New Year’s Road Trip Stop 2: Esk Valley Winery

After leaving Taupo, we continued toward our first night stop in Napier. There are many wineries along the route, and we stopped in one at random. It turned out to be fairly well known, and winner of multiple awards. We got the standard tasting patter (from a guy with a very strong Chinese accent… hard to understand for us, but catering to Chinese tourists is an absolute necessity here) and bought a few bottles.

Most of the driving was on two-lane roads that make Vermont’s byways feel downright spacious by comparison. So a swig of wine was certainly welcome by this point, only a few coastal km from the destination.

Martha’s Backyard

“The American Store”.

We’d heard about this place, and so when we happened to drive by the other day we stopped to check it out.

They have a lot of food and drugstore stuff that is not easy to find here. Plus a bunch of stars and stripes stuff for people having parties.

We don’t lack for good food here, but we did buy some things anyway: the local mac ‘n’ cheese is terrible, and the tomato soup doesn’t taste right. One reality that doesn’t sit easily with some red-state voters: most of the food we miss from America is Mexican.

Goat Island

Our plan for last weekend was to dive Goat Island on Saturday before continuing up to the Poor Knights on Sunday. Goat Island is about as easy a dive as you can do… leave from shore, not much over 20 feet, in a marine reserve area with lots of fish. Perfect for the first time in the water for a while.

But the weather was uncooperative, so we rescheduled the dive for Thursday. Our friend Astrid was off work, so she came along and snorkeled with Lee.

The spot is pretty nice, and the dive operator very friendly, although it took them/us a surprisingly long time to get geared up and begin the dive. GoPro still not working.

The dive itself was pleasant… nothing too memorable, but it was fun to swim around in the kelp and explore all the volcanic fissures. Perfect place to go with a buddy, not much need for a guide after the first time.

After, we had lunch at the Leigh Sawmill Café. It is just about exactly the country roadhouse I would want to own if I owned a country roadhouse. It’s actually an old sawmill, with a great garden courtyard. Good food, a nice craft beer selection, a few rooms for tourists who want to hang out a day or two. And a reputation for good music… in addition to the published lineup, apparently it’s a place where big names show up unannounced from time to time and play a set.

Christmas dinner

We had a sumptuous Christmas buffet dinner with Alicia and Nat at the Stamford Plaza hotel. It cost a ton, but not actually compared to cooking. These cute gingerbread houses were out in the lobby.

Among several helpings of everything else, I did a thing I’ve only done once or twice before: truly ate all the oysters I wanted to.

That’s amore

I’ve kinda wanted a pasta maker for a long time. But, then again, how much pasta should I be eating anyway, and it’s probably a lot of work, and do you have to spend hours cleaning up…

We found one yesterday that was too cheap to pass up — one of several treasures from a day trip to Devonport.

It was totally fun. Took me about an hour start to finish to make a meal’s worth of fettuccine size noodles, but I will be quite a bit faster next time. Now I just need a drying rack that’s better than coat hangers suspended from a broomstick…

And here’s the finished product… served with olive oil and parmesan as a side for some farmers market fish (blue moki) and greens.

Dawn Parade 2018

We celebrated Anzac Day last week by getting up early to walk over the the War Memorial for the annual Dawn Parade. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but when we walked out at ten after 5 in the morning, our street was full of people who had to park further away than our house.

We arrived to the sound of bagpipes, and the crowd was so large that we ended up watching the whole thing on the big screen. It was a very moving ceremony, about an hour long.

After the main event was over we went to the field of crosses marking all New Zealand’s WW 1 dead. On a per capita basis, the impact was enormous here… the total population was only about a million people at the time. Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was laying some additional wreaths, and we were able to essentially walk right up to her.

This was the big one, televised, etc., but these happen all over the country, with quite a lot of participation from young and old.

Many people pull out their old uniforms or even make historically accurate costumes. These nurses, both military veterans AND served in humanitarian efforts overseas, were 100% legit. And both still practicing.

And then the entire country goes out to brunch. This over-the-top French toast was the best ever.

Dr. Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing

We made a pilgrimage to Rudi’s while Frank and Monique were here. The place is billed as a serious beer bar, and they did have a bunch of beers. But they also had about as much ambiance as Costco on Saturday afternoon.

I’ve spent ridiculous sums of money on ‘the best’ beers over many years in many countries and will keep on doing that. But when push comes to shove I’d rather chat with a neighbor or a bartender over a can of Ranfurly than be slung an expensive pint of Panhead but unable to talk over the classic rock station.

Uncle Tetsu’s

Uncle Tetsu’s famous fluffy cheesecake is all the rage. So we tried one. Delicious and not a bad value. I would buy one again, but I wouldn’t make a special trip.

Vin de Bourgogne

The Bistro des Gourmets, a brand new French restaurant, has opened up down the road, run by actual French people. We had a magical meal there with the Provs, and so we decided to try out their monthly wine pairing menu.

The place was packed for this dinner, and the three owners were clearly run ragged by the time we started eating about 8 PM. Still a good meal, but everything was a little overdone and too heavy for a summer dinner.

We know how tough it is to open a restaurant and particularly how tough it is to scale from, say, 10 covers on Tuesday to 60 on Wednesday. We hope these guys can smooth out the rough edges and find a good rhythm so it can become a haunt for us instead of just a novelty.

ANZAC biscuits


The ANZAC biscuit became popular during WWI. I thought they were issued as rations… high calorie, doesn’t spoil easily. But no, apparently that’s the ANZAC tile, not nearly as yummy. Another theory is that they were sent to the troops by wives and girlfriends back home. However, some people question that idea also. Those doubting Thomases suggest that the biscuits were always used as they are today, to raise funds for the troops, sort of like Girl Scout cookies for grownups. 

According to Wikipedia, the name “ANZAC biscuit” is a protected marque of the Crown. However, if you’re holding a bake sale for a good cause, they won’t bother you… as long as you never ever call them ‘cookies’. 

So we’ve finally tasted them, after 4 months in the country. Basically a delicious oatmeal cookie with some coconut. Only better because of golden syrup (more on that at a later date). 

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