Saturday, April 21, 2018

Seven Deadly Stunts

Back to Circa for another Thursday night outing and this time it’s comedy magic duo David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache, aka Rollicking Entertainment. We saw them last year when they brought us Mr and Mrs Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics, so when we saw them on the schedule it was a no-brainer.

This week also sees the short-lived Wellington Night Noodle Markets, whereby various eateries set up mobile kitchens in Frank Kitts Park (not Waitangi Park) and sell foods of various Asian cuisines to the thronging hordes. And throng they did on the opening Thursday night, so we had to queue for a bit before getting pork belly and mushroom skewers from Hot Sauce, followed by chicken crepes from Mr. Circle. We had enough time left over to get to Circa Theatre and get a beverage before the show.

Seven Deadly Stunts opened on Wednesday, and this second night was a sell-out. We were in the second row, and firmly in the centre, so thought ourselves safe from being called out onto the stage to participate, as we had been last year. We got away with it! For reasons I can barely fathom, I don’t appear to have blogged about last year’s show, so I’ll just provide you with a quick update. David and Lizzie are fans of old-fashioned vaudeville, sideshow magic, and do tricks based on the old shows…whilst also providing us with some of the history and explanation of those shows and the people involved in them.

This year’s show does exactly what it says on the tin: they perform seven stunts, with a bit of explanation, audience participation, and comedy thrown in to help. As there’s no actual plot, it’s not like I’m revealing spoilers if I tell you what the stunts are, so here goes:

To begin with, we all stood up and played a game of upstairs, downstairs: this is basically heads or tails, and allowed, after eight rounds, one audience member to be selected as the “volunteer” for the next trick:

Russian Roulette: regrettably(!) the Health and Safety wonks won’t allow them to perform this trick with guns and live ammo any more, so instead they use industrial-strength staplers – the kind used by carpet-layers to, er, lay carpets. One was loaded with staples in front of the audience, then they were placed in a bag and jumbled up. The volunteer had to pick them out, one at a time, and staple David on various places on his hand, arm, and body. Obviously, as she picked each one out and it turned out to be empty, the chances of a loaded stapler increased. After five empty staplers had been discharged, David took the sixth one and stapled a flyer to a block of wood as a souvenir, and handed it to her.

Walking On Broken Glass: Next up, to the strains of Annie Lennox, Lizzie walked barefoot across some broken wine bottles that had been arranged on a tarpaulin on the stage. As she reached the end, she carefully cleaned the sole of each foot with a brush, to ensure no bits of glass remained. She then laid her face sideways on the broken glass, and David stood on the other side of her face.

Straitjacket: This one is literally straight out of Houdini: Lizzie was tied in a straitjacket, then wrapped in chains and padlocks. A screen was raised around her for the first part of the escape – from the chains – so we couldn’t see how it was done. The escape from the straitjacket, however, was performed in front of the audience with no screen. If you’ve ever seen Lethal Weapon 2, you’ll know how this is done.

Juggling Chainsaws: Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So, to make it a bit harder, instead of juggling three chainsaws, which are all the same size and shape, David decided to juggle three objects of different size and shape – a chainsaw, an apple, and a bowling ball. First, he positioned three stunt apples on the stage. To demonstrate that it was a proper bowling ball, he dropped the ball onto stunt apple #1 (it splattered satisfactorily). To prove it was a real chainsaw, he placed stunt apple #2 in his mouth, and chopped it in half with the chainsaw. If that’s not enough, whilst juggling the apple, bowling ball and chainsaw, he took a bite out of the apple and threw it into a bucket held by Lizzie.

Whipcracking: David gave us an explanation of whipcracking, the different types of whipcrack, the science behind it, and a bit of history about Wild Bill Hickok and his travelling shows, before demonstrating the different whipcracks, using the whip to break some roses held by Lizzie...held between the teeth, and other areas. David quipped that although it was dangerous for Lizzie, it was even more dangerous for himself as he was married to her!

Nail In A Bag: Another very straightforward trick, this one, but one that has gone horribly wrong on many an occasion. They revealed a small screen and projected onto it a brief compilation of incidences of this trick going wrong…the audience were invited to look away if they were squeamish. They also told us this trick is so dangerous, it’s been banned by the Magic Circle… "but that’s OK, we’re not members!” (It’s not and it isn’t, in case you’re wondering.)

Fire Eating: The grand finale was some tricks with fire, including eating it. Given their use of fire, I assume that their arms, hands and legs are completely hair-free. (If they weren’t before, they are now!) The major problem with fire-eating is how yucky the low-temperature fuel compound tastes.

And that’s all, folks! If it doesn’t sound like much, don’t worry, as we got a full 90 minutes’ entertainment with all the jokes, exposition and history thrown in. They came out for a bow, and off home we went.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Lie

Now that Winter Is Coming, Thursday night is once more theatre night, and we are looking forward to the 2018 season at Circa Theatre. This week, we went to see The Lie, a new (for New Zealand) play by French playwright Florian Zeller. He was the man who also brought us The Father, which we saw last November. His other plays include The Mother and The Truth. I’m detecting a theme here.

Circa Theatre has recently rebuilt and upgraded their café and foyer, so as we had a 6:30 start I thought it would be prudent not to stray too far from the environs, and we opted to give the new café a try. I had the slow-cooked beef stew and Nicola had the halloumi. The stew was of the “I could do this better at home” variety, unfortunately…they should have taken the opportunity to upgrade their menu (and possibly chef) at the same time. Ah well, lesson learnt.

The play centres on two couples: Paul and Alice, and their friends Michel and Laurence. On the eve of a dinner party, Alice confides to her husband that she saw Michel kissing an unknown woman on the street earlier in the day, and she wants to cancel the party as she feels uncomfortable knowing this and concealing the truth from Laurence. But they’re too late, and the doorbell rings. The dinner party is excruciating, as Alice leads them all through a hypothetical “what would you do if…?” based on what she’d seen earlier.

The play has been criticised as contrived, and some even question the necessity for the final scene (as you should have worked out what was going on by then anyway). Nevertheless, we enjoyed it (simple souls that we are). It starred the usual suspects from the Wellington scene – Gavin Rutherford, Andrew Foster, and Bronwyn Turei are regularly seen at Circa, whilst Claire Dougan as Alice is a rarer bird.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Blimey! I’ve left this one a while! We went to see Switzerland at Circa last month. This is one of the theatre’s headline plays for the beginning of 2018. It’s an imagining of the final days of Patricia Highsmith, celebrated author of The Talented Mr Ripley, and even more celebrated pain in the arse.

As the Entertainment book year draws to a close, I scanned the app to see what we still had outstanding, and found, to my surprise, that we’d not used the Zibibbo discount. That’s easily rectified, and I booked us in for dinner. As usual, the food was up to standard, and also as usual, the maitre d’ recognised us but couldn’t remember our names. His is Gareth. I think.

The play is a two-hander, featuring two old hands from Circa, Catherine Downes as Highsmith and Simon Leary as Edward Ridgeway. Edward has been sent by her publisher to see the reclusive Highsmith in her retreat in Switzerland, to try and cajole a last Ripley book out of her. In fact, he volunteered for the job, as he’s a huge fan. Naturally, Highsmith takes exception to him, her publishers, and the world in general, and tries to throw him out. Although at first he seems pretty weedy, he eventually shows himself to be made of sterner stuff and makes a deal with Highsmith, which allows him to stay overnight.

Spoilers? You want spoilers? OK, it turns out that all is not quite as it seems. Well, duh! As the scenes change, Ridgeway grows in confidence, and this is reflected in his better sartorial sense with each change – from dowdy New York publisher-nerd to dapper confidence trickster. By the end, he is getting the better of Highsmith in their verbal duelling, and this leads to the final denouement. Which I won’t spoil.

A jolly fun night out, go see it if you get a chance.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Waiheke Island

We made a day trip to Waiheke when we were in Auckland for Christmas 2015, and decided this time to have a longer stay, and hire a car rather than rely on the somewhat infrequent bus service around the island. We caught the ferry over, and called our car hire company, Waiheke Island Motors. Which turned out to be a guy calling himself Julian, although I suspect he was probably Juliano, as he looked and talked South American.

Julian directed us to a rather old Nissan Maxima which was, frankly, in a bit of a state. None of the big car hire companies operate on Waiheke, as it’s too small, and there are just a couple of local operators with a fleet of ageing vehicles. This particular one had the seat adjustment bar broken off completely, so I couldn’t move it back at all, and spent the weekend driving around like an idiot with my knees up by my elbows.

Nevertheless, we set off and found our accommodation in Onetangi easily enough. We had time for a quick check-in before setting out for the evening’s dinner, at The Shed at Te Motu, a vineyard that we’d noticed passing on the way in. It was about five minutes’ drive away. They were doing a set four-course dinner with wine matches, and it was all very tasty and well presented. The wine waiter was a Californian chap called Brian, and he was very knowledgeable about the wines he was serving, which included a 1999 Te Motu – a blend of cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc. Not one that is normally available to the public, so I made the most of it.

The next day we set out early for the beach and a morning swim, before heading to breakfast at Charlie Farley’s, one of two cafés on the waterfront. We weren’t in a massive hurry as most vineyards don’t open until about 11am, so after a leisurely start we drove round to Passage Rock vineyard, which is nestled above a little bay on the south of the island. Unfortunately there’s no access to the sea as it’s all cliffs round that side of the island. We tasted several wines and chatted with the winemaker, an English woman who’d lived and worked in France before moving to New Zealand. We discussed England and cheese, especially the unavailability of certain varieties. The wines were very good, as they are the most awarded winery on the island – in retrospect, it may have been a mistake to start there!   

We hung around at Passage Rock taking photos, as the next winery on our itinerary didn’t open until 12. It wasn’t a long drive to Poderi Crisci, which, as you might guess from the name, is an Italian-influenced vineyard, growing some varietals which aren’t available anywhere else in New Zealand – such as Arneis, which has a smell like burnt matches or gunpowder, and is supposedly very good with fruit. We didn’t have any fruit. An acquired taste, no doubt, and probably needs to be served in the right setting to get people to properly appreciate it. The tasting room, La Locanda, is separate from the Italian restaurant, which was soon filling up to bursting, as it was a sunny Sunday lunchtime. We left them to it, and drove to Casito Miro, another European-inspired vineyard that we’d visited last time we were on Waiheke. They were full too, but managed to get us a table after a 10-minute wait. We had a lunch of tapas there, but, given the crowds, decided not to try their wines again. I seem to recall from last time that their tasting is a bit desultory as well, with no real opportunity to discuss the wines with the maker, so I didn’t feel we were missing out.

After a hard morning’s tasting we decided to head back to Onetunga for a relaxing afternoon.

We still haven’t been to all the wineries on Waiheke, so next year we’re planning to do two Shakespeares and spend more time on the island in between.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Julia Caesar

The Pop-up Globe is open for business in Auckland again this year, and we decided to visit and make a long weekend of it. We’d originally planned to see The Comedy Of Errors, but there were only three shows, all mid-week. We revised our plans in consultation with Nicola’s hectic chorus diary, and decided on Julius Caesar on a Saturday matinee showing.

We flew up on Friday and spent the day in Auckland, taking a walk around the preparations for the Volvo Round The World yacht race, which was due to have a stop in Auckland starting that weekend. However, due to no wind last week, they were stuck at sea, and, at time of writing, had still not arrived. They are now expected on Wednesday 28th.

In the evening we went out to a restaurant called One Tree Grill near Cornwall Park, which contains One Tree Hill. I see what you did there. They have a wine cellar with a glass ceiling, which forms the floor of the bar area of the restaurant, so you walk over it and look down as you enter the place. They did good modern food to the required standard, although I was a little confused at the end when they asked if we’d like to tip our waiter, as we seemed to have been served by the entire staff of the restaurant throughout the meal…so which was “our” waiter?

The following morning we breakfasted at Imperial Lane café, a bit of a favourite of ours when we visit Auckland. We had a bit of time before heading out to Ellerslie race course, so we took in the Maritime Museum for an hour or so. Luckily we’d left plenty of time to get to the globe, as there was a bus replacement service for the first two stops of our journey, which turned a 10 minute trip into a half hour. We arrived and got ourselves a cheese platter and some wine for lunch – once again sponsored by Marisco wines, so I had  King’s Bastard chardonnay.

Julius Caesar is one of the most performed Shakespeare plays. How to freshen it up? Why, role reversal, of course! All the males are played by women, and the two women’s roles (Porsche and Lamborghini…no, wait, Portia and Calpurnia) are played by men. They were rather overegging it by having them dressed in sackcloth and having their hands chained. The text needed to be changed quite a it too, to accommodate the reversal, although they kept “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”; nor did they feminise the names. Other than that, they stuck resolutely to the script, although some lines were missed. (notably “the ides of March have come”…why cut that?) We were seated in a royal box on the mid level, so were directly over the stage on the right. As usual, the arena was full of “groundlings”, who were, presumably, warned about the possibility of being splashed with blood, as the gore was distributed liberally during the various stabbings, spraying out into the audience.

We’d been in a bit of a quandary about our luggage, which we’d left at the apartments where we stayed on Friday night: the manager said he’d be closing the front desk at 5pm and we needed to be back before then to reclaim our bags. The play was scheduled to finish at 4:15 so we thought it might be a bit tight. We’d booked a taxi to pick us up fro the racecourse and whisk us back to the apartment. As it turned out, though, the play was all over by 3:45, and we found a taxi waiting, and got back in plenty of time. We then walked round to the ferry terminal and set out for Waiheke Island.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Comedy Of Errors

Wellington Summer Shakespeare has been running for many years now. We’ve been going to see their productions for the last three of those, including All’s Well That Ends Well last year, and Love’s Labour's Lost the year before. The venue has also been a bit of a moveable feast as well – this year they’ve moved from the Civic Square location of last year to the Reading Car Park. I guess it’s all a matter of logistics and money? The Reading car park, a former multi-storey affair that was pulled down after the Kaikoura earthquake damaged it irreparably, is an unlikely venue for Shakespeare…but what the hell. We went.

I’d booked us a matinee performance on Sunday, so we headed into town in time to find a parking space and walk around to the venue. Nicola had been busy officiating at the Round The Bays half-marathon earlier in the day, but we had plenty of time. The seating was arranged in the corner of the carpark – thankfully shaded, as the temperature is back to summer again. We took our seats in the fourth row, and waited for the comedy to begin.

The Comedy Of Errors centres around two twin brothers, not quite separated at birth but certainly at a very young age, and their manservants – also twins. To confuse matters further, both sets of twins share the same names, Antipholus (the protagonists) and Dromio (the servants). When Antipholus of Syracuse arrives at Ephesus, he has no knowledge that his brother has lived there for a number of years…with hilarious consequences.

The cast are a mixture of experienced and new actors, some of whom we’ve seen in various productions at Circa and BATS through the years. At various points they ad-libbed – when a motorcycle went past, or a helicopter landed at the nearby heliport on the dockside – which helped things along. It was a comedy; it contained errors; but, as is usual in Shakespeare comedies, it all ended well.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Caps vs. England

On the final day of Andrew and Zoe’s visit, we went to see the Black Caps play England in the tri-nation T20 competition. Firstly we got them all packed up and ready to go, as we’d be dropping them at the youth hostel for their final night in Wellington, because they had an early start for their the following morning.

The match was played at Westpac Stadium, so we parked up near parliament and walked to the stadium, getting there with about 20 minutes to spare. Our seats were up in the nosebleed section, but we had a good view as we were almost square on to the pitch.

New Zealand lost the toss and were put in to bat by England. They duly started putting on the runs, with good innings by Guptill (65) and Williamson (72). De Grandhomme was promoted up the order to bat at 4, as he’s known to be able to put on a lot of runs in a short period. He came in when Guptill failed to reach the boundary with another attempted 6, and was promptly out first ball. Despite this, and with Williamson holding it together for the 4th wicket stand, they reached 196,  which looked like a defensible total. In T20 these days you need to be up around the 200 mark to feel safe!

England came out swinging, and despite the early loss of Roy at 14/1, they kept up with the run rate for most of the match. Unfortunately they leaked wickets - although not as much as we'd have liked, with two dropped catches - and when down into the lower order batsmen, the total started looking less achievable; in particular when Trent Boult came in for his second spell and started cleaning out the tail-enders. They needed 25 from the final two overs, which is not impossible in T20. But it proved too much for the remaining batsmen, and they eventually fell short by 12 runs, handing victory to the Black Caps.

We drove back to the youth hostel and dropped off Andrew and Zoe, first making sure that they had beds for the night! That ended their adventure with us in Wellington, and they caught the ferry the next day to continue in Abel Tasman, West Coast, Kaikoura and Queenstown.

The Visitors

Nicola’s nephew, Andrew, is doing a post-university bout of travelling the world with his girlfriend, Zoe. Having taken in South East Asia and Australia, he’s headed over to New Zealand for a few weeks to do the whole North to South experience. And what is that experience without a few days in Wellington?

They’re travelling around New Zealand with Kiwi Bus, who offer a hop-on hop-off service allowing you to spend as long or as short as you like in any location.  They arrived early evening from an adventure camp in the middle of nowhere, so figured that they’d probably want to stretch their legs a bit and take a wander after several hours on the bus. It was a lovely sunny evening in the middle of the heatwave that New Zealand is experiencing this summer, so we headed up to Cuba Street to visit Grill Meats Beer, a restaurant that does exactly what it says on the tin. After dinner we took them home and sorted out our plans for the coming days.

First order of business was to get down to Scorching Bay for a morning swim and breakfast at Scorch-o-rama. That achieved, we took them on the obligatory Wellington day out, starting at Mount Victoria Lookout, followed by a trip on the cable car and bus up to Zealandia. I drove them to the Cable Car stop on Lambton Quay, then drove up to Zealandia to meet them, arriving by bus from the top of the cable car.

After a tour of Zealandia, spotting the obligatory kaka, saddlebacks, hihi and bellbirds, we returned for some lunch at the café and then home. Despite all this activity we still hadn’t worn them out, and they headed over the hill to the beach at Scorching Bay for another swim.

The following morning we did the next step on the Wellington experience – the Weta Workshop tour. Weta Workshop is literally at the bottom of the hill where we live, so everyone who visits us gets to go on it. For those who don’t know, they are the company that produces all the props for films such as LOTR, The Hobbit, and many others – not just Peter Jackson films, but all manner of other films as well. They also made the models for The Scale Of Our War at Te Papa, and do other work. During the tour no photography is allowed as all the props on show are still the property of the various film companies that commissioned them. You are, however, allowed to handle some of them (they have a touchy-feely area for just that) as well as talk to the guide and anyone who’s working there at the time; all the guides are also model makers, artists, or otherwise have real jobs at Weta, not just tour guiding.

On Sunday, Nicola had a chorus engagement that she couldn’t miss, so we took ourselves over the Rimutakas to Martinborough, to indulge in a bit of wine tasting. We visited some vineyards that I’d not been to in a while, including Haythornthwaite and Margrain – both still in the original family’s hands – and then went to Palliser Estate for a final taste and some lunch. The weather wasn’t quite as favourable as we’d hoped, so we didn’t stop at the lookout on either journey, as the view would have been of clouds and not much else. Still, we had a good time, and hopefully they learned a little about wines.

On Monday, Nicola was again at work so we went for a drive and a walk around the South Coast of Miramar peninsula, from Seatoun around Point Dorset to Breaker Bay; then on to Island Bay, where unfortunately the Beach House & Kiosk was closed. After a quick swim there were headed back and awaited Nicola’s return.

Monday, February 5, 2018


We’ve lived in Wellington now for going on 8 years, so you’d think we’d have pretty much explored all of it by now, wouldn’t you? We’ve even spent time in Upper Hutt! But so far, Wainuiomata has remained a mystery to us.

Wainuiomata is technically part of Lower Hutt, but it’s in that hinterland inland from Petone and Eastbourne. “What goes on there?”, we wondered. There is a Scenic Reserve, recreation area, and also the Rimutaka Forest Park. We headed to the scenic reserve first, as it sounds scenic.

“How do we get in? There’s no paths marked.” Indeed there weren’t. We found a sign, at the end of the oddly-named Hair St, and what looked like a pathway in, but it petered out in a matter of yards after crossing a rivulet. We turned around and went back to the car. “OK, let’s try the recreation area instead”. We’d spotted a sign to this on the way, so went back and found, eventually, a car park and an information booth. This looks a bit more like it!

We thought we’d take the Gum Tree loop walk, which we were informed was a one hour round trip. But even stopping to admire scenery and trees, and take pictures, we were at the point where it rejoins the main road within 25 minutes, so decided that the suggested times on the map were for folk far less crepit than we. We decided to crack on up to the lower dam.

The lower dam area is a wetland with some rather unprepossessing ducks and a lone cormorant on it. The signs around us informed us all about the wildlife (other than ducks) which also lived in the area, but it must have been hiding. After learning the history of the place, and its current regeneration, we set off back down the road, where we heard and saw tui, kereru and waxeyes, one of which was wrestling with an insect almost as big as itself.

The park is actively pest-controlled, and parts of it are also off-bounds to dogs. This is to encourage the local kiwi population to recover, which, by degrees, it is doing.

Adventure complete, we resolved to return to tackle the Rimutaka Forest Park on another occasion. We drove back to Wellington, and rewarded ourselves for our exertions with lunch at Hataitai’s premier eatery, Bambuchi, which gets another thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


In what is becoming a tradition, we headed over the Rimutaka Hill Road to Martinborough to pick up some of the new season wines, taste some new wines, and generally see what’s changed since we were last there. Our original intention was to stop at the top of the hill, where there’s a scenic lookout, but as we ascended the hills we encountered a layer of thick cloud, so the view would have been invisible. We pushed straight on and descended to the Wairarapa side, leaving sunny Wellington behind for Schiffer* weather.

First stop, as always, is at the i-site, to pick up a map of the vineyards. We used to hang on to these, thinking we could use the same one again next year, but soon learnt that with the changing seasons comes changing ownership, with different opening times.

We decided to try some new vineyards that we’d not been to before, and formulated a plan to go to Luna Estate, Poppies, Cambridge Road and Palliser Estate.

First on the list: Luna Estate. As we drive towards it, we see the sign: cellar door open from 12-5pm. It’s 11am. The best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. No problem, we’ll go back there later once they’re open – it’s not like we have to a long way out of our way! The cellar doors around Martinborough are all within a very small area, even if some of them are sourcing grapes from vineyards further afield.

Next stop is Poppies, which we visit every year, and Poppy (who conducts the tastings in the tasting room) recognises me from my chats from previous years. I am slowly building up a vertical selection of pinot noir, and added two bottles of the 2016 vintage, as well as some pinot gris and rosé for immediate consumption.

It’s still only 11:30 by the time we leave, so we head round the corner to Cambridge Road. This is a vineyard that’s been around since 1986, but acquired by its current owner in 2008. Only in the last couple of years has it opened is cellar door to the public, which is why we hadn’t been there before. We tried a variety of wines there, including an “orange” wine (not made from oranges, but the colour being orange rather than pink), which is a rosé style of wine made from white grapes. It also has a characteristic sour taste, as it ferments in much the same style as kombucha. Interesting, but I’m not parting with cash for it. They also make some more traditional wines, and, like the people we found at Riwaka River Estate in Nelson, hold their wine back before selling it; so we were able to get hold of some 2013 pinot noir and syrah.

Finally, it’s midday, so we headed back the way we’d come and drove into Luna Estate. Whilst the name is unfamiliar, it is in fact on the site of the old Alana vineyard, which went bust a few years ago. When they did so I was able to pick up some of their pinot noir at a bargain price, and that is still in my cellar. We chatted to the wine taster, Joan, and she told us that it had now been bought out by the same company that owns Murdoch James. Not only that, but Murdoch James itself is disappearing at the end of the month, to be replaced by the Blue Rock name. As part of this, they’re selling off all the old Murdoch James wine at bargain prices, so we decided we’d pop in there on our way home for some bobby bargains.   

We stopped for lunch at Luna, then skipped our final visit to Palliser in favour of a quick drop-in to the Martinborough Brewery to pick up some beer, and on to Murdoch James, which is 7km outside town in a small cluster of vineyards that also includes Hamden Estate and Coney Vineyards. We told them that we’d just been at Luna and had heard about their bargains, and quickly tasted some wines, before departing with half a dozen each of the viognier and riesling at $10 a bottle.

A successful trip all round, and I’m looking forward to tasting some of these wines in the next decade!

* i.e. Claudia.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Trouble With Tribbles

This was the fifth, and apparently final, instalment in Summer Star Trek’s five-year mission to perform an episode of Star Trek, in the open air in Aro Park. Regrettably, we only found out about this last year…but this year we were determined to get to it again.

The production is notably ramshackle, with cardboard sets and nothing in the way of special effects – to simulate the doors on the Enterprise opening, for example, two crew members stand side by side, take a step away from each other, and say “whoosh”. Despite this, no liberties are taken with the script, and it is reproduced word for word.

Our original plan was to go on Wednesday 18th, but as we arrived, the rain that had been promised for the evening turned up several hours early, and we decided that a picnic in the open air, in the rain, was slightly beyond the call of duty. We packed up and went home, and had our picnic indoors for dinner.

Take two was organised for Wednesday 25th. We were a little late getting there this time, so didn’t have the prime location front and centre that we’d managed to bag last time. No matter, we settled in for the customary pre-show entertainment from the Space Babes, singing space-y type songs, before the obligatory rendition of The Firm’s Star Trekkin’, with full audience participation.

The Trouble With Tribbles is a classic episode, in which small, furry creatures that reproduce at an alarming rate infest the Enterprise. At the same time, a diplomatic incident is brewing between the Federation and the Klingons. (Spoiler alert) after many high jinks and a bar brawl of epic proportions, the plot to sabotage the colonisation of a disputed planet is thwarted, Klingon agents uncovered, and the tribble problem exported to the Klingons.

It’s a shame that they’ve called it a day. Maybe they’ll be back next year with The Next Generation?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Rain Day

Monday turned out to be a bit grey and rainy. We were prepared for this, as Lyin’ Dan the mendacious weatherman had told us about it in advance, so we decided to take a look at a few vineyards around the Nelson region, and also to go to the WOW museum.

Most vineyards arrange their public openings for the weekend, which is when most people visit. This being a Monday, many of them were shut, or “open by appointment only”. We dropped into the i-site in Motueka to pick up a map which detailed which ones were open, and set off north to Riwaka River Estate, a small vineyard just north of where we were staying. They make three varietals – sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. The owner told us about their philosophy of only releasing wines once they had sufficiently matured – for example, we were tasting the most recent pinot noir, the 2014. As we chatted she brought out a 2017 sauvignon blanc for us to taste as a comparison to the 2016 – a very cool, cucumber, minty tasting wine, which reflected the conditions from last summer, which was a very poor one for grape growers. The chardonnay was, I thought, a very good combination of oak and fruit (a 2015 I think).

Next on the list was old favourites Neudorf Vineyards. We tried a number of their wines including their rosé, a pinot noir with no time on the skins, so the very faint blush colour comes purely from the time being pressed; and an albariño, a Spanish grape which very few New Zealand vineyards have grown.

The final stop was at Moutere Hills vineyard, which has a unique tasting proposition: instead of the usual $5 fee, or free if you buy something, they charge $1 per wine tasted, so you can select which wines you want to try, and how many (a couple of the premium ones are $2). After trying the chardonnay and Riesling, I moved onto the reds – syrah, pinot noir and merlot. They threw in a free taste of their premium merlot as well, for comparison.

We drove into Nelson for some lunch, and decided to try the Cod & Lobster brasserie – a venue which was just about to open last time we were in Nelson. As you might expect, they specialise in seafood, and we had cured salmon and seared tuna for lunch. We then walked around the corner to Penguino’s for an ice cream.

In the afternoon, we drove back down to Stoke, and found the WOW museum. WOW, or World Of WearableArt, is an annual show of weird and wonderful…I hesitate to call them dresses, maybe costumes is a better word. The show and awards ceremony started in Nelson in 1993, but quickly outgrew the town and transferred to Wellington, where it takes place each year at the TSB arena – we went in 2015. They are currently exhibiting costumes from the 2017 show. Combined with the museum, bizarrely, is the Nelson Classic Car collection. As the name suggests, this is a selection of random old cars – not as extensive as the one in Paraparaumu that we visited in 2014, but still pretty impressive.

We made our final stop of the day at the McCashin’s brewery and distillery. I’d hoped for a tour, but these have to be booked in advance and take place at 11:00, so no chance of fitting one in on this trip. Instead we bought some feijoa liqueur, to be incorporated into Nicola’s favourite cocktail, the Old Feijoan.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Monday 22nd January is Wellington Anniversary day, a public holiday in the Wellington region. We decided to make a long weekend of it and take a short break to Nelson for a few days. We hadn’t been to Nelson since October 2015, when we concentrated on the Nelson lakes area. This time we decided to re-visit the Abel Tasman track in the Abel Tasman National Park, which we’d not visited since – blimey! – 2012.

To this end, we decided to base ourselves in Motueka instead of Nelson town. This is a small town on the opposite side of Tasman Bay, a short drive from Nelson. We took a Sounds Air flight into Nelson – for which you fly due west, even though it’s on the South Island. This part of the South Island is in fact on the same parallel as Wellington.

We collected a rental car and decided to drive into Nelson first, as we wouldn’t be checking in until the afternoon. We re-familiarised ourselves with the town, and had a light lunch at Ford’s Restaurant. In the afternoon we walked up the river track and watched ducks shooting the rapids with some success, and some backpackers attempting to do so with rather less. (They had to get out and walk – too shallow!) After taking a quick turn around the Queen’s Gardens, we headed back and took the short drive round to Motueka (or MotchOOka, as the car’s Australian-accented satnav insisted on calling it). We checked into our accommodation, and then went out to New World to stock up on provisions for our stay.

In the evening we went out to what TripAdvisor reckons is probably the best restaurant in Motueka. We later learnt that this wasn’t due to fierce competition. Precinct Dining Co provide good, fresh, well-cooked food, presented and served well. It’s nothing fancy, but otherwise you can’t really fault it.

The following morning, we made our leisurely way to Kaiteriteri, to pick up our ride to the Abel Tasman track. We’d booked ahead with Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles (I had to check this, as there are four different companies, all with very similar names) to take us to Tonga Quarry, with a pick-up at Medlands Beach. This is a more northerly section of the track than we’d done last time, but still takes about the same time to walk. On the way we passed Split Apple Rock, and also had a quick tour around Adele Island, where we saw a baby seal and her mum. The baby was only about a week old, and had yet to venture into the water, apparently.

The boat dropped us at Tonga Quarry and, after a quick stop to take some pics of a weka which was scrounging around the campers on the beach, we set off on the track. It was a hot day so we took it easy, with frequent stops especially on the uphill stretches. A fantail (a juvenile I think) posed for some pictures for us on the way. We also saw bellbirds, but too far away to photograph (I’d left my big lens behind as it’s too heavy to lug about). You realise how spoilt we are in Wellington with Zealandia, and how tame the birds there are compared to in the wild.

Despite taking it easy, we were in fact at the pick-up beach in time for the 1:30pm return trip – we’d originally planned for the 3:30pm return. No point hanging around an empty beach for two hours, we thought…let’s get back and explore Motueka further.

In the late afternoon we went out looking for Motueka beach. This turned out to be a schoolboy error – it doesn’t have one. What it has instead is the saltwater baths – i.e. a swimming pool which fills up from the sea with every high tide; and a sandspit, which is home to various seabirds. We saw oystercatchers both pied and variable, bar-tailed godwits, white-faced herons and pied stilts.

We got some dinner later at Elevation Café in Motueka. We liked it so much we went back there for breakfast the next day.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Black Caps vs. Pakistan

The Black Caps have hit a bit of a purple patch this summer. They saw off the West Indies in three test matches, three ODIs and two T20 matches (one cancelled due to rain), winning them all in an emphatic matter. But Pakistan would be a bit more of a challenge, surely?

It appears not. In the ODI 5 match series, they were bossed by New Zealand all the way. By the time they came back to Wellington, it was 4-0 down in the series. Whilst a dead rubber, both sides had something to play for: Pakistan to try to salvage some dignity with a win, and New Zealand to continue their winning streak (now up to 10). We went down to the Basin Reserve to watch the match on Friday.

The weather was fine - sun in the sky, a few clouds about but certainly no rain threatening, and the winds light. As an international match, the NZ cricket authorities have finally got the message that not everyone is happy with hot dogs and chips, and there was a good range of food and beverages available to suit all tastes. We noted the Greek Food Truck in residence and decided to pay them a visit later on. The beer choice was also better than the usual Steinlager or Tui (depending on who sponsors), with Black Dog Brewery ales available.

We settled into the revamped seats in the shade of the R A Vance Stand. New Zealand won the toss and decided to bat, and piled on the runs from the word go, reaching fifty without loss in less than six overs. The loss of Munro at 52 and Williamson at 101 slowed things down and in the middle of the innings the Pakistan team managed to stem the flow of runs, but without taking wickets. Guptill carried on to reach his 100, and promptly holed out going for 6; at which point De Grandhomme was promoted up the order to try and get some quick runs in the last 10 overs, as he has done on several occasions recently. However this time he was restrained by the bowling and was unable to find the boundary with the regularity that we’d come to expect from him. Other batsmen came and went, and at the end the Black Caps had amassed 271. At the beginning of the innings passing 300 looked a probable result, but the fielding and bowling restricted them.

Still, 272 is a respectable target to defend. But New Zealand, even without Trent Boult in this match, have a powerful bowling attack and the wickets soon started tumbling. They lost three in the first 10 overs, and, in the immortal words of cricket commentators the world over, they were letting the required run rate get away from them, scoring at around 3 an over when they needed 5.5. The middle batsmen settled things down a bit and managed to put on a decent partnership of 105 in the middle of the innings, but too slowly, way too slowly. When they were both out in quick succession, it was left to the tail-end batsmen to try and salvage the match. A big ask, to get 100 runs in 10 overs with three wickets remaining. To their credit, they all came out and gave it a go – in fact the final batsmen all scored at well over 100% to try to rescue the match. But it was all too little too late, and whilst 23 from 2 overs at the end is very gettable, they were down to their last wicket at this point. One mistake was all it took for the Pakistanis to be bowled out in 49 overs, still 15 runs short of the target.

The Black Caps extend their winning streak to a record-equalling 11 matches on the trot, with three T20 matches to be played against Pakistan over the coming week.