Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pt 4 - NZ A Perfect Day - it really was!

Something heavy is scuttling about on the roof. A possum? It’s 6:40 am. Getting light. I get up to take care of business and sleepily peek out the curtains to the sea. Pre drawn by the looks. I can’t resist watching ready to take a few snaps if colour should paint the clouds on the horizon. A quick flick of fingers through hair; pull on some shorts and I slide open the glass door separating me from the view and step outside. Lovely soft grass on bare feet.

I wander down along the grass to some seats positioned in a bare paddock with views back in towards Tutukaka. A smail sail boat is heading south and soon there is a slow stream of boats heading out to sea. The sun is slow to rise but as it peeks over the horizon the sky is lit with golden flame until the bright orb shows itself through the bands of cloud.

I head slowly back up the hill admiring a lonely pohutukawa flower in the garden and settle in downstairs to some leisurely pottering about on the computer with occasional contented snores from hubby upstairs as my companion. The view of the Poor Knights Islands from the apartment a tantalizing promise of things to come.

It seems no time at all before it’s 10 o’clock and time to be readying ourselves for our trip with A Perfect Day. As we pull up in the carpark it’s clear that most other patrons have already checked in and are making themselves comfortable on the boat. We soon are joining them and noting that it is indeed looking like a perfect day. The sky is clear, the sea Is like a mill pond. Fantastic.

The first order of business as we step into the back of the boat is to get kitted out with snorkel, fins and in my case, a wetsuit. Best form of sun protection going and it doesn’t leave an unfortunate slick on the water to affect the environment. With gear in hand we head upstairs. The boat is big and broad and there are plenty of seats, a few outside in the sun and many more under the canopy. The plastic roll up windows allow for shade without feeling like you’re inside. Phew. I really need to minimise my sun exposure.

After the obligatory safety briefing, (which is as entertaining as a safety briefing can possibly get) rules of the boat and a run down o the plan for the day we settle down to enjoy a leisurely run out to the Poor Knights Islands which are of course, still visible in the distance. To the south the Hen and Chickens Islands are a shadow to the east of cape Whangarei, while to the north Cape Brett marks the entrance to the Bay of Islands. We hear about the East Australian Current and the tendency for tropical species to find themselves here at the Poor Knights. Some species can hang on, others have a short life span as the water cools over winter when the effects of the current lessen. As we approach the islands we hear of James Cook and his naming of the islands in 1769… look they really do look like a dead knight lying in the water…

We arrive at the islands at about midday. Conditions are right for the boat to anchor up in an area known as the garden. In this bay there are a range of beautiful species of kelp growing and a range of fish can been seen. Before we head downstairs to go jumping in the water the skipper fills us in on what’s around the area. Hubby and I are among the last of the snorkelers into the water. I am glad I decided on the wetsuit as I slide into the water and move away from the boat. Masses of small fish, a species of chromis, and others school around the area.

There’s also a few larger fish but nothing really big. As recommended I head over to the shadows and find stacks of fish and beautiful kelp covered rocks. A thin transparent ribbon hangs in the water. It’s edges pulsating with iridescent colour. It swims and ripples like an gymnast’s ribbon. This is known as a mermaid’s belt. Beautiful.

Also around in numbers are tiny gelatinous creatures, again, showing iridescent banding rippling along the sides. Jelly fish you would say. I tried to fan one away from me to avoid swimming into it and perhaps damaging it. To my horror it seems to disintegrate in front of my eyes and I wonder if it was ever really creature shaped at all. As I watch it reforms itself. What an extraordinary creature.

I meet up with hubby and we head for the arch where we were advised a lot of fish hang out. Indeed they do and we float through a wall of fish towards water that is tossed and bubble strewn from the gentle swell breaks against the rocks of the arch.
Returning towards the boat from the arch we several large fish which we would call bream, but are locally called snapper. Beautiful iridescent blue spots on the sides, and around the fins. Beautiful fish. They are beautiful when you catch them but 10 times more lovely alive in the water.

I continue on snorkeling until about 1:15, then I figure I might have some lunch and position myself for a go on the kayaks. There’s only few kayaks so people need to be considerate and not monopolise them. Most people just use the kayak to go across to Rikoriko cave and return.

Wandering about on deck I look for hubby and cannot see him anywhere. I continue to look and still can’t see him. I begin to picture his drowned body floating on the bottom.. finally I see him and sigh with relief before grabbing the camera to get a few shots of his graceful snorkeling style. ;o)

Lunch is a variety of sandwiches with meats and salads or cheese and salad. Some side salads and pickled onions and cucumber, and a platter of fruit. The pineapple was fabulous. Best fresh pineapple I’ve had in ages. We scoff a sandwich each and at 1:30 a kayak becomes available. We stow our plates and jump in the kayak and off we go to the cave. I’m tempted to sing a round of Waltzing Matilda to test the much lauded acoustics, but just as I’m about to burst into song another kayaker comes into the cave and I think perhaps my singing isn’t quite what they would have had in mind for their rikoriko cave experience. It’s only a short paddle back to the boat and we’re boarding by about 1:45.
It’s not long until our scheduled departure time, but I decide to slip back into the water for a quick snorkel through the arch. Now with the sun beaming down into the water right up to the rocks over most of the area, the fish have pretty much buzzed off but I find them in the arch. Wonderful.

Finally the skipper blows the horn and heads around the vessel ticking names off on the passenger list to make sure everyone is on board. It’s up anchors and we’re off on our circumnavigation of the island. First stop is into the rikoriko cave. Riko refers to the sparkling of the water. We see a little of this effect near the entrance to the cave, but we are informed that winter is the time to see this cave as the entire cavern fills with the sparkling light of the water. We do a little yelling and mucking about in the cave. Our skipper as usual a wonderfully entertaining performer. What a hoot.

As we head around the islands we hear about the Maori history of the island. Aside from the ban on landing on the islands placed by the Department of Conservation, the island is tapu for Maori. This was a decree by a powerful chief after a massacre on the islands in the early 1800’s. Nothing to do with Europeans really, it was all over pigs and utu. Following the massacre the Maori simply left. Consequently one of the islands is an archeologist’s dream. As we explore the numerous arches and protected bays we hear of an early European settler who visited and collected things, as was the tendency of the times, without permission of the local iwi. Today even the Dept of Conservation must be given permission from the iwi to land on the island.

The whole commentary is fascinating and our skipper is a really charismatic, funny guy. Our last trip through an arch then we head down to the pinnacles. This is the site of a gannet nesting colony. We circle and have a go at getting some high zoom photos, though at high zoom the motion of the boat has more of an impact. I wish I was as proficient with the camera as daughter 1.

As we circle the sugar loaf we are informed that over to the right of us we can see little grey ternlets.. what! Grey Ternlets are really rare and hard to see. I've only seen them once before when we did a trip to Balls Pyramid from Lord Howe Island. COOL! Sure enough a small flock of ternlets is there buzzing about. Skipper points out some diagonal bands in the rock where the ternlets like to roost. I manage a photo. You hoo!!!!

We motor away from the island and have a relaxing but uneventful trip back to the marina in Tutukaka harbour. The weather has been absolutely perfect all day. The sea is as calm when we disembark as when we walked on board. A perfect day indeed. In the course of the trip we have gone through several arches and of course into the rikoriko cave. It's been awesome.

Back at Pacific Rendevous we shower and journal and catch a bit final few performances for some gold medals in the ice skating and speed skating at the Winter Olympics, then it’s off to another dinner at Schnappa Rock.

We start with the selection of warm breads with pesto, oil and balsamic and butter. It was OK but frankly I’ve had better. Oh Schnappa Rock. Tisk tisk. This is the first average bread course I've had in New Zealand... maybe the bread is a South Island Specialty! The breads are simultaneously consumed with duck liver pate for hubby and mussels in a mild red curry sauce for myself. Mains were tricky. I think we both were very tempted to get the same as we had last night, but in the interest of sampling hubby went for the lamb rack with tzatziki and sides of potatoe and mixed vegetables. I went for one of the specials – Fish no 2 which was oven baked hapuka with blue cheese and leek sauce served with quinoa. Very delicious. I don’t usually like fish much, but this was lovely.

Although I lobbied for skipping the dessert, hubby was not to be persuaded and I have a poor history when faced with such enthusiasm for over indulgence… so I go for the fruit and orange sorbet on a Russian blini. Hubby went for the Queen of Sheba chocolate cake with ice cream and fruit compote. Both desserts were very nice too, but I am not at all convinced the small pancakey affair on which my stuff sat was a genuine Russian blini. Ah well. It’s quite late by the time we are departing. Another very nice meal at Schnappa Rock…
….I only hope the food takes a turn for the uninspiring for a while!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pt 3 NZ - More Devonport, Navy Museum, and north to Tutukaka

6:45 am. Overcast. Street lighting is still on as the natural light increases. Already the motorway over the bridge is heavy with traffic snaking jewel eyed into the city centre.
We pack up slowly and lethargically, we’re still struggling with adjusting to the time zone after our ridiculously late arrival from Sydney and continued late nights.

After 9 we walk over to Europcar in Shortland Street. It’s not a long walk but it does involve walking up and down some reasonable inclines. Good for us after all the fine dining we’ve been doing. There’s a bit of a wait as others ahead of us collect their vehicles. Time to go out to the vehicle and we are surprised to find a sporty silver Toyota Aurion awaiting us, complete with spoiler. Oh. Ok. I check my paperwork. We definitely booked and paid for a Mitsubishi Lancer. This upgrade is a bit of alright! It’s a very easy trip back to Quay West to check out and then we are retracing our steps of last night and heading towards the Northern Motorway. We have decided to stop past Devonport again this morning seeing as our visit on Saturday was shorter than we had planned.

Devonport is comparatively quiet today after the buzz of the weekend. No trouble parking. I make a call to the glass bottom boat people at Goat Island. Turns out the conditions there today are not good and the lady rings back to advise that she thinks it would be a waste of time us going up today as the wind is coming straight in and it’s very rough with the boat closely resembling riding a bucking horse. This being the case we feel free to spend as much time as we like here in Devonport and surrounds before making our way up to Tutukaka for tonights stay.

Our first stop is the puzzle shop at the wharf which hubby had been admiring on the weekend. The lady in the shop is really friendly. She sounds of Scottish origin. She tells us about the various games and puzzles and has a teaching game with hubby of a cool game called Pentago. This game is apparently taking the world by storm. Looks seriously cool but we think we can get this and another cool New Zealand invention called Tantrix at home. What we can’t get at home is a hand made kiwi invented game called Cathedral. Made from New Zealand woods in batches of 50 at a time this game of strategy looks fair to contribute to the hefty weight of the souvenirs for this trip. I also cannot resist a cribbage box which opens to show compartments for playing cards, dice and tray and crib pegs..such a reasonable price too. I can see us coming back to the puzzle shop when we make it back to Auckland. Great shop. Great friendly service. Top stuff.

Next, as we’re running out of time on our parking spot we drive down the road and make our way into the Navy Museum. This museum will be moving to new premises around on North Head, hopefully opening on 1 August 2010. At the moment they are crammed into a fairly small space. The displays are dominated by photographs but there are other interesting artifacts also as well as small information boards telling the story of various ships and individuals. Along the way more or less covering NZ naval history. We read many fascinating and inspiring stories. We read of penny trails held at schools all over New Zealand to raise money to buy the ships bell for the first HMS New Zealand… we used to raise money like that for the Far West Childrens home at Curl Curl in Sydney… I remember the teachers used to drum up support saying how these poor children who live in the inland had never seen the sea and so we had to bring them out for a beach holiday. Although I was only 5 or 6 yrs old, I clearly remember feeling quite resentful as I had never seen the other side of the great dividing range, or for that matter even the mountains.. no one was offering to take me for a holiday! I think perhaps there must have been more to the Far West Children’s home than our teachers ever explained to us!

We read of the second HMS New Zealand commissioned on 19 November 1912, one of very few ships to participate in all three major fleet actions of the Great War: Heligoland Bight on 28 August 1914; Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915 and the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. In action the Captain wore a Maori Puipui and pounamou tiki that had been presented to the ship.

Tales of valour too. Lieutenant Commander W E Sanders VC RNR. A Takapuna local. Given command of a Q ship HMS Prize in 1917, on his first patrol a submarine was encountered and engaged. HMS Prize was badly damaged and almost sank. This engagement has since been described as one of greatest minor naval actions of the Great War. The sub sank and some survivors were rescued. W E Sanders was awarded the Victoria Cross “in recognition of his conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness, and skill in command of one of HM ships in action.” The only VC ever to be awarded to a New Zealander serving in the Navy.

It took a while for the Prize to be repaired and three months later she took to the waters again and once again another sub was encountered, engaged and sunk. This time Sanders was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In their third engagement Sanders and all the crew perished. There is a memorial to Sanders in Sanders Ave Takapuna. A local boy to be proud of. One wonders what else he was involved in as his war diaries were classified as “secret”. Grant Howard’s biography of “Gunner Billy” will be a treasured souvenir of our visit here today and a worthy addition to my collection of military titles.

The gentleman on the desk helps me out with my confusion about the establishment of the kiwi Navy. At some point rather than being referred to as HMS ie British Royal Navy vessels, the kiwi ships became HMNZS – as they are today of course. The boards around the walls don’t explain it. (No doubt a problem that will be addressed in the redeveloped displays). Turns out the Royal New Zealand Navy was formally created on 1 October 1941. However this was not the first of the NZ Navy. New Zealand had long had their own ships, paid for by the kiwi taxpayer and controlled by the NZ Naval Board, but operating with/within the Royal Navy. In 1921 this administrative arrangement was not changed by the seagoing elements of the NZ naval forces being retitled as the NZ Division.. all very confusing really, but I think I have it clear now.. though it would be interesting to examine the relationship of these events to the national expectations re foreign policy. I know for a time Australia contributed to empire defence but had no independent voice on foreign policy. Just one of the stages of assuming real independence from the “mother country” was realizing that British and Australian (or New Zealand) interests do not always coincide.

Having spent an hour or two in the Museum, as a steady trickle of international visitors also drifts through, we make our donation and buy the book and request a few free fact sheets.. Navy in the Korean War, Navy and the Napier earthquake…and pick up some great free editions of “The White Ensign” which is the Navy Museum Journal. It is a very classy freebie magazine I have to say …. better donate a bit more…. We say our farewell with a promise of a return one day to the new premises.

We have decided our next stop is O’Neills Point Cemetary. This to pay respects to one Mrs Emily Burrows. Mrs Burrows own son was killed when he was lead stoker in HMS Irresistable when it struck a mine in the battle for the Dardanelles in the Great War. It seems this kindly lady satisfied her maternal longing and her grief by becoming “the mother of the Navy”. Every Sunday she visited the ships of the NZ Division and bought them fruit, flowers, sweets ad cakes in her basket. She was universally loved and known to everyone in the Navy from the highest ranks to the newest recruits. When she died in 1933, men of the navy lined the streets from Devonport to her resting place at the ONeil’s Point Cemetary. Her coffin draped in the NZ flag and carried by 5 sailors and 1 Royal Marine.

It’s only a short drive before we pull up outside the ONeil’s point Cemetary and wander in. It is a lovely place with mature trees lining a central walk. The roots of the aged trees uplifting the nearby graves. It’s a much bigger place than we expected and we’ve got buckley’s of finding Mrs Burrows grave. Maybe she knows that our visit here is in her honour. We note the graves of a NZEF veteran the headstone erected in the early 1920s. Did he die slowly of wounds or gas? Or was it an accident perhaps. May all those here rest in peace.

We have collected a pamphlet from the i-site on the North Shore literary walks. I’m not familiar with most of the listed authors (and there are plenty of them!) so we think we’ll just try to find Frank Sargeson’s place and leave it at that. However first we decide to head down for a quick squizz at Takapuna beach. This is easily accomplished and on this weekday, no problem parking in a side street. We walk past what appears to be a mother and son deep in impassioned argument… well… the mother is deeply into it at any rate. She’s “not happy Jan!” The views from the beach across to Rangitoto Island are lovely… it’s quite a long surf so pretty safe for swimming. It’s a very pleasant spot.

Turns out that Frank Sargeson’s Bach is in Esmonde Rd.. these days this is a major arterial route and it’s just too hard to pull over to look around. We are caught in a tide of traffic heading for the motorway to the north. Ultimately that’s where we need to be so we give the hunt for Mr Sargeson away. He’s a hard man to track down on all fronts. I’m wondering if perhaps many kiwis don’t really know about him despite his significance to kiwi literature.. why else would he be so hard to get?? Maybe he’s significant for leading a shift but his own stories just didn’t hit enough of a chord in the national psyche…
Our next detour is to the coastal township of Orewa. Driving in we pass many new developments. Something of a building boom seems underway here. The town centre is an upmarket beach resort. Nicely landscaped beachfront.

A tui is hopping about from pohutukawa (?) down to the grass and back up. We explore a little. Buy a bottle of ginger beer from the bakery and decide to finish off our picnic supplies. I spy a lookout on the map which seems to look down over the beach and gulf. When we get there we can’t turn in from our direction so we are obliged to keep going. This turns out to be a boon and we end up at the delightful Hatfields Beach Reserve. A picnic table beautifully placed overlooking the water and where we can park right next to it. Perfect. This is right up our alley.

We sup again on our smoked fish and mussels. Ferndale cheese with gourmet wafers, blueberries and plums. We’re almost done and hubby is putting the rubbish in the bin as I exercise the camera’s super zoom on what I think might have been a juvenile black backed gull, when it starts to rain properly. We’ve stuck it out in very light drizzle off and on, but this is a bit beyond a joke. As a couple of ladies mosey on up the beach from their leisurely swim, we dive for the car. Phew. Just in time.

Back on the main route north we are struck by the great similarity of the countryside around here to northern NSW and in particular the northern rivers area around Taree. There’s even gum trees in about the same density. It’s almost 4:30 when we take a turn to have a look at Puranui Falls. AH Reed memorial Kauri park is how it’s billed and the kauri must be more impressive than the falls we conclude.. but given the time and the fact that we have allowed a lot of time on the itinerary for exploring Waipoua forest, we clear off pretty quick from this site.

It’s a very short distance to Whangarei Falls and this does not disappoint. I enjoy watching the kids swing on the rope and drop into the river above the falls. Admire the very tastefully designed facilities and finally down at the viewing platform down hill from a pleasant picnic area, admire these beautiful falls. A better view would be had from the picnic table down at the base of the falls. There is a walk down and around the area. It’s too hot to be tempting now, and we’re too tired, but early one crisp morning it looks like it would be a delightful little spot.

Driving on we pass through an area where dry stone walls line the roadside. It’s a striking and distinctive feature. The dry stone walls behind us we’re back in NSW…then not far from Tutukaka we come to Ngunguru. We’re still in NSW here. The similarity is striking. This could be any one of a dozen NSW coastal villages bordering a tidal inlet and apparently not much else around but all things aquatic. …perhaps a little less developed than many of those NSW villages these days. A bit like a time machine perhaps..

The spell is broken as we climb a hill to Frying Pan Corner and the lookout there which looks down over a coastline which is more distinctly New Zealand. Away to the east is that Pacific Rendevous we can see? ... and look there, is that the Poor Knights Islands? Spectacular view. We’re close to the end of our drive now and looking forward to going to sleep!

Much sooner than we expected we make the turn at the sign to Pacific Rendevous and snake our way past many a beach house. Should call them baches? … but many of these are mansions and not in the least consistent with the small dwellings for single men that originally inspired their colloquial name! Beach Houses fits rather better as a description I think.

Pacific Rendevous is neatly kept with playground, fish and car cleaning spot, mini golf and of course spectacular ocean views that look down into the intricate little bays around the headland. We check in and sus out our one bedroom apartment. Modestly kitted out, but more than adequate for our needs and the balcony and the views are awesome!

We waste no time heading down to Tutukaka to get something for dinner so we can hit the sack. The pizza joint isn’t operating and although we have a booking for Schnappa Rock tomorrow this seems the sensible spot to eat tonight as well. It’s not 6pm yet, but we are offered a seat and a menu and simply informed that our order can’t be taken until after 6. The building is quite unique. It seems like it has been cobbled together from construction debris. Recycled window frames, but old beams. Brushwood panels. Unique, and largely open to the air. It would be impossible to lock up wouldn’t it?

Hubby has been entertaining himself with another delightful local drop called Weka Native Lager. By the Moa Brewing Company which is apparently in the Marlborough region. ..[it] shows an array of smooth velvety characters on the palate but also has a refreshing floral nose..” I can’t comment on the palate, but it definitely has the floral nose!

Time comes to order and having considered the daily specials hubby opts for chowder and I go for the entre special. Whole prawns with crispy tortilla and lime and watermelon salsa. Hubby is loving the chowder wherever he’s had it. Each version has been quite different but all delicious. My prawns are simply outstanding. Generous serving and incredible value for only $16.50. Light fresh. Delightful for summer.

Our mains follow. Hubby has gone for Nahm Jim prawns with rice fettucine. The gluten free menu option. I have gone for the vegetarian option. Spatzle accompanied by vegetables and tomato sauce. Both are beautiful. We LOVE the fact that the chef has come up with meals that include plentiful vegetables, light, summery, pretty healthy by the look of it. Simply outstanding. Outstanding quality. Outstanding value. Brilliant.

Hubby orders another weka. They are all out of Weka. What a shame. Another perusal of the beer menu and our waitress is delivering a Summer Ale by Monteiths Brewing Co. “ A fresh bright and lively beer made with lightly kilned malt and a touch of rata honey… .delivers a truly refreshing taste experience…savour ice cold with a wedge of orange.” We have no wedge of orange, but I swear it smells a bit like lemonade. Hubby tries it and sniffs. Yeah it does. It’s a bit like a shandy. Definitely refreshing. Nice. We’ve been doing well. Haven’t struck a beer hubby hasn’t liked yet. I belatedly figure we want a photograph to remember this meal….

Would we like to see the dessert menu? I’m about to reply to the negative, but hubby gets in first. “Definitely!” Oh no. Coconut and Feijoa panna cotta. I’ve never had a feijoa.. I could try that tomorrow, but tomorrow I want to have that one with the Russian blini… Hubby goes for the chunky chocolate mousse with berry coulis. Yes, both desserts were delicious. We pay our very reasonable bill ($121 NZ) and waddle towards the door. We admire the nifty boat near the entrance and head back to the car.

As we pull out of the car park I exclaim "hey! check out the bearded trees…” we pull over again and hop out to look at the thick pads of what look like aerial roots hanging from what we would have thought might be the ubiquitous pohutukawa. On closer inspection the trees seem to be infested with some sort of epiphyte or parasitic plant and these “beards” are mats of roots hanging down from them. Interesting.

Nearby there is a tower and very large screw. The plaque indicates that these must have come from HMNZS Tui.. sunk in February 1999 as an artificial reef somewhere offshore. There is also an American naval vessel listed on the plaque.. and thanks for generosity to the USA… my visit to the Naval Museum impacts my interpretation of the plaque…was HMNZS a recommissioned Naval vessel acquired from the US?

Back to our apartment and journaling before collapsing into bed. Looking forward to a late and slow start tomorrow. There’s nothing shabby about the view from our accommodation with the Poor Knights Islands visible in the distance!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pt 2 - Tiri Tiri Matangi and Clooney (Restaurant)

Sunday 14 February – Tiri Tiri Matangi and Clooney
Awake by about 6:45 NZ time. The sky is grey. To the north and west the visibility is poor due to the rain. We overcome some initial wavering due to the weather but in the end we decide to just do it. This was the right decision. We check into the 360 office and the captain is saying to someone that often it’s raining in Auckland but fine on the island. Tiri sits in a rain shadow and for some reason bad weather seems to just skirt around the island. Right on time at 9am the Tiri Kat pulls away from pier 4 and out into the gulf.

Sky Tower is obscured by cloud as we motor out beyond Devonport and round north head and onwards to Gulf Harbour.

Housing encrusts the coastline north like barnacles as we head northward. Rangitoto Island, the youngest volcano in the area forms a low cone to the east.

The Tiri Kat is travelling quite quickly and a small flock of pelagic birds decides to fly along side us, occasionally darting across the bow. I hear a few passengers contemplating what sort of bird they might be.. petrels? Shearwaters? I wouldn’t have a clue but enjoy their flight display enormously.
About an hour north of Auckland as we approach Gulf Harbour we are informed that the marina is the biggest of about 9 in the Auckland area and the development here as modeled on Portofino in Italy.
As we pull up to the wharf a long queue has formed ready for boarding. A pied oyster catching is sitting quietly alone on the breakwater.
Alongside the wharf a twin hulled vessel is moored sporting elaborate carvings front and rear on either hull and with a large rudder between. A fellow passenger informs me that this is the vessel that was built as a reconstruction of the original waka that brought the Maori to this land. Well this is how they believe it was at any rate.

From Gulf Harbour it’s only about 20 minutes to Tiri. The coastline has evolved into a line of creamy coloured cliffs topped by the cleared land of farms and an occasional crusting of development.

During the last stages of the trip we notice a volunteer is wandering about offering maps of the island for $1. We gratefully accept the deal. A flock of terns is wheeling about the area as we moor at Tiri, finally settling down on some exposed volcanic rocks nearby. We excitedly disembark, and walk along the long jetty to congregate for an address by todays ranger.

Activity on the jetty gradually eases, baggage having been brought off the bought in a large container wheeled along the rail tracks that remain presumably from the days when the island was a farm and livestock were sent to market by barge. The terns see their opportunity and as one they rise and fly across to perch in a dapper carpet along the jetty.
Today’s rostered ranger sets about briefing us for our visit: acknowledgement of the volunteer guides and supporters of Tiri; please take all your rubbish back off the island with you; location of toilets; no smoking on the island outside of only two areas here on the concrete at the jetty and up at the visitor centre on the concrete there. Be sure to be back for boarding the Tiri Kat by 3:15. There is no emergency overnight stays. If you miss the Tiri Kat, it will be a water taxi at your own expense. You will NOT be staying on the island. Also please do not feed the birds. It’s bad for them and no matter how hungry they make out they are, be assured the birds are very well fed. A number of companies are also given thanks and recognition: for example Dilmah supplies complementary tea up at the visitor centre; another company supplies the food for the stitchbird breeding program. A final plea to all to please sign the visitors book, it is useful in obtaining additional funding. Laughter greets a wry plea to spend up big in the gift shop.
Next it is the lead guide’s turn to say nice things about the Dept of Conservation. Niceties completed independent visitors set off while the lead guide sorts everyone else out into small groups to be escorted by the guides that have been brought over at no charge by 360. First of all larger travelling parties and families with kids are sort assigned to their guides. A little while before I had tuned in as one of the guides was giving advice to a couple about which tracks are good for seeing the birds. Something about this lady seemed really appealing so when she was still unallocated when the rest of us are told to head over to a guide, I’m pleased I’m standing nearby and move quickly to her group. Her name is Sue and she proves to be an outstanding guide.

Sue starts by consulting with our part of 6 or 7 visitors as to which way we’d like to go. Another couple are keen to see the birds so I am saved the trouble of saying so myself but enthusiastically support the choice of going to where the birds are most easily seen. This takes us along the wattle valley track. With so many groups heading up the hill we take our time so as not to run into them and admire beautiful views across the bay. We learn that the flax plants here on the island have somewhat mangled seed spikes. They look quite different here due to the local kakariki (parakeets) who are exceedingly fond of the green seed pods. When the kakariki (which are the red fronted variety) are finished the seed spikes are just a twisted bare prong. We stop again to learn about some fruiting plants. With so many new plants and information I can’t remember the name. In one case as the island was replanted the fruiting of the young plants was prolific and providing a source for the Polynesian rats, resulted in a rat population explosion.. and some amusing stories of rat plague experiences before they were eradicated in an extraordinarily successful single poison drop. Apparently you need a range of particular conditions to an optimally successful feral rodent eradication, so to eradicate the entire population in one fell swoop was quite extraordinary.

Next up is the dam where brown teal can sometimes be seen. It’s been a very dry summer this year and although the pond was very full in winter it’s now virtually dry. No ducks to be seen. There is a frame with bracken piled all over it and this we learn is to provide cover for the ducklings which otherwise are easily predated by raptors. Though last winter the pond was so full that the frame was submerged so it was a fat lot of good at that time!

Moving right along we admire some fruiting trees of various types one has pretty red pink flowers and is a favourite with some birds because it always has fruit. The flowers are produced sporadically creating a slow but steady stream of flowers and fruit all on the tree at the one time. Another tree has an abundance of seedpods that are filled with sticky seeds. These are spread by the seeds sticking to the plumage of the birds… yet other trees called Mahoe (?) produce fruit directly from the branches, which if memory served is called being cauliforous!

As we admire the vegetation we see our first spectacular local, a north island robin hopping about the path. You beauty! Not quite as happy to socialize with the human visitors as the south island robins on Ulva Island, we watch as he catches a small moth and skips around working hard on finding a meal then takes off. With the season being so dry it’s harder to attract them over but Sue informs us that in wetter times they can (like the SI robins we observed) be attracted by scraping away in the leaf litter for them.

We walk through the area that was replanted with pohutukawa quite thickly. The team had thought that they would probably lose a few of the seedlings and so thick planting would be a smart move. Turned out that pretty much all survived, but never mind. Nature will take care of it.

Our next bird is a small group of whiteheads who pass through foraging and calling in the shrubs all around us. At some times of year the whiteheads flock and a visit may bring you the opportunity of watching groups of maybe 50 whiteheads partying in the bush. The various times of year bring different spectacles. Sue tells us that winter can be among the best times to visit with visitor numbers down and plenty to be seen.

Soon the first of the saddlebacks for the day appear. Glorious birds in their velvety black and umber with matching umber wattles providing a bright jewel of colour on their faces. In the course of our visit we see saddlebacks everywhere. There are so many of them and they seem in no hurry to move off away from us. Perching beautifully almost upside down on tree branches and trunks today we see them usually travelling with at least one other bird, often three. Their posture and behavior reminds me of the Australian babblers who chatter away in often noisy family groups very much like the saddlebacks. Fantastic!

All the infrastructure of the boardwalks and paths, feeding station, nest boxes and seats for visitors is provided and maintained by the wonderful Supporters of Tiri Tiri Matangi. What a fabulous job they do! Regularly placed along the route we are taking are water troughs or stitchbird feeding stations, usually with a curve of seats on the opposite side of the path where you can take your leisure and watch the birds come in. It is simply brilliant. Stitchbirds are now everywhere. There are heaps of them. Bellbirds too. Stitchbirds, Bellbirds, Saddlebacks. Tui. This island is magnificent. It would be no hardship at all to simply hop off the boat and sit and watch at one of these stations until home time.

Just as interesting are the stories Sue tells about the bird study progam, banding, monitoring and breeding. Translocation of birds to other sanctuaries, the eradication of the rats, the original project to study the feasibility of replanting the island.

We head down to the wattle valley and as we come in sight of the light house and visitor centre we hear stories about the takahe. On one occasion when Sue was watching the “lighthouse gang” who had been feeding down the hill in the were coming back up and talking to eachother quietly along the way.. when suddenly they all stopped and lifted their heads high obviously listening carefully. Suddenly they let out a scream – as only takahe can- and turned and went barreling down the hill, returning a short time later with a chick that had apparently been forgotten.
We conclude our guided tour at the visitor centre where we are again encouraged to spend up big as it’s the island’s only source of on-island revenue. We laugh when we are warned that it is (allegedly) illegal to leave Tiri with any money left in your pocket! We start our visit here by checking out the lighthouse, which, as you generally expect in this part of the world, is situated nearby a cluster of very quaint white weatherboard houses and it also has great views. Surprising to find that this lighthouse was originally painted red! Wow. I have never seen a lighthouse that wasn’t white. The building just down the hill is accommodation for people staying overnight. The cicadas are singing enthusiastically and are quite visible if you look carefully.

Adjacent to the lighthouse is a very nice gift shop and we are delighted to find the little oil/vinegar/dip dishes we fancied at the gallery in Devonport are also available here and what’s more they are $5 cheaper. Good stuff. We decide to have our picnic and then make our purchasing decisions on a full stomach!
We have no trouble finding a table and tuck into some beautiful New Zealand cheese on Rutherford and Meyer gourmet wafers. Ferndale Southern Gold. Delicious. Our smoked blue cod and smoked mussels are a treat. Plums too. Hubby washes it down with a ginger beer purchased in the gift shop. Great lunch.
As we eat a takahe appears and prowls around the tables waiting for someone to lose their attention or leave something edible within reach. The children are delighted with it and after a time have to be firmly encouraged to keep their distance. Takahe can bite and it is reported as being a very painful experience. The takahe is persistent and waits its opportunity. A little girl unthinking lowers her arm, pie in hand. It’s all the takahe needs. Snatch! It steals a sizeable wad of pie and takes off, clearly knowing it’s carrying contraband. After a short while it’s back prowling again. Never keeps still for a moment making a portrait difficult.

Lunch finished we buy a few oil/vinegar/dip dishes, and a giant weta made from copper. With some trepidation the ladies manning the gift shop tell us that it is planned to release giant weta on the island. Cool. Clearly this is a place we will have to return to as if we needed another reason.
Time is a tikin’ away. Time we hit the road. But there’s enough time to spend a minute or two admiring the birds at the bird feeder station.

Heading for the old forest and the giant pohutakawa tree we turn up “coronary hill” to the lookout. This is a grassy knoll with 360 degree views around the Harauki Gulf. Barrier Island out towards the open sea. The mainland across to the north and west with rain drifting down like a gossamer veil. South the city skyline of Auckland is plain to see and moving on around Rangitoto Island sits brooding. Closer at hand it is a particularly nice aspect for viewing the lighthouse and it’s facilities. It is a spectacular view!

The veil of rain is approaching and as we walk on we see the shower clearly over the forest ahead. Time to don our rainbirds once more and stow the camera out of the elements.

We regain the track. We are heading to a section of old growth forest where in the vicinity of an 800 year old pohutukawa we understand we may get to see riflemen and kokako. A highlight of our walk along the ridge track is a grey warbler (?) and surprisingly the one fantail we see for the day. Fantails have been much less common to see than I would have expected. At home the almost identical Eastern Grey Fantail is a very common sight and it seems to do pretty well in an environment with predators so it is a puzzle why it seems so rare here. We continue to see the by now, ubiquitous saddleback. “Only saddlebacks” you say when you glance into the bush to see what the movement is. What a luxury that phrase is. Only saddlebacks.. Who could ever tire of seeing saddlebacks! Not me that’s for sure. Glorious birds.
As we turn down the Kawerau track we almost immediately come to another stitchbird feeding station, this time it’s run out of nectar, but another station a short distance along the track there is one with plenty in the bottle. No birds at the moment and we don’t have time for stitchbirds just now. The feeding stations are encased in a mesh which has holes big enough to allow the stitchbirds through but small enough to exclude the tui, which we understand to be quite an aggressive bird.
Still further along there is another of the stitchbird demonstration nest boxes. We had stopped to examine one of these on our guided walk. These are a real nest box with a real stitchbird nest in them, but the sides have been removed and replaced with Perspex for the benefit of visitor education. The birds progressively fill the boxes with sticks. In a natural setting the stitchbird likes to nest in hollows in tree trunks, but there are insufficient such things on Tiri. Fortunately like many native species the native birds breed rapidly and successfully when the multitude of feral predators is out of the picture. After each nesting event the nest boxes are cleaned and disinfected by the volunteers.
Moving right along we progress down an impressive board walk with many steps and the usual netting overly which creates a non-slip effect over the wood. The forest is beautiful in this section. Much prettier than the newly planted area we can through this morning. Soon enough a huge spreading tree comes into view. At first it is just the huge spreding branches with no sign of the trunk. This we know from the directions Sue gave us is the ancient pohutukawa. Wow wee!! What a tree! What an amazing tangle of branches spreading out across the forest floor. We are in the presence of royalty.

We hunt around the ancient tree for movement, and in the forest in the gully on the other side of the path. At the viewing area up the hill a little we catch up with some people from our guided group this morning. Aaghh, they tell us they have just been watching three kokako move through. This was about 5 minutes ago and they are still waiting hoping they may show themselves again. The seats curve around another magnificent fruiting tree. There are a number of other birds hanging out in and around the tree. Kereru, tui, bellbirds. However the kokako are elusive. We’re five minutes too late. I would like to just sit patiently in this area and wait for riflemen too, but time is a luxury we don’t have right now. We are consoled by a friendly robin whose colour band identiy is red over pink; silver over blue.
It’s well after 2:30. We need to be down on Hobbs Beach by 3 to make it around to the ferry in plenty of time. We reluctantly move on. Again we admire saddlebacks and bellbirds and suddenly emerge in the open as we head steadily down to the rocky shore. Quite a few of today’s visitors are hanging out with their kids on the beach, some swimming, some sheltering in the shade from more magnificent and enormous pohutukawa trees. I really have to come back to see the pohutukawa in flower.

It’s a short walk over to the Tiri Kat, but it’s not one we are keen to rush over. We stop to admire the lovely arc of the beach behind us.

..and then there’s nest boxes alongside the path and nearby in the undergrowth for the Korora (aka little blue ie fairy penguins). Made from stone, with lids that can be lifted for viewing the residents inside, they are quite substantial.

Wandering along the jetty once more to reboard the Tiri Kat, a pair of sooty oyster catchers forages on the rocks nearby. Another less showily plumaged wader walks quickly along but has vanished by the time I can raise my binoculars.
Back on the boat we settle in up on the top viewing deck while the weather holds. We can see that we are travelling back into a heavy shower and this hits shortly before we arrive at Gulf Harbour. We retreat downstairs and settle out of the way while the hordes disembark. We settle in by a window and nap as we head back to Auckland. It’s been an awesome, awesome, day.
It’s a simple short walk off the Tiri Kat back to Quay West. We settle in for a rest: showering; journaling; a quick few minutes of TV for hubby. It feels like no time at all before we are dressing for dinner and hubby is organizing a taxi to take us to Clooney where we have reserved a table.
Clooney is situated in an old industrial area. You wonder where you’re heading. We pay the taxi (rounded ever so slightly to a neat $10) and are momentarily a little confused as to which of several entrances to 33 Sale St we should be using. We wander into the one we feel is most likely, but it’s all very dark. Is it open? We keep heading in and find the lighting so dim we wonder what we’ve struck. Our waitress guides us to our table which is at a quite sizeable round booth. It could easily seat 4 as is demonstrated nearby.. or even six comfortably… This quiet area has a long black fringe hanging from floor to the curved ceiling tracks around the booths…. It’s all very funky. Different to any other restaurant we’ve been in. We quickly adjust as we peruse the wine and cocktail menus. Hubby orders a Galbraiths Munich style lager. Locally batch brewed in the shadows of Mount Eden. Hubby finds it delicious and promptly orders a second.

The valentines day menu is a set menu for $95. As we wait for our entrees we devour a delightfully crusty hot bread roll with lashings of salted butter. The ambience is so relaxing and the benefit of the booths is that you can cuddle up between courses. Dim lighting with spots over your plates when you need it you cannot help but relax.

Our first course arrives. Hubby has gone for the Truffle Butter Poached Lobster w. glazed veal sweetbreads, globe artichoke & hazelnuts, while I have chosen the Matakana Blue Panna cotta w. compressed nashi, fig, candied walnut, bitter greens.. Both are a triumph. Superb.
The main has much to live up to now, but it does not fail to hit the mark. I am enjoying the Slow Cooked Black Angus Beef w. boulangerre inspired garnish while hubby tucks into Crisp Confit Duck Leg w. lustau px soaked prunes, creamed parsnip & apple and elder flower jelly. My steak is wonderful, but the duck and soaked prunes is nothing short of a revelation. The duck is also accompanied by a special salad which, if I know my veges, is based around a couple of witlof leaves. Our side of beans, broccoli and almonds is great too. We’re running out of superlatives to report to the waitress.

As we relax in the afterglow we are brought a complimentary pre dessert treat of meringues shaped as a heart with lychees, and fresh raspberries. Nice touch. There is only dessert to go now, ordered along with the rest right at the start. My meal has been superb, but hubby is currently in front in our friendly ordering competition. Too far in front for me to regain equal standing, but can I at least win this round….Hubby has chosen the Baked Xocopili Chocolate Fondant w. green cardamom ice cream.. Very rich and indulgent. I opted for the “bombe” which was not on the menu I was sent when booking.. it is a short base topped with sorbet and surrounded again with an assortment of diced fruits, raspberries, lychees, orange, glace peel shreds. Light summery and refreshing. .. hubby wins again though… he’s on fire tonight…We skip on the coffees and decide to walk back to our apartment. It’s up hill and down again. 1.4 kms following googles oh so useful directions. It’s a pleasant evening not too cold not too hot. What a spectacular meal. What a spectacular day. We’re loving Auckland and could cheerfully stay here for a week no worries.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pt 1 - NZ Arrival and Auckland

Friday 12 February – Sydney to Auckland
So here we are sitting at gate 54 at Kingsford Smith International Airport. It has taken just over an hour from drop off by daughters, check in; clear customs; immigration and the duty free MAC counters on the hunt for some makeup for daughter ‘s girl friend. Boarding should commence at 5:35 pm, however some flights have been delayed by the thunderstorms that have been letting loose around the area this afternoon. It was a hot day in Sydney. 37C – 38C but it’s hard to resent the heat when the thunderstorms deliver the promised cooling rain.

To amuse myself while we wait I catalogue video from our south island trip. I haven’t bothered bringing a book. I plan to hit the Auckland book stores continuing my quest for some Frank Sargeson or other kiwi titles.

It’s almost 6:30 before we are called for boarding. No surprises with our cheap ticket prices we are way down the back of the plane. This is no problem of course except that we are among the last to get dinner service and by the time my teeth are sinking gratefully into the tasty chicken pie I could pretty much gnaw the leg off a horse. Hubby selects the lamb and rosemary pasta bake. Both main options come accompanied by bean salad and a serve of vanilla bean Kapiti ice cream for dessert. Kapiti ice cream really is a first class product.

As with our previous Air New Zealand flights the personal inflight entertainment keeps us amused. I manage to catch a fairly recent Australian movie called The Square. An original story by Joel Edgerton and it is directed by his brother Nash. As seems fairly typical for Australian movies it’s all a bit grim, but by no means predictable. I guess I would classify it as a cautionary tale. Joel Edgerton of course also plays one of the central characters. Great actor. He played Stanley to Cate Blanchett’s Blanche in the Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire that recently won great acclaim in Washington DC and New York.

I follow The Square with a couple of episodes of b-guided TV. We travel the Marlborough Sounds and then explore Auckland. I make a mental note to be sure and visit the excellent aviation museum when in the Marlborough region, and note that a visit to Molten at Mt Eden does indeed look tempting (already penciled in but not booked yet). Too bad we won’t have time to visit Gina’s pizza and pasta bar or some of the other excellent looking bars and restaurants around Auckland. Our dye is cast. In typical fashion I have our eating plan well and truly mapped out!

We make our approach over Auckland on a clear mild night. The lights of the city and the motorways a brilliant fairyland spectacle as the city wends it’s way around a myriad of bays and inlets. Beautiful.

Touch down just after midnight, a great first impression is made by a fabulous carved archway decorated with touches of paua through which we must pass on our way to immigration. We have e-passports so head for the smartgate to have our first experience of face recognition technology then it’s not long before we are retrieving our luggage and heading through quarantine. Nothing to declare this is pretty speedy and they simply xray all your stuff to check up on you on your way through.
We follow the signs to the shuttles and find enthusiastically friendly Super Shuttle staff keen to take us in hand . We prebooked so we get shuffled onto the appropriate vehicle and we make our way around the various accommodations of the other passengers.

What a contrast Auckland is to Christchurch. It’s dark so in many ways a comparison is difficult, but here in Auckland the roads are much bigger and the motorway is in the process of being upgraded to four lanes each way. This is a metropolis. The uber-urban vibe is quite a contrast to Christchurch with it’s grace and elegance. Our shuttle driver asks if it’s our first time in New Zealand. First time in the North Island I reply. He advises that “we’re crazier up here”. “well we should fit right in then!” I reply. Auckland has a buzz. Young people dressed for a night on the town make their way along the streets.

Rocking up at Quay West the clocks are making rapid progress towards 2am. The lobby is nicely appointed but a bit stale smelling. We have a bit of an adventure when our room cards don’t work in the lift, but this is quickly sorted and with growing alarm when the corridors likewise don’t smell well aired, we’re walking into our apartment… which to my great relief is just fine and beautifully furnished.

We unwind, and I add to my trip journal, serenaded by a droll kiwi on the inhouse entertainment cheerfully explaining that should we wish to access the adult options on the menu the titles will NOT, repeat will NOT appear on our bill. I have not before come across an inhouse system that had an actual human host to walk you through how to operate it. There seems to be a good range of movies on the movie link network…. where “I have the power in my hands” apparently. Well time to hit the sack. It’s wonderful to be back in New Zealand.

Saturday February 13 - Auckland and Devonport
Up at body clock time 5:45. Nothing unusual there but after such a late night we both feel like death. I drag myself awake as local time is slipping away and we need to adjust. I promise myself never to take another similarly timed flight again! Kills us.
Although one of the cheapest options at Quay West the view from our apartment is pleasant, looking out towards the bridge and the edges of viaduct harbour.

I spend a little time mucking about with the camera. Also need to access internet to download our itinerary which I forgot to print off before we left home. In Quay West internet is $5 for 15 mins with better deals for longer periods, but pricey in all ranges. I download the itinerary off gmail. Phew. Hubby says that Quay West has some sort of printing service. They also have a gym but I’ll hopefully get some exercise walking in the course of our sightseeing.

Plan for today is to get the ferry across to Devonport. We finally set off after 9 am and wander down towards the harbour. We take a detour into a Westfields shopping centre hoping for an ATM. As we wander around we must be looking a bit lost as a lady comes over and offers advice about the machines. She lived for years in Sydney. We ask for directions to the closest supermarket and this is, as we expected, the local Countdown (aka Woolworths in a thin disguise). Cash replenished I realize I haven’t brought sun screen and I’ve left my hat in the room so our supermarket adventure becomes a matter of urgency. We turn in the direction the lady indicated and find a delightful mini farmer’s market operating. The signage on surrounding buildings indicates that this is a regular Saturday thing from 8:30 – 12:30. Less a produce market than food stall heaven it is a wonderful diversion. Not having broken our fast we sample an Israeli pastry the name of which now escapes me ($3). Rounding the corner a hawker invites us to sample their venison sausages. They smell good and after tasting we opt for a sausage on a French roll ($5). Turns out to have quite a kick to it. We look around at tempting stalls of fruit and French pastries. Breads. We sample a freshly made pita bread with nutella. Tasty and satisfying. ($1). Noting some tempting stalls with potential picnic fare we head off in the direction of Countdown. It’s a bit of a treck and we feel like we’re going into the unknown and away from the action. A quick wander through selecting some fruit, milk, kiwi cheese in wax. It looks like one they had on the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. Fingers crossed. Cereal, fruit, shampoo… almost forgot the sunscreen again. Pretty soon we’re heading back towards Quay West.

Fortuitously our route takes us past the memorial for the Rainbow Warrior which is a mosaic on the street in front of the site where the Greenpeace vessel was bombed and sunk by the French secret service. A quick photo and we turn to the south and head back to the farmers market. Now around 11 am the market is much busier. There is a musician playing and there’s a short queue for one of my target stalls. I fill in some time buying a punnet of blueberries ($3). Then we manage to get a space for tasting some tamarillo infused vinegar, dukkah, tamarillo paste and horopito olive oil. The horopito is a native plant and infuses a sort of peppery taste to the oil. Yum. I settle on a twin pack of 100 ml tamarillo vinegar and horopito olive oil ($18) and a small jar of tamarillo paste ($9?). Finally we select some smoked blue cod and some smoked mussels and we think we’re pretty much done for our picnic tomorrow.

Back to drop of the supplies and change into some shorts then it’s down to the wharves once again. Ah, that’s right, we really must get a road atlas today. Whitcoulls in Westfields wasn’t quite open when we passed earlier but we duck back in and pick up both a North Island road atlas and an Auckland street directory. While I’m here I make some enquiries about Frank Sargeson titles. None in stock. They are a special order. Probably take a couple of weeks as they are apparently available from a NZ supplier. Hmm. I need something to read so I pick up Cousins by Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera’s new book. The Trowenna Sea. This one seems doubly appropriate as it is a story of Maori sent in chains to Maria Island in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania). Though this is fiction apparently there were in fact Maori convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies.

Hubby takes the books back to the room while I head down to the quay to admire the Queen Victoria. (love those Cunard ships). I missed her on her first visit to Sydney a year or so ago so I feel very lucky to see her here today. We loiter about picking up the odd brochure for some Auckland attractions we fancy. 12 oclock sees us boarding the ferry to Devonport and before long we are admiring the views as Auckland city slips away and Devonport approaches across the green water of the harbour.
The harbour is dominated by mostly industrial infrastructure, with some residential areas hugging low hills with shrubby trees. The southern shore across to the east a bit looks inviting and worth exploring. Devonport displays an abundance of heritage weatherboard cottages. Very lovely little cottages.

In no time we are disembarking and heading out of the wharf complex filled with cafes and food outlets, art dealers and second hand book shops. I stop in one of the book shops. “”do you have any Frank Sargeson?” I ask. No hesitation on the part of the lady behind the counter “No. We don’t get much of him”. Her tone suggests that Mr Sargeson’s books are prized by those that own them and snapped up by others. Another lady in the shop helpfully suggests that she thinks she’s seen Michael King’s biography of Sargeson in the bigger book store up the road. We give thanks all round and head on our way.
There’s a festive atmosphere and the place is busy with people but not too crowded. A wagon drawn by a trio of lovely heavy horses waits at the wharf for passengers. There are food stalls and a woodfired pizza wagon.

As we cross the road Hubby spies a sign on the corner. Peter Raos Gallery this way. Great. I was heading to the i-site for directions. This will save time, of which we are short. Along this stretch facing the waterfront, another gallery is just too tempting to resist. Crammed full of paintings, pottery and arts of all kinds we spend some time admiring their wares. My goodness there are a lot of tasteful but striking kiwi pieces. Flowering pohutukawa feature prominently and I make a mental resolution that next time I come to the north I really must come when the pohutukawa is in flower. I am sorely tempted by some cushions with weta, or pohutakawa and any number of iconic kiwiana cropped into richly coloured velvets in tones just right to look great in our new living room which is only in the very first steps of being kitted out. ...however little furnishings of this type are yet to feature on my shopping list and our money is slated for other things. We resist some georgeous lava glass vases. There are green ones and red ones and there’s a white version with darker brown flecks, which is my favourite of the assortment. With a sigh we move along to Peter Raos Gallery which is our prime destination today.

We have long admired Peter’s work in glass having first purchased one of his lily vases (in white with rose pink glass) over a decade ago. There are others in the shop when we arrive and we move slowly around the display cabinets, pausing to examine in detail the magnificent pacific series with their submerged coral reefs and vibrantly coloured fish. Extraordinary. The most expensive pieces in the gallery are vases and paper weights with pohutakawa leaves on them. The detail of the leaf structure and colour patterning is nothing short of exquisite. The technical skill required is extraordinary. Delicate curves of stems. Colours ranging from the fresh green of newly matured leaves to the reds and oranges the fallen leaves acquire, each leaf is a work of art marked with crisp clarity against the background glass. Photos and websites could not do these pieces justice.

As I am admiring these beautiful works of art, Peter finishes with his other visitor and noticing that I seem intrigued by the leaf design pieces sparks up a conversation with us. “they must take an extraordinary level of concentration to make” I comment. “Yes, they do require a lot of concentration”. We talk on and eventually I move across to the cabinet full of lily vases. Oh my, they have the rich blue version I have wanted for sooo long but had thought was no longer available as it's not been pictured on the website. Wow they have gone up in price since our last purchase! Peter is pretty chuffed to find we bought one of his vases from way back when he was supplying the Sturt gallery in Mittagong. As the discussion proceeds my excitement builds as it seems that my darling is about to buy me the spectacular leaf paperweight and the blue lily vase to match the pink one we have on display at home. I’m almost holding my breath. We discuss it over dinner and we realize that virtually every significant piece of art glass I own hubby has bought for me like this as an on the spot surprise. What a sweetie!! What an awesome souvenir of our (somewhat delayed) 25th anniversary trip! I'm smiling ear to ear.

During the conversation with Peter the subject of the lily glassware I saw in Chicago comes up. Turns out that Peter used to supply an outlet in Chicago but when he stopped it was apparently the inspiration for them commissioning the small lily perfume bottles, such as I bought as one of my souvenirs of that awesome city, from another source. It’s a pretty little bottle, but certainly not a patch on a Peter Raos original. It is interesting to have both in my little collection.

Grinning ear to ear we walk back down the street noting that there’s not a heck of a lot of time until we need to get back to the city if we are to see the movie I had my eye on at the Academy Cinema. The Academy claims to be Auckland’s only arthouse cinema. In the time remaining in Devonport we wander up the street of interesting shops. I wander into another second hand and rare books store and ask about Sargeson. No joy there either. Great shelf of kiwi fiction that I could spend a lot more time browsing but time is of the essence. Back down at the wharf a mobile wood fired pizza vendor is spruiking their wares. Oh why not. We order a margherita pizza with fresh basil. ($12). Delicious!!

On virtually no sleep I am working off the wrong end of the ferry timetable. I realize my mistake when we see the ferry scooting off just after 1:15. Oh well, this gives us time to eat the pizza without a rush. We are sorry to be leaving Devonport. There is no question I could spend an entire day here pottering about exploring. What with the literary walks and the naval museum and cute shops of all descriptions. Busy but not crowded. It’s just right.

Waiting to board the ferry we watch an interesting vessel with ornate sails maneuvering on the water. It makes a beautiful sight.

Back in the city time is pressing so we jump in a cab and between us manage to find our way up to the Academy. Turns out the Academy is not so good at keeping their own website up to date. Flicks website showed the correct session times and we have missed the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I know, I know, why allocate precious sightseeing time to a foreign movie... I have heard rumours this one will be released in Sydney in March, but I have not been able to confirm it and I badly want to see the Swedish version of this story.. so wasn't taking chances..and anyway we're really tired. Oh well. On the up side there is a documentary called “land of the long white cloud” starting at 2:55. We explore the neighbourhood for a while then return to take our positions in the tiny little screen room. Hubby tucking into an icecream and nursing a stubby of Mac’s Gold All Malt Lager.
The land of the long white cloud poster says that “Fish meet philosophy on Ninety Mile Beach”. This sums it up nicely. The doco is set at what is described by one featured fisherman as the richest fishing competition in the world. The Snapper Classic. Over a period of 5 days surf casting off ninety mile beach, the biggest snapper each day nets $3,000 for the fisherman. Largest snapper for the comp attracts $50,000. Quite a bait for the local anglers and the shore is lined with fishermen and surf rods.

In all weathers they front up and do their bit. Impressive stormy weather, fine balmy weather, they are out there. As the comp progresses the doco makers take to asking each fisherman what they think about some deep and meaningful issues. Do you belief in an afterlife? What about love? And people open up. It’s an intriguing 75 mins. My favourite line came from a local woman. “It’s a beautiful place up here. Beautiful place up here…. Can’t say too much for some of the people… but it’s a beautiful place up here.”

Movie concluded we wander back to the apartment via first Lorne St and then Queen. Passing a tempting and original looking asian pancake outlet, not much more than a hole in the wall. We pass little alleyways with street tables on little restaurants and cafes. Masses of little avenues for exploration everywhere we look. With advertisements for Kelly Tarleton’s joint and the maritime museum, there’s so much to see. As we walk we discuss how much there is to do. I find it hard to fathom why you read so often that there’s no need to spend virtually any time in Auckland. We find it fascinating just being here. .. of course it doesn’t hurt at all having watched the b-guided tv Auckland edition. However even on our own observation it seems to us that Auckland is awash with great international food outlets, and we enjoy museums and art galleries and historic houses, and nice gardens. Auckland has plenty of all these things. It’s great.
Finally we collapse for a short rest before dinner. 6:20 we’re heading out the door on our way to Soul Bar and Bistro in Viaduct Harbour. It’s an easy walk on a balmy evening. Viaduct Harbour is overwhelmingly similar to Darling Harbour in Sydney, with an overlay of Opera Bar buzz... or should that be Darling Harbour is similar to Viaduct harbour…. Who know’s. Doesn’t really matter I guess. It’s a humming spot for a meal. Soul does not appear to have our reservation which was confirmed by email 6 or more weeks ago. Hmm. No problem however and we are seated inside but with good views out over the marina.

We start with Soul Chowder for hubby and I go for the South Island whitebait fritters with lemon butter sauce. Both very nice. The Chowder with a strong overlay of corn and accompanied by a beautiful slab of lovely soft fresh sourdough bread. The whitebait fritters were more like a whitebait omelet in my kitchen parlance but very enjoyable.
The service is attentive and one waiter in particular who seems to be our main guy, is really friendly and shares a joke with us. He was great. A real asset to the business. We note also that many of the staff are a little older than you often see at home. Professionals rather than students filling in. Excellent.

Hubby amuses himself with a Speights Gold Medal Ale between courses and we chat about the prospects of the footy match later this evening as we wait for our mains. Hubby has opted for the crab and prawn linguine which has plenty of shredded crab flesh and has a bit of a chili kick to it. I have gone for the Hawke’s Bay lamb rack with braised cos and and broad beans accompanied by cheesy potato bake. A side of beans. This lamb has a completely different flavour to the lamb at home. Though just lately, there has been an increase in restaurants carrying specialty varieties of meat, different breeds apparently having quite different characters. This Hawkes Bay lamb is reminiscent of the Suffolk lamb we’ve had elsewhere. Very strong flavor.
We joke with our waiter as he brings us the dessert menu before we ask for it. It’s a tough choice but as a gesture of reconciliation, we decide to go for the pavlova which we consider a highly risky choice. It is so rare to buy pavlova anywhere that is even vaguely a competitor for the home made version. What you pay doesn’t seem to matter. Our second selection is the chocolate, toffee and banana pudding. I’m curious about the chocolate etc pudding. Could be the flavours may find it hard to compete with eachother, but no, it is a delicious combination. The pavlova raises some eyebrows when it arrives. A couple of perfect little mounds of soft centred meringue. The plate smeared with lemon curd, with sliced kiwi fruit, fresh lemon jelly and tiny sprigs of new mint leaves all arranged artistically on the plate. That’s a pav? Interesting interpretation…. Well…. The pavlova was superb. Simply superb. The mint was the crowning glory. A fresher ligher more delicious summer pudding you would go a very long way to find. Hubby jokes with our waiter… “ok you win. As an Aussie I have to say that Pavlova was absolutely brilliant. You win” “What was that?” our waiter replies. We dutifully repeat and we all laugh.

Hubby has not been able to resist the Soul Trinkets. This is a tray of petit fours to have with coffee. A generous selection of tasty morsels. Nice, but not a competitor for similar complementary things offered by places like Aria in Sydney… sorry but Aria has set the highest bar on petit fours in our experience… very very hard to compete with any of their miniature offerings and their macadamia nougat is to die for. Even just the smell as they bring the tray to the table is a mouth watering delight… but I digress. We claim our bill. $191 including beer. We’ve had a delightful dining experience here at Soul. OK if I wanted to be picky I would comment that overall if you were judging the meal on food alone, I would say that while Soul produces nice food in a professional atmosphere, it’s not quite up to “hatted” standard which is the measure at home. However we’re really just talking fine levels of finesse and of course once converted, Soul is also slightly less expensive. The main thing for us tonight is that we have very much enjoyed our visit to Soul. We have enjoyed the food. Enjoyed the friendly service. Enjoyed the buzz and beauty of Viaduct Harbour. We’d certainly come back.
Home time and we decide to walk around via the waterfront, past the Maritime Museum. A lovely balmy night. An easy enjoyable walk. We’re home in plenty of time for the kick off of a momentous sporting moment for Australia. The Indigenous All Stars match. In this match the best of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander rugby league players are pitched against the best of the rest, including kiwis. (I guess we should note that most kiwis prefer rugby union, so most of their best play that code rather than league). We are looking forward to a tough game, and expect the Indigenous All Stars to win. The indigenous players are not only very talented, but they want this so badly. Have wanted it badly for a long time. I have to say I want it for them too. Great to see the indigenous supporters out in mass screaming pride, in themselves, in their team. It’s awesome.
I leave you briefly with the score at 10 : 4. Indigenous in front. The Indigenous All Stars have held up 2 tries so far. For international readers, this means they got in for what appears a certain try, but with shear strength and heart the defenders prevent the player grounding the ball. It’s rare. Two in one game says everything about the quality of the defense and the intensity of the play.

.....13 minutes to go and the NRL stars are making breaks. Indigenous are scrambling and look like they are tiring. Can they hang on? Gasp. Benji Marshall, kiwi player extraordinaire, goes in for a try for NRL. Now it is 10:8. … the NRL stars are going for the second try. It was a difficult kick and would only at best have drawn them level. If they can get the second try they will edge in front. No. Indigenous retain the lead.
It is a tight game with either team scoring and the other coming back with a try in reply. Final score indigenous 16 NRL 12. The great Jonathan Thurston playing his usual key role in the victory for the indigenous team.
I am out of it by the time the presentations and speeches are on, but hubby tells me the indigenous captain presented the ARL captain with a didgeridoo worked on by all the indigenous players. This event is a great new tradition.