February 2017 will go down in the anals for The CookTwit. Coupled with The Flame and her sister Laura and hub John, the four of us trooped round New Zealand’s South and North Islands, culminating in a final flourish in Sydney Australia. This is the story of what happened and what we ate!
Its was a marathon thirty hour flight via Dubai (and 8 episodes of Family Guy) before we arrived in Christchurch, the capital of New Zealand’s south island. Sadly Christchurch has suffered terribly from the 2010 earthquake, devastation still reigns. The once magnificent cathedral is now propped up by steel girders, awaiting the go-ahead and the cash to repair it. Despite this it still boasts a vintage tramway, a botanic garden and lots of building work.
We struggled to find anywhere to eat, but finally decided on the Old Government Building or OBG for short. A lively bar with full hipster bar staff, it offered a brief menu of great burgers, both chicken and beef along with awesome chips and hand pulled craft ale. The ‘Three Boys IPA’ was a winner. Not bad for £10 a pint!!
Day 2 sent us via coach to Mount Cook, the highest, (and consequently snow capped) mountain in New Zealand. We travelled through the Canterbury plains via wonderful one horse towns like Geraldine, Ashburton, and Fairlee as well as the spectacular blue lakes of Tekapo and Pukaki. Most towns are single story, colonial and impeccably kept.
Our chalet (part of The Hermitage Hotel complex) featured a clever, sloped snow cheating roof. The view from our room was quite good! (see featured image on the title bar!) Here we enjoyed a fabulous buffet of seafood including the ubiquitous green lipped mussels. The Old Mountaineer restaurant nearby provided warm muffins and coffee for a less formal dining experience. Walking is what you do here. There is a Sir Edmond Hilary centre here after all. A hike across The Hooker Valley and a climb to the Red Tarns just two tracks we ventured on.
From here we moved to the stunning lakeside town of Wanaka. Our room at The Moorings offered a sensational view of the mountain backed lake. First night grub was a rack of lamb at The Speights Alehouse. We learned that these are our equivalent of Wetherspoons! There is one in every town in the South! From here we walked round the lake to the Rippon vineyard and enjoyed spectacular views over the vines and the lake. A corking pork belly roti at the ‘Edgewater’ complex helped us through. ‘Alchemy’ and ‘Relishes Cafe’ served up wonderful breakfasts and a gurnard with cauliflower puree dinner! Both these smart, antipodean eateries are recommended. Suprisingly, Wanaka houses the southern hemispheres largest Transport and Toy museum. Well worth a visit. As an aside the toy museum also houses the Jabberwocky microbrewery! Why not?
Next it was on to Queenstown, another lakeside town via Cromwell and ‘Jones Fruit Stall’. Queenstown is larger and brasher than Wanaka but no less beautiful. We arrived late and bagged a decent pizza from ‘Winnies’. ‘Halo’ provided the breakfasts, mountains of muesli, porridge and eggs. ‘Public’ a lively bar fed me Osso Bucco and a huge trifle for tea. We often relaxed at ‘The Bath House’ on the front. A Monteith’s summer ale was always welcome. A recommended boat trip is the hop across to Mount Nicolas Farm. A relaxing retreat amongst the hills and 29000 sheep.
A trip up the Skyline cable car to the mountain topped Stratosfour restaurant was another feature. Stunning views and another buffet of seafood and pavlova. A deserved mention for ‘Bespoke Kitchen’ and their tremendous smoothies.
From here we headed back to Christchurch. Another burger in OBG and a waffle at the rather wonderful street food gathering in Cathedral Square. Our magnificent train journey was cancelled due to a massive bush fire. So another equally magnificent coach to Greymouth on the West coast. Truly stunning landscapes, many featured in ‘The Lord of The Rings’ were enjoyed before a quick stop at Arthurs Pass and The Wobbly Kea Cafe. From here we headed to Nelson in the North via the incredible ‘Pancake Rocks’ and the spectacular Tasman coastal drive. Arriving late we dined in our surprisingly good motel restaurant ‘Flames On 40’. A very decent seafood chowder and a chicken schnitzel on the menu.
Next day we took a cruise up the Abel Tasman coast to Medlands Beach on Barks Bay. It was our very own desert island. We took a picnic of bread, ham and cheese, courtesy of the ubiquitous ‘Countdown’ supermarket chain. A deserted Nelson at night left us venturing to the New St Steakhouse, a non descript sports bar. However, it served up some oysters and a truly top ribeye with bernaise sauce. Peer pressure meant I had to renege on an apple and berry crumble.
Next day we coached up to Picton to get the ferry to Wellington, thus ending our tour of the South Island and heralding the start of our time in the North Island. Windy Wellington lived up to its name. It was sunny though. The promenade is very well done. Dinner was at the bustling ‘The Crab Shack’ down on the harbour front. Mussel fritters with jelapenos was a highlight. Crab and clam fettucine was my main. A very decent bottle of ‘Little Creatures’ IPA at £7! was well received.
For breakfast we ventured (on a tip) to Cuba Street and had a fabulous bacon butty at Fidel’s. Could have come straight out of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A super place. More smoothies, up a cable car and a fabulous walk down the hill via Wellingtons botanic gardens and the haunting Bolton St Cemetery.
After our Maori taxi driver Linda had picked us up from our high rised hotel. It was a short flight to Auckland. Here we picked up our aged Toyota Camry and met our hosts for the next few days George and Carol. After a decent chicken Harissa at the ‘Zsimpla Gastropub’ right by Auckland airport it was a three hour late night dash to Opoutere and George and Carols incredible, self built beach villa on ‘The Coromandel’.
After a morning dip in the crashing waves of The Pacific on our deserted beach and a hearty, healthy breakfast, cooked by Carol, we set off on a day trip to Cathedral Rock and Hot Water Beach. Both key tourist must do’s on The Coromandel’. At night we picked the ‘Pipis’ for Georges Pipi fritters (see recipe here). We cooked them the next day. It rained all day here, the only rain on the three week jaunt.
We then sped across the north of the island back to Auckland to George and Carols bayside apartment in Takapuna which harbours stunning views across to Auckland City. It was here I was introduced to Stoke Brewery IPA, wonderful stuff. It was also here that I had a Chinese massage. My back is in poor condition apparently. We enjoyed more healthy home cooked food during our time here. Carol introduced me to Thai cooking and the abomination that is sugar! Lessons learned.
Nearby Devonport provides a regular 15 minute ferry to Auckland City. A deep fried snack at ‘O Hagans’ on the harbour ensued. A gentle stroll through the harbour via ‘The Auckland Seafood School’ a particular highlight. At night a big sharing plate at Francs before finishing off with a lamb dish at Regatta on Takapuna’s seafront.
Next day it was another cruise to ‘Rangitoto’, a volcano. It takes one and half hours of torture to get up there and not much easier back down. It rained up there too. Our standard ham and cheese picnic served us well. More milkshakes at ‘Sienna’s ‘ in Devonport to quench a thirst.
After a wonderful walk down the rugged coast of Takapuna and another welcome shake at the Takapuna Beach Cafe it was a car return to the Jetpark Hotel by Auckland airport. Another burger at Zsimpla!!
Up at 4.15am and a three hour hop across to Sydney. A $60 Taxi to our high rise Meriton Apartment on Pitt Street. A great location in the heart of the city.
We set about getting our bearings and ended up in Darling Harbour. A modern harbour featuring the maritime museum and a host of tourist eateries, mainly owned by Nick! A lunchtime pulled pork baguette at ‘Olive’ was backed up later at ‘Cyren’ witn a pretty decent seafood risotto and a Baileys Brûlée. Darling Harbour is endearingly wonderful at night as all the high rised banking headquarters light up and overlook the water bowl.
Next day we ventured on what turned out to be huge walk around the city. We started at Darling Harbour walking up through Bangaroo to Circular Quay. Not before seeing Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time, walking beneath and seeing The Sydney Opera House. Both iconic. Circular Quay is the bustling epicentre where all the cruise ships land and all the ferries bob in and out of. It is lined with chain bars and restaurants. Walking through it and round you venture up close to the Opera House and then into the spectacular botanic gardens. Here you can get superb views of the two icons. We walked back at night down wonderful George Street via the Queen Victoria building to ‘The Rocks’, a small hub of shops and restaurants to one side of the quay. A high quality spaghetti bolognese and a huge lemon meringue was enjoyed at ‘The Rocks Cafe,’ a traditional, old world restaurant, very pleasant.
Next day we ferried ourselves to Manly Beach, a scorching day. Egg mayo butties from the 711 provided the day time sustenance! Arguably the best pint of the holiday was enjoyed at ‘The Endeavour Tap Rooms’. Based in ‘The Rocks’ area it boasted its own microbrewery. I opted for an Imperial pale ale and watched the world go by. Another £10 pint mind!
At night we made our first mistake, dinner at ‘The Hard Rock Cafe’. A display of Motley Crue’s farewell tour kex didn’t compensate for the cardboard burger and poor beer. My lamb cutlets weren’t bad but weren’t great either. Our final meal down under was breakfast at ‘Two Good Eggs Cafe’. A lovely walk via Hyde park and Oxford street led us to this off the beaten track delight. A proper eggs Benedict complete with avo was enjoyed by all. Best coffee americano too.
And that was it! Uber back to the airport and thirty hours back to Blighty. Qantas scrambled egg, flatbreads and pizza helped us home.
A truly life changing experience. One for all to try. Please go if you can.