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.