Friday, December 30, 2016

Glass Bottom Boat

An early flight got us to Auckland by 7:45am. We stopped off for a quick breakfast in the airport before picking up our hire car, and driving the drive to Whitianga. It doesn’t look far on the map. However the road is twisty and turny, and so it took about 2 ½ hours to complete the trip. We found a car park in the centre of town and stopped for a coffee and tea at The French Fig café, before searching out our accommodations at Marina Park Apartments. We settled ourselves in there, then went out to explore the town. Nicola stopped off at the leaflet emporium to begin with, so we could plan our time here.

The first order of the day was to get some lunch, and for that we went to the Harbour House Café, which, unsurprisingly, is just on the harbour. The rest of the day was spent exploring the waterfront and retail opportunities of Whitianga, as well as a quick trip to New World to stock up on breakfast supplies. Whilst looking around the town we found a place to book the Glass Bottom Boat tour, so we enquired about availability and eventually booked ourselves in for the following morning at 9:00am.

We got down to the jetty in plenty of time, and waited for our fellow passengers to arrive. We chatted to the captain, Fraser, who was doing a degree in tourism at Massey University in Wellington, and our crew, Emily, also a student at Otago University in Dunedin.

Once everyone had turned up, Fraser gave us the safety briefing, then took us out of the harbour and along the coast, stopping off at various caves and rock formations along the way. He and Emily gave us a bit of history of the area, especially the arrival of Captain Cook and why the bay is called Mercury Bay (not Freddie, apparently). It was whilst here observing the transit of Mercury that Cook was able to establish his latitude and longitude with a fair degree of accuracy. I’m not saying he was lost exactly, but it’s always nice to have your position confirmed. We went to Cathedral Cove, the most obvious draw on the Hahei Beach coastline, as well as Champagne Bay, and the blowhole – where the roof of a cave had fallen in, thus exposing the sea cave to the top of the cliffs. In stormy weather, waves come into the cave and erupt like a whale’s spout onto the land. Today, however, Fraser told us that the biggest waves we were likely to see would be the wakes of other boats.

Along the way we spotted a lot of sea birds, including black-backed gulls, some of which were feeding their chicks on the rocks; the inevitable shags; some herons, nesting in a tree on a cliff face; terns, shearwaters, and a gannet; and even an Australasian harrier, circling on the thermals rising over the beach.

We then entered the marine reserve area of the coast. The fish density is much higher in there as all forms of fishing and collecting is prohibited. Canny fishermen set up just outside the reserve area as the fish, being fish, can’t quite see where a line is drawn on a map (but they seem to know). Over the years, populations have increased to the extent that they are now also growing outside the reserve, in spite of the fishing. Fraser and Emily removed the cover on the glass bottom of the boat. The first shallow area we stopped at was full of snapper and not much else, as snapper are quite aggressive (do they snap?) and so other fish tend to keep away. The area was also rich in sea urchins, or kina, which is one of the main food items of the snapper.

Next stop was at an area with more fish variety, including blue mau mau, leatherheads, red miko, and triplefins. At this point the offer was made to go snorkelling, but the weather conditions on the day weren’t quite conducive enough to convince us to get in the water. Maybe if it had been a bit warmer!

We also stopped at the Orua sea cave, which is large enough to take the boat into. Emily pointed out the different rock formations on each side of the cave, as it is on a fault-line – the same fault-line that causes the hot water at Hot Water Beach to be, er, hot. The cave water is very blue, and also full of fish – the same species as we saw before.

As we exited the cave, Emily spotted a little blue penguin, a rare native of New Zealand and the world’s smallest penguin.

We made our way back at full speed past all the rocks, caves and beaches we’d seen on the way out. No stopping this time, as we were running to schedule. The whole trip takes two hours, but it’s full of different sights, geological and biological. We arrived back on shore, and Fraser left us with the inevitable plea to review on Tripadvisor (we did) before heading inland to Espy café for a coffee and a cake.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Hudson And Halls Live!

Hudson and Halls were a New Zealand institution. Between 1976 and 1986 they appeared together as a double act on New Zealand television, hosting a cooking show like no other at the time. With camp comedy and slapstick, they squabbled and ad-libbed their way through the show.

Before we got here, of course, there was the obligatory dinner. I'd tried to book first at Fratelli, then at Hippopotamus, but both were fully booked; presumably with it being Christmas and all. So we were reduced to booking at the staff canteen, also known as Logan Brown.

 In 2015, Silo Theatre in Auckland commissioned a play, Hudson And Halls Live!, based on an episode of their television show. It follows the production of a Christmas special show, and included the stage manager and director. The show is being performed and aired live, and is a complete and utter shambles behind the scenes, but somehow they manage to hold it together on camera, as manic changes and improvisations are made during the ad breaks, including a late stand-in for their surprise guest no-show.

The whole thing gets pulled together at the last second, and the table set for Christmas dinner. It’s a rollicking good ride and had us in stitches.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Moving And Shaking

We had an earthquake. You’ve maybe read about it in the news. It was on 14th November, a little after midnight. 

Once the excitement of an earthquake is over, however, there is a considerable aftermath that doesn’t get reported – not in the international press, at any rate. You might find a story about some cows stranded on a piece of land, but that’s about it. So here’s an update on what has happened for my international readers.

Firstly, an earthquake is not “an” earthquake. It is one large quake followed by a number of aftershocks. These vary in intensity and location. Since the first quake there have now been over 5,000 aftershocks. Yesterday we had a big one, 5.5M, which gave a definite bump. I reported it on Geonet, which collates reports of felt earthquakes, and is the source of all the reporting for earthquake data.

Secondly, this was a BIG quake. The fact that it struck on the middle of the night in a sparsely populated region is probably one of the main reasons why there were very few fatalities. The second reason is that New Zealand houses are generally of wooden construction, which makes them far less likely to fall down in a quake. In fact, the buildings destroyed were either of older, brick construction, or hit by falling chimneys (of brick construction) from neighbouring houses. However, this chart shows that the energy released by this earthquake is greater than the sum of all energy released by ALL other earthquakes in the last six years. That includes the two that hit Christchurch in 2011. It is the largest recorded in New Zealand since the 2009 Dusky Sound quake.

Wellington is the nearest city to the earthquake, and the effects were felt here, even though we’re 200 km from the epicentre. After an event like this, buildings are checked to see if they’re in imminent danger of collapsing. One building, on Molesworth Street, was cordoned off at this stage, and several others were also closed. An aftershock did further damage to the Molesworth St building, and at this point it was “red-stickered” – condemned for demolition. After making their initial checks, engineers did more detailed work on buildings that had suffered damage, and over the last three weeks more buildings have been red-stickered. Other buildings need substantial remedial work before they can be reopened, but do not need to be torn down.

61 Molesworth Street being demolished
There has been considerable comment in the press about damage to newer buildings, which appear to have fared worse than some older buildings. Two in particular, the BNZ building on the quay (which was closed for several months after the 2013 quake), and the Asteron Centre on Featherston Street. Both of these buildings are designed to be quake-resistant – what we’re learning from this is that the design is not quake-PROOF: the idea is that the building will take the damage whilst preserving the lives of those inside. Buildings can be replaced. The current map of buildings that are closed or due to be demolished now stands at 25, although only five of those are to be demolished.

On the South Island, closer to the epicentre, there has been considerable damage to roads and rail. The coastal SH1 route to Kaikoura has been blocked by landslides in several places, and there is still some debate about whether that route will be re-opened, or whether a new overland route will be made to get to Kaikoura. The town itself, whilst not too badly damaged, is highly dependent on tourism for its survival, so with no road in at the moment many are facing loss of their livelihoods.

In the nearby Marlborough wine region, there has been some damage to vineyards, and around 2% of wine stored at vineyards has been lost. This is not significant in overall terms, although obviously some vineyards have been badly affected. Storage for the coming harvest should be replaced in time.

Geonet have made some predictions about likely probabilities of aftershock intensity and frequency, and so far we have been at the low end of those forecasts. It’s fair to say we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still a possibility of a large quake (6.0 or higher) over the coming weeks.

Closer to home, we’ve suffered some damage from both the original quake and the one yesterday. During the original quake, my toothbrush fell from its upright position, into the bathroom sink. And from yesterday, my shower sponge fell from its shelf onto the floor of the shower. Obviously we’ve lodged claims with EQC to cover these and we’re waiting to hear the outcome.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Don Juan

A few months ago we went to see a production of Jekyll & Hyde by A Slightly Isolated Dog. It was a fun evening, and when they alerted me to the fact that they would be performing their version of Don Juan, we jumped at the chance.

The cast had changed slightly from last time, although key members Andrew Paterson, Jack Buchanan and Susie Berry were still there. Also still there was the audience participation, and the cod French accents. These seem to be hallmarks of their productions.

This is a roving production, and has been performed in S&M Bar on Cuba Street, Bodega, and our venue for the night, Old St Paul’s church in Thorndon. Before the show got underway properly, the cast circulated amongst the audience, asking how we met and also distributing various favours – scarves, crowns, tiara etc – for us to wear during the show. They were doubtless also sounding out who would make a good participant later on in the proceedings, as no-one is safe from their depradations.

The show kicked off and we were introduced to Don Juan. He is played by all of the cast at various stages – signified by a baseball cap with sunglasses attached, and carrying a portable speaker through which he speaks. In a deplorable French accent. Don Juan’s adventures, as you may know, largely consist of seducing inappropriate people, and then abandoning them – in one case, a nun, who he marries before departing in a hurry. Unfortunately, the nun has some brothers who look on this behaviour as somewhat lacking in decorum, and they start to hunt him down to exact their revenge. Don Juan manages to keep one step ahead of the brothers whilst continuing to seduce anyone and everyone he meets along the way.

 The story develops, with various characters being roped in from the audience and being whispered their lines. Some members of the audience seemed to get into the spirit of this more than others, it has to be said! At one point, the whole of the front row were dragooned in to provide a seascape special effect, again with mixed results. There was also a memorable moment when underwear was ripped from an unsuspecting seductee and distributed liberally about the audience.

As we have learned to expect from A Slightly Isolated Dog, it was all a jolly good romp, and I look forward to their next production.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


On a rainy Thursday night we braved the weather to go and see Lungs at Circa Theatre. But first, inevitably, dinner. There was a voucher on GrabOne for a three-course dinner at Trade Kitchen, which we’ve not been to in a goodly while, so we decided to give it a go. The nosh is pretty good, but we were a little hurried as we had to move the car as well.

Lungs is a two-hander written by Duncan Miller. It deals with the big question of whether it is “right” to bring a baby into the modern world; because the two protagonists, M and W, are “good people” who, amongst other things, switch off the tap while they’re brushing their teeth. There are no props, and the passage of time is marked in some places by simply walking around and having a conversation which clearly takes place over a number of weeks, months, even years on occasion. Much of the discussion about whether to have a baby revolves around global warming, carbon footprints and the like. Whilst the two characters are very right-on, they’re also quite annoying and unlikeable.

The ending of the play speeds up the time line quite considerably, as we follow the final years of M’s life, dealing with loss of memory and communication with her daughter.

It’s a variation on the usual sort of play; the way the characters talk is a bit more realistic that a standard “drama” delivery, often contradicting themselves and reversing their position mid-sentence. It doesn’t mean that you like these characters, though. In the end, that also makes them more like “real” people.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


At 6:00pm on a rainy Monday evening, I made my way to the Soundings Theatre at Te Papa, the museum of New Zealand in Wellington. It’s here that the Department of Internal Affairs holds its monthly citizenship ceremonies, and after qualifying for citizenship in August this year, I have finally been invited to take part in a ceremony, the final stage of obtaining New Zealand citizenship.

The ceremony involves swearing allegiance to the Queen of New Zealand, who is the same person as the Queen of the United Kingdom. In my 50 or so years on the planet so far I’ve not been required to swear allegiance to her before – I guess it’s taken as read if you’re a British citizen. But swear I must, so I did. They offer you a religious or non-religious option (you can leave out “so help me God” at the end). I’d considered taking a religious tome along with me – the gospel of the flying spaghetti monster – but I figured they may not take it in quite the spirit intended, so just took the atheist text.

After everyone had finished, we all sang the national anthem, and then exited. We went for a celebratory dinner at Whitebait restaurant in Oriental Bay, one of Wellington’s top feeding stations.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Margaret River Wine

Apparently, they make wine in and around Margaret River. Sounds like an opportunity for a day out.

We booked a day tour with A Touch Of Glass, a company which, unsurprisingly, offers wine tours. They asked if we had any specific requirements. My only requirement was to visit Leeuwin Estate, about which more later. Other than that, we’re in your hands, I said.

Our driver, Steve, turned up at 10:00 and we set off for the first of our wineries, Howard Park and MadFish Wines. Like all the wineries we were visiting today, this one has been around for quite a while. The Margaret River wine industry got started in the early seventies, and Howard Park has been going since the late eighties. We tasted a variety of wines, concentrating on the regional specialities of SSB/SBS and cabernet sauvignon. SBS or SSB is a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc – the order of the letters being dependent on which grape is dominant in the blend, and is the signature “drink now” wine of Margaret River, and indeed Western Australia. We also tried some of their rosé, which is made from shiraz, and also had two different styles of riesling. They give you a lot to taste at these places! – typically seven or eight different wines were offered at each vineyard that we visited. We also tasted side by side examples of cabernet sauvignon – one from Australia, one from France, made by the same winemaker, to compare and contrast the flavours. The vineyard has a strong connection and association to a French winemaker, and market under the same name, Marchand & Burch.

In the morning we visited two other wineries, Woodland Wines and Woody Nook Winery, where we stopped for lunch. Both wineries gave us tastings of SSB, chardonnay, and various reds including cabernet sauvignon and various blends. We also tasted several examples of shiraz throughout the day, and each winery was insistent on telling us how their shiraz was different to the typical South Australian shiraz with its strong, peppery flavour – it was more subtle, with a white pepper taste rather than the strong black pepper of SA.

Woodland Wines
Woody Nook
The lunch platter at Woody Nook was pretty satisfying, and also allowed me to recover from nasal fatigue that you get when you’ve sniffed too many wines. That set us up for the afternoon, with more of the same being offered at both Cullen Wines and Vasse Felix, the two wineries that were the first to make wine in Margaret River back in the early seventies. Both offered extremely good wines.

We then took another break from wine to visit the olive oil maker Olio Bello, and sample some of their products. They produce a number of single varietal oils, as well as flavoured oils and other olive oil products and related foods.

The next winery we went to was a little unusual. Adinfern Estate create not only the usual array of wines, but also some sweet and fortified wines, which include a sweet red cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend, and a port style wine. It was while I was outside trying to get a picture of a parrot that I was subject to what is a common occurrence in spring in the region – I was “swooped” by a magpie. Fortunately it didn’t actually attack, but it came quite close to my head. This is a behaviour adopted to dissuade people near its nest, and they do so very aggressively.

Our final stop was at Leeuwin Estate. Our driver didn’t like this place as they charge for wine tasting, and don’t refund the charge if you buy some wine (maybe they do if you buy a crate, but not for a single bottle). We did, however, taste some very good wines here, including some side by side from different years for comparison – a 2008 riesling with a 2015 vintage, for example, gave a clear demonstration of how it will age over time. Unlike Mornington wines, which vary significantly depending on the weather for each vintage, they expect their wines to be very similar year after year. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that any given year’s wine will taste similar after x year’s cellaring.

We only bought a couple of bottles for immediate consumption, as we’re not planning on taking any of it back to New Zealand. Whilst tasting the cabernet sauvignons, the youth of the wines was very apparent with a mouth-puckering tannin being the dominant sensation – these wines will need several years in the cellar before they will express their full fruit flavour.

Seven vineyards is a pretty full day’s tasting, and my taste buds were feeling a bit worn out by the end of it. I’d spat nearly all the wine I’d tasted, apart from the really expensive ones where I felt it would be a shame to do so, so was able to enjoy a nice glass of chardonnay from Leeuwin at the end of the day.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Going Underground

We departed Perth on Monday morning and drove down to Margaret River. It’s a fair hop – around 250 km – but the roads were fairly clear and we made good time to Bunbury, where I’d originally planned to stop off, so we pushed through and made it to Margaret River in time for a spot of lunch at the Settlers pub, before checking into our accommodation and doing a bit of shopping for essentials. We then walked up the road in the evening to Katch Up, a local seafood restaurant, where I had marron and Nicola had a snapper.

Our first full day in Margaret River, and we’re off on a tour of indoor activities as the weather forecast is for dry, yet still quite cool temperatures. Unlike the heat of Perth, where we spent the weekend, it’s several degrees cooler down here – to the extent that I was back into long trousers. we headed out immediately after breakfast to get down to the most south-westerly tip of Australia, Cape Leeuwin, home to Australia’s tallest mainland lighthouse. We climbed the 276 stairs to the top as our guide explained about the construction, manning, and operation of the lighthouse, before it was automated in the 1980s. We looked out for whales but didn’t see any, but did see a hawk out looking for its lunch.

After a quick beverage we drove up to Jewel Cave, one of the four main tourist caves in the region. Jewel cave is known for having the longest straw, a type of stalactite, in Australia, and the second-longest in the world. There’s also all kinds of other stalactite and stalagmite formations, naturally enough. We walked down some stairs to get through the cave complex, some parts of which we had to duck under or around but no particularly tight bits, so we were OK just in street clothes and didn’t need to get hard-hatted and boilersuited, or anything like that. Our guide explained all about the various types of formation and the conditions which led to their particular shapes.

We took in a quick lunch at Café Boranup before checking into the second excursion, Lake Cave. This is entered through a doline, which is a collapsed cave, so we had to descend several hundred stairs just to get to the beginning of the cave system. Lake Cave, as its name suggests, is a wet cave system (Jewel Cave is dry), and once you get down to the water all the walkways are on the same level, natch. It’s not as big a cave system as the Jewel, but there are some spectacular formations there. They also change the lighting effects and switch off the lights completely at one point so you can see what real darkness is – you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face.

This formation is the star of the show - it's two columns (stalactites and stalagmites that have joined together) formed on a base of sandstone, which has since been eroded away by the water. The former floor of the cave now sits above the water level - that's its reflection you can see immediately below it.

We’d caught the last tour of the day there at 3:30pm so decided to call it a day there, and drove back to Margaret River. We parked up and explored the town centre a bit more so that we could decide on dinner locations for the rest of our week here. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Press Club

Nicola and I had arrived in Melbourne at mid-afternoon, after a leisurely drive up from Mornington, taking in the Moonlit Sanctuary on the way. It’s more of a zoo really, with Australian wildlife in enclosures including koalas, kangaroos and wallabies which roam freely, wombats, dingoes, a Tasmanian devil, and an emu. There are also various birds in enclosures, some of which you can enter to get a closer look; and “experiences” which you can pay for, such as walking the dingoes, having a python wrap itself around you, and cuddling a koala. We decided to do the cute koala thing, but also met one of the snakes, Charlie (they also have one called Noodles and one, inevitably, named Monty), who had beautiful coloration.

We stopped for lunch at Frankston, which is a bit of a “…meh” place, and then drove up to the big city. This entailed navigating our way to the correct carpark for our apartment hotel, which we managed on the third go. We then had a bit of time to ourselves to explore and walk down to the river, and on the way locate the restaurant for the evening. We also discovered the Little Press Club, now renamed Gazi Restaurant, which is the casual dining sister of the Press Club. We formulated a cunning plan to go back there later for a cocktail before dinner, a plan which was executed with ruthless efficiency.

We arrived at the restaurant at 6:00pm, as we were in for an early sitting of their dégustation menu. Jason, Elissa and Nellie showed up shortly afterwards, and we got stuck in.

The wait staff explained the menu and brought wine matches for each course as we went through the individual plates. Unfortunately I neglected to take a pic of the menu, so you’ll just have to take a look and see what my somewhat fuzzy recollection of the descriptions were:

Hors d'oeuvres, including carrot crisps

Crab raviolo with bisque

Octopus tentacle! Yum!

Baked onion

Trout with fennel

Porterhouse steak

"Pre-dessert" - lemon curd, honey ice cream, yoghurt foam and fennel pollen 

Table decoration with dessert to give a whiff of pine

Chocolate and, er, stuff 

Petits fours

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wine Country

Mornington peninsula is known for its boutique wineries. I called around the wine tour companies listed on the visit Mornington website. The first had either gone out of business, or put the wrong phone number up. The second one rang, but didn’t answer. I left a message. He called back to tell me he only operated at weekends “because he worked during the week”.

I finally managed to find an operator who could take us out to the wineries. His name was Paul, and his company Amour Of The Grape would take us on a tour, including lunch. Woohoo!

Paul picked us up at 10:25, and we then drove to Rye to collect another couple – French Canadians Simon and Annick, currently working in Melbourne. That constituted the whole of our tour party, and we set off to the first winery, The Cups Estate. This is right next door to the Peninsula Hot Springs that we visited yesterday. We tasted pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz. The area is now mostly known for pinot noir and chardonnay, although all the vineyards we visited were all offering at least one wine that the others weren’t doing. At Cups this was the sparkling shiraz, and moscato.

Next stop was a bit of a drive to Montalto, the largest single estate on the peninsula. We tasted similar wines there. They also have an olive grove and produce oils – both EV and flavoured.

Third up was Tuck’s Ridge, where we were entertained by Ash, their cellar door manager and assistant winemaker. He is a minefield of information, and talked long and hard about the wines, while also being sidetracked onto pretty well any subject under the sun. Here we tasted an award-winning pinot noir as well as pinot gris, chardonnay and shiraz. We stopped here for lunch, which was a confit duck with kale and mashed potato, and either a starter or dessert, and a glass of wine. I had the shiraz.

After lunch, we went to an unusual tasting room at Polperro. Named after the Cornwall town, their tasting room is a small library-like room lined with wine bottles. In here we tasted the usual suspects, and chatted to the cellar door manager, who was a Peninsula girl going back several generations – she explained how her great-great-grandfather had built some of the buildings we were looking at in the national park yesterday.

Final stop was at what is now the largest vineyard in Mornington, Port Philip Estate. They’ve built a new cellar door, venue, restaurant and apartment complex, which makes a slight difference to the shed where I’d tasted wine last time I was here – 1998 I think. I asked if they remembered me but, no, they didn’t. As we were looking out over the vineyard a movement caught my eye – it was a wedge-tailed eagle, apparently a resident of the area.

We tasted a good variety of wines, including some very good pinot noir. Leoni the manager asked how it compared to New Zealand pinots which put me on the spot somewhat! I Said that I’d need to taste them side by side to compare…phew! Got out of that one!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Arthur’s Seat, the highest point on the peninsula. They’re building a new gondola there to replace the ageing chair lift that’s been there for donkey’s years.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mornington Crescent

OK, maybe that’s overstating the case somewhat. Whatever, we were up before dawn to get aboard our 6:05am flight to Melbourne. I managed to catch some zeds on the way over, so wasn’t too frazzled by the time we got our bags and picked up our hire car.

The next adventure was to find our way out of Melbourne and down south to Mornington Peninsula. The traffic! My god! So much traffic! This was after 9:00am, so presumably everyone who drives to work is comfortably ensconced at their desks by now…who are all these people? Anyway, at least it seemed to be moving, and we muddled and kept heading hopefully in what we thought was the right direction, following signs to SE Suburbs as that was generally the direction we wanted to be travelling in. We eventually picked up signs to Frankston, and we were on our way.

Our hotel is in Mornington, and we spent the first day exploring the town, beach and waterfront walkway. We got some lunch at Dr. Fox, and in the evening we headed out to a wine bar we’d spotted earlier in the day, Brass Razu. There we had some local wine and a decent-sized grazing platter with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. Still a bit knackered, we headed back for an early night.

Next day the weather wasn’t brilliant, but we’d already made plans to go down to the end of the peninsula, Point Nepean National Park. We set out on the coast road, stopping for some coffee in the town of Rosebud. Rosebud sounds like it ought to be a picturesque spot, but it doesn’t live up to its billing. We continued down through to the national park, driving until we could drive no further, then continuing on foot. As we approached Cheviot Hill it started to drizzle. We saw a couple of echidnas by the side of the road (one I named Ecky, and the other Kiddy), but most of the bird life appeared to be in hiding. There were the inevitable crows, magpies and hippity-hoppity birds (mynahs to you) but nothing more exotic around. As the drizzle was turning into fully-fledged rain we turned around before reaching the tip of the peninsula, and returned to the car. I’m sure it’s lovely on a nice day, but we weren’t going to see any further than we had at Cheviot Hill.

We drove back to Sorrento and stopped there at the Continental Hotel for some lunch. Then we drove to our planned afternoon activity – the baths at Peninsula Hot Springs. These are heated geothermally as they sit on the Nepean Fault – a rare example of geological activity in Australia. There are various pools and other water-related activities there – sauna, Turkish baths, cold plunges – and we took a tour around a lot of these.

In the evening, we went out to the restaurant down on the pier, The Rocks – a seafood restaurant that prides itself on sustainability. I had the prawns, from the barbecue. Yes, really. I managed to order with a straight face. Nicola had the baby snapper cooked in oriental spices. Both dishes were fairly substantial so we skipped dessert and had a quick coffee before coming back to the hotel.

Larks In Transit

Bill Bailey

The troll is back in town. Yes, Bill Bailey has returned to New Zealand, kicking off his Larks In Transit tour here (OK, in the South Island to begin with), then Australia and then, presumably, the world. 

We’d arranged with Gavin and Tor to go out to dinner at Hede first. We arrived there and had possibly the worst dining experience I’ve had in Wellington since we moved here. For details, read this. You might note the other reviews as well.

We got out of the restaurant, and walked across the road to the Michael Fowler centre to take our seats. We’d booked somewhat late (unusual for me) as we weren’t sure what dates we’d be going to Australia for our holidays, so didn’t know if we were going to make it or not. I do wish these comedians and rock stars would consult me first before going ahead and announcing their dates! Sometimes it’s so inconvenient! Anyway, we decided to delay our flights for a couple of days so we could fit Bill in. 

The format of a Bill Bailey show is pretty standard by now. He does some funny stuff, he does some musical interludes, he does some audience participation. He started off his show with a 20-minute rant about Brexit. To be fair, he did warn us pretty much straight away when he arrived on stage that that was his plan for the next 20 minutes. After that though he got off the politics and more into the stage show, which involved some new songs and poetry he’d written. He also asserted that any song would sound better when performed in the death metal style. He demonstrated this with a few choice songs supplied to him at random by audience members. Now, I know that people often think that the people shouting these out from the audience are “plants” to provide him with pre-arranged songs. But I can vouch for the fact that they aren’t, as I shouted out one song title, and he played it…so now I, and a whole bunch of other Wellingtonians, know what the death metal version of Dancing Queen sounds like. He also did Bohemian Rhapsody and Lady In Red, but steadfastly refused to do Justin Bieber.

I’ll look out for the DVD when it comes out and we’ll see what songs were picked by the audience members on it. I’ll also look out for his next tour in New Zealand as he’s always entertaining.

Next day, we were up with the lark to fly to Australia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Nicola’s niece, Eli, is visiting New Zealand on a working visa at the moment. She’s currently staying in Auckland but has been visiting us in Wellington over the weekend. We decided to show her the main points of Wellington, and this involved, on Saturday evening, a trip to top Wellington restaurant and handily placed local establishment, The Larder.

The Larder are putting on a Sicilian menu at the moment, and we’d booked ourselves in to try it some weeks ago. A quick phone call upped the table to 3 people, and we were in. We arrived at 7:00pm to be greeted by Sarah, who has just won the Cuisine Restaurant Personality of the Year award, and the rest of the staff, who know us on sight by now.

OK, straight in to the food. First course was a chickpea and fennel soup. The broth was clear and enticing, with whole chickpeas in it. Served with a catarratto inzolia – a typical Sicilian dry white wine.

 Next was arancini with braised beef cheek and caponata – a spicy, tomatoey mix with olives and eggplant. This was served with a red Nero d’Avola Syrah blend.

Third course was the fish course, and, almost inevitably, sardines – a classic mainstay of Sicilian cuisine. We had these in a pasta sauce with pine nuts, parsley, fennel, lemon and olive oil. The wine accompaniment took us back to the whites with a pinot grigio.

The main meat course was roasted pork jowl, with dried figs, served with a powerful red russo Etna Rosso. It needed the big flavours to counteract the richness of the pork and sweetness of the figs.

The final course was cannoli – a pastry tube stuffed with ricotta and lemons, and served with blood orange and almond. This was accompanied with a Pellegrino Zibibbo sweet (but not too sweet) dessert wine.

All in all a delicious meal once again. None of the courses was large – enough for a taste, and with the pork a more substantial serving, so you left feeling satisfied but not stuffed, which is good. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m pleased that Jacob & Sarah are getting so much media attention for their excellent restaurant at the moment – they seem to be everywhere! Dom Post, Kiwibank adverts, you name it!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Table Topics

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. ANZ set up a club in 2015, and I joined up. In June 2016, I was appointed president of our club, and I started to get involved in the wider Toastmasters organisation outside our club.

As part of this, we held our first Table Topics contest in August. Table Topics is a regular part of a Toastmasters meeting, where members are given a subject title with no prior notice, and have to speak for between one and two minutes on the subject. The challenge with Table Topics is to speak in an organised way, with some structure, on the subject. At this competition I was placed first. The first and second placed contestants were then eligible to go forward to the area contest, which was held on 13th September. At this competition I was placed third, and my colleague, Olivia, was first.

“That’s that” I thought, so far as my continued participation in contests was concerned for the year…at least, as a participant. I had volunteered to judge at other clubs’ contests, and was called on to do so at two clubs in the following weeks. Judging gives a good insight into the quality of competition at other clubs, and I was fortunate to judge both a Table Topics and a humorous contest.  

However, there was a further twist; Olivia was in Auckland for work reasons on the weekend that the divisional contest would take place. The division is the whole of Wellington, so it’s getting quite serious by this time. A week later, I received an email from our Area Director: the second placed contestant was also unable, or unwilling, to compete further, and could I step in to represent Area E6? By all means, I replied.

So it was that I found myself competing in my first divisional Table Topics contest. The contest is part of the divisional conference, which is held twice a year. The other competition held on the day is the humorous speaking contest. There are also various awards handed out, recognition of clubs and individuals, and also a workshop and a warm-up act for the humorous speaking contest.

The conference started at 10am. The contestants briefing, however, was at 9:30am. And there’s only limited parking at the venue, which was the Royal Society of New Zealand. I made a plan: we drove into town for breakfast at Vista café, before heading up to Thorndon and, luckily, nabbing the last free parking spot. With plenty of time for the briefing, to boot. We collected our name badges and Nicola took the opportunity to visit New World, there to expend enough spondulicks to qualify for another Little Garden pot. Not that I’m saying that that was her sole motivation, oh no, no, no…yes.

The conference got under way and pretty soon I was escorted from the hall to the waiting area, where we are held until it’s our turn to speak. This is because all contestants are given the same topic, and they mustn’t hear what it is before their turn. I had drawn number 5, so didn’t hear the first 4 contestants speak. This was an improvement on the area contest, where I’d drawn 8th out of 8, so hadn’t heard any of the others.

When it was my turn, I was escorted to the hall, and mic’d up. Then I was introduced, and the contest chair gave me the subject: “Can money buy you happiness?” And I was off.

In some ways, doing a Table Topics speech is the longest minute of your life. In others, it’s the shortest. You’ve got to organise what you’re going to say in a matter of seconds. Open with an arresting statement or quotation; dispense the honorifics (“Mr. Chairman, fellow Toastmasters, distinguished guests”); give your speech, and get to that crucial one-minute mark (speaking for less than a minute gets you disqualified); then wrap it up in a good way, returning to the original question. It doesn’t matter if you say “yes it can” or “no, it can’t” or even if you sit on the fence and offer both sides of the argument; what the judges are looking for is how you deliver, vocal variety, engagement with the audience, body language, speech structure, and use of language; all that kind of thing.

At the end, I walked to the back of the hall to be de-mic’d, then took my seat again to hear the final three contestants. And…relax!

I’d originally planned to sneak off and miss the afternoon session, but the results of the Table Topics competition wouldn’t be announced until the very end of the meeting (I guess to stop people doing just that), so we stayed for the humorous speaking contest in the afternoon. And it was a good job we did! Not only was the warm—up guy very funny (he is, in fact, a stand-up comedian by trade), but the speeches were well-crafted, and very enjoyable.

After a bit more award-giving, the results of both competitions were announced. Whilst the scoring is not made public, there was, according to Nicola, one very clear winner of the Table Topics contest. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me. As the results were announced, it became obvious that I’d come fourth…along with four other contestants. Places are only announced for the top three, so the remaining contestants can all kid themselves that they just missed out. Results for the humorous speaking contest gave top spot to another clear winner, who stood out from the others. Both winners now go on to represent Wellington at the national convention, held in Invercargill in November.

That was my first foray into competing in Toastmasters. There will be further opportunities to compete in the international and evaluation contests next year. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Last Legs

Blimey, Circa Theatre is putting on a lot of good stuff this year! The latest offering, starring Ray Henwood, is called Last Legs, and is the story about growing old disgracefully…something we have every intention of emulating! Ray Henwood is a grand old man of the Wellington theatre scene – we last saw him as King Lear in…umm…what was that play called?

But first, inevitably, dinner. Pravda Café has revamped its menu, so I thought we’d better get ourselves down there to see how it’s changed. Yeah, any excuse! Pravda is part of the Nourish group of restaurants, that include Crab Shack and Shed 5 in Wellington, as well as various other restaurants in Auckland and Queenstown. They serve tasty grub and I don’t think we’ve ever been disappointed there. I had a scallop ravioli followed by wagyu bavette steak, whilst Nicola had zucchini fritters and chilli shrimp linguine.

We hurried out of the restaurant and down the road thinking we were cutting it fine; but when we got to Circa, a quick look at the tickets revealed…the show didn’t start until 8:00pm. So we needn’t have rushed away from Pravda and hassled the staff for the bill (they were also hosting a lot of “ladies who dine” for a pre-WoW dinner, so there was a bit of a scrum at the till).

We sat down and had an ice cream and a glass of wine whilst waiting for the show to start, and chatted to a lady down from Auckland to see the show, largely because her sister had a starring role in it. She played Kitty, who is the femme fatale of the piece.

The theatre was packed – a sell-out – which I put down to the Henwood factor. The play is coming to the end of its run, and the remaining nights are completely sold out. As it is, we were up in the back seats, far from the more usual row B or C that we get when I book these things.

The play is set in an upmarket retirement home, and concerns the goings-on of some of the residents, notably those on “ResCom”, the resident’s committee. A new resident is co-opted onto the committee to fight the stranglehold which retired (disgraced) estate agents Gary and Trish seem to have. The four female characters also play a gang of older residents, who meet up and argue over games starting with bridge, with all four of them, and moving through scrabble for three, mah-jong for two, and finally, patience. You’re not allowed to mention the D-word, but you can figure out what’s happened to the participants.

The play is really a series of vignettes and character studies; the plot is a bit thin, and leads more to characters explaining about their pasts, rather than the “incident and example” to illustrate their personalities. It made the whole thing a bit disjointed. Yes, the two estate agents are venal and petty; we needed to see more of their venality and pettiness, not just be told about it.

It was light and fluffy. I doubt they’ll be performing it in 400 years’ time, though.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sweeney Todd

Sunday afternoon saw us going to the matinee performance of NZ Opera’s production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, at the St James theatre. As the show started at 2pm, we decided to get some lunch first at Noble Rot wine bar, which is fast becoming a favourite haunt in that part of town. Looking around the bar, it appeared that I was the only male patron of the place. Of course, the All Blacks were playing (in fact, had just finished by the time we sat down) the Pumas in Argentina at the time, so all the "ladies who lunch"’s menfolk may have been down the pub watching the rugby instead. Even so…odd. Never mind, we made our way through the cured salmon, venison tartare, duck liver parfait and littleneck clams, washed down with a glass of Pegasus Bay riesling. Very tasty it all was.

A quick trot round the corner, and we ensconced ourselves in row O. Clearly we were in the first row of the cheap seats, as the next five rows in front of us were empty. As soon as the lights started to dim, there was a rustling and a tumult…people in the seats behinds us all rushed forward to grab the empty seats nearer the stage. We took the opportunity to shuffle up the row one seat, so I had room to man-spread.

The story, you’ll know, is about how Sweeney Todd, a barber, supplies meat in the form of dead people to Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, downstairs from his barber shop. This production is based on Stephen Sondheim’s musical version, which was also filmed in 2007 with Johnny Depp in the lead, with Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.

The production was very slick, with a  revolving stage to accommodate the shop and the barber’s above it. The singing was of course very good. The Beadle seemed to have modelled his character on someone…I couldn’t recall the name. “He’s like that bearded annoying bloke” I said. “You’ll have to give me more clues” replied Nicola. “Bearded, annoying, tall and thin, gaunt face…” “Oh, Russell Brand!” “That’s the fella!”

The show was nearly three hours long, so we emerged blinking into the sunlight of Courtenay Place at almost 5 o’clock.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Vanilla Miraka

Vanilla Miraka is Hayley Sproull’s take on being a quarter Māori, with white skin and no clue what is happening on the marae. Avid readers of my blog (I fantasise that such beings exist) will remember Hayley from Miss Fletcher Sings The Blues. She’s also part of A Slightly Isolated Dog, who we saw putting on their version of Jekyll & Hyde in April this year, and who will be performing Don Juan in November. 

Her show is a mixture of song, acting, comedy and serious moments. She gives us some of her history of self-discovery, and how she explored her Māori ancestry by the obvious method of travelling to India. Along the way, she demonstrated her skill with poi, and told us the story of her grandmother's funeral. Not many comedy moments at a funeral, you might have thought...wrong. The final scenes played out are about how she wore her traditional cloak to her graduation ceremony, and how that felt to her.

It's clearly a very personal story, and at the end of it I felt we knew more about the unresolved conflicts of identity that make being a New Zealander not quite as simple as being from most other countries. Whilst a lot of it, particularly in the second half, was quite serious, there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well. I liked this show, and look forward to seeing more from Hayley in the future.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Perfect Nonsense

The Jeeves and Wooster show, Perfect Nonsense, has come to New Zealand. After extensively touring the UK and a residency in Mumbai (the Indians are weirdly keen on PG Wodehouse), the touring company, including original writer/actor Robert Goodale, has arrived in New Zealand for a short season. What’s not to like? Off we toddled.

The story revolves around Bertie Wooster deciding to re-tell his adventures of the previous weekend. He’s put on a play about it but hasn’t quite finished it. Fortunately Jeeves steps in, and with the help of Aunt Dahlia’s butler, Seppings, they manage to get through all the action. The two butlers have to play numerous parts, including an ever-increasing-in-height Spode, whilst Bertie recounts the tale of the silver cow creamer, to be found in The Code Of The Woosters, and also forms the opening episode of the second season of the quintessential adaptation, Jeeves And Wooster. Jeeves, with the help of Seppings manages the scenery and costume changes whilst Bertie, oblivious to most of their efforts, blithely assumes that all the goings-on backstage are working like magic, in much the same way as a magic coffee table works. It’s all very funny and foolish, and well worth watching. In many places the fourth wall is broken as Bertie, and occasionally Jeeves, address the audience directly.

We’d caught the matinee performance, and were ejected into the evening air in time for a date at favourite Wellington eatery Logan Brown, or “the staff canteen” as I’ve started to call it – scene of many a lunchtime over the last couple of years. Well, they keep sending me discounts and special offers! I’d be a fool not to take them up on it! Latest offering is a lunchtime dish with wine for $25, so we’re heading back there this Friday to fill the old nosebag. Pip pip! (That’s enough Wodehouse talk – Ed.)