Happy leap day everyone!
Today was our day to say our goodbyes to Twizel and head south about 2 hours to Wanaka — one of my favorite spots in New Zealand and home to a lot of dead heads and patchouli. It is also just awe-inspiringly beautiful.
We hung around the house enjoying our coffee and the gorgeous sunny morning. The temperature had dropped substantially and it was supposed to be a very pleasant 18 degrees (64 F) today.
We loaded up our mounds of gear into our new and improved tailgated Toyota Fortuner, dropped off the rental house key, got some diesel, and headed south on Highway 8. About 30 km south of Twizel is Omarama, which has one of the coolest names for a town in New Zealand. It is also the glider capital of New Zealand; they get really strong thermals there, so you can get great lift. They have one company with pink gliders, but we opted to not go gliding. Although when we lived in Boulder, Susanne bought me a glider ride for my birthday and I can say it was really cool.
Just outside was a place called the “Omarama clay cliffs” that were supposed to be worth a stop, so we did. It is on private property and has a $5 honesty box at the front gate. There was a Japanese couple in front of us that was befuddled by the box–they seemed to be looking for an electronic way to pay, and Susanne had to explain to them that you just put cash in the slot. They did not have cash and wanted to deposit money into our account so we would give them cash. But we do not have a NZ bank account, so it did not work. We put our money in and Susanne got out to open the gate and headed down the road. They must have figured it out, since we saw them on the trail later.
The clay cliffs were pretty cool and look a lot like what you see in places in Utah. We parked and did the short hike up into the slot canyon and marveled at the formation. All in all, it was pretty cool.
On our way out, as we let ourselves out of the gate, there was an RV parked at the gate and you could see they were debating about going in to the cliffs. A German woman walked over to us and asked about the road and whether it was ok. I told her that if she took it slow, it shouldn’t be a problem. I guess, in full disclosure, I should have told her she was getting this assessment from someone who regularly drags his trailer up impassable boulder fields and did manage to rip the stairs off it. Oh well, I hope she made it.
We were going to stop at a winery on our way into Wanaka. The first one we tried to stop at wasn’t open yet, so we continued on. There was another one I had scouted, but we were having some navigational doubts since we don’t have much data on our phone plans and can’t use google maps. How did we ever survive without our phones?
We decided to just head into Wanaka where there was another winery that was supposed to be good. We got there and it was “by appointment only.” Rats. So we headed back to town to find a place to have lunch. It was a Saturday and gorgeous, so the whole lakeside was mobbed by people. We drove around looking for a parking spot. It took a while, but we finally got one and headed down to a restaurant that Susanne and I had lunch at in 2013. The view is awesome, so who cares about the food. The food wasn’t bad, but the view was better.
After lunch, we headed up to our Airbnb. It looked like it had an amazing view from the pics online, so we were hopeful. We turned onto a dirt road and wound our way up a steep hill to the house. The view was beyond stunning. The place is owned by a couple Rachael and Ed. They have their main house and two rentals that they built. They also have a really friendly Golden Retriever who gave us a good solid dog fix.
We chatted for awhile. Turns out Rachael is a geologist. Ed was very surprised I knew where the Takitimu Mountains were. Small world. We were going to do a hike up to the Rob Glacier, but Ed told us the trail had gotten washed out in the big storm that canned our Routeburn trip. He gave us another hike that he said was his favorite in all of Wanaka.
The place is a small little cabin with a limited kitchen and a world class view. I mean WORLD CLASS! Yeah!
We lounged about enjoying the view of both the mountains and the inside of my eyelids. I bounced between the two for an hour or so.
I had seen this restaurant online that looked amazing and prided itself on using only organic and sustainable foods. They had a chef’s table 8 course option that we decided to splurge on. We have been wanting to do a chef’s table experience for awhile, so why not now?
Dinner started at 6.
Chef Luke was our master of ceremonies for the evening. It was a small kitchen and he had 4 people that worked with him. We chatted with him and it turns out he actually worked at the Red Mountain Grill in Silverthorne in 2008 for about 6 months. I guess he wanted to learn “high volume burger food.” What a small world.
We started off with some champagne and two “snacks.” The food was amazing. Really amazing. The flavors were incredible and the creativity in putting the dishes together was outstanding. The guy is clearly very talented. How he could have stood to work at the Red Mountain Grill (which was terrible) is beyond me, but maybe that’s why he was only there for 6 months.
It was amazing to watch the kitchen in action. Whew, what a hard job! Luke kept an eye on everything and nothing went out that wasn’t perfect. Their teamwork and communication was really cool to see. He had his more junior staff member who he was training and kept an exceptionally close eye on. She forgot the plum sauce once. Not good. Then she didn’t churn the ice cream enough. Polite, but firm lecture ensued about standards. He is clearly a perfectionist.
Luke was a true artisan of food. We chowed our way through 2 snacks, 5 dishes, and 3 desserts along with a pairing of wine with each course. It was really good. We were totally stuffed. One could say that maybe we overdid it a bit. It reminded me of the first time I ate at the French Laundry in 1979 when it had just opened — a 4 hour orgasmic explosion of flavor.
Finally at about 9:40 we wrapped up our meal and said goodbye. We made it back to our place, brushed our teeth and crashed. I don’t think we will need to eat for the rest of the trip after that.
It was a truly memorable evening of food and wine.