It’s Swelly in Welly

It’s Swelly in Welly

We are now in Wellington, or as most Kiwis would say, “Welly.” They do like to shorten things, sometimes to the ridiculous, but I guess it fits the culture. As Jacinda said on the Colbert show “we are a pragmatic people.” I have come realize this to be very true. The brevity of the language, I guess, is an expression of that pragmatism. Why waste letters that really don’t add all that much. Or why waste all the cloth on pants when you can just wear shorts … even when there is an Antarctic cold front blowing through. Central heating? Seems like a bit of overkill. Double panes on your windows? Why bother. Just harden up, mate.

The Martinborough Hotel

On our way to Welly down from Hawkes Bay, we stopped in Martinborough. The drive was pretty uneventful and overall pretty easy. The big issue we keep having is with google maps. It is hard to trust sometimes. It’s always taking you on “faster” route that ends up being a gnarly, windy, narrow 2-lane affair that saves you 1 or 2 minutes. But sometimes it is right and if you ignore it, 20+ minutes later you are sorry. It is a tad frustrating.

We had made a booking at Ata Rangi winery for a tasting for 2:30. It was highly rated and the woman who I had arranged the booking with said it was an “intimate 45 minute tasting talking about the wine and vineyard.” We got to the hotel around 2 and decided we had time to check in and then walk out to the winery since it was such a lovely sunny day with temps in the high teens. We got there right on time…or so we thought. When we got to the door, the woman inside with other guests looked a bit distressed. She opened the door and we said we were there for the 2:30 tasting. She informed us it started at 2:00. Ugh. Bummer. I guess I put that in my calendar wrong. Luckily it was only 2:20 and, they were just starting on the tasting, but she informed us we weren’t going to get the low down on the winery, vineyard, and wine maker. At least we were in time for the wine. Priorities, people!

There were two other couples in the room with us; one from Perth and one from Sydney. It felt quite stiff and stilted for the first 10 minutes. Susanne sat there quietly. I am sure in part because the stupid Americans couldn’t figure out what time the tasting was. Doh. Finally things started to loosen up and we had some nice conversations with everyone. The wine was really quite good. We bought some of the Pinot and I think the lady that was doing the tasting kind of forgave us for being late.

Cool old building converted to fine dining

We walked back to the hotel and hung out in the room just chillaxing for a while. We had a booking at 18:15 at a highly rated restaurant in Martinborough called Karahui Wine Bar and Eatery and the nice thing was that is was about a 100 meter walk from the hotel. Well, let’s be real ………. Martinborough is a very small town and almost everything is walkable.

The dinner was quite lovely and the service was excellent. I would definitely recommend going here if you ever find yourself in Martinborough.

The next day were were booked to go to Poppies for lunch, which was according to one of the dudes we met at the the Te Awanga FAWC event “an absolute must do” and you have to make a booking because it is so popular. Well, I had tried about a week earlier. Their webpage informed that they would only do bookings by phone. So I called and left a message. Nobody called back. So I called again. Same response. I was pretty much giving up when I thought I would just email them. The title of the email was “I called as instructed and nobody called back.” I know, obnoxious … but sadly true. They finally emailed me and we arranged a booking for 12:30. I can help but notice that the booking was arranged by email. Seems like the whole phone thing was pretty inefficient, but *sigh*, I’m trying to be more zen in my old age.

It was cold in the morning and at least a 30 minute drive to any interesting hikes, so we just hung around town until we could go to Poppies for our lunch. I did find some cool stuff to do if we come back. An uncommercialized glow worm cave called Ruakokoputuna Caves was tops on my list. It was on someone’s property and you just needed to call them and ask permission to go on their land. There was a cool chasm (Patuna Chasm) to hike as well, but that would set you back $42 big ones, so I was a bit less enthused by that.

We drove the 1.5 km down to Poppies for lunch and wine tasting. It was a nice sunny day so we took the offer to sit outside. We had to grab our coats, though, because the second you felt a slight little breeze, you realized it was only 11 degrees (52, for our Fahrenheit people). They first brought us inside for a tasting. The dude serving was, in my opinion, a bit obnoxious and clearly told the same jokes over and over and over. The wine was pretty good but didn’t really stand out of the crowd for me.

Nice, but not all it was cracked up to be

The “lunch” was just a platter. I will say that it was just ok. Nothing special. Some of the items were just plain weird and didn’t really go. The gluten-free crackers had so much fennel in them that even I deemed them inedible. The ladies from Sydney were there and we waved hi to them and chatted for awhile. I didn’t ask what they thought of the place.

It was a nice day so we thought we might go do the one hike that was close by. Our one hesitation was that the folks from Perth, who we met at Ata Rangi, had said we probably would need a good set of gummies since there was so much mud and manure. Susanne suggested we try another winery instead of a hike. Good call. We headed down the road to one I had read about, Colombo. With a name like that we had to try it.

A new friend

They had a nice area outside to sit and enjoy the sun and the wine. It was very relaxed and way less pretentious than Poppies. The wine was very nice too! There were some folks sitting behind us that had this very cute little dog that was running around have a jolly good time. He kept running up to everyone trying to get pets. Of course we were total suckers and doted on him completely. This made the folks laugh. We chatted a bit and he had a lot of friends in Montana and loved to visit there. The wine maker was from Chile so when she found out Susanne grew up in Venezuela they chatted for a while in Spanish. It was a lovely afternoon.

I had the thought that we should go visit Parliament while we were in Wellington, so I booked us a tour for 13:30 the next day. We had our coffee, lounged about, and then packed up and headed out for Wellington which was just 1.5 hrs away. The road, of course, went up and over a typically steep, narrow, and windy road. I am sure the views were great, but it took too much concentration to see much of anything but possible impending death.

Another major New Zealand highway

We got to Welly a bit early, so we found a place to park and looked for something to eat. We opted for a Thai restaurant and it turned out to be pretty tasty. We walked around downtown for a while and checked out the Beehive and other buildings that are the seat of government for New Zealand.

The Beehive

We checked in for our Tour and waited around for everyone else to show up. Sadly, they don’t let you take pictures of the inside of the building and you have to leave your phone and you have to leave all your stuff checked outside. Bummer. Clive, our guide, was quite the enthusiastic tour director. He was full of factoids and seemed to really enjoy his job. We learned a bunch of things too! Unlike the Brits, New Zealand only has one chamber. Evidently, the used to have two (Representatives and Legislative Council), but they got rid of it because at some point it became clear that the Legislative Council was useless and added no value whatsoever.

In 1950, National party leader Sydney Holland added 29 members to the Council with one and only one job—vote yourself out of existence. And amazingly they did! Wow. What are the odds. I also learned that currently, of the 120 MPs, 59 are women. Sadly, it doesn’t appear we will see that in the US anytime soon.

It was cool and I have a lot to learn about their system.

The folks (Jeremy and Annie) we rented our house from in Te Awanga invited us over for happy hour our first night in Welly. Jeremy had seen from the blog that I liked biking as well. How could we not get together? We drove up the very narrow and hilly streets to their house in Brooklyn. Jeremy runs the East-by-West Ferries in Wellington which has a totally cool electric ferry.

Electric Ferry

He also has a lodge along the 85km Timber Trail that runs through Pureora Forest Park in New Zealand’s Central North Island that looks amazing. They were awesome and we had a lovely time chatting with them and of course petting their dog. I’ll definitely have to get together with Jeremy for some bike rides.

The next day we took the famous cable car up to the Botanic Gardens to check those out. Fortunately for us, the weather was great—not a common thing in Welly. We hiked around the gardens for a while and enjoyed the views. I am sure in the spring the flowers and plants are really amazing.

Cool trees
There’s a kaka in there

Way back in 1987 when I was in grad school I was doing field work in Borneo with two other students, Eric Schmidtke and Bard Ilg. Brad and I had stayed in touch over the years but I hadn’t seen him since Borneo. He happens to live in Welly, so we arranged to meet him for dinner at Shed 5 that night. He has been living here for over 20 years now and loves it. It was great fun to catch up, learn about his experiences here, and learn about why he loves Welly so much.

Hanging by the pool in Sabah in 1987.
Let’s just say, Brad and I still look this good.

He invited us to come back and stay with him next time so he could show us around. This adventure has been great for reconnecting with some cool people that I have not seen in a really long time.

The next day we took the ferry out to Matiu/Somes Island Preserve. Jeremy gave us tickets to get out there, which was super nice. Sadly, the new electric ferry didn’t start service until the next week, so we didn’t get to try that out! The island was pretty cool. It has been rodent-free since about the 80’s so a lot of the native species have made a good comeback. They have a biosecurity station as you arrive on the island, and you have to check your bags for rodents, Argentine ants, as well as brush off, wipe, and disinfect your shoes and hiking poles to make sure you don’t bring seeds or fungal spores onto the island. It isn’t huge, but the views are nice and we did see a few Kākāriki parrots flying around. We spent about two hours wandering around. They used the island in World War II as a degaussing station for ships to keep them from being blown up by the magnetic mines the Germans deployed. There were recordings by a woman who worked at the station, telling various stories about it. She was a hoot. They also have the old gun emplacements that were used during WWII, though they never were fired.

Tomorrow we head for the South Island on the early morning ferry. Although it was a short visit it was definitely Swelly in Welly!

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

Our time in Te Awanga and Hawkes Bay has come to an end. We are moving on after a month-long stay here. It has been nice and we learned a lot about the area, drank some good wine, had some very lovely hikes, hung out, got rained on, met some seriously cool people, and just generally tried to fall into the groove of the area.

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friend
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

— Willie Nelson

It has been a great visit to Hawkes Bay, but in the end I think both of us decided it was not likely to be our final stopping spot. The distance you have to drive to get to great hiking was probably one of the biggest downers, although the biking did look really good.

We were lucky enough to be here for Matariki, which is the Māori new year. It is marked by the appearance of the Matariki (Pleiades) constellation in the east before sunrise. We took a nice walk along the river first and then headed over to Waitangi Regional Park to see what celebrations were going on. They have a cool Māori star navigation clock there. We walked around that and read up on the history. Other than that, there wasn’t too much happening—there was some food, but we weren’t ready to eat.

After talking to many of our peeps back in the States, we have decided to extend our current stay past August 11th, when we were originally scheduled to fly back. Instead, we are going to go back on October 23rd so we can see some friends, take care of some stuff and celebrate Thanksgiving with my sis and family. This did create a bit of a dilemma for us, though. We have only planned out to August 11th.

We talked about some options and started digging around. We dreamed about places we might rent after Upper Moutere (Nelson area) and where we might want to go. We had also, back in the States, discovered a website that was for house sitting gigs.

We both started to search through those to see if we could find anything that was attractive to us, both on the types of animals and location of house.

The one thing about house sitting gigs here in New Zealand is that you have to carefully check out the animal situation. It is a rural country. One place in the South Island, that looked quite lovely, required you to take care of 3 dogs, 2 cats, 12 chickens, 4 horses, sheep, cows, and goats. The number of sheep, cows and goats was unspecified. Thankfully they did recommend that “some experience with farm animals would be helpful.” Ya think? Negatory on that one. That sounds like a job.

We did find two that were quite promising. One up in the Nortlhands area on 6 hectares and one near the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. Each required no farm animals, reptiles, fish, or llamas. Just one dog. I pinged both and got a quick response back thanks to a wonderful reference letter that Caroline from Ft. Collins wrote us. In the end we decided on the house in Cooks Beach in the Coromandel area because we really wanted to visit here and it looked AMAZING!

Cooks Beach

So we are booked to hang out with Romy, a 10 year old Golden, from August 12th to September 16th while his parents head off to Europe. We are super excited to check out the area and get some serious dog kisses. Yeah! The whole dog sitting thing is looking like a good option for us going forward. Now we just have September 16th to October 23rd to sort out, but we will do that later.

Sadly, Otis seems to be a bit sick. He has had this very annoying squeak. It has taken me quite a while to diagnose the problem. At first I thought it was the suspension because sometimes going over the sleeping policeman (speed bumps) I would hear it. But after paying closer attention, that theory fell apart. I monitored the diagram that shows the interplay between the petrol engine, the battery, and the car thinking maybe that was it. I couldn’t find a correlation that was predictable. Finally, one day when I was coming back from the Clive swimming pool, I figured it out. Every time the car shifted from pure EV mode to petrol, it would squeak. Bummer. I called up Mr. Motors and told them I had a problem. They sent me over to Keith in the service department.

It’s a complex system

I described the problem. He said “just bring it in.” I informed him I was nowhere near Auckland and wouldn’t be for months. He said he would talk the transmission guy and call me back. He called me back and said it was urgent that I bring it in. Ugh. After a lot of backing-and-forthing, we decided we would drive up to Auckland on Sunday and have them look at the car on Monday and drive back to Te Awanga on Tuesday. Not ideal and kind of expensive and a drag, but it was the only option we had. Serious bummer.

I looked around for a hotel that was halfway decent and wouldn’t cost a fortune that was near the service center in Mount Roskill. Nothing. Susanne found an Airbnb that looked pretty nice, was a bit of a guest-housey thing and was very affordable. Done. Whew.

I had been trying to change our plane tickets with Air New Zealand, but after spending multiple hours on the phone I gave up. I googled it and this seems to be a common thing right now; so much so, that there were several articles in the New Zealand newspapers about how bad it was. Since we had to drive up to Auckland, I figured we could just stop by the airport and try to do it there. So we headed out on Sunday for the always fun drive over Highway 5. It wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered, but still kind of a gnarly road. All the people were still complaining about the 80 kph speed limit. I still had no complaints.

We got to airport around 3, found a parking spot and headed on in. I told the lady at the Air New Zealand desk that after a very long time on the phone, I had given up and at the advice of other online travelers we had headed out to the airport to try to get our tickets changed.

Need to be more zen, man

She then informed us that we owed a penalty for changing. I informed her that I had paid for a changeable ticket. She told us that she didn’t see that. I got a bit miffed. She got defensive. She told us that she didn’t have to help us because she was only required to help same day people. I got angry. As Susanne pointed out later, once I was obviously angry, the woman had shifted her focus and had started talking to Susanne, only looking at her. It was obvious she was trying to get this done for us, but didn’t want to deal with me. Oops. Susanne stepped in, smoothed over the situation and we managed to get our tickets changed without the penalty. Evidently, once she clicked further through the menu, the charge had gone away. Ugh. But I wish I had managed it better.

We headed to our Airbnb and settled in. I ran to the store and we did an appy dinner and watched some TV before heading to bed. A bit of a drag to have to do all that driving, but we didn’t want Otis’s transmission to crater.

The next morning we drove to the repair shop to drop Otis off. Only, we ended up at someone’s house. It looked like it could possibly be the shop as there were a bunch of old tires and stuff in the front yard, but it seemed unlikely. We were both confused. I tried to call Keith, but no answer. Ugh. We sat there in there driveway for a while trying to figure it out. Finally, a young woman came out and very nicely asked us what we were doing in her driveway. I explained that we were given the wrong address and were looking for the car shop. She said, no, this was not the car shop. She was amazingly sweet and nice considering a couple of strangers were parked in her driveway at 7:30 in the morning for no apparent reason. I can’t imagine what kind of response I would have gotten in the US if we had done this. Maybe the same … but not likely.

We found the correct address and went and dropped the car off with Keith. He said it would be out all day and would give us an update later. So now we had a day in Auckland to figure out what to do. We didn’t want to get too far away in case something came up with Otis. We tried to go do a walk that looked nice, but it turned out to not be much of walk because it had to be done at low tide and it currently was not low tide. Bummer. So we decided to run errands. Susanne needed some warm but cheap slippers, so we headed to Kmart. Woohoo! Who doesn’t want travel halfway around the world to go shopping at Kmart. I think the answer is obvious…Everyone!

Some seriously nice slippers

Next on the fun and excitement list was to go look at some campervans at a place out by the airport. We met Sven and he showed us a bunch of units. They were really nice. 7m sprinter van kind of types. Made in Germany. Super-expensive. Even the used ones were expensive. But we both agreed that Sven was nice and it would be awesome to have one of those. I asked if he would cut a deal and/or do a lease/purchase. He said Pip, the owner, would call me and discuss. It was fun to look at them and it ate up some time.

The last time we were in New Zealand we had stayed at a hotel in this same neighborhood near the airport. It is a big industrial area but there is a really nice winery there, with some beautiful grounds/gardens. So we thought, “let’s go there!” Susanne looks and it is closed on Mondays. Bummer. So we did a bit of a walk along some wetlands. Not too bad, but a nice walk AND a nice winery would have been better.

We head back and I called Keith. Otis’s transmission checked out fine. He is now at the hybrid folks’ getting a software update. Evidently this is a common problem in Nissans. Bummer. We decide to get Chinese takeway and hang out. The driving in Auckland has a reputation of being bad. Narrow, congested streets with too many cars. The drive to the Chinese place is maybe 3 km, probably less. On one street I felt like I was in Rome. It was nominally a two-lane street, but there were so many cars parked on the sides, it was distinctly just one lane. So you would find a small gap and dash forward as far as you could until you felt like you were being un-Kiwi (impolite) and then tuck into a slot and let a bunch of cars coming the other way go through. It took me 20 minutes to go 1 km. Ugh. In the end, the Chinese food was terrible.

Summiting the mighty Mount Albert

Keith was supposed to get the car back first thing in the morning and give us a call. We hung around until 10 and checked out of the Airbnb. We drove up to the top of Mount Albert where there was little walking path. It had a great view of the city and it was worth taking the short stroll around the park. We even got to pet a dog or two. Then we drove down to the Countdown so I could get some lunch items for later and hopefully eat up the remainder of the time until we could go pick Otis up.

Finally, we just headed over to service center and waited. I reminded Keith that our drop dead time was 1 pm. Neither of us wanted to drive Highway 5 at night. Finally at about 12:45 Otis showed back up. We packed up and headed out. It took all of 400 meters for us to hear the squeak again. Ack! We were both like “fuck it, man” and kept going. I’ll bring it back in August when we are back this way.

The dude from the Airbnb in Auckland gave us a (slightly) bad review. Said we left food on his precious counter (we didn’t) and he had to clean it (didn’t we pay a cleaning fee??) Sheesh, as if the trip hadn’t been a big enough PITA. It irritated Susanne to no end, which isn’t easy to do, but in the end she decided to not respond to his comment as it would likely end up with un-Kiwi-like words being exchanged.

Our next stop is Martinborough about 3 1/2 hours south of us. Famous for Pinots. We are spending just a few short days there, but both of us are excited to see a completely new area.

Flip Turn

Flip Turn

I have perfected….uh…..mastered…….uh…..well, I can do a flip turn now. It has been a long time coming (years, really), but I set my mind to it and I can now do one with regularity. Goes to show you that anything is possible. Now, does it look the like person above? Absolutely not. Do I bang my heels? Yes. Do I miss the wall completely? Yes. But there I am, swimming in the Clive War Memorial Pool doing flip turns. It hasn’t really sped up my pace, but I feel like a pro now and I look down on all those dweebs not doing flip turns….well, not really.

Things have been a bit boring here as of late due to the crazy weather. We did get a bit of a respite and got a couple of walks in at Ocean Beach. Two days in a row, in fact.

Oh, the crowds.

It is really a super-nice beach and there just aren’t very many people there. There are people walking their dogs, though. That always makes us happy and we try to entice the dogs to come over so we can get a few pets in. This one German Short-haired Pointer spotted me as a sucker from a million miles away and just sprinted down the beach to come and say hi. We gave him a bunch of pets and he gave us a bunch wags and kisses. Mutuality at it best. Ah…

On the road out of Ocean Beach there was a very puzzling sign. We both thought that maybe this was one of those weird international signs that an American might not know. Or perhaps a Kiwi sign? Seen from a distance, the sign seemed to imply that you had to be careful or the kids would all fall off the cliff into certain death (yes, the sign IS next to a cliff). Now, as mentioned, the Kiwi roads are a bit intense, but this seemed hard to believe. Then we noticed the missing screw. School bus stop. Mystery solved.

Scary warning sign

It was also our 33rd anniversary on June 16th. Hard to believe. It is sometimes hard to remember all of the stuff that we have done together, but I think we both agree that somehow we have be able to find a pretty nice balance between long term and short term, good times and tough times. Our focus has been on experiences rather than things, although we did own two houses for over 20 years. Won’t do that again. Too much stuff. Life hasn’t always been easy and I know that I am at times a pretty challenging person to be around. However, when I think about it and put it into perspective, I’m pretty glad to be here on this planet with all the ups and downs of life spending a huge chunk of it with someone I genuinely like to hang out with. That’s pretty cool. We, of course, decided to go wine tasting on our anniversary. Seems to be our default when the weather is less than stellar. We ordered a platter of cheese and dips and tasted the wines at Trinity Hill.

Happy Anniversary

The dude serving was quite nice, if not a bit flamboyant in an Adam Lambert kind of way. He had one earring that was a good six inches long with lots of feathers and adornments. When I went to pay, I said to him “I like your earring.” He lit up. I don’t think he expected that from an old, bald guy. But it was cool. Might have to get one for myself.

I have not been a very good Kiwi, since I had not once had fish and chips ….the national dish of New Zealand. I actually don’t think it is the national dish of New Zealand, but in my mind, it should be. After a nice swim at the pool and many …. uh …. adequate flip turns, I stopped by and got myself some at the local takeaway. It was pretty tasty.

It seems that there is no clear agreement on what the national dish actually is. Some say lamb. Some say pies. As much as I think fish and chips should be considered, I will vote for Hangi, which is cooked in a pit, and a traditional Māori food.

The not national dish of New Zealand

A Hangi pit

The hangi is a traditional Māori form of cooking, where food like fish, meat and kumara are smoked in a pit dug into the ground. This ‘earth oven’ is the perfect way to bring people together and cook a feast, and is still used for special occasions around the country. It’s a uniquely New Zealand cuisine, and if you’re visiting, it’s worth a try.

We had one more F.A.W.C event at Craggy Range Winery. We managed to find someone to drive us there and back so we could drink wine and not have to worry about driving. It wasn’t cheap, but totally worth it. We were expecting something like what we experienced at the Te Awanga Estates event.

We showed up and headed into the restaurant where they were hosting the event. The looked up our tickets and then took us to a table for two. We both were a bit puzzled as to whether we were actually at the right event. It felt a lot more like an evening at the restaurant than a special event. The food was quite good and wine was nice, but not quite what we expected.

At one point, the couple next to us (Ed and Julie) leaned over and introduced themselves to us. They lived close by, had emigrated from England 15 years ago and moved to Hawkes Bay about 7 or 8 years ago. They seemed to know everyone in the valley. They were amazed we had managed to get tickets and told us that almost nobody who isn’t a local could get tickets to the event. I told them that I just happened to log in at the moment they opened up tickets and had the time zones in my favor.

We had fun chatting with them and I appreciated they started the conversation with us. Overall, the food and wine was good, but both of us agreed that we had way more fun at the (considerably more raucous) Te Awanga event.

Heaps of Fun

We just happened to be in Hawkes Bay exactly when they were having their winter Food and Wine Classic. It is a four-weekend affair where wineries and restaurants host wine and food events. I had discovered this when we were still in the States and thought “that would be fun” and signed up for the newsletter. This also allowed us to sign up for events a day earlier than everyone else. At the time, I had no idea how popular the events might be. So, on the day they opened up registration, I signed us up for two events: “Blanc is the New Noir” at the Te Awanga Estates on June 11th and “A Hawkes Bay Winter” at the Craggy Range winery on the 19th.

The great thing about the “Blanc is the new Noir” event is that we could walk to it. Yeah! Thankfully the day was quite lovely as well with lots of sunshine and temperatures approaching 20 degrees. The event was from noon to 4 pm and featured a tasting of six different sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and France. We were both excited about it and it would be fun to meet some new people.

A lovely day for a stroll to Te Awanga Estates

We headed out from the house at around 11:30 to make sure we made it there in time. As we were heading up the gravel road to the winery, a woman walking her dog caught up with us, and of course both Susanne and I had to pet her dog. As is usual here in New Zealand, this started a conversation. Bix lived in Te Awanga and liked to walk her dog up the road, around to the coffee shop and then back home. Her house was for sale (we had seen it on TradeMe) because of a relationship ending 🙁 but she said if we were interested we should come by and check it out. We might just have to take her up on it. She was lovely, we got our dog fix, and it was a wonderful way to start the festivities. I am not one who normally just strikes up conversations with strangers, but it is almost infectious here. People are just so easygoing it is hard not to start chatting with them. Granted, we have kind of a big opening card in that we are American and that always helps generate some questions, but it does just seem like a way of life here.

Predictably, we got to the event early. Doh. Better early than late. We just took a seat at some of the outside tables and enjoyed the view of the vineyards.

Jo, the woman who had emailed me about the logistics of the event, came out and introduced herself with “you must be Roger and Susanne!” Yes, it is a small town here. She was very nice and I guess is an avid ultra-marathoner.


Jo wants to go do the Leadville 100 someday and really loved Colorado. She looked pretty fit, even in comparison to all the crazy fit people here. She served us some bubbly and chatted with us while they prepped. Another couple showed up. They knew Jo and Jo knew them. Jo introduced us and they sat with us, chatting and learning about what we were up to, and wondering how we had ended up here. Wayne gave us some places to go visit in Martinborough when we go there.

Another couple joined us at the table and we started chatting. Turns out that Elizabeth was from Peru! She and her partner, who is Kiwi, had just managed to make it back to New Zealand. She loved Napier. Susanne told her that she grew up in Venezuela and Elizabeth lit up like and light bulb and they had a very animated chat in Spanish. I think this made Elizabeth very happy to be able to have someone to speak to in fluent Spanish. It is truly a very small world.

Hayden Penny

After a while, everyone had arrived and we moved inside to the tables where we were going to do the food and wine tasting. Susanne and I were at one end of a table and the wine maker, Hayden Penny sat next to us. He was quite a large athletic fellow and I guess he had played professional rugby in Scotland. He had come to do wine making at Te Awanga Estates because he loved their focus on organic farming.

Across from me was Sharon, who was a writer for Kia Ora magazine which is the magazine that you read when you are on an Air New Zealand flight. She was at the festival with her partner writing a story.

She unquestionably has the coolest job on the planet. They were a hoot and super fun to talk to and lived in Wellington. Sharon said the weather was terrible there and we should definitely scratch it off our list. On Susanne’s left was Katie who lived in Hamilton. She had grown up in Wellington and loved her husband but wasn’t overly fond of Hamilton. But love is a powerful thing.

The only bummer was that the crowd was having so much fun and was so boisterous, it was too loud to actually have a conversation with even the person next to you. But hey, everyone was having a good time yelling at the person next to them.

We started the wine tasting with three different Sauv Blancs from New Zealand. One from Otago (way south), one from Martinborough (south part of the North Island) and one from Marlborough Valley (most famous area that most Americans know). Most of the Kiwis that aren’t from Marlborough total look down on the wines from there. They are super acidic with tons of grapefruit flavor. Ready to drink now. As far as I can tell, there are only two camps: (a) you love them or (b) you hate them. There is absolutely not one person on this planet that says “yea, they’re pretty nice, but not my favorite.” That person doesn’t exist.

“What’s a Sando?” says the American

All of them were good and I actually liked the Martinborough Sauv the best. Each was wonderful in its own way. The Otago wine was better with food for sure. They served us a plate of small bites to have with the wine. One was supposed to be the “disrupter”; in other words, a food that didn’t pair well with these wines.

They tested us after we had finished that course by asking us which one we thought didn’t pair with the wine. I made it blatantly clear that I was an American without a clue when I asked what a “Sando” was (Sandwich). Doh. That was good for a few chuckles and laughs and a bit of blush from me. I did get the disrupter right, though: the tomato.

The next set of wines were a Te Awanga Estates wine, and two French wines. The Clos du Tue-Boeuf was one of the most interesting Sauv Blancs I have ever had. It was super minerally and a bit cloudy. It wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was really unique. I gave it high marks. I asked Hayden what his favorite was and it was not surprisingly the Te Awanga Estates. I guess that was an unfair question.

I told him about our experience with Akarangi. I said the wines were pleasant. He said they were average. I said pleasant was my polite way of saying they were average. He laughed.

A very unique wine

I told him about our experience with Hobbit man. He laughed and agreed he was quite the character. We left it at that. No need to dig further into that story!

We had some chicken and veggies and finished off the evening with a late harvest Sauv Blac that was lovely. The meal was great, the wines we wonderful and it was just so uplifting hanging out with some really nice people just having a great time enjoying life.

I got to talk to Hayden a lot about wine and winemaking during the dinner, which was super fun. You don’t often get a front row seat with a winemaker and learn about their craft. The staff was amazing too!

We hung around with everyone well after the food and tasting were over. They were wonderful. Katie kept telling Susanne and I that we had to consider Coromandel as a place to live and that they had a bach there and we should come up and spend a weekend with them. Sheesh. There is just something so wonderful about that. It wasn’t fake, either. I know if we called her up and said we wanted to come up, she would be thrilled to have us. We walked home, watching the fading light of the day, feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a bit tipsy too, but mostly just relaxed and grateful to be here; just living this moment and no others.

What a wonderful bunch of people

Cultural Awareness

We have been settling in to our bach in Hawkes Bay quite nicely. At times it is exciting and at times it is boring. I guess that is what we were trying to achieve—a slice of real life. And if you are going to do that, why not do it in a place that is beautiful, has good food, wine, and friendly people.

That said, not all has gone as well as we had hoped. Sometime you can see, in hindsight and quite plainly, that just maybe you made a bad decision. It usually starts with subtle clues that you should notice but you don’t. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Anyway, the day started with another hike up to Te Mata Peak, but via a different route called the Ridge Trail. It was a glorious day in the high teens (see? I’m trying to get calibrated to Celsius) without a cloud in the sky. I totally bungled the navigation and then fool-hardedly argued with Susanne about it and was in the end proven to be utterly wrong. Doh. So much for the human-GPS title.

We walked through the redwood forest where there were a couple of dudes setting up some fencing. Evidently they were getting ready to move some sheep through there. As we climbed up the ridge we heard a lot of dogs barking and could see the sheep being moved across the paddock. There were probably 6 or 7 dogs all working together with a shepherd to keep everybody in order. It was amazing to watch.

Once in Colorado, we went and watched sheep dog trials in Carbondale and it was captivating to see how good the dogs were and how much they loved the shepherd job. I am sure it is a hard job, but border collies are incredibly smart and able athletes that crave a job. We stood there for a good 5 or 10 minutes just watching the dogs and shepherd work the sheep. So cool.

Sheep being herded by a bunch of dogs

The hike up the ridge was staggeringly beautiful and exciting at times with some steep exposure. Some old Kiwi without a shirt and without an ounce of body fat blew by us as if we were standing still. Sheesh. I did want to give him a brochure about the dangers of skin exposure to the sun, but I don’t think I could have caught up to him, nor would he have appreciated the message.

We had decided that we didn’t want to cook that night and were both craving some Mexican food. We saw there was a Mexican restaurant in Havelock North that had pretty reasonable reviews, so we decided to risk it and try it out. (Ominous music playing in the background, btw).

We first stopped by Smith & Sheth to try their wines. The sommelier from the other night at Deliciosa had recommended them. It was a combination of wine bar and winery, since they served both their own wines and others. They had some nice wines. They even had a Grenache from Santa Barbara—”A Tribute to Grace” Wow! Evidently she is a kiwi winemaker that moved to California and fell in love with Grenache and studied how Mick Unti was producing his Grenache! Double WOW!!!! Unti is our favorite winery in the whole wide world. What were the odds. Crazy. It was pretty good, but nothing like Unti’s.

We paid our bill and the dude at the register asked where we were off to. We said we were heading to dinner at “Mamacita.” He kind of winced a bit and said “oh, that’s just around the corner.” We didn’t think too much about his look at the time. (Precursor clue #1).

We walked into the restaurant and it was almost empty (Precursor clue #2) but we figured it was still pretty early so no problemo. We sat down at our table and started to study the menu while we listened to Tito Puente and other Cuban greats serenade us with music (Precursor clue #3). On the wall was a map of North America with it clearly centered on the US—Mexico was dangling off the edge (Precursor clue #4).

The menu was odd. There were tacos and quesadillas, but very little else resembled Mexican food. We decided to get some chips and guac. The guac was pretty good. The chips were ok but sort of sweet and the “hot” sauce on the table was not hot and was REALLY sweet, basically chili-flavored sugar water (Precursor clue #5).

The chips were followed by some shrimp with slaw and some pork ribs. The shrimp came out and they were cooked properly and the slaw wasn’t bad, but it seemed to be more a Southern dish than Mexican. The ribs were oozing in a sticky sweet sauce with sesame seeds on them (Precursor clue #6). Ok, maybe it’s just me, but I racked my brain and couldn’t think of a single time in my life that I had ever had sesame seeds in Mexican food. It was bad. The meat was cooked ok, but the sauce was straight out terrible, and—you guessed it—sweet. Doh. Should have known. Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern are all fine in New Zealand. Mexican? Just say no. Bummer. We drove home and drowned our sorrows in a lovely Clearview Semillion. Lesson learned.

The tides have not been in our favor, so we have not been able to make it back out to Ocean Beach for some walks. We have filled our times with other strolls in the area. It has also been super windy, which doesn’t make it nearly as pleasant to walk on the beach. We scoped a place out in the northwestern part of the valley that looked like a nice trail along the Ngaruroro River near Fernhill. We passed a chocolate factory which we sadly did not stop at. Next time.

A lovely little path

It was a lovely little trail and it was a pleasant temperature. We strolled along for a couple of miles and then decided to turn around because it had moved away from the river and we thought it might be better on the other side.

The one lane bridge was not advisable on foot, so we drove over but didn’t see anything that looked like an appealing trail on the other side. So instead we decided to head over to Taradale and check that out; it was like Havelock North and seemed to have some pretty nice houses. And, there were a couple of nice wineries, so we’ll have to go back and taste.

It took all of 4.3 seconds to drive through Taradale. Nice, but not as nice as Havelock North. It was still a bit early for wine tasting so we decided to head over to a Maori historical site called Otatara Pa. I guess it was one of the most historically significant Pa (fortified villages) in New Zealand. It was a pleasant 1.5 km loop around the site. You could see why they chose it as it had great views over the entire valley.

I would not want to be charging up this steep hill straight into a bunch of burly, motivated, tattooed warriors waiting to club me over the head for intruding on their land.

Maybe we could just have a nice glass of Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with some Kumara chips and you could teach me about your culture and heritage?

That sounds way mo’ betta.

After the Pa we headed over to Church Road Winery for yet some more wine tasting. Do you sense a theme here? It was good and the environment was nice. There was a super muscular dude that looked like a pro rugby player. Would not want to try and tackle him. No sir. The food looked great and they had a nice outdoor seating area, so we will definitely come back.

The weather has continued to be iffy. We had wanted to do an overnighter to Sunrise Hut, but that was out of the questions when we saw on the weather report that it was expected to be 75 kph winds with gusts up to 120 kph. No thank you. Even for me, that did not sound relaxing.

The pushy Japanese lady has not relented. She hounds us every single time we get into the car. Over and over and over again. It is super annoying, at least for me. I get irritated and try to do the analysis of just how much I might be willing to pay to replace her with another system that will let me listen to Eva Cassidy or something. But no. She yells. I get irritated. It doesn’t help.

Susanne on the other hand, being a far more zen-like person, has taken it upon herself to learn Japanese. Now, I am not sure how far it will get her in Japan as I know they will be thinking this woman has lost her mind because she keeps going on and on about a missing SD card, but they will understand her clearly. She learns a new language; I just get irritated.

Pushy Japanese Lady
Language student

The wind was howling so we decided to drive down to Napier and go the aquarium and check that out. The Japanese lady yelled at us as we head out and parked on the Marine Parade.

It was a pleasant little aquarium. Nothing special, but after you have visited the Monterey Bay aquarium, everything is pretty much a runner-up. We enjoyed it nonetheless and it was a nice little distraction. They even had a whole room on the geology of New Zealand! Yeah! Not sure why that is in the aquarium, but yeah!!!

We tried to go to the botanic gardens, but the parking was ridiculous. I went around twice, but the parking spots where so narrow I thought Susanne would start yelling “Ay-ay-ay, Ay-ay-ay, Ay-ay-ay” if I tried to pull in. This is a throwback to her mom who, was the best radar alarm system known to man if there was even a chance something might go wrong while driving. No need to trigger that one!

So we decided, fuck it, dude, let’s go to the Urban Winery and do a tasting and have some lunch. The wines were quite good and the food wasn’t bad. Susanne’s risotto wasn’t really risotto, but it was at least tasty. More veggies and rice than risotto. The gluten-free bread was good and the humus was super lovely.

The wine maker had discovered these weird, egg-shaped, concrete barrels in Argentina that slowly moved the wine around while it aged. They looked like an alien, but the wines that came out of them were quite good.

Weird egg thingy

To end the day we went to the store to buy some supplies. It is funny how, when you are in a different country, it is the subtleties that escape you and you can cause humor, annoyance, or both with your lack of understanding. In the New World Market in Havelock North, I kept wondering why people kept glaring at me and getting irritated by my actions. Finally, I saw it. Their aisles were not two-way. Further, they had so politely indicated to everyone, which direction the flow should go. I had missed that. Doh.

A not-so-subtle cue to the culturally unaware.

So much to learn.

Duck Itch

The weather was a bit iffy, but we wanted to get out and explore some of the other areas around us. We decided to drive down past Ocean Beach to Waimārama and explore that area. As Americans, we totally mangle the pronunciations of the place names. They have a totally different cadence, and the accent on the syllables isn’t where an American would guess they are (despite the accent).

For example: Waimārama

  • An American would say “Why ma RA ma”
  • The Kiwi pronunciation is “Why MAR ama”

The drive there was on a beautiful small (and windy) road through quintessential North Island terrain (see cover photo). We decided to stop at a small little nature preserve called the “Mohi Bush Scenic Reserve.” It wasn’t huge, about 4 km to do the long circuit around it, but it was a nice example of what the native bush looked like—very dense and dark. Muddy too.

Sadly we didn’t see any Kiwis….the birds that is.

After a pleasant hike around the nature preserve, we drove down the road to Waimārama beach. The town was quite a bit more substantial than Ocean Beach, with some very nice houses that were way more than baches. The beach itself wasn’t quite as long and wide as Ocean beach was, but it was nice—sandy, swimmable, and walkable. We were both think “hmmmm, this is nice—wonder how far of a drive it is to the New World Market in Havelock North.”

Beautiful Waimārama Beach

On the way back, we stopped by the Craggy Range winery which is quite famous and super fancy schmancy. They have lodging there that starts at $450/night. We aren’t staying there, but we are going for a special dinner as part of the FAWC (Food and Wine Classic) celebration on June 19th. That will be fun.

Getting a dog fix

We sat inside because it was a bit too chilly to sit outside and they served us some wines. We really do need to “harden up!” The wine was quite good, if not a bit expensive. Their Riesling was lovely and they had a very nice Rosé as well. The Pinot from Martinborough grapes was excellent. As we were sitting there, I noticed a book over on the shelf at their gift shop. “Wine Dogs New Zealand.” I had to go grab it and take a look. Lots of border collies, labs, and other scruffy pooches. Awe. Made me really miss my girlie-girl. I am sure she is happy as a clam running around the beaches of Santa Barbara barking at Tuuka and Hankie.

They served one wine from their “expensive” list that was a 2013 Cab/Merlot blend. The were asking $135 for it. I didn’t like it. Neither did Susanne. No need to spend big coin on that one. We bought some cheaper wine and headed home. It wasn’t an adrenaline-inducing day, but pleasant and relaxing.

The next day we decided we would drive north and do a tramp out that way. We also wanted to get a sense for towns like Eskdale, and what the beach was like in the northern part of Hawkes Bay. We had a read about a nice tramp at Lake Tutira that looked promising, so we headed out. I almost screwed up and nearly got us into a prang in a roundabout, and that freaked me out. You don’t realize how much of your driving gets put into auto-pilot when you are familiar with the roads, the driving style, and traffic patterns. It was a reminder that, even though I feel pretty comfortable driving here, it is not automatic yet!

We got to the lake, parked, gathered up our stuff, and checked out the map of the route we wanted to take. A big part of the area was closed due to timber operations, so that was out.

Ummmm, no thank you

The map was a bit confusing, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to navigate. There was a big notice around the lake saying how the lake was now open for swimming again as long as you doused yourself in deet for fear of getting Duck Itch. Neither of us knew what duck itch was, but agreed that we had no desire to get it. Thus, we were not going to go swimming in the lake.

We walked along the dirt road to the campground. It was a beautiful fall morning, if not a bit chilly. The lake was mirror-like and beautiful despite the threat of duck itch. We got to the campground and looked for the trail. We found one, but it wasn’t clear it was the right one. We started up the hill and it was very muddy and wet. Susanne was less than thrilled about the prospect of possibly losing her footing and doing a head plant into the mud. Sheesh, she really does need to harden up.

We got to a fork on what was called the “Valley Trail.” Excuse me, this was not on the map. We took the Valley Trail, since it seemed to go in the right direction based on what we’d seen on the map. After a few ups and downs through leafy, muddy slopes, it eventually popped out into a paddock that didn’t go anywhere. Hmmm, we headed down the farm road and back to the Ridge trail. We just weren’t sure and our gps wasn’t showing any trails so we decided to just head back down and do the short loop around lake Waikopiro.

On our way back, we stopped in at the MacPac store (like the NZ version of REI) in Napier to get a propane canister for the camping stove and some hut passes. We are hoping to do an overnight up to Sunrise Hut later in the week if the weather cooperates.

Then we stopped at the Countdown in Napier for some groceries. It was a sad comparison to the New World Market in Havelock North. Kind of Ralphs vs. Gelsons if you are familiar with those stores in the US. Oh well. They had enough of what we needed.

We decided to make our lives easy and get a pizza from Te Awanga Estates Winery for dinner. We drove the 1/2 kilometer up to the winery. The parking lot was empty. We went inside and the woman who served us wine the other day—Sham—was there. We ordered the pizza, she poured us a couple of tastings of the wines that were open, and we chatted while we waited. They didn’t have a takeaway box, so they put the pizza into one of their smaller wine boxes. A bit big, but functional.

The pizza was very tasty and we accompanied it with the remainder of the Tukituki wine and laughed about that whole hobbit thing again.

Gandalf, Hagrid, and Bilbo

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.

Our very expensive microplane

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.

A very interesting and yummy cauliflower–yes, it’s really orange. The veggies here are wonderful!

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.

What Happened to Havelock?

We have settled into our bach quite nicely. Although we have had some bad weather, it has mostly be super pleasant. Every time we get a rainy day, we both very grudgingly agree that we should knock off a few of our adulting chores. Sigh. But before you start to feel too sorry for us, we did manage to squeeze in some wine tasting at two of the wineries that are within walking distance of our place.

The key varietals that they grow in the region are Syrah and Chardonnay. They grow a number of others, but the climate is very much like the Rhone valley, so you see those types of wines. We asked about good producers of Italian varietals and I guess there are a few producers that we will go try out, but I don’t think the general Kiwi palate has adopted the likes of a good Montepulciano yet. We tasted at Elephant Hill and Te Awanga Estates. Both had some lovely wines and we bought a few. Susanne met a very nice Kiwi at Elephant Hill who, despite the occasional slobber, was lovely. His job was to greet everyone and he was excellent at it.

Susanne’s new wine tasting buddy

Our wine pourer at Te Awanga was very nice and chatted with us quite a lot. She (Sham? Shem? Cham?) was studying wine-making, grew up in the area and was of Māori descent. We discovered that we were not pronouncing either Māori nor Taupō correctly. We have some work to do.

It is a bit of a strange trip as compared to others we have taken here. It is both vacation and not. We have come to Hawkes Bay to assess whether or not it might be a place that we would want to consider residing full time. This involves just generally driving around and exploring, looking at real estate, and learning towns and neighborhoods, seeing what type of food shopping is available, biking paths, trails, open spaces, restaurants, and generally trying to visualize what it would be like to live there on a day-to-day basis. This is quite different from what you are thinking about on vacation.

So, first a few facts about the Hawkes Bay Region:

The total population of the area is around 160,000 people with the three biggest cities being Napier (66,300), Hastings (49,000) and Havelock North (14,900). These may seem small by US standards, but are reasonably sizeable in New Zealand.

Ethnicities in the 2018 census were 75.0% European/Pākehā, 27.0% Māori, 5.6% Pacific peoples, 5.0% Asian, and 1.7% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.The percentage of people born overseas was 15.9, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Population density of Hawkes Bay

Hawke’s Bay has 17,886 ha (44,200 acres) of horticultural land, the third largest area in New Zealand behind Canterbury and Marlborough. The largest crops by land area are apples (4,750 ha), wine grapes (3,620 ha), squash (3,390 ha), and peas and beans (1,360 ha).

Already, even in the off-season, the amount and quality of beautiful organic fruits and vegetables is amazing. We both “ooooh” and “aaaaah” every time we go to the vegetable market.

Art Deco capital of New Zealand

Our first task was head down to Napier and just get a feel for that town. After a super stormy night and what looked like a nice day, we headed down to Napier to do a walk along the Marine Parade and then get a sense for the city. The city was leveled in a huge earthquake in 1931 and was rebuilt with a predominately art deco style.

We parked a couple miles south of the city and walked along the bike path that runs along the beach. The one thing we discovered right away is that the beach here has not much use as a beach. It is very steep, pebbly, and dangerous. It has a steep drop-off and a nasty undertow, and is not particularly walkable since the pebbles are large-ish. There are signs everywhere telling you how you will have made a very bad decision if you go swimming here. Bummer. The Marine Parade, which is a pretty major road, is between the first row of houses and the beach. Although those houses probably have great views, it wasn’t super appealing to be looking down on a busy road. Hmmm.

The long and dangerous beach

The downtown was nice with quite a few restaurants and shops, but it was weird mix of nice and dumpy. One block had fancy boutiques, and the next block had the dollar store and second-hand store. Not unappealing, but neither of us thought “wow! this is awesome! we have to live here.”

Nice views, but the roads are ridiculous

There is a big hill that includes two areas, called Hospital Hill and Bluff Hill. They frame downtown Napier and separate it from the major port on the north side. We finished our nice walk and decided to drive up Bluff Hill to a view point at the top. The road up was intensely narrow and steep. Both of us were wondering who would want to drive this every day.

The view at the top was nice, but mostly looked down on the port where there was a lot of noise and activity as they were loading timber and containers. Not the most exciting. We decided to drive back down and check out an area called Ahuriri that was supposed to be pretty high end and didn’t require a drive up some crazy narrow streets. It was ok but uninspiring from our perspective. I guess what summed up the area was Perfume Point which as one google reviewer pointed out was “It’s a bit of a play on words because there is a sewage outlet around there somewhere. But don’t worry the outfall has been treated.”

Between the lack of a viable beach, ridiculous roads to get to the nicer areas on Bluff/Hospital Hill, and a high-end neighborhood next to a busy port, both Susanne and I looked at each other and said “Ixnay on Napier.”

We decided to drive out through the valley and back to Havelock North, walk around a bit and get some lunch. After lunch we drove around some of the residential neighborhoods to get a sense for the houses. All of the neighborhoods were quite nice, quiet and with a lot of trees and greenery. We both decided again that we really liked the vibe of the town and committed to explore it more in the coming month.

Interestingly, there is no Havelock. Just Havelock North. Did it get swallowed by a sinkhole? Something to ponder over a nice Hawkes Bay Syrah.

We had one more sunny day before the rain was supposed to move back in, so we wanted to go do a hike up Te Mata peak. The peak towers above Havelock North and the land is managed by a trust that is trying to replant the native vegetation there. There are numerous hiking and biking trails and the views are stunning.

It is reminiscent of Fort Collins in that it is a geologic feature called a hogback. According to Tim Witticker:

“This formation, which is about three and a half million years old, is also found to underly other nearby coastal hills in the Hawkes Bay area. At that time the coastline was about 40 kilometres to the west, along the present edge of the central mountain ranges. Fossilised shells and shell fragments can be found throughout the Park embedded in the ground and rock faces. While in the Park, you may find some well preserved specimens such as scallop (pictured)as well as barnacles, oysters, and brachiopods (lamp shells). These sedimentary rocks, originally deposited in horizontal layers on the seabed, have been tilted and bowed upward by the geological forces of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.”

The day was gorgeous and luckily the trails had dried out from the rain earlier in the week. We did the “Giant Circuit” trail which was 5.4 km and about 1000 ft of climbing. The views from the top were stunning.

We headed back to Te Awanga, had some dinner, and started scouring the real estate in Havelock North. Not that we can buy anything yet, but we might as well be ready!

Havelock North…..looking promising

Stay Alive on Five

Ok, so I know I wax on and on about how wonderful New Zealand is, but there are a few things that could use improvement. Driving in New Zealand is not for the faint of heart — and not because you drive on the left, which quite frankly isn’t that big of a deal. The roads are windy, narrow, slick, and mountainous almost everywhere. It takes constant concentration and makes it hard to appreciate the stunning beauty we are driving through. It is also annoying in some of the cities since they rarely use stop lights. This creates a constant parade of cars that is nearly impossible to get across. The ying and the yang.

Onward to Wine Country

I drove down to the coffee shack and got our last set of long blacks in Taupo. We still marvel at how good the coffee is here. Yeah! We lounged around for awhile and then packed up our stuff and headed out toward Te Awanga where we had rented a place on the beach for a month. We are excited to explore the area as this might be a place the we end up settling full time. Plus, neither of us has ever been there before.

It wasn’t a long drive, but it was on the infamous Highway 5 which according to the New Zealand Transportation Agency is: “one of the highest risk roads in the Hawke’s Bay.” The road used to be 100 kph through the windy mountainous part but they had recently lowered the speed to 80 kph. Clearly this upset a bunch of people as there were protest signs all along the road complaining about this huge imposition on them. The road was super narrow, often with dense fog and very windy. Personally 80 kph felt just fine for Susanne, Otis, and me.

Will do!

We got to the rental around noon and were very happy with the overall configuration of the place. It is, what they call in New Zealand, a bach. According to Wikipedia (which is always accurate):

“A bach (pronounced ‘batch’) (also called a crib in the southern half of the South Island) is a small, often modest holiday home or beach house in New Zealand. Baches are an iconic part of the country’s history and culture. In the middle of the 20th century, they symbolized the beach holiday lifestyle that was becoming more accessible to the middle class. Bach was originally thought to be short for bachelor pad, but they tended to be family holiday homes. An alternative theory for the origin of the word is that “bach” is the Welsh word for “small” and “little”. The phrase “Tŷ Bach” (small house) is used for outbuildings. Sizeable populations of Welsh miners relocated to New Zealand during mining booms.”

The kitchen actually had lots of things to cook with and there was a BBQ. Yeah! After the debacle of a kitchen in Taupo, this was a great relief since we were going to be here for a month.

Our bach

We got our stuff unloaded and organized in the house and then took a bit of walk on the beach that is all of 30 meters from the house. The beach itself was a bit disappointing in that it is quite rocky and not very accessible at high tide and they allow vehicles on it. Bummer. But that is only a minor complaint. We have a lovely view of the ocean from our place.

Our beach with Cape Kidnappers in the background

We had noticed a fresh produce store in Clive, so we drove back the few clicks and got some amazing veggies. This is definitely an area that grows a lot of fresh produce. The bach is pretty basic, but I think we will be quite happy here. The bedroom is nice and there is a nifty little sun room that you can sit in, have a glass of wine and watch the ocean — which is exactly what we did. It was lovely.

Sunrise in Te Awanga

The weather forecast was looking a bit grim later in the week, so we got up and were going to walk down the beach toward Cape Kidnappers in the morning and enjoy the low tide and the sunshine. It was very chilly, but of course there were Kiwis out walking their dogs in shorts. Cape Kidnappers is where the world’s largest Gannet colony resides. Sadly they are gone for the winter so we won’t see them. Further, when we drove out to the start of the walk, there were big signs saying it was closed due to instability of the cliff along the route. The picture of where it had collapsed was impressive. I guess two hikers were nearly crushed. Both Susanne and I decided that being crushed under a giant pile of rocks was definitely not on the agenda for the day, so we got back into the car to figure out what to do instead.

No view of the gannets this time
A couple of hikers were nearly crushed

Susanne remembered there was a nice beach to the south of us where she had seen an Airbnb, so suggested we go there. Perfect. Plus, that allowed us to drive by the Craggy Range and get a view of that.

The very impressive Craggy Range

The drive to Ocean Beach was lovely and the lighting on the hills was really gorgeous. Although, as mentioned above, the driving can be a bit stress-inducing so my new strategy is to just pull over when I see some huge 18 wheeler barreling up the windy road behind me. Heck, I’m not in a hurry, why not.

We made it to Ocean Beach and it was still a bit chilly, but the beach looked amazing. About 9 miles long of flat, easy-to-walk-on beach. Yahoo! That is exactly what I was hoping for. We headed out north toward Cape Kidnapper — the Gannet colony is on the north side of the Cape and this beach is on the south side of the Cape. There we only a few people on the beach, which was amazing. A guy with a dog was up ahead of us and the dog was running around like crazy. Into the water. Up on to the dunes. Into the water. Up the beach. Down the beach. If anyone had the audacity to think that animals don’t have feeling, they would have only had to watch that dog and his pure joy. It made us both smile. As we walked, it got warmer and warmer and we had to start stripping off layers. The weather here is quite lovely and very moderate. Much like the Bay Area in California.

Lonely fisherman
Cool backlit shot on Ocean Beach

We ended up walking close to five miles. What a fantastic start to our month here in Hawkes Bay. We drove back to Havelock North to the New World market to pick up a few supplies. The town had a wonderful vibe — restaurants, markets, and lots and lots of bike paths. We both thought “wow, this nice.” The market was great. Pretty much everything you needed and it was nice to not have to shop at a crappy 4 Square. We headed back home and settled in for the evening.

It will be nice to settle down for a month and relax and start to visualize whether this would be a place we would want to live permanently. So far, in the short time we have been here, all signs are good!

Mt. Doom

I remember being in a meeting in Europe a number of years ago with a group of people from all over the world. I was sitting next to this dude from France. We were chatting at a break and at one point he said to me “It is easy to spot who is American and who is not. The Europeans look relaxed in their faces and tend to smile a lot more. The Americans look exhausted and beat down.” He then proceeded to, quite accurately, point out all the Americans. I had to admit that he was right. It was sobering in its harsh reality.

“Kiwis work to live. Americans live to work.”

— Unknown

The day after fishing, we decided to lounge around in the morning and let the weather warm up. I went out to get some coffee and had to scrape ice off the windshield. Brrrrr. We enjoyed our long blacks while we planned out the day. We decided we would go down to one of the Thermal Parks nearby and check out the geysers and steam vents. The biggest park was closed for renovations, so we chose Orekei Korako Geothermal park instead — about 30 minutes away.

We got to the place and not surprisingly, it wasn’t too busy. We paid our relatively high fee of $45NZ/person and got a ride across the lake on the ferry boat to the boardwalk track that meandered through the various pools, vents, and mud pits. It definitely was not Yellowstone, but it was cool nonetheless. We spent about and 1.5 hours checking stuff out and then headed back to Taupo. It wasn’t a world class thing to do, but it was fun and we enjoyed it.

I had googled around to see if there were any good restaurants in Taupo and found one that had great reviews called Brantry Eatery. We decided we would go try it out that night. It wasn’t far away, so we decided to walk there. It was empty when we showed up so we chatted with the staff. Everyone is always so nice to us and always wishes us luck in our quest to move here. They offer a fixed menu with either a 2 or 3 course meal. We decided to indulge and go for the 3 course paired with a lovely Pinot Noir from central Otago.

Our waitress brought out some bread and a sun dried tomato butter. We both decided to not worry about the gluten and had some. It was lovely! This was boding well for things to come.

For the first course, I ordered curry prawns and Susanne ordered the smoked pork. They were both awesome. Really awesome! Next for our mains, Susanne had duck and I felt obligated to try out the famous New Zealand lamb. The duck was really good, but the lamb was off the charts good. So much so, even Susanne admitted it was really good. The waitress asked how everything was and I just got totally effusive about the lamb. I asked her how they manage to get it so perfect and tender. Turns out it was cooked sous vide for 4 hours and then quickly seared. OMG! It was out of this world.

Another table showed up and was nearby and they were ordering their dinner, when the waitress called over to me to tell the table what I thought of the lamb. I went on and on and on. They ordered the lamb.

The last course we had a creme brulee with a raspberry sorbet and a date cake with a popcorn caramel and ice cream. The creme brulee was awesome. The date cake was ok. But overall it was an amazing meal and way beyond anything we expected. If you are ever in Taupo, please go by and have a meal there.

The next day the weather was supposed to be awesome, so we decided to drive up to Tongariro National Park and hike part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is one of the “Great Walks” in New Zealand. We weren’t sure what the trail conditions were like since it’s getting close to winter, so we had not committed to doing the full 20km one-way which involves hiring a shuttle.

We decided to first drive up to the visitors center and ask the ranger what the conditions were like so that we didn’t end up doing something stupid. We walked in and I asked how to trail conditions were and right away she went “Oh, we don’t recommend beginners to do it, you will need to hire a guide.” What? I’ve only climbed like a 1000 mountains in my life. Beginner? Then she saw Susanne’s jacket from Summit County and said “Oh! you’re from Colorado. Trail is fine.” Turns out she lived in Summit County for a number of years and figured if we were from there we knew how to take care of ourselves. I was still a bit miffed about the assumption that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I guess in the peak season (November – April) they rescue an average of 2 people a week. I am sure they see every form of ill-prepared idiot come through.

Suanne with Ruapehu in the back
Getting ready for ski season

We drove up the road to get a view of the ski area and Mt. Ruapehu. It was staggeringly beautiful day which is extremely rare in these mountains. They were gearing up for ski season, so there was helicopter carrying snow guns up the mountain. The view was amazing. I guess the top of the mountain is closed currently since there has been a lot of seismic activity indicating magma movement. Thankfully it did not erupt while we were standing there.

We started back down the road, initially on the wrong side until Susanne screamed at me to stay left, and headed to the trailhead for the Tongariro Crossing. We got to the trailhead about 10:40 AM, a bit later than I would have liked, but it was cold so it was nice that it had warmed up to about 3 degrees C. The drive in provided some amazing views of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

Mt. Doom (Ngauruhoe)

Mt. Ngauruhoe is famous for a couple of reasons: (a) it is one of the most perfectly formed volcanoes in the world and (b) they used it in Lord of the Rings to represent Mt. Doom. By any measure, it is totally cool.

It was chilly when we started up the trail, but the sun was out, there was no wind and we both were just awestruck by the beauty. We got to Soda Springs without any problems and way ahead of schedule and decided to continue on up see if we could make Red Crater. The trail was almost completely clear of snow. The views all the way up were jaw dropping. In the distance we could see Mt. Taranaki quite clearly.

Cool colors

The kiwis are an amazing bunch of people. They love the outdoors and are all super fit. I mean really super fit. And a bit crazy. We saw one woman coming down in her shorts. It was freezing ass and Susanne and I were completely bundled up. The key thing was that she was probably 75 years old. Wowzaa.

Mt. Taranaki

We got up to the cirque and were assessing our situation. It was about 2:00 pm and we weren’t sure how much further to the top. I was thinking about another 45 minutes. That would put us back to car about 4 or 4:30 and the sun sets at 5. Too close for my comfort, plus we had an hour drive back to Taupo on a windy two-lane undivided highway with trucks on it. We both decided that it was time turn around and head back to the car. We would come back and do the whole thing another time, with a shuttle in place so we could walk it one way.

Perfect shorts weather!
The boardwalk

We ate a bit of lunch, put on some more warm clothes and headed down. There were still some people coming up, all Kiwis, and all in shorts. Good god! We stopped and talked to two old codgers heading up…in shorts….both over 70 years old. We looked silly bundled up in all our clothes. Sheesh, I guess we both need to harden up.

I find it interesting to compare the people here to the people in the US in terms of health and well-being. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you do see a stark contrast between what living a life of lower stress and higher physical activities out in nature can do for someone.

Their lifestyle promotes healthy longevity both physically and mentally. That is why I hope to live here for the rest of my life.

We made it back to the car around 3:20 pm. It turned out to be about a 9 mile hike. Hard but not too hard. We would definitely come back and do the whole thing. What an absolutely amazing day. It was probably one of the top 10 hikes I have done in my life and I have done a lot of hikes (despite being called a beginner, doh).

Our drive back was uneventful and we both basked in the glory of an incredible day in an incredible country. We are both beyond grateful to be here. The sun set just as we got to Taupo. The end to a perfect day

Beautiful Lake Taupo