Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pt 20 Back to Auckland; Molten; Alberton; Home and Post Mortem

Thursday 4 March – Back to Auckland; Molten and Alberton Historic House

Thursday dawns clear and windy after several days of passing showers and overcast skies. Pacific Blue has changed the time of our flight tomorrow. We become rather nervous about the time we need to be at the airport and potential delays en route so we have booked a room in Auckland for tonight. Using a mystery deal we have landed a room at the Langham for $120 plus taxes etc (final price $149 plus parking and internet charges). We’re really looking forward to having some more time in Auckland. :o)

As it turns out neither of us slept very well, also although we are tired we are not too bad on the getaway. By 8:30 we have stripped the beds and removed garbage and done the various tasks required before leaving time share. As hubby heads to reception my phone rings. It’s the scenic flight people. It’s finally clear over the volcanoes for a scenic flight. Hmm. It’s in the opposite direction to Auckland and we’re tired. Although they can meet us at Turangi we are loathe to add to the driving to the degree that would be required to then get in to Auckland, so in the interest of minimizing the fatigue risk we reluctantly say thanks, but no thanks. ..of course we have belatedly become very attached the money in our bank account too..LOL well it had to happen some time..LOL

We are quite pleased with our departure time, and between periods of watching the scenery there’s some napping going on. Nothing much to report until we get to Cambridge. On our tour of the Ruakuri Cave one of the group was asking about horse racing in the area and was advised that Cambridge is the closest centre to Waitomo for sport of kings. We decide to take the first Cambridge exit from the highway and have a quick squizz and take a stop revive survive break.

We cross a high bridge over a steeply sided river gorge and as we cruise at town speed down the main drag we find that Cambridge is an attractive, prosperous looking town. Not unexpected if the racing industry is big here. A welcome surprise to find a little strip of antique stores and some easy parking on the street nearby.

One thing I have been a little regretful of as we’ve travelled around is that we haven’t had the time (or energy, or, after our efforts on glass buying – the money) to spend much time pottering in the antique stores we’ve seen. So first things first we decide to have a bit of a browse. I’m on the lookout for more interesting glass.. black carnival glass to be precise and even more specifically an Australian piece with emu motif! Yeah, odds not good I know, but the only one I’ve seen for sale on line was an old add for one in NZ so you never know your luck! LOL It’s an interesting exercise wandering through here and not for the first time I am struck by a sort of “English” feel to the place. There’s a cheap glass platter covered in gum leaves and blossoms, but we’re pretty worried about luggage weight and it’s not that irresistible. I admire some bohemian cut glass that I think daughter would like.. but we’ve already got her wedding pressie. .a pair of Peking glass vases each ornamented with a green phoenix on the white base glass that we found in an antique store in Strathalbyn South Australia.

Hubby’s not that thrilled with the antiques browsing activity by the look of him, and we have things we want to do in Auckland, so within a very short time we’re heading back to the car. We’ve parked outside a bakery.. hubby’s heading on in..sigh.. it’s another one in the style of the one in Taupo where you self serve. Again some very nice savouries. Hubby tries a sausage roll too and a cream donut. Tsk tsk. Geez that wii is going to be cross with us when we get home!

I have to confess to having been quite slack on the sausage roll sampling this trip. This is a bit of a hobby of daughter 2 and mine when driving in the country at home..yes that’s right, it’s one extreme or the other for me. LOL Fine dining or sausage rolls! In a belated effort to lift my performance on the sausage roll research front I request a closer examination of hubbys purchase. My expectations are not high. This bakery is operated by some asian folk. … this sort of place does some things extremely well, but they don’t tend to do sausage rolls the way we like them… The sniff test confirms my expectations and I hand it back. My duty is done!

Time to hit the road once more and we are indeed feeling somewhat refreshed. It’s an uneventful drive and despite a pretty reasonable departure it’s about 1 or 1:30 by the time we make Auckland. Lunch time and we’re in just the place for it! As we have the car we decide we will head to Mt Eden and lunch at Molten. It’s a bit of a muddle trying to follow the directions in the street directory then finding a parking spot, but with tummies grumbling we walk through onto Molten’s polished concrete floor to a friendly welcome.

We take our seats and start our indulgence with some house made bread with olive oil and avocado aioli. ($8.50). This involves two slices of delicious onion bread and two slices of plain bread. The onion bread was particularly yummy with beautifully caramelized onion generously spread onto the dough then the whole thing rolled up to give a swirl effect.

Hubby is making the most of his remaining time in the country with a stubby of Hawkes Bay Amber Ale. When we get home the beer consumption will pretty much come to a screaming halt! This drop is brewed by Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery, whose stated goal is to “brew beers ecologically sound by brewing locally and using the finest New Zealand ingredients”. The Amber Ale doesn’t disappoint. All the beer has been good. You don’t get anything more effusive than that from hubby. That a beer should be “good” is the expectation.

Obviously taking pity on those of us who are of limited capacity on the self control front, Molten is offering their lunch menu which includes things of suitable magnitude for a lighter meal. Confit duck is on the menu. Hubby usually wins with his unconscious strategy of always ordering the duck. Today it is accompanied with pumpkin and orzo pasta with rimu smoked bacon and shredded rocket ($24). I am left to either concede the battle by ordering the same or chose an alternative. I go for the house cured pork rashers with spicy tomato gnocchi and charred summer salad (also $24). Both meals were very nice but Gasp! I won!!

The need to face the wii with nought a stitch of clothing for protection draws nigh.. we decide we will SHARE dessert LOL. Banana Tarte Tatin with wattleseed icecream, spiced coulis and peanuts. $15.50. Lets say $7.25 each LOL It was yum.. probably would have been even better if the bananas had been a bit riper when cooked. Wattleseed icecream we are familiar with of course. Always delicious.

We’re pretty keen to spend some more time in Auckland and we discuss what we should do when we arrive. I’m tempted to head back to the Museum, but it’s Thursday and we have a car and Alberton is open this time. It was shut on both our previous stays in Auckland. I’m struggling on the navigating a bit (fatigue and aging eyesight grr), but we find our way to Mt Albert, Park across the road from Alberton and wander over and down the asphalt drive to the side entrance of this fabulous white weatherboard mansion. We are met by the manager, pay our ($8?) entry fee and get a brief run down on the house and its history. The Manager asks where we are from and comments that it's a while since they had an Aussie through. Quite a few through in the January school holidays, and also more Aussies choose to visit Alberton than Highwic. Which seems odd because the location of Highwic would seem more convenient for people staying in Auckland. The Manager puts this down to Alberton having been a farm house and Highwic a town house. I think it's probably that Alberton looks more like a mansion on the website rather than a cute cottage!!

This property is being managed as is the current fashion in such things by preservation rather than restoration. Though there are parts of the house that have been refurbished/ stripped back to how they were at certain times in history. Like the other historic homes we’ve visited this one again has been acquired by the nation complete with much of the original family furnishings. It is a fascinating place, as alongside the antiques and original finishes or furniture from the times when the building was constructed there are modern touches, like some furniture some of the grandkids painted blue when they were staying in the house. Trivial little details like that really make the finishing touch to our enjoyment. Like so many houses of the period the house was extended over time and the signs of this are evident most on the inside and the varying levels within the house.

Over the better part of the next hour we explore this fascinating national treasure trove from the grand public rooms to the attic space where the servants slept, from the study to the kitchen and laundry. Each room has an interpretive notice for us to read. Well worth staying awake for!

Having explored the grounds and admired some… well I guess after Te Manua Ngahere I should describe them as young trees… Californian sequoias and others, and observed some sweet local silvereyes (waxeyes) in the old fig tree, we head back to the Aurion (we’re enjoying the Aurion) and take a slow drive into the city center and the Langham.

I wonder what the staff at this hotel are thinking as we, shameless peasants, reasonably disheveled, pile the trolley with all manner of travel detritus and miscellaneous souvenirs. We thought we tidied things up fairly well leaving Taupo, but still it makes a pretty incoherent pile on the faux gilt luggage trolley for the liveried….… ??? Do we call bell boys down under? Seems so lacking in dignity as a title for these confident, mature men, who have no hint of subservience about them.

Deposited in our room, hubby asks about dinner and is appraised of the fact that it will take a nuclear holocaust to get me out of this room again before we leave for the airport tomorrow! Gina’s or …oh god… what’s the name of that french place…drum your fingers for a bit while I go look up Zappers reminder….tap tap tap.. Pastis. Gina’s or Pastis are a nice idea but only as an abstract, some time in the future sort of concept. In house movies here we come…. Until we get distracted by Doubt on pay TV. Well named movie. I doubt I really get what the heck they were trying to say with it, but perhaps that was the point.

Friday 5 March - Home, Dinner at Ata in Maroubra Sydney

Theoretically nothing could be simpler than spending an easy morning and heading to the airport.. we leave, we think in plenty of time. But Google has a joke in store for us. Having looked up Auckland International Airport for where they reckon we should be going, they send us to a military airbase. A little bit of route correction as I check the road atlas and we are back on track. Along the way I notice another strip of antique stores. Heritage House Antiques specialise in porcelain, silver and glass. I must look them up online..

We arrive at the airport just in time. Fortunately we beat some large groups heading to the check in counter. It’s a slow process, but eventually we get through checking the baggage – delighted that we are within the weight allowances, even with our bags full of books, and the heavy wooden game. We head off to weigh our carry on baggage before heading through the duty free area. Great, we have a couple of kilos spare on that score as well. Not that anyone tried to weigh our carry on stuff.

With some weight we can still allocate I ring the daughters to see if there’s anything they want us to get. Daughter 2 asks us to bring back some L&P. I guess her sister’s reports of it must have carried some weight. Funnily, no one seems to have thought of stocking soft drink at the airport duty free stores LOL. Hubby decides the twin deal on Baileys looks like a goer. I wonder how on earth we'll consume so much of it. Visions of Baileys flavoured panna cotta or crème brulee flash through my mind before guilt waves start emanating up from those parts of my anatomy that have been getting a bit, shall we say, voluptuous…. No? Ok Fat (ter). I hope the Baileys keeps well. Maybe we can experiment in a few months if we're very very good.

We board our flight. Not right down the back this time. We’re in row 10. No window. Grrr. When you’ve become used to Air New Zealand, this Pacific Blue plane seems old and shabby. This flight was booked before our trip to the South Island last year. Before I had experienced Air New Zealand. Oh how I wish I was travelling with Air New Zealand again.

Hubby pulls out the menu from which we can choose to buy some food. Uggh. We make a selection out of sheer desperation. Neither of us has had brekkie and it’s after lunch now. Hand over our card to pay. The food is just tolerable. I think of that guy that wrote to Richard Branson to complain about the food and was given a job making sure Virgin food was OK. Where is he? Not on this route. Uggh. Oh how I WISH I was travelling Air New Zealand.


Home. It was raining when we left. It’s raining when we arrive home. This is Brilliant! There’s still floods in Qld. There’s still hope for the Murray Darling. It’s still raining! :o) Daughter has been running an errand and is stuck in Sydney traffic… ah. Yes. Home. LOL. We wait around and as it’s pretty much bang on peak period we decide we’ll have dinner locally before heading the deepest darkest culinary wasteland that is the south west. We give Son2 a call and see if he wants to come have dinner at Ata in Maroubra with us. We skip merrily across to Coogee. In hops son and we end our last travelling day for a while with a most satisfying and very cheap meal at one of our favourite bargain eateries. Some mixed dips with freshly baked Turkish bread, chicken iskander, and a mixed grill. I honestly don’t know how the Turkish places can put out such food at the prices and quality they do and Ata is as good as any you’ll find. Sultan’s Table in Enmore is all very well, but it’s really no better than Ata and at Ata it’s SO much easier to find a parking space!
We’ve really enjoyed our trip but it’s good to be home.

Post Mortem
We have had some marvelous experiences in our journey around the North Island as well as some challenging moments. I think perhaps we have learnt as much about ourselves as about New Zealand. So what was our favourite? What would we skip or change? I would comment that the North Island was set quite a challenge. I wasn’t in need of a holiday when we set out, having only had about 4 weeks or so back at work after several months leave before buzzing off again.. and it’s not long since we did the South Island also. South Island is a bloody tough act to follow. I would say that I at least was a pretty tough audience as a result. Hubby is a tough audience because he basically isn't into travelling that much.

Could we skip any particular stop we made?
No. We enjoyed pretty much everything we did and wouldn’t go back and not do any of it. We wouldn’t stay so long in one place again though. I had been thinking that mum and I drag hubby from pillar to post, but it turns out he feels even stronger about it than I do. To some extent in Taupo we just got itchy feet, we wanted to be heading somewhere new. Nothing against Taupo particularly, that is simply our style. We loved all our time in Auckland, but I’m sure it benefited from being split into three sessions. You won’t see us stopping in one place for 7 days in future trips. .. unless it’s somewhere like London, or Chicago or New York or somewhere like that..then again, even in Chicago, which I absolutely loved, I was sorry to leave after 5 nights but even then I knew it was time.

How about the weather? Yeah, the season for the trip was a mistake. If I would change one thing it would be that. Times when we were tired and over it, heat was a major factor. Yeah, I know as an Aussie I’m supposed to just shrug away the heat and scoff at the cool summers of colder countries, but god I hate weather over about 22 or 23 degrees max if I am on the go…. And when I travel I like to be on the go all the time. I feel exhilarated when the weather needs a jumper. I think of running around in the rain and wind at Aoraki, it was thrilling. Or being blown and buffeted in the wind and rain at Nugget Point, it was exhilarating and funny. It gives me energy. Trudging around anything in 26C makes me feel sluggish and apathetic. April is coming up and that’s usually when I start to come alive. I go back into hibernation by about chrissy time.

So to the lists:
Mr Snodges faves…and he intends the numbers to be a ranking:
1. Jetboat – we went with Rapids Jet.
2. A Perfect Day at the Poor Knights (in perfect weather LOL) It is so ironic that these are his top two favourites. He usually gets sea sick so he tends to shy away from boats… I basically dragged him on both these activities!
3. Napier
4. Glow worm caves and thermal stuff comes in equal.
5. Cape Reinga – this is amazing given how sick he felt all the time on the plane! Geez he must have loved the time on the ground a LOT.
I said to him “but you haven’t mentioned food or beer at all”. His reply: “we ate and drank every day”. Yes. That’s right we did. I think that this response just shows that generally the food was consistently good overall.
Mr Snodges things he’d change.
1. Not stay a week based in Taupo (or anywhere else).
My faves: I just loved experiencing everything so a few generalizations:
1. North Island for me is about culture and history. I am SO glad I did the trip pre-reading.
2. You just can’t do too many Maori shows or cultural tours. Simply not possible. Maurice’s tour in Kaikoura is the best cultural experience. Rankers is right about that, but it’s not a substitute for the Nth Island shows and cultural tours. They each teach you something new.
3. The most romantic places I have been in NZ are Russell and the Hermitage at Aoraki/Mt Cook and Napier, oh and Clooney Restaurant in Auckland.
4. The two most spiritual places so far: Cape Reinga and Aoraki/ Mt Cook- both awesome.
5. I love the unbeaten track. I have to have some of it in any holiday anywhere!
6. Scenery I can pick favourites: probably equal faves: Hokianga, Mt Ruapehu scenic driving, Napier, Cape Reinga, and virtually everywhere we went on the South Island! LOL
7. And no I wouldn’t stay a week based in one place again either. Odd thing is, we could cheerfully have stayed a couple of nights in Napier, A night down around Waiouru or further, still had the same amount of time actually in and around Taupo/Rotorua and just enjoyed ourselves more. Yeah. Irrational, but there you go. That's how we are.

and remember when reading our Post Mortem.. this is Mr Snodge's only trip to NZ. I've only done about 6 weeks and I reckon it will take another 6 weeks at least to have had a really good look around the whole country... so our faves are only of what we've seen - obviously.

Thanks again New Zealand. Another fabulous holiday. Hubby's and my first proper holiday just the two of us. You've taught me something about myself and my own country too along the way. It's been a privilege and we really look forward to coming back... At the airport we were discussing whether to spend the remainder of our NZ cash. Hubby's decision. "Nah. Hang on to it. We'll need it when we come back." :o)

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