Gandalf, Hagrid, and Bilbo go to a bar. Gandalf orders an Old Fashioned and the bar tender says….
Ok, I know there is a joke to be had in there, but I’ve simply got nothing. Sorry. But rest assured, I will definitely use all of them in this blog.
We have continued to explore Hawkes Bay and surrounds. It continues to be a nice place and we like the overall pace of life here. It is much slower than the States, for sure. I always joke with the Kiwis that we are undergoing American deprogramming, so please be patient with us. That’s always good for a chuckle. It does take a different mindset and I can see that at times it can be annoying if you really need to get stuff done or really need something in particular. As one ex-pat said in a podcast, New Zealand looks deceptively the same, but in reality is completely different. I think I now am starting to understand what he meant.
We decided to drive in to Hastings to run a few errands and just generally check it out. It is down in the very flat part of the valley and feels pretty industrial/utilitarian in comparison to Napier and Havelock North, not all that appealing. So thus far, in Hawkes Bay, Havelock North is the clear front runner.
One of the things that is different here is that if you need some things, it usually requires you to go to several stores—it’s hard to find everything you need in one place. We needed some candles and a microplane.
Our first problem was that we didn’t know which store would sell which item. There was a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and we figured that would have both. Unlike the States though, they didn’t have any kitchen stuff…nor did they have unscented candles. So much for the “beyond” part. We finally found the right candles at Kmart, but no microplane. We rambled around looking for a housewares store and finally found one that had a microplane. The nice one was $55. Yikes. There was a less nice one for $26. Still yikes. If we’d had any doubts about whether we should ship all of our stuff over here, that came to an end. Things like spatulas, graters, seat cushions, and the like are brutally expensive.
The cost of living conversation is pervasive throughout the ex-pat blogs/sites that we participate in. Make no mistake it is expensive here. However, there is a perception that the US is much cheaper. The truth is, like so many things in life, it is not that simple. Spatulas are brutal. Car insurance is cheap. The difference in the cost of cell phone plans is staggering. It was costing us over $150/mo in the US for two phones; here (despite the fact that they won’t let us on the plans yet) it’s $39/mo. Health insurance is cheap and even the augmented “jump the queue” insurance is quite affordable. Petrol is brutal. Processed foods are brutal. Fresh veggies are pretty cheap. Housing is brutal as compared to the average Kiwi’s wages. So, yes, the cost of living is high here, but also low. There’s your non-answer to the question.
In the morning, I felt like trying to create a little bit of normalcy non-vacation feel, so I drove down to the Clive War Memorial Pool to go for a swim. It felt good to get some structured exercise, even though I felt totally out of swimming shape already. It was an old but lovely pool with six lanes and it set me back NZ$5 (just over US$3) for a walk-in pass. Not too bad. There is a really nice outdoor facility in Havelock North, but it is only open in the summer.
We decided that we would go out to dinner in Havelock North at a restaurant called “Deliciosa” that looked interesting and we figured we would hit a few wineries along the way. I looked around on Google and found a small one that looked interesting — Akarangi. It claimed to be a family run winery that specialized in small production wines. Sounded cool. We drove up to the winery, which looked to be some old church and headed on it. It definitely was an old church and there was an organ off to the side with some sheet music on it turned to the song “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts.”
The song, according to Wikipedia, was:
written in 1944 and celebrates the coconut shy (coconut toss) at funfairs, and the chorus of “Roll-a-bowl-a-ball-a-penny-a-pitch!” is based on the call of the showman “standing underneath the flare” (of gaslight), inviting the public to play.
Anywhoo, I digress. A very odd-looking man with a long flowing gray beard, unkempt curly hair, and huge eyebrows popped out from the back and exclaimed “oh! there are people!” He was kind of troll-like, or maybe a wizard?? He invited us to sit down on the church pew where he did the tastings. He started chatting with us, asking where we were from and what we were doing here. We told him we were from Colorado and were hoping to move here. He then warned us of the dangers of organic farming. Hmmmm. Something do with the sulfur-based spray they use. After a ridiculously long time chatting, he finally decided he should serve us some wine. The first, TukiTuki, was a four-grape Bourdeaux blend. It was quite pleasant.
Then he started asking more questions about what we did. He concluded we were scientist. You are correct, sir! Another long rambling story came out that I think was a pseudo-antivaxer kind of thing, but it was hard to tell. I asked if he had done something other than wine-making in the past. I think the answer was no, but between the heavy Kiwi accent and his rambling and convoluted style of talking, it was hard to tell. He finally served us the second wine which was a three-grape blend and it also was quite nice. And that was it for wine.
We stood up and thanked him for the tasting and he looked at Susanne and exclaimed seemingly out of nowhere “Oh! you’re so tall!” Susanne was baffled as to how to respond. Sadly, she did not retort, “Oh! you’re short!” As noted, he was a character!
We did one more tasting at Te Mata and then headed for a very early-bird dinner (are we old???). It turned out to be a good thing because the restaurant was totally booked later on. Our server was American and a sommelier who had been recruited to work with some of the wineries in Hawkes Bay. The food was pretty good, kind of large-scale tapas. We had some fried squid, a duck salad, and some famous green-lipped New Zealand mussels. The mussels were definitely the best. I asked our server if she could direct us to some good wineries and on our way out she gave us a list of some other wineries we should visit. Sweet.
When we got home, we were still puzzling over the weird dude at the winery. I suggested that he was like Gandalf. Susanne disagreed—Gandalf is much more elegant—and said he was definitely a hobbit and probably had very hairy feet. I suggested maybe Hagrid. Susanne considered this to be somewhat valid, but she kept up her advocacy for a hobbit. In the end, after a deep and detailed analysis, I was forced to agree. He was a hobbit. Kind of a weird, conspiracy-theory-minded hobbit, but a hobbit nonetheless.