Tasting the delights of Tāmaki Makaurau – Part 2

We meet Phil a bit earlier today, it’s a 9 am start for this food tour and we begin our culinary journey at Point Chevalier Beach Cafe. No donuts for breakfast today, instead it’s an almond croissant and a peppermint tea. The croissant is flaky and sweet, but not too sweet which is good. I have to pace myself, we have a day of eating ahead of us.

Our next stop is Phillipe’s Chocolates. Here we find a delectable selection of pastries, chocolates and truffles. We are each allowed to choose 4 chocolates to take away with us. Deciding on the flavours is a tough decision, there is a big selection. I will enjoy these later.

After our sweet start, we make our way to Sandringham Village, the Auckland center for Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan food. As soon as I step out of the van, I can smell the spices. The aroma in the air brings memories of our time in India flooding back. Smell is such a powerful sense. On this stop we get to choose a savory snack to sample. I go for a samosa and Daniel selects a lamb roll.

We then head to Sabato, a store importing oils, spices, vinegar, sauces and more from the Mediterranean. Mediterraneans do food so well. Simple, fresh ingredients make the tastiest meals. They understand that food is meant to be enjoyed, savored. Not eaten in a rush on the go. I loved browsing in the store, there was lots to remind me of delicious meals I had eaten in Italy. We left with some spices, dukkah, aged balsamic vinegar and truffle powder. Since returning home I have made fresh pasta by hand and enjoyed eating it with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and truffle powder. It’s not quite the same as having pasta in the hill top towns of Tuscany, generously garnished with slices of fresh truffles, but it’s pretty good.

Our next stop is Soljans Estate Winery. This is another small, family owned vineyard, started by Croatian immigrants and another of my favourite vineyards. On the walls of the tasting room are large, old photos of the vineyard and the family home in Hvar, Croatia. There is so much history in this little room and it’s the only vineyard in New Zealand with 5 generations of family involved. It was much more than just a wine tasting. After purchasing more wines, we head next door to their restaurant for lunch.

Phil has been running tours in Auckland for over 20 years and this is evident in the relationships he has with the families at the vineyards. He has been visiting these places for many years and is greeted as an old friend. It’s an open menu for lunch, which means Phil is paying and we can order whatever we like! This has been one of the great things about the tour, everything is included (except all the wine Daniel is purchasing) It makes for a very relaxed, easy tour. I have gnocchi again and then share a dessert with Daniel.

By now I am rather full and we still have 2 more stops on this food journey around Auckland. We make our way to Kumeu River Winery and Phil shows us around. We see the testing lab (a first for me) and the cellar which is filled with oak barrels, aging all their wines. This place is renowned for their Chardonnays and there are 3 in the tasting line up. A few more purchases are made by Daniel. His favourite wine is Pinot Noir and while he did purchase some, the majority of the purchases were other types. Across the 2 days we tried a huge variety of wines, some that I have never heard of before. That’s one of the great things about wine tours, it encourages you to explore different wines.

Our last stop of the day is Boric Orchard Markets, a multi-generational food market than began as a humble road side fruit stall. Our tour concludes with a New Zealand ice cream from the market.

We had a wonderful time exploring Auckland over the 2 days. Our previous experience of Auckland has always been a quick trip up and back for a concert or a few hours stop over on an international trip. On our 2 private tours with Phil, we got so see so much more. The rural side of Auckland, the wild, rugged coastline and we meet some of the families who have help shaped the agriculture of our country.

Tasting the delights of Tāmaki Makaurau – Part 1

In the words of Queen: ‘It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, I feel good, no one’s gonna stop me now’

I leave Daniel sleeping and I head out to explore. We are booked in for a wine tasting tour today, but that’s not till 10:30am so there is plenty of time for me to get out for a walk.

I head to Albert park. I didn’t realise Auckland had so many hills. I mean, the place is made up of lots of volcanoes, but I thought the central city was flat. It’s only a 10 minute walk, but it’s quite the workout. I arrive rather hot and sweaty but quickly forget once I am surrounded by this little oasis in the heart of the city. I am greeted by an old, twisted, gnarly tree that oozes old time fairy tale charm. The birds are singing and the bright blue sky frames the distinctive sky tower.

At the center of the park is a water feature, the symmetry of the area is calming. And the poppies, oh, the poppies, these beautifully formed, spring time blooms are stunning. Their delicate stems gently swaying in the breeze. There is a soft hum of honey bees getting their fill of poppy pollen. Spring is dancing to nature’s orchestra in this park today.

Once I have had my fill of nature, I head back to the concrete jungle, heading to our hotel along the waterfront. But first, I have one more stop to make. On the bus ride into Auckland yesterday, I randomly googled, ‘best donuts in Auckland’. It came up with several results, including Grownup Donuts, a little hole in the wall servery, 2 doors down from our hotel, so I just have to make a stop there. They have a big selection of soft, fluffy filled puffs of deliciousness, but I go for the classics, a plain cinnamon, a dark Belgium chocolate mousse filled one and a custard filled one. With my carefully selected assortment, I go to see if Daniel is awake and ready for breakfast.

We are collected by Phil from Fine Wine and Food Tours from our hotel at 10:30am. We initially take a wrong turn which means we travel over the Auckland Harbour bridge – something neither of us have done before. It gives us some great views and I am starting to see why it is called the city of sails. There are 2 harbours, lots of bays, inlets and plenty of access to water. We also get some great views of Rangitoto.

Today we are doing a private wine tour of the Kumeu region. Phil explains that this area was where a lot of Croatian immigrants settled in the early 20th century and began making wine here. It’s not far from the city, but as soon as we leave the motorway, we are in instant countyside. It’s very pretty here, lots of green rolling hills and trees. There has been quite a bit of development in this area, but it still feels rural.

Out first stop is West Brook Winery. I love the settings at vineyards. They are always so idyllic with their rows of planted grapes and elegant olive trees and this vineyard meets my expectations. We are seated inside and brought 5 wines to taste. We spend some time chatting with Phil and getting to know each other. We will be doing another tour with Phil tomorrow too. While tasting the wines, a little skink pops out from behind a pot plant on the window ledge.

After Daniel has made some purchases, we head to our next stop, Hellertau Brewery. It was meant to be Soljans Estate Winery, but as we will be visiting there tomorrow, Phil changed the itinerary for us so we didn’t go to the same place twice. This venue is mostly outdoor seating and would be an amazing place to spend an afternoon in the summer, it has a really great vibe. For lunch I choose gnocchi which is sensational. This is washed down with a cinnamon and yuzu non alcoholic wine. It’s quite an interesting flavour, the cinnamon is strong but it’s a delicious drink.

Our next stop is The Hunting Lodge. It’s a popular spot, a great place for family and friends to enjoy a glass of wine and soak in some sunshine. We try another 5 wines at this vineyard. They only have 2 wines here that are made from grapes grown on site. It does seem quite common for the vineyards here to have a small block of vines and then vines in other parts of the country like Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Otago. Their home block wines are a chardonnay and a sav aged in oak. After our samplings, Daniel makes another purchase.

Our last vineyard of the day is Coopers Creek Winery. I think this is my favorite winery of the day. The owner is chatty and friendly, sharing stories of their wine and it’s history. I love boutique places that are family owned. They have a personalized rustic charm and passion that larger places struggle to match. I should note that all of the wineries we visited were relatively small, family wineries, I just particularly enjoyed our visit to Coopers Creek. They have a huge range of wines, their menu list is extensive. We got to try 10, all of which were very drinkable. Daniel makes yet another purchase. Perhaps I should start buying shares in NZ wine!

Before heading home, Phil offers to take us out to Muriwai Beach, a black sand beach that is home to a colony of nesting gannets. We stop on the hillside to look down on the beach. It’s a breathtaking view. I love our beaches, they are not your picture perfect, golden sandy beaches (although there are some of these) they are wild and untouched and leave you with a sense of awe as you witness the power of nature. It’s a beautiful coastline.

We arrive back at our hotel, ready for a nap after a day of wine. It’s a quiet dinner tonight at a place called Mezze Bar which serve tapas. I had my fill of wine today so dinner was wonderfully simple, a lemonade and a Spanish omelette, a perfect ending to the day.

Discovering a hidden gem.

For Christmas last year, I bought Daniel tickets to see Billie Eilish in Auckland. Since we were travelling up for the concert, we decided to extend our stay to 2 nights and do a little exploring.

We had an amazing flight up. It was so smooth, it almost made me forget that I hate flying and as I was reading through the Kia Ora Magazine I began fantasizing about overseas travel again, thinking maybe I could handle a long haul flight.

It’s our first time flying North in a while, almost 3 years in fact. Our holidays tend to be in the South Island which is far less populated and since we haven’t been doing any international travel, it made Auckland feel quite foreign – the size of the city, the height of the buildings and number of people we saw, everything was on a much bigger scale to what we have grown used to in recent times.

We check into our accommodation, Imagine Beach Road, it was only completed 6 months ago so everything is new and modern. It’s in a great central location too, perfect for our weekend getaway.

It’s already early evening so we decide to head out for a bite to eat before the concert. I had been planning on going to Saigonz, a Vietnamese restaurant, which was just across the road and had some great reviews. Unfortunately it was closed. So we head out for a wander down to Britomart in search of dinner.

We try a Mexican place which is full and notice how many people are out and about in town. Probably all heading to the concert, and probably like us, all looking for some dinner before the show. It never occurred to me to book something in advance. We try another restaurant that is also full, but they suggest we try the one downstairs. We look around, a bit confused, and the waiter points to a glass door with no signage. We head down some stairs into a dark hallway and sure enough, there is a restaurant. We ask the host if they have any room and he tells us they have space at the chef’s table for walk-ins.

So we follow him into a dark, underground, windowless room. We have no idea what type of food they serve (although by the decor I am guessing Asian) and no idea of the price. But judging by the buzz in the room and the number of people, this place is popular.

We are seated at the chef’s table, a prime spot for watching all the food getting cooked. On the menu I notice that we have arrived at Ghost Street and our waiter explains that they serve sharing plates from 3 distinctly different regions in China. To order, we mark on the menu the items we want and then peg it above us. It gets collected and the items served when they are ready. If we want more, we just mark down what else we want and peg it back up. No one goes hungry here.

The energy at this place is electric, the vibe is mysterious, the food is fantastic and I am buzzing! What an exciting place to have stumbled across. I love finding hidden gems like this. This would be a great place to go with a group of friends, the sharing plates lend themselves well to this. It’s a bit harder when I am a vegetarian and Daniel is a big meat eater, although, Daniel still managed to share my plates!

After our hunger is satisfied and my senses delighted, we head to Spark Arena for the concert. I haven’t been around this many people in a while, we are surrounded by 10,000 fans (a lot of whom are teenage girls who seem to enjoy screaming at the top of their lungs.) The concert was amazing though, Billie is so talented and has so much energy. I have no idea how she manages to jump and dance on stage like that and still manage to sing. She has a very inclusive presence and is clear how much she cares for and loves her fans.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of high pitched screaming, and as I settle happily into bed for the night, ready for sleep and resting my ears, I can’t help but feel just a little bit old!

Exploring New Plymouth – Part 2

The morning is spent eating birthday cake over cups of tea and chats. What a great way to start the day. The weather forecast isn’t looking too great for today or the rest of the trip, but it’s not raining yet, so we head out for a walk. Dad wants to do the Te Henui Walkway so that’s where we head.

The start of the walk is where the river mouth meets the sea. I get out of the car and am blasted with a cold, icy wind. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Who’s idea was this? It’s so cold, what an unpleasant walk this will be’

We spend the first few minutes in the playground, with young and old having a go on the digger!

But it’s too cold to sit around so we start walking. It’s a nice setting, but the weather is not making it very enjoyable at all! However, after about 5 minutes, we turn a corner and the wind disappears and completely transforms the walk. I am not hating it anymore, it’s actually rather nice. It’s an easy flat walk and I enjoy looking at the layers in the forest. The tall towering trees, right down to the ground cover ferns and seedlings. Moss covers the bare branches and vines drape across the trees. It’s such a fascinating eco system.

Daniel and I are walking much faster than the rest of the party, we are quite far ahead, but Lachie is on his bike and catches up in no time. The flat terrain makes it a great place for riding bikes. The walk twists and turns, but sticks to the river, we walk under several bridges and then arrive at one we need to walk over. While we wait for the others to catch up, we decide to have a few games of pooh sticks. Lachie selects his stick, I use a large, dried leaf and of course, Uncle Daniel decides to use a massive log that he’s found, it’s at least as tall as him. Lachie’s stick unfortunately sinks, my leaf gets caught up in Daniel’s log, and Daniel declares himself the winner. I love the joy that can be found in such a simple activity.

Daniel and I have lunch at The Backyard Cafe and take a look around the shops before heading back home. We spend the rest of the afternoon eating birthday cake, drinking tea and taking a dip in the spa.

One of my goals for the year is to watch some sunrises and sunsets. So, whenever I am on the East or West coast, I am making an effort to do this. And since New Plymouth is on the West Coast, despite the weather, I am down at the beach to watch the sun go down. It’s pretty overcast, but there is a break in the clouds and golden hues are pouring through it. The tide is low, which has exposed a sandy part of the beach. The colours from this patch of gold are reflecting in the wet sand. It’s not your traditional sunset, but it’s beautiful. I also note the vastness of the ocean.

Looking out to sea, all there is is ocean and sky. In Wellington, we are in an enclosed harbour. The view I am so use to seeing always has land at the other side of the ocean. Its a simple, beautiful reminder of how small we are in this big awesome world.

The next day is wet, wild and the last full day of our holiday. Daniel is keen to go to the Len Lye Art Gallery so we head there, while the rest of the family go to the local museum. Both great rainy day activities. To be honest, art galleries aren’t really my thing, but it’s still interesting. I like the tall ceiling entrance way and there are some interesting kinetic metal sculptures which we sit and watch/listen to for a while.

We have lunch across the road at The Public Catering Company I am delighted to find they make doughnuts and their filled focaccia is pretty good too, I highly recommend you check out this place! After lunch, Daniel spends up large at the record shop and I take a wander down the street looking in the home ware and plant stores. They have some really nice shops here.

We meet up with the rest of the family and head to Bowlarama for some glow in the dark mini golf and arcade games before heading back home for more birthday cake and boardgames.

Reflecting on this trip, a lot of the things we did, we could have done at home. We didn’t do or see much that was particularly Taranaki, but having those 4 nights away with the family, being able to spend quality time with my niece and nephew was so special. They are growing up so fast and I am grateful that I get to spend the time with them.

A family trip to New Plymouth – Part 1.

Any good road trip should start with road trip snacks so we make our way to a local bakery, Fix Federation. The Lower Hutt Sweet As Challange is on and I want to try their Biscoff Smash Hot Chocolate.

Yes, it’s as good as it looks! This trip is off to a good start.

We are heading to New Plymouth for a family holiday. We will be joined by my Mum, Dad, brother, sister in law, nephew and niece. Last Christmas we decided not to do gifts, and instead put that money towards a family trip. Finally, we have made it happen.

It’s a bright, sunny, winter’s day. I like days like this, it’s crisp and cool. Trees are bare silhouettes, having dropped all their leaves, it feels kind of magical.

We stop for lunch in Wanganui to spend some time with my aunt and uncle. They have a cute little dog named Millie and a reptile friend. I say “Look at the lizard Lachie” he replies with “It’s a bearded Lizard Auntie Lani” Noted, thanks Lachie!

As we get closer to Taranaki, we can see the mountain, there are clouds on the peak, but we can see the snow line. We were hoping we might be able to get the kids to the snow, but it looks way too high for that. We will have to save that for another trip.

We arrive at the house and it is beautiful, it’s very large, which will be perfect for all the family and it has an indoor pool and spa pool. What more could you need? Of course it doesn’t take long before the kids are into their togs and enjoying the warm water of the spa pool. It’s a nice way to end a long day of travel.

I wake in the morning to little whispers coming from the end of the bed. Lachie and Lily have snuck into our room and are whispering at the end of the bed, trying to decide if we are awake. I lift up the covers and they both get in for some morning snuggles. I love this part of family holidays. It’s so special to spend some quality time with them.

Today is Miss Lily’s 3rd birthday and my brother is cooking up a birthday breakfast, crepes, fruit salad and scrambled eggs. James is a pretty good cook and I always like going away on holiday with him!

It’s Lily’s day today, so she gets to choose what we do. She wants to go to the park, so we head out to Pukekura Park. We came here last year with Daniel’s family, but it was at night for the Lights Festival. It’s nice to experience the park in the daylight.

The park is tranquil. Mature trees, a lake and an abundance of bird life. I like being in the forest away from home, it’s noticeably different. We are north of home and the foliage feels more tropical with lots of palms dotted amongst more familiar trees.

It’s another lovely winter day. Out in the open, the sun is glorious, I can feel its warmth on my skin. In the bush, it’s pretty cold, but the forest has a gorgeous, damp, earthy smell. We amble along, it’s a large park, and make our way to the Bowl of Brooklands – a large grassy hill that looks down towards a stage. This would be such a great place to see an outdoor concert.

The reason we have wandered up here is to go to the Brooklands Zoo. It turns out to be a pretty cool little zoo. They have a great range of animals, farmyard animals like pigs and llamas, a reptile house (no bearded lizards this time) birds, primates and other creatures. The capybaras were great, I know they are the world’s largest rodent, I just hadn’t realised quite how big they get! Another favourite were the monkeys. They had several species. I find them fascinating to watch, their swinging and climbing ability is outstanding.

I think my favourite though, was the Burmese pheasant. A very colourful bird, (obviously the male) was running around all over the aviary, feathers puffed out, trying to impress the ladies, none of whom seemed the least bit interested. He was very persistent, animated and entertaining to watch.

After our little outing to the zoo, Daniel and I head off into the city center for some lunch. We choose an Indian restaurant, purely because we liked the name, Arranged Marriage. They serve South Indian cuisine and I loved that they served lunch sized portions. It was the perfect amount and really delicious. Especially their naan, that was yum!

In the afternoon, I spend some time decorating a birthday cake for Lily while everyone else makes their way to the pool. It doesn’t take long before they all start migrating towards the spa pool though. Apparently the pool isn’t very warm. When I join them, the music is playing and the drinks are flowing.

The day is finished with an Italian dinner at Belle Vita as Miss Lily loves antipasti platters, especially olives. I think she ate most of the olives that we got for the starter. I of course had a pizza. It’s got to be one of my favourite foods!

Exploring Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve

I don’t know about you, but I have quite a long bucket list of places I want to visit and experiences I want to have in New Zealand and abroad. Some, like a weekend at Lakestone lodge, come with a rather large price ticket attached. Others can be enjoyed for free.

The Pinnacles Track is a walk in the Wairarapa that I have been wanting to do for some time. It featured in Peter Jackson’s LOTR – Return of the King film as The Path to the Dead. Whether you are a LOTR fan or not, this is an excellent walk and a great place to explore.

Let me set the scene; It is Matariki (Maori New Year, the first year this has been a public holiday here) and Daniel and I have decided to take the opportunity to go exploring. It’s a cold day, but the sun is trying to break through the clouds as we make the 1.5 hour drive to the reserve. I do love winter. Especially on a calm, still day. The soft blue hues of winter skies and cool mist hugging the bare trees, it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s a scenic drive, and even if we weren’t going for the walk, it would have been a nice day out.

We arrive late in the morning and I am quite surprised by the number of cars that are here. For a walk that is so remote, it seems pretty popular. We set out along the trail, if you can really call it that. You can’t really get lost (and that’s saying a lot coming from me) but the track is more just walking along the river stones, following the stream. It gets a bit muddy in parts and several times we have to cross the river, jumping across stones. (Flash back to our Abel Tasman Walk earlier in the year where I pulled a muscle in my leg from jumping over stones) Needless to say, I take a lot of care doing this. No injuries this time, and I stay dry. Good job!

The first half of the walk is flat, easy walking, following the river. Toi Toi and flax grow alongside the river and the surrounding hills are green with vegetation.

And then the landscape changes. We leave the river and the green hills behind us. This will be hard, I can see the incline goes on for sometime. I try to pace myself and watch my footing. We are walking on a mix of stones, gravel and shingle. And then Daniel calls out “Frog”. I look over to where he is pointing and just above his foot is a little green frog. I think it’s the first time I have seen a frog in the wild. It just sits there, its little webbed feet clinging onto its rock, not really bothered by us.

While part of me would like to hang out here for a while and continue watching the frog, I know I need to keep moving before I lose my momentum.

This is the first time since leaving the river that I have really looked up. We are in a fairly narrow channel, surrounded by tall, straight rock cliffs. It’s a really impressive sight. We make it to the top, stopping to take it all in and look at how high we climbed. The rock formations are something else, small and large rock chips fused together with a natural cement that has gradually been eroded away over time. They are so tall and straight, standing proud and towering overhead.

We head back along the same track to the river. The surface is rocky and uneven, so I spend a lot of time looking at my footing so I don’t trip. This does mean that I blindly follow Daniel into the mud. He is agile enough to be able to jump up onto the side of a hill and bypass it. Me on the other hand, well, I just have to go through it. (On reflection I could have back tracked and found a different route, but I didn’t have that thought at the time.) So I finish the walk covered in thick mud, well past my ankles. What an adventure.

We make it back to the car, and since we are in The Wairarapa, we head home via one of my favorite towns, Martinborough, to sit in the sun at The Village Cafe and refuel with some lunch. It was an excellent day out.

Escape to the Country

When our 4th round of IVF ended in November 2018, I knew it was time to close the door on the dream of having children and time to start re-dreaming a new future. I made a promise to myself, that I would make time for the things that I love and that life would be an adventure.

Travel is one of those loves.

Self care looks different to everyone; for some, it might be a bubble bath or a manicure. For me, it’s immersing myself in nature, creating time to be with my thoughts and slowing the pace of life right down.

So, for the last 3 years, I have gone on what I call my ‘annual solo retreat’. 2-3 nights, holidaying on my own, at a destination of my choosing. I do as much or as little as I like, when I like and it is bliss.

The first year I went to Waiheke Island for zip lining, wine tasting and glamping. Last year it was paddle boarding, kayaking and exploring in the Marlborough Sounds.

This year, it was a little cabin in Carrington in the Wairarapa. 3 days of solitude, rest, nature and recharging my batteries.

It’s a grey, rainy day, the first of my solo trips not to be bathed in sunshine, but I am not bothered. I arrive at my accommodation, step out of the car and am greeted with the snorting of 3 ugly / cute kunekune pigs.

My little cabin is idyllic. Set on a hill, surrounded by trees, looking out across the hills. The first thing on my agenda is a cup of tea, which I drink, sitting on the porch, soaking in the stillness, birdsong and the soft pitter-patter of rain on the roof.

The birds are abundant and I enjoy just sitting there watching them flying around. In the space of about 15 minutes I see tui, a hawk, goldfinches, magpies and a bright green parrot.

My afternoon is spent reading a magazine, watching TED talks with cups of tea and chocolate, snuggled up on the sofa beside a warm flickering fire.

Dinner is simple. A ravioli in pasta sauce and fresh bread. This trip is about making space to reflect on the year and delighting in the simple.

It’s starting to get dark, it’s still raining and there is an outdoor bath that I just can’t resist. I fill it and then settle in for a soak. I watch the change in the clouds as night draws near and the birds making their final flight as they find somewhere to rest for the night.

There are no city noises, just the whoosh of wings above me, rain and the gurgling sound of the nearby stream. This is food for the soul.

As it gets darker, the insects and bugs of the night come out. There are large buzzing noises near my ear and a very large silhouetted moth against the fading sky. I don’t have an issue with insects and really, there is nothing here that can hurt me. We don’t have super poisonous critters or dangerous mammals. New Zealand is a pretty safe place.

It’s a shame that the stars aren’t out, but I still leave my bath feeling warm and relaxed, ready to settle in for the night.

I wake in the morning to more rain on the roof, but again, I don’t mind. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I want to do. And besides, who doesn’t love the sound of rain on the roof. It is so soothing. It’s one of my favorite sounds, along with bird song.

I start to get hungry so I decide to leave my warm, cosy bed and venture out to a nearby town called Claireville. I have heard many good things about The Claireville Bakery. It does not disappoint! I am presented with a beautiful selection of fresh breads and pastries and it takes me a really long time to decide. I settle on an apricot danish and also get an almond croissant for tomorrow.

My danish is amazing and I wash it down with a cup of tea while I sit on the porch, watching the rain again. It may be wet, but it’s not cold. There is a nearby flax bush that is attracting the tuis and I watch them feed for a while before picking up my book to read. I will head out later in the afternoon for a walk before the forecast thunder and lightning arrive.

My walk is at the nearby Fensham Reserve. It has stopped raining finally, but the forest is still damp and wet. Forest is still pretty magical when it is like this. There is a large chorus of birds singing. The track is narrow but easy to follow and is surrounded by tall trees. The air is warm and cool, refreshing drops of water drip on me from the canopy above. Halfway into the walk it gets very humid and I reach a part of the track that is mostly underwater. The walk takes me a bit over an hour. I arrive back at the car park with very wet feet, but energised from the nature and fresh air.

Back at my cabin, I spend a couple of hours on the porch again, reading my book and watching the weather. I am waiting for the thunderstorm to arrive. It does, and it is awesome, I hear the deep rumbling noise, rolling across the sky above me. Night closes in and my second day comes to an end.

I wake to chickens this morning and open the skylight windows ever so slightly so I can hear the rain on the roof. This morning I am heading back to Wellington, but I leave feeling refreshed. This weekend has been a soak session. Soaking in nature and recharge my batteries.

The Cabin has been food for the soul.

Memorable Places – The North Island

I have been blogging for a little over 18 months now. This is my 82nd post and in that time I have been to some truly magical places and done some pretty incredible things.

I haven’t done a lot of travel as of late. This is partly due to it being winter and finances ( or should I say over spending on trips in the Summer months!) And now of course, Covid will play a part in that. I am writing this post on day 1 of lockdown.

But even before I started blogging and sharing my adventures with the world, I loved travel and exploring New Zealand. So from the comfort (and safety) of my home, I thought today I would share some of the great places I have traveled to, before I started blogging. I certainly hope to get back to these places in the near future and be able to write about them for you in more detail, but for now, here is a little snapshot of some great places in the amazing land I get to call home.

1. Cathedral Cove, Waikato

You will find Cathedral Cove in the sunny Coromandel. Soaked in sunshine and famous for it’s beautiful beaches, it’s a great place to rest and unwind. It was a few years ago that we visited here, so I am a little forgetful on the details, but I do remember having to walk from a car park to access this beach. We were touring on our motorbike, so of course had to do the walk down in our motorbike gear, carrying our helmet and gloves. This is always hot work! But the cove, oh how gorgeous. Framed by a huge rock arch and edged with beautiful golden sand, this place is so worth the visit. It is very picturesque and a wonderful place to spend a day swimming, sun bathing and reading a book.

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2. Hot Water Beach, Waikato

Also located in the Coromandel, hot water beach is a unique experience. The best time to visit is 2 hours either side of low tide. Take a spade with you, dig a hole in the sand and enjoy soaking in your own natural thermal pool. When you get too hot, you can cool off in the ocean right next to you. You may want choose your site near the ocean so the waves can enter your pool and cool it down. I remember the water got pretty hot! We also made a rookie mistake of putting on the sunscreen, heading to the beach, then stripping down to our swimsuits and forgetting to put on more sun screen. It created some unusual sun burn marks and was rather uncomfortable wearing motorbike leathers for the next few days!

3. Cape Reinga, Northland

The very top of the Long White Cloud, Cape Reinga is the most northern part of New Zealand. I had heard that at Cape Reinga, you could see the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean collide. I really didn’t understand how you could see two bodies of water, that surely are only that by name, collide. But, believe me, you do and it is quite a sight to see. There is a lot of history in this area and could really sense the spirituality of this place, which is significant in Maori culture. We took a day trip here on a coach tour from Paihia, although it was a long day, it was well worth it. The tour also included a few other things like 90 Mile Beach, sand tobogganing and visiting a kauri museum.

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4. Waipoua Forest, Northland

Just a short walk from the road side, into Waipoua Forest is a tree. This isn’t just any tree though, it’s Tane Mahuta, a giant kauri tree, estimated to be around 1250 to 2500 years old. He holds a presence in the forest like none other and when you first set eyes on him, he will leave you breathless. I loved watching new visitors come around the corner and gasp. He really is the King of the Forest.

5. Kawau Island, Auckland

It’s one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf and is full of history. Its an interesting place to explore for the day, or book some accommodation and stay a while. As you arrive into Mansion House Bay you are greeted by a stately home. This was the home of Sir George Grey, one of New Zealand’s first Governors who also owned the island for a period of time. While there, he created beautiful gardens full of exotic plants from around the world. Step back in time and take a wander through the old home experiencing a glimpse of mid 19th century New Zealand. Head out for a walk, spot some wallabies and peacocks or take a dip in the ocean to cool off.

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6. Rawene, Northland

I was only going to write about 5 places, but Rawene was too good to leave out. I didn’t really know anything about this place, it was just a convenient location for us to stop for the night. It’s a small, quiet town, the perfect place to slow down. And the sunsets – the best I have ever seen. They were incredible. I’d come here again just for them. We purchased simple food from the organic shop and cooked it on a BBQ while taking a dip in the pool and watching the firey red sun slip away into the night. Enjoying the simple things in life.

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So there you have it. 6 places you might like to check out on your next New Zealand adventure. Looking back at photos as I write this has brought back some lovely memories. It has also reminded me how lucky I am to have been able to do so much travelling and exploring. New Zealand is quite a gem.

Next week I will share some memories of South Island places I visited before I started blogging.

Staycation Part 2

In Italy, I shamelessly ate chocolate filled pastries for breakfast every single day for 3 weeks.

As we check out of the hotel, I notice a lot of people across the road and remember that there is a weekly Sunday market here. We haven’t had breakfast, so I dash out across the road to see what delights I can find. No chocolate filled pastries, but I do manage to find an almond croissant dusted with icing sugar. Oh yes! It was divine!

With breakfast taken care of, we head to the first activity I have planned. The traditional wedding anniversary gift for 11 years is steel, so today, we are going axe throwing!

We arrive at Sweet Axe Throwing. We sign our lives away with the waiver form, go through a health and safety briefing and then the lessons begin. There are 3 different axes and we are shown how to throw each of them. Each requires a different technique. There are also option for throwing with 1 or 2 hands. Our “Axe-pert” patiently helps us with our techniques as we discover what works best for us. Daniel and I both even manage to get some axes on the board.

With music pumping and training complete, the tournament can now begin. We each choose our axe and line up. The battle begins. Daniel wins this round. And then the next round. Daniel was initially not looking forward to this as he’s a bit uncoordinated with his throwing but as he realizes his competition is not that tough, he starts to enjoy it more.

We then have a 3 minute quick fire competition, who can get the most points in 3 minutes. I tell you what, axe throwing is pretty physical! I am completely “axe-hausted” at the end of it. And Daniel wins again.

Last round. Winner takes all. This is my chance. Throw after throw, my axes connect with the board while Daniel’s drop to the ground. I am in the lead, this is looking good. But then I miss a couple and Daniel gets a couple of high scores.

It’s our last throw. Daniel steps up to the line. His axe soars through the air and makes contact. He scores and is now in the lead. I just need 1 point to draw, 2 points for the win. I just need to put the axe on the board and we will walk away as equals. I step up to the mark, line up my throw, draw back my arm….. My axe flies through the air, it hits the board and bounces off.

Game over.

Even though I couldn’t walk away as winner, it was so much fun. It’s always nice to do something a bit different.

With all that axe throwing, we have worked up an appetite so we head out to the Hutt Valley to Gorilla Burger. It’s another lovely sunny day and we enjoy sitting out in the courtyard, soaking up the sun, snacking on haloumi chips and burgers. It’s a wonderful, relaxed way to spend the time. I think we will be coming here again for Sunday brunch.

We have one last stop for our staycation weekend. Xcape Wellington. Neither of us have done an escape room before, we are not quite sure what to expect but are both looking forward to it. We have chosen one of their easiest rooms (also with a low scare rating, I hate scary things)

We enter the room with no real instructions of what to do, just our wits, intelligence and team work to answer questions and solve puzzles to try and escape the room. We spend the full hour in there and don’t quite manage to conquer it. We do however, finish up still married and liking each other, so I’d say it was a success!

This was another really fun activity and I think we will be going back again to try another one of their rooms.

When we think of holidays, our minds often head straight overseas or to another city away from home. These options are great, but if you do a bit of research and planning, I think you will find all sorts of unique and exciting things to do, right in your back yard.

Have you ever been on a staycation?

Staycation Part 1

As I head out down the driveway I get a few grumpy barks from Frankie. She is not impressed that she is being left behind and is making sure I know it. (I really must find a holiday I can take them on!)

This weekend, Daniel and I decided to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary with a Staycation. So today, we are off to Wellington city.

Daniel is working till mid afternoon, so I decide to head in early on the train. It’s a rare, still Winter’s day. The water is so flat. Boats peacefully bob up and down in the harbour as a small swell in the water gently laps against the wharf. Seagulls are out squawking, effortlessly gliding through the air. Wellington has put on a great day.

Wellingtonians are out enjoying a drink at the many waterfront bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to soak up the last of the afternoon sun. The waterfront is a picturesque place enjoyed by many. People are out walking or running, on scooters and bicycles, having a chat in the sun and walking their dogs.

As I stroll by Kaffee Eis , I can’t help but call in for an ice cream. When I lived in Wellington CBD many years ago, I probably enjoyed this far too much, but it has been a long time since I have had one and my feet lead me straight up to the queue. It looks like a lot of other people have had the same idea. When I get to the counter, more than half the flavours have sold out. There is a passionfruit one though and that suits me just fine.

I enjoy the sweet creaminess of my gelato looking out across the harbour while listening to a busker. Sunshine, ice cream, music, views. A simple pleasure and time well spent.

I check in at QT Hotel. I love this place. Every wall and corner is filled with art. Sculptures, paintings, fashion, even a motorbike. It’s quirky and exciting. I take my time heading to our room, taking in all the colour and forms.

After a bit of a nap and soak in the bath (It’s a staycation after all, it’s meant to be relaxing) we head down to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, The Hippopotamus.

At the Hippopotamus we are transported to a French court. Bright colours, luxurious textiles, and chic style, this place is a feast for the eyes. And to top it off, we are able to enjoy great views out across the harbour, watching the city lights twinkle off the ocean.

I am excited to see truffles on the menu. The first time I had truffles was a couple of years ago in Italy. I indulged in them, fell in love with them, and haven’t seen them on the menu anywhere since. So there are no guesses here as to what I will be ordering.

My entree is a gorgeous, silky smooth pasta in a delicately creamy sauce with huge shavings of Perigord Black Truffle from Christchurch. My mouth is watering long before my entree even arrives as I can smell the truffles in the air. This meal does not disappoint. It takes me back to Italy.

My main is a feast of Winter foraging. Pumpkin, chickpeas, kale, kumera, parsnip, herbs, radishes and more, come together to beautifully celebrate the delights this season has to offer.

Next is dessert. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and whenever we are out for dinner, it’s always the first section of the menu I look at. Before I even look at the entree’s and mains, I already know what I am going to have for dessert. I had decided on the signature dish, a deer milk gelato with honey comb and a few other things. Now here’s a funny story. I am feeling rather full at this stage and as Daniel tells me he is planning on ordering the same thing, I ask if I can share his. He reluctantly agrees. I head off to the bathroom and not long after I return, dessert is brought out. Just one plate, but I note that it looks like a rather generous portion. Turns out Daniel had told the waiter that I wanted to share his dessert and could we have a larger portion brought out on one plate. Very sneaky. But this kind of backfires as I have a few mouthfuls and decided it’s not really my thing and he is left to eat it all.

Happy anniversary Daniel.