Tuesday, 15 February 2011

New Zealand Gastronome


In January I went to New Zealand for the the first time, to the South Island. I was there with best-friend-K for a hassle-free week of R&R. We flew in and out of Christchurch, hired a fluorescent yellow car and decided to drive up north because the weather would be warmer and we wanted sun.

It wasn't a particularly gastronomically-focused week for us, but I wanted to put up a post of photos and highlights to share with you.

Cafe Vue at Tullamarine AirportDuck egg, bacon and hollandaise jaffle

Flying overseas gave us the chance to check out Shannon Bennett's new Cafe Vue at Melbourne Airport, in the international terminal past duty free (sorry, boarding pass holders only). B-f-K had porridge and I had the duck egg, bacon and hollandaise jaffle, which came out with ludicrously thick bread. Man, that duck egg was good though - as were the yuzu and cassis macarons we took to eat on the plane.

Cafe Vue at Tullamarine AirportYuzu and cassis macarons

We found some great holiday accommodation through Book a Bach, a snappy, easy-to-navigate site connecting bach (NZ holiday house) owners with prospective renters. In our first destination (Kaikoura) we stayed in a lovely little bach called Room With a View. How could I resist a place that had a claw foot bathtub on the balcony?!

Room with a View Kaikoura

Kaikoura was sleepy and gorgeous. I'd never seen mountains so close to the ocean. Our first meal in New Zealand, at local pub The Whaler, was fush and chups washed down with a couple of glasses of Monteith's.

Kaikoura beachFush and chups

The next morning we went out whale watching and spotted not one but two sperm whales. So, so awesome to see them up close.

Sperm whale

I'd been told by about half a dozen people that we simply HAD to stop off at Nin's Bin for crayfish (the local specialty from which Kaikoura derives its Maori name). Nin's Bin is a famous roadside caravan about 20-25km north of Kaikoura that has been serving up fresh crayfish to passersby for the last 35 years.

Nins Bin

The price of each crayfish is written on its tail. Once we'd selected ours, the woman serving us lined it up under the guillotine and chopped it in half with a loud thwack.

CrayfishNins Bin guillotine

You're given the option of having your crayfish served hot with garlic, but we preferred to have ours cold - as nature intended it. We took Pinchy to one of the picnic tables outside and ate him then and there with our fingers.


My favourite thing that I ate in NZ. Deeeeelicious, especially the meat in the legs.


We stayed in Picton for a couple of nights - if Kaikoura was sleepy, then Picton was practically comatose. But again, oh so pretty. From our B&B up on the hill, we had a lovely view over the valley and down to the harbour.

Sunset at Picton

One night in Picton we went to local restaurant Le Cafe for dinner. The warehou carpaccio I ordered was sensationally fresh (although HUGE points off for covering it with cheap nasty dried parsley) and B-f-K raved about her NZ green-lipped mussels. We were also served some Seresin Estate extra virgin olive oil that was so good we drove to Seresin Estate the next day to buy a bottle.

Warehou carpaccioGreen-lipped mussels

Two of the days were spent grape grazing through Marlborough. B-f-K and I are both pinot noir fiends, so the excellent 2009 Marlborough Report from the fellas at Pinot Unearthed was a useful resource.

But our biggest surprise in Marlborough was discovering NZ sauvignon blanc that was not only drinkable, but actually really nice! My favourites were the Mount Riley Seventeen Valley 2008 and Mahi's The Alias 2008 (the fact that they're from small vineyards and both oaked may have something to do with it).


The other wines we adored were Forrest's The Doctors Arneis 2010 and several from Bladen Wines: the 2007 Merlot/Malbec, the 2009 Riesling and the 2008 Gew├╝rtztraminer, a variety I usually despise. Happily, Bladen's wines are available in Melbourne at Burwood Cellars, so I drove out there to buy a case last weekend.

Grape grazing

One morning we got up early and caught a boat across the Marlborough Sounds for a day of tramping along the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track.

Queen Charlotte Track

15km later, we were ferried back to Picton on the boat. We saw dolphins!


The one posh meal we had in NZ was the degustation at Herzog, on the recommendation of Kate. While the setting, food and wine were all beautiful, we didn't enjoy the meal as much as we thought we would - probably because the very formal atmosphere and mannered service from the army of German/Austrian/Swiss girls working front of house came across as a bit old-fashioned and stuffy to the two of us who were in chilled out holiday mode.


Highlights amongst the dishes were the beetroot cured freshwater salmon with tuna tartar and cucumber/wasabi sorbet, and the wonderful cold smoked quail brest with a curious pea/mint mousse.

Beetroot-cured freshwater salmon with tuna tartar and cucumber-wasabi sorbetCold smoked quail with pea-mint mousse

We ate handsomely from the cheese trolley and enjoyed a "symphony of cherries, chocolate and hazelnut".

Selection of cheesesA symphony of chocolate, chocolate and hazelnut

Leaving Marlborough and heading back south, we stopped in at The Store at Kekerengu, a stylish cafe halfway between Blenheim and Kaikoura, for a strong coffee and shared slice of cake.

The Store at Kekerengu

After a night up in Hanmer Springs (where we soaked in the hot springs and mineral pools), we drove to Waipara Valley for more grape grazing. We hadn't heard of many of the Waipara's wineries (other than Pegasus Bay), and were delighted to discover some lovely pinot noirs and rieslings, as well as the 2010 Bascand Pinot Gris from Waipara Springs that was ridiculously good (and a steal at NZ$19 a bottle).

Riesling Challenge

In Christchurch (or CHCH, as I learned it is called), we stayed in a fantastic self-contained heritage cottage Mayque Cottage on Caledonian which we can't recommend highly enough. Beautifully kitted out, startlingly cheap and in a handy location. We spent an afternoon wandering around town, browsing in shops and noting the earthquake damage to older buildings.

Mayque Cottage on CaledonianCHCH scaffolding

On our last day we went to the Banks Peninsula and drove down to Akaroa. The dramatic landscape and harbours are due to the twin craters of a massive ancient volcano.

Road to Akaroa

Akaroa is a cute, slightly kitsch village whose French street names tout its Gallic connection (it was briefly settled by the French, before the Brits claimed New Zealand as their own). We stopped off at The Pepper Tree for a sandwich in their garden.

Pepper Tree, Akaroa

Akaroa harbour. Gorgeous colour of the water.


All in all, a lovely trip! Next time though, I'm definitely going to Central Otago (pinot nerd) and Queenstown. Any tips for me in either of those locales?


Anonymous said...

What day did you fly out if you don't mind me asking? I wonder if I may have served you at Cafe Vue..

Esz said...

Cool trip! NZ is so pretty. If you're going to Otago next, check out Black Ridge Winery in/near Alexandra. The
winery is on a pretty unique block as they can grow shiraz on the top of their hill and on the bottom, Pinot Noir.
And they have a really nice Gewurztraminer too ;-P

hannyb said...

"our biggest surprise in Marlborough was discovering NZ sauvignon blanc that was not only drinkable, but actually really nice!"

Seriously? NZ is famous for its sav blonk!

claire said...

Hi Anonymous, we flew out of Tulla on Sunday 9th January. Does that ring any bells?

Thanks for the tips, Esz! I probably won't get there for a while, but it's never too early to start saving up recommendations. :)

Hannyb, I don't know where you're writing from, but here in Australia most of the NZ sauv blanc we get is awful, cats-piss-on-a-gooseberry-bush plonk. Life's too short. What I realised when I went to New Zealand is that they keep all the good stuff for themselves!

Johanna GGG said...

wow those are beautiful photos - especially that dolphin - how impressive that you managed to catch it in the air like that

Clairsy said...

That looks gorgeous, I think I might have to recreate that entire holiday exactly. Beautiful pics too.
(haha, poor Pinchy.)

susan said...

I so want to go to that region as Sav Blanc is my favourite white and pinot noirs my favourite red. Shame you can't get most of the good stuff here though!

Emily said...

If you're heading to Central Otago next time, you really must head up from Cromwell into the old mining area of Bannockburn which has some great little wineries. Most of which are planted out with Pinot. Felton Rd, Mount Difficulty and Olssens Winery are some of the larger producers in the Bannockburn/Cromwell Basin area.
You must also head to the Gibbston Valley. Not only is the drive through the Kawara Gorge towards Queenstown lovely, but it will lead you to the cellar door of Peregrine Wines, Gibbston Valley Cheeses, and a number of other wineries all surrounded by mountains. Don't forget to pull over for a Jimmy's pie - a real Kiwi pie.
Actually, how about you just take me - whenever you head over, I'll happily be your guide :D

burgermary said...

Your pics are divine! I can't believe that snap with the dolphin... BTW, kudos for use of Pinchy. I loved the subtle reference.

Simon Food Favourites said...

i dream of trying nins bin lobsters one day when i visit NZ :-)

Simon Food Favourites said...

OH, and by the way Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are the fantastic! :-)

pierre said...

South Island has the scenery, North Island has the food.
The only good food in the south is Fleur's Place in Moeraki, mid south/east coast, she's their answer to Maggie or Staphanie,stunning location and great vibe. If you get to Queenstown, the most beautiful place I've ever seen, check out Clyde. If you get to the north, try Pacifica in Napier, shades of Guernica when Teague was at the pans.Matakana north of Auckland is great too, a "slow town".
Caio Pierre

Poached Latte said...

Looks like a great relaxing week. Had a very similar trip planned before the US dollar dropped and we went stateside instead.

I think it's great that Cafe Vue has opened, making the airport experience a little more inviting. Shannon Bennett was in the morning we were there and he tool the time to talk to us and give us some good tips for our trip. He seemed genuinely down to earth despite his success.

Considering we didn't end up in NZ, thoroughly enjoyed your trip review.

Barbara said...

Lovely post. Your photos are fabulous and brought back many memories of the South Island.

Wendy said...

One great B&B in Queentown is http://www.brownshotel.co.nz/
Small, personal service and very charming atmosphere. Very close to the CBD.

MacDogg said...

Ahhhhh the land of the long white cloud, gotta love it - somehow am cynical about the Sauv Blanc comments, but I imagine giving them a good boot from the oak barrel may be the difference... you're right about SBs sold in Australia - woeful.