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.
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.
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?!
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.
The next morning we went out whale watching and spotted not one but two sperm whales. So, so awesome to see them up close.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Gewürtztraminer, 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.
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.
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.
We ate handsomely from the cheese trolley and enjoyed a "symphony of cherries, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?