New Zealand the Second Time Around

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Mar 4th, 2010, 02:16 PM
  #21
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February 16 – Te Papa and drive to Martinborough

Visiting Te Papa is a great way to begin to learn about the Maori as well as the colonization of New Zealand. We spent over 3 hours absorbing as much as we could until the feet and brain cells could handle no more. Well worth the time.

We grabbed a quick and very good lunch at Chow www.chow.co.nz, another of Ann’s suggestions. I had a very good green curry and it was all I could do to keep my fork out of my husband’s roast pumpkin salad. I’d return in a heartbeat.

We picked up the rental car (Hertz for a new car was far less expensive this trip than Apex for an older model), swung by City Villas for our luggage, told Ann and Dartrey to be sure to see us on their next tour of the world and hit the road for Martinborough by late afternoon. There is one serious stretch of narrow, winding, steep road on the way. Where was the masseur when we needed one – my husband for gripping the wheel and me for white knuckling whatever I could find?

We settled into Aylstone www.aylstone.com, a pretty place in a lovely setting. It needs to be taken to the next level (replace the hollow core doors and provide hooks in the bath) but the room was huge, the public spaces were lovely and the vineyards were at our door. We had considered booking at Pinot Villas www.pinotvillas.co.nz, self-catering cottages just off the square, but realized we would not be self-catering in the heart of wine and dine country.

Dinner was at Tirohana Estate www.tirohanaestate.com. The set menu is a good value for good food in a pretty setting. Service was casually pretentious if that makes any sense. It was too chilly to dine outside, but I imagine it would be a wonderful lunch spot on a warm day. We weren’t wild about their wines, but selected a 2008 Pinot Noir. We were close enough to have walked but were glad we hadn’t as it was extremely dark out there in the country.
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Mar 4th, 2010, 03:30 PM
  #22
 
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. I love it!
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Mar 5th, 2010, 09:56 AM
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Correction to your website for Aylstone:

www.aylstone.co.nz

Common typo for us Yanks!
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Mar 5th, 2010, 10:50 AM
  #24
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Thanks for the correction, mlgb. I did that even with their business card in front of me...
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Mar 5th, 2010, 11:59 AM
  #25
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February 17 – Martinborough wine tasting

The restaurant on Aylstone’s property is closed on Wednesday so we were directed to Medici for a free breakfast. It was quite good with ample portions and a pleasant atmosphere. We filled up for a day of wine tasting.

Even though it was raining we decided to walk to a few of the many wineries that were nearby. We find that visiting 3 wineries plus sharing a bottle at dinnertime pretty much maxes us out. We choose Martinborough, Ata Rangi and Palliser. We weren’t enamored enough with any of Martinborough’s to make a purchase. Everything from Ata Rangi was lovely to our taste and we had a wonderfully informative tasting there. They have U.S. distribution and we were assured that they were well-represented at local restaurants so we went on our way.

Many people recommended that we visit nearby Greytown for its antique shops and galleries so we decided to combine a trip there with a visit to Palliser on the way out of town and hopefully find a laundromat along the way. We didn’t see Palliser’s drive on the way out of town, couldn’t find a laundry and didn’t find much of interest in Greytown. The drive was nice though. We stopped in at Palliser on the way back. Their rather huge sign was hidden by trees. That’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it. It was the end of the day and we had a rather perfunctory tasting. We did purchase a dry riesling. We don’t drink riesling or chardonnay at home, but enjoy the style that we find in New Zealand.

Dinner that night was at the overhyped Wendy Campbell’s The French Bistro. That said, our meals were simple, well prepared and made with excellent ingredients. There was no “wow” factor in the dishes, but that is in keeping with the label “bistro.” We had a wonderful Ata Rangi Craighall 2008 Chardonnay. In fairness, to describe the restaurant as overhyped shows my San Francisco Bay area restaurant bias. There are easily 5 restaurants within walking distance of my home that are as good. In a city, this would be a nice neighborhood haunt. In small town Martinborough it is “the place to go.” Meow.
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Mar 5th, 2010, 12:20 PM
  #26
 
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Now I'm feeling better than I didn't eat at the French Bistro! I liked the explanation given to me of the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir vintages..the odd years being "bloke years" and the even years more feminine...smooth and balanced.
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Mar 8th, 2010, 01:30 PM
  #27
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February 18 – Drive to Napier and Wine Tasting

Due to the unusually cool and wet summer the North Island had experienced, we were treated to beautiful green hills through-out the countryside on our drives.

We stopped at Havelock North to get a local map and began our tasting spree of Hawke’s Bay wines. Our first stop was at Black Barn Vineyards. We didn’t care for the style of these wines and thought they were overpriced. We thought they were more a winery as lunch destination. There was an interesting little art gallery onsite. All in all it is a pretty place to stop in at on the way down the road. Next up was Te Mata Estate Winery. Unfortunately, my notes are sketchy, but I remember that they had a pleasant rose and that their “signature” pinot was thin and not well-balanced to my taste. Our last stop of the day was at Craggy Range Winery. I recommend a trip out to Craggy Range even for those who do not enjoy wine tasting. The countryside is lovely and the winery site is amazing with an architecturally interesting modern facility. There is a restaurant onsite as well. We very much liked the Craggy Range 2008 Pinot and bought some to haul home.

Our Homestay for the next 2 nights was Bay Bach www.baybach.co.nz about 5 minutes north of Napier. Jill and Ian were very nice and breakfasts were wonderful, but I was extremely disappointed not to be in the room featured on the web site. I confess that I didn’t ask for the large room facing the garden as I didn’t pay attention to the fact that there was more than one room to let. My oversight. Our room was quite a bit smaller, although comfortable. I would stay here again as long as I asked for the large room. Overall, we felt that we would have preferred to be in the countryside around Havelock North as that was where we concentrated our time.

It just so happened that it was Art Deco Weekend in Napier which was a nice surprise for us. In addition to the beautiful art deco architecture that the town in known for, all the local shop people, and many visitors, were attired in the finest styles of the ‘30’s. Incredible refurbished automobiles lined the streets for all of us gawkers to admire. We were later informed that some members of international auto clubs have their cars shipped to New Zealand for the parade that is held during Art Deco Weekend.

Dinner that evening was at Elephant Hill Estate & Winery, another venue to take in if only for the setting amidst the vines and next to the sea. We shared risotto, Nelson Bay scallops, lamb and venison. (It was the first venison we had seen on North Island menus although our recollection from our previous trip was that it was on most South Island menus.) The wine list was not exclusive to Elephant Hill and it was nice to be able to taste a selection before choosing our dinner wine.

February 19 – Gimmlet Gravel wine tasting

We began the day by taking a few long walks around Napier, enjoying the deco scene again as well as a large scale log- to-lumber operation at the port.

As for wineries, our hosts suggested we start at Unison, and from there we hit Trinity and Bridge Pa. The cellar door manager at Trinity was having a bit of a fit as a large tour group showed up unannounced just after us. It made for a rushed, crowded tasting, but it was an interesting one. Where else in New Zealand are they making Temperanillo? It was quite tasty too, but the price point was out of line. We paid the tasting fee and were off. The best was saved for last. The Bridge Pa tasting room is actually a tasting co-op called Triangle Red Tasting Centre. Three wineries are represented – Osawa, exporting most of its production to Japan – Bushhawk, young vines with limited production – and Bridge Pa. As it was late afternoon, the pizza oven was especially attractive to me. We began tasting the wine selection while our pizza went into the fire and finished up after we had eaten at a picnic table set up on a small patio looking out at the vines. Bridge Pa’s 2007 Reserve Syrah was lush and rich, and I had to purchase the 2009 Drama Queen Rose, not just for the name.

Dinner that evening was at the Mission Estate Winery. As part of the Art Deco celebration they were featuring a set menu along with a band and dancing. Neither the food nor the wines by the glass were memorable, but the evening was festive and fun. A vintage Rolls Royce parked in the entrance drive set the stage. All the wait staff were in costume. Most guests, with the exception of tourists like ourselves, were fully decked out in 1930’s finery. We had a great time watching the dancers and listening to the Dixieland style band.

There’s more to come…
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Mar 16th, 2010, 04:40 PM
  #28
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February 20 – 23 – Lake Taupo

These four days were the highlight of this trip, if any one time can be a highlight on a tour of New Zealand! Everything combined to make our stay at Omori Lake House perfect. www.omorilakehouse.co.nz. The site itself is heaven on earth. The hosts, Raewyn and Neil, were fabulous. Their love for, knowledge of, and respect for the area and the culture is apparent. A couple from the UK were additional guests on two of the four nights we spent at Omori and the six of us spent hours around the dinner table enjoying Raewyn’s meals, sharing stories and many bottles of wine in the glow of the sunset, the moon and stars.

Note about Omori Lake House: the photos on the website might make it appear to be a bit cold and utilitarian. It is anything but. The Lake House is a well-designed, warm home with wrap-around decks, fabulous views, beautiful gardens and large rooms. Our room (one of two) was larger than the one pictured on the website. If you book, and want a room with a bit more room, ask for the one with the bath. Omori is at the south end of Lake Taupo, about an hour’s drive from the town of Taupo, and much closer to Tongariro Nat’l. Park.

We arrived late afternoon and enjoyed the traditional cup of tea, biscuits and getting acquainted chat. Knowing we wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing, they had already checked the weather forecast and let us know our options were wide open as only clear skies were predicted. We decided to have a break-in day of hiking before we made the 19k Tongariro trek. As the nearby restaurant was closed for a private party it was suggested we dine at the Lake House, which we did. Raewyn dished up an admirable meal, especially considering she had 2 hours notice.

Immediately after breakfast the next morning, Raewyn outlined many half day hiking options and we set off for Tongariro National Park. There are several hiking options within the park besides the Crossing. We chose the Taranaki Falls loop which begins just up the road from the Chateau. It is a mostly level hike through tussock with the stunning volcanic peaks for backdrop. Once you arrive at the falls there are steps down to the river bed which you hike along until climbing back up to the trailhead. It is a pretty hike, an easy hike and one well worth doing. We then proceeded back toward Turangi and stopped off to walk the circuit of Lake Rotopounamu – Greenstone Lake. This is, again, an easy walk above the lake through cool beech forest. There are a few spots where you can get down to the beach level and many of the trees and plants have been labeled with botanical information.

This was the only evening out of the four that we dined out. After enjoying a good chat, a bottle of wine and some nibbles, we ventured to Oreti in Pukawa – one bay over from Omori. My meal of salmon on roast kumara was very nice, but my husband’s rack of lamb was close to inedible.

The following morning we arrived at the breakfast table, as instructed, at 6:30. a.m. Raewyn told us that we needed to have a good cooked breakfast before the trek and she and Neil would not think of us going off with just fruit and yogurt. By 11 a.m. I was very thankful for their wisdom! We left the house at 7 a.m. in order to catch our shuttle to the Tongariro Crossing trailhead at Mangatepopo Road.

We hit the trail around 8:30, along with many busloads of other trampers. Everyone quickly spreads out at their own paces but this is not a hike for those who enjoy solitude in the wilderness. We had been told that during the peak summer months the trail averages 1,000 hikers per day. There is not much I can say about the hike that hasn’t already been said. The steps up to the South Crater are many and seem to never end, but they do and it is easy to pull over to catch your breath. Slow and steady does it. The climb to the Red Crater doesn’t seem bad after the earlier climb, and the rewards are magnificent. The terrain and views are unlike any others I have seen. I was glad I had my sticks as the descent from the Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes is an actual slide of ash and scree. Many people ran it down. Those of the more timid persuasion (me) tried various tactics. Once I figured out to stick my poles out front, dig my heels in and slide it was a great deal of fun. From the Emerald Lakes there is another short climb and then the long, long, long descent begins. About 2 ½ hours worth of descent on a trail pitched for maximum shin impact. By the time one leaves the tussock and enters the forest on the trail meandering alongside a creek, most people are just looking forward to the day’s end. That said, I would do this walk again in an instant. When the trail climbed out of the crater and we left the sight of the Red Crater with Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom for those followers of the Lord of the Ring) standing vigil behind it, I left a piece of my heart behind as well.

Note for the future: If we were to do this again, we would consider driving to the trail’s end in the morning and arranging for the shuttle to pick us up there and take us to the trail head. That way we wouldn’t have to wait for the shuttle at the end of the day, and we wouldn’t have to worry about how much time we were taking on the descent.

We were greeted like conquering heroes when we returned to Omori Lake House by both our hosts and their new guests. There was a multitude of appetizers “for the hikers,” many bottles of wine – theirs and ours – roast lamb with wonderful sides and a fabulous dessert. We talked and laughed for hours until I broke up the party in the wee hours, knowing that Neal and Raewyn had been up earlier than we had and that they had been working to take care of us all day.

We began our last day around Taupo with thoughts of more hiking. And we did take in a few “baby walks” - Rimu Walk on SH #32, about 30 minutes, and the first part of the Waihaha Tramping Track, also on SH #32 and about 30 minutes. Both were worthwhile, but we actually spent more time driving than hiking. There is a lovely roadside picnic spot on SH #32 which overlooks the Western Bay of Lake Taupo and which we zoomed right past in our hurry to take a soak in the Tokaanu Thermal Pools. Unfortunately, they were closed but we totally enjoyed having the excuse to return to the Lake House, do some laundry, catch up on editing photos and napping.

One more wonderful evening at Omori Lake House with much discussion of the U.S. political situation(s) and we were off to Rotorua the next day.

February 24 – Drive to Rotorua

Our hosts in Rotorua, The Lake House Bed and Breakfast, thelakehouserotorua.com had emailed suggestions for site-seeing on our way from Taupo. After fond farewells to Raewyn and Neil, and a quick stop at Scenic Cellars in Taupo to replenish our traveling wine cellar, we hit Spa Park in Taupo where a hot springs hits the river forming a nice pool. There is a restroom near the parking area where one can change and then it is a short walk downhill to the river. If you want to rediscover your inner child, there is a small zip line in the park uphill from the parking lot near that same restroom.

Huka Falls was the next site on our list and there is a trail from Spa Park along the river which ends up at the falls. Or you can drive to the falls area. It is definitely worth the short side-trip. The best way to describe it is that it is a side-ways water fall of incredible volume and color.

Further up SH #5 is the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Area. The Saxbys, our hosts-to-be in Rotorua, had sent us a discount coupon for 10 % off the entry fee. I have read many accounts that state if you have been to Yellowstone then these are no big deal. I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was a child and I found this area to be worth the price of admission and the short amount of time (1 ½ hours) it took to enjoy. Equally fun, and free, were the mud pots just up the road from the thermal area’s parking lot. It is signed, so if you can find Wai-o-tapu, you can find the mud pots.

We arrived at our B&B late afternoon. We had a pleasant room in this lakefront house. It is hard to compare, having just come from such an ideal spot, but we looked forward to some pre-breakfast kayaking and were very glad not to be directly in Rotorua town. We had a really nice dinner at a small resort practically next door, the Wai-Ora Spa www.waiora-resort.com.

February 25 – Rotorua

We had a disappointing start to the day as it was very cool with rain projected so we opted out of the early morning swim or kayak. Ken outlined several interesting hikes for us and we headed into town first. Our first stop was Kauri Park which was not that impressive in light of having seen Wai-o-Tapu the day before. However, there is something to be said for the novelty of thermal pools in the midst of a town. It then began to pour rain so we scrapped our plans to hike and headed through the Government Gardens to the museum. We began our visit with the viewing of a hokey film on the New Zealand creation story and the earthquake at Tarawera. It was definitely worth seeing if only for the “cheese” factor. The museum exhibits included a well-done feature of the Maori which we felt rounded out what we had learned at Te Papa.

It continued to rain so we ducked into Relish for a light lunch where we enjoyed two very nice salads. We were back at the B&B just in time to get ready for our ride to a hangi at Mi Tai. www.mitai.co.nz .

Our hosts in Omori told us that we should go to a hangi, even though they were a bit commercial, and our hosts in Rotorua said that they felt Mi Tai did the best job. There were some aspects of the evening that made me understand the term “RotoVegas” but overall I was left with a greater understanding of the Maori culture. The performance began along the banks of a spring as the tribesmen rowed up chanting. We were then directed to the theatre where we were seated in the front row which made for some flinching on my part during the haka and when the long spears got to twirling around! Dinner followed the performance and then we took a nighttime walk down to the tribe’s cold water spring to see the glow worms. Included in our ticket price was door-to-door shuttle service.

February 26 – Unplanned return home

I end this report on a sad note. The morning we were to go to the Coromandel Peninsula we received word that my husband’s father was dying and we needed to return home. Our hosts and Air New Zealand pulled out all the stops for us and we were able to get on a flight to San Francisco that evening. We hit the ground running and made it on to another flight out of San Francisco to New Jersey.

My memories of my father-in-law will be forever tied to my memories of this wonderful trip, the fabulous sights of New Zealand, and most especially, to the incredible hospitality and generosity of the people of this marvelous land.

The links to the places we had planned to stay our last 12 nights are below:

3 nights - www.sea-escape.co.nz
2 nights - www.takamatua.co.nz
5 nights - www.thepromontory.co.nz
1 night - www.petiteprovence.co.nz
1 night - www.edenvilla.co.nz

We will return!
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Mar 16th, 2010, 05:06 PM
  #29
 
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Fabulous report PJTravels..sorry to hear about the sad ending.
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