back to Nelson and checked in to our motel. This turned out to be the same place as we stayed in last time...chosen not at random, exactly, but by careful evaluation of the place. The owner told us that it was cheaper to book with him direct, so I didn't let on that I was actually using points to pay for the room!

We went out for cocktails at Harrys, (they don't believe in apostrophes) followed by dinner in Hopgood's. I rang the changes with the twice-baked cheese soufflé to start, then headed for tradition with the beef fillet. Nicola had the cured salmon, and the vegetable cannelloni.

A word about twice-baked cheese soufflé: it’s an easy thing to get wrong, and I am used to the master, Jacob Brown, doing his version at The Larder. In this case, the actual cheese soufflé was pretty good; but there was so much else going on on the plate (apple, beetroot, walnuts, vinaigrette, salad) that it detracted from the dish. Less is more, man, less is more. 

The next day, we drove out to the wine districts of Nelson. After some toing and froing due to some of the cellar doors opening at ten and others at eleven, we eventually tasted wines at Kahurangi Estate, Neudorf (which is pronounced "Newdorf" in New Zealand) and Seifried (pronounced "Sighfreed"). 

Now, Nelson is noted for its aromatic wines - think riesling and gewurtztraminer, as well as good chardonnays and also some sauvignon blancs. I left the sauvignons alone, and concentrated on riesling and chardonnay. At Kahurangi, we tasted a pretty outstanding riesling...but on trying to buy some of it, we were regrettably informed that they had actually sold out. "Oh well", said the cellar door manager, "no point offering the rest of the bottle here for tasting. Would you like it?" So we ended up with a free bottle of rather good riesling as well as our purchases! As we all know, the best wine in the world is free wine, just as we know what the fastest car in the world is (answer below). 

Neudorf is a small vineyard with a great reputation. We tasted some of their wines and were duly impressed. At this point, the question of weight came up...everything we bought would have to be carried back on the plane, so we had to somewhat curtail our buying to two bottles, as we still wanted to get to Seifried.

Neudorf vineyard. What a hellhole.

At Seifried, we got hold of some of their trademark Sweet Agnes dessert wine, which I had sampled at Hopgood's the previous night. It really is a top drop. They also make wines from some unlikely grape varietals, some uniquely so in New Zealand...with mixed results, in my opinion. Interesting to taste, but I'm not buying any. Their chardonnay, however, is award-winning and rightly so, and I availed myself of some. I've stuck it in the cupboard under the stairs and will look it up again in about 3 years' time. 

After a hard morning's wine tasting (don't worry, I spat it all), we drove down to Nelson Lakes national park for some lunch, a walk, and general exploration. As we came out of our lunch venue (one of two available in the small town of St. Arnaud, which is on Lake Rotoiti) we bumped into one of my fellow students from EIT, Eva, who I'd met when I did my wine tasting week in September. New Zealand is a small place!   

We went for a walk around the lake, which was very picture-skew:

We took a different route back, via a shortcut which I'd previously spurned as being "not a state highway" (such roads can turn out to be gravel tracks without any warning) but turned out to be a paved road and probably knocked half an hour off our journey home.

In the evening we had a bad Indian (all the good restaurants in Nelson are closed on a Sunday), followed by the rest of that good bottle of riesling from Kahurangi.

The fastest car in the world is, of course, a rental car. Thank you, Jeremy Clarkson.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


It’s Thursday, so it must be opera night. I know, we’ve been gadding about town like mad over the last few weeks – concerts here, plays there, dinner at the other…it just happens that there’s a lot of things on at the moment that we want to go and see, and this being Wellington, they only have short runs. It’s just the way it is.

 Tonight, we dined at old fave Zibibbo – sharing a charcuterie platter then having fish of the day (kingfish – me) and a cured salmon with salad (Nicola). As usual, excellent quality nosh. Then we crossed the street to St James Theatre to watch Tosca.

Nicola had briefly explained the plot to me as we drove in to work that morning, with songs from the opera playing from her phone. Unfortunately the phone was in shuffle mode, so I got a very disjointed version of what was going on.

The setting of the opera has been updated to Second World Italy. Also, I am reliably informed that Scarpia is played by a much younger singer than is usually the case. Other than that, they did the usual singy thing that they do in operas, and I was able to follow the plot with the help of the surtitles. 

Er, that's about it. I'm not going to explain the plot of an opera - follow the link

Friday, October 16, 2015

Neil Finn - Solo With Strings

It’s Tuesday, so it must be gig night. Normally we’d be out dancing on a Tuesday, but Neil Finn is in town, and he failed to consult us on our schedule before going  ahead and booking the Opera House for his Solo With Strings concert.

Dinner first, and we took ourselves to Muse On Allen, which is one of the new batch of fine dining restaurants in Wellington. I say “new” but it’s been around for a couple of years now. We’ve been there a few times before and it never fails to be excellent.

We walked up Courtenay Place to the Opera House, collected our tickets and took our place in the circle.

The support act was Liam Finn, who played 7 songs from his solo repertoire. Liam favours use of a loop effects pedal to provide a more layered sound to his guitar playing. It’s also a rockier style of guitar than his dad plays. (Yes, you guessed the connection!)

After a short interval, Neil Finn arrived on stage by himself, and played a number of songs on guitar and at the piano. He was then joined on stage by the rest of his band – Liam again, his wife Sharon on bass, and drummer; together with 12 strings from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, who had hot-footed over from playing Tosca at St James theatre to perform here. Hard-working or what?

The set list was quite different to the last time we saw Neil Finn play. The list had been chosen clearly to allow the NZSO to perform, so the songs weren’t the usual mix of greatest hits and standards – instead he has raided the back catalogue, and in particular Finn Brothers songs, so there was quite a lot of material in the set with which I wasn’t familiar. There were also quite a few from the latest album, Dizzy Heights. Some classic Crowded House songs were included – Fall At Your Feet and Distant Sun in the “solo” set, and Don’t Dream It’s Over with the NZSO. Split Enz also featured – One Step Ahead and the final song of the four-song encore, I Got You.

This was a very different experience to last year’s (has it really been a year? It seems so), and it has inspired me to go out and get The Finn Brothers album to add to my Finn playlist. I think Neil Finn is fast approaching “National Treasure” status in New Zealand.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Bookbinder

The Bookbinder is a one-man play currently being performed by its creator, Ralph McCubbin Howell. He, along with Hannah Smith, form Trick Of The Light Theatre. It's been on at Circa Theatre for a couple of weeks, having been performed around New Zealand and also at the Edinburgh Festival.

We went along on a Thursday night, having first dined on Cuba Street at Plum Café, where we had a quick pre-theatre dinner. Perusing the drinks list, I saw that they sell a beer called Emerson's Bookbinder, which seemed the natural choice for such a performance.

It's a short show with no interval. The narrator, a bookbinder, tells the story of a young man arriving in the big city, and taking a job as apprentice to a bookbinder. He takes on a job and promises to have it ready the following day, but has underestimated the amount of time and inevitably, he cuts corners on the work which resulted in a page falling out. This then has disastrous consequences, which he has to face and conquer, in order to undo the damage his shoddy work has caused. He manages this, but breaks his leg in the process. He survives, a wiser and more careful man.

At the end of the show, the bookbinder limps off the stage. It's him! It's his own story! Shock!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hippos And Squirrels

We went along to Hippopotamus, the French restaurant in the Museum Hotel in Wellington. Hippopotamus is definitely up there in the fine dining category, serving a modern French style of food. We started with cocktails, then had starters of Bavarois of feta and salmon sashimi – both beautifully presented, with a lot going on in the dish and very tasty. Mains were fish of the day – seared tuna – and duck breast with confit duck leg. Nicola went for the mixed desserts to finish whilst I had the crème brûlée.

It was a blustery night outside – typical Wellington spring weather – as we crossed the road to Circa Theatre to see The Travelling Squirrel, a play by Robert Lord written in 1987. For those of you who don't know the plot...spoiler alert!

The play revolves around a writer, Bart, and his wife, Jane; the story of the travelling squirrel, Roger,  unfolds as an allegory of their relationship. At the beginning, Bart is  a struggling writer trying to get his  "serious" book published. His wife, a daytime soap actress with aspirations to serious acting, has a far more successful career in monetary terms. She is always sucking up to a tabloid gossip columnist who can make or break anyone's career. At one of the columnists parties, she meets a publisher, Terry, and she arranges a meeting for Bart. However, Terry doesn't like his novel, and they part on bad terms. Meanwhile, the story of the travelling squirrel is being told in asides by Bart, and eventually, through convoluted mechanisms, Terry gets to hear about it.

Terry flips over the travelling squirrel, and all is made ready for the publication of the book. there's a press launch, a party, and general media hype about it. Suddenly Bart is flavour of the month, whilst Jane's career is in the doldrums: her character is in a coma, and it looks like her contract won't be renewed for the next season. Bart is still narrating the story of the travelling squirrel in asides, and it reflects his new-found fame. But as in life, all is not well for the travelling squirrel either.

The book is a flop. This has wider repercussions for Bart and Jane, and they split. Jane is fired from the soap opera, and takes a role as The Duchess of Malfi. The story of the travelling squirrel continues, as both Roger and Bart reflect on the ephemeral nature of fame, money, and relationships in a very allegorical kind of allegory. What's another word for allegory? Anyway, at the end of it all they are older, wiser, and poorer. Having sold out, what have they gained?

Golly, it sounds terrible described like that. It is, in fact, very funny, with additional comedic moments provided by the ravishing Daryl, and the rapacious Sarah. We thoroughly enjoyed it