A Maori Feast (“Hangi”)

Early on in our tiki tour of New Zealand, we went to a Maori cultural evening, which included a hangi feast. Most of the food they cooked was very influenced by a westernised diet (especially all the meat), but the cooking method was a very traditional thing. The meat and sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes being a very traditional Maori food) were cooked in a pit underground for several hours. It was laid in baskets/containers on top of really hot stones and covered with damp cloths and a load of earth to trap the heat from the stones around the food. I must confess this meat was deliciously cooked, very tender. And the desserts were pretty good too! I’m not sure but I’d guess there were about maybe 150-200 people at this experience! No mean feat to cater for that number. But this Maori family seemed to have got it down to a fine art.

The Maori evening wasn’t just about food. There was a lot of explanation of other important things about Maori culture, and there was a kind of welcoming ceremony and concert of traditional Maori dance and music for us, as well as a walk to the river to see Maori warriors rowing and to visit a traditional Maori village.

I’ll do a separate post about remarkable musical experiences throughout my trip where I’ll post some of the Maori music.

Kiwi food

Right. Where to start??? I spent a month in New Zealand, which meant plenty of time for eating delicious food! Unfortunately (what a terrible shame), my kiwi aunt and uncle and my cousin and his partner all appreciate really nice food, and my aunt is lamentably good at preparing it. And we all really enjoy going out for a bit of foodie delight as well. And as it was only the second time in our lives that we’ve had the chance to all be together, we decided to make it count. It’s a tough gig, but someone’s gotta do it! 😂 I am going to struggle to limit the pictures. Prepare to dribble…

🥇 No.1 food in New Zealand: ice cream. Hokey Pokey flavour (sort of honeycomb) is a particular speciality, but actually they have more flavours than you can shake a stick at. The day of my arrival I ended up with one the size of my face! I’m putting Les’ picture up as well to prove it was peer pressure!

Breakfast, Ken and Les style. Ooooh but this was good. Drizzled with a drop of maple syrup:

This was a fairly typical banquet that Les served up of an evening. All delicious, all healthy……except for the dessert. It so nearly could’ve been healthy with that delicious fruit salad! But they told me (a) ice cream is a New Zealand thing and (b) this particular type of meringue is a New Zealand thing too (very different from meringue you buy in England). So what was I supposed to do?? I had to try them all, right?:Our first meal out at an Asian fusion place with my cousin Stu and his partner Tash 😋😋😋:Another spectacular offering from Les:I did probably eat more meat in New Zealand. But I very rarely have this sort of breakfast. It was a real treat we enjoyed on my first weekend:

Ok. So those were food highlights of the first weekend. Of a month. Oh la la!

Best in the world (ii)

Best views in the world – impossible to judge. But the most unusual ones and also the most awesome ones were in New Zealand. But then Arosa in the Swiss Alps was pretty awesome too, and the Tahoe Rim Trail. And Trang An, Vietnam. See? Impossible.

🥇 🦅 Most beautiful birdsong in the world – New Zealand

🥇 Stillest place – Catlins Lake, New Zealand

(followed by Lotus Lake at the Múa Cave, Vietnam, though the stillness there was interrupted by a couple of drones. For ages I thought they were a swarm of weird Vietnamese insects and kept scrutinising the lake water under the wooden walkway for them. It was only once I climbed up the 500 steps that I heard the same noise again and saw the drones.)

Most tasty meal in the world – tricky, very tricky! I had some truly delicious meals in California, and New Zealand, actually pretty much everywhere! More unusual meals that stand out were those below:

The veggie pho (noodle soup) N cooked me for my last breakfast in Ninh Binh.

And the banh my he cooked the previous morning. Delicious (tho not veggie):

Also the street food tour in Hoi An:

Black sesame soup
Special Hoi An noodles

Passion fruit juice

Award winning Banh My

Cakes made with sweet bean curd

Ach! There were so many lovely meals. I might have to do another post all about those… 😋

Back to Auckland

We met up with Ken and Les in Wellington had some of Tash’s mum’s delicious scones (Stu decided to do scientific testing of the Great Scone Debate re the order of jam and cream, and came to the *wrong* conclusion, risking life and limb!), and a last meal out altogether also with Tash’s folks, I had some last strokey time with King Fred the cat and the next morning Ken and Les and I drove north back up to Auckland.

On the drive back we stopped at Lake Taupo again and this time I went for a swim in it. The largest lake. It had to be done!

Here are some general observations about NZ that I haven’t fitted in anywhere else:

The Rugby World Cup was on while I was there. This is the national sport, really, and is called “footie” (as opposed to “soccer”, which means football in English terms). Everyone loves the All Blacks! They feature in the current Air New Zealand flight safety video. Apparently currently, the coaches for the footie teams from Japan, Ireland, Wales (and Scotland) as well as New Zealand are all kiwis. England beat the All Blacks just after I’d left to fly to Melbourne. Perhaps it’s better I wasn’t still around!! I felt quite sad about it really though.

Apparently you don’t have to pay at all for local phone calls here, so people often ring and chat more often and for longer, fostering a sense of community, at least among the pre-social media generation.

There are concierges at many of the petrol pumps to help you, and packers in most supermarkets as well as the checkout staff. Nobody asks whether you want help with your packing, they just do it, all the while chatting away with you about the footie, the weather, whatever.

I have the general impression that most people talk to you and pass the time of day still, often saying not only, “Hi” but also “How are you?” And waiting for and expecting a response, and listening to it. But it’s not that people interfere. If you don’t particularly want to talk, that’s all ok too. It’s really a very hospitable place.

Goodbye New Zealand. I hope we meet again before too long 💕🙏

Flying back to Wellington

My last view of the South Island included more stunning snow capped mountains apparently defying gravity, floating in between the clouds. Then, just as I was thinking that was the last of the jaw dropping views of the South Island, stunning views of the snow topped mountains of Kaikoura (on the north east coast of the South Island) loomed large right by my window. Wow. I mean, wow.

Goodbye, South Island. You have been awesome.

“Dundin” (Dunedin)

This is pronounced “Dun-ee-dn” not “Dundin” as I accidentally pronounced it in the mini market at Owaka, making the checkout lady and my companions laugh (they are never gonna let that one go)! (When I was a child, my aunt and uncle sent us a board game of New Zealand where you had to get to all the places on the destination cards you’d been dealt. For some reason, I read it as “Dundin” and it stuck in my mind! (Unlike “Invergiggle”, which is the kiwis’ affectionate name for Invercargill.))

What a joy a good shower and a warm motel is. Our Air bnbs had been fine and in great locations, but it was good to get into something a bit more standardised and a bit less someone else’s space, somehow.

Dunedin is known as the “Edinburgh of the South Island”, which even has streets named after streets in Edinburgh, Scotland. As we ventured into the city, a female piper with two drummer girls with special needs lent a bit of Scottish colour and music to the scene by the beautiful station building:

Like Edinburgh, Dunedin is a big student city, full of nice cafés, quirky boutiques and beautiful historical buildings (European-historical for NZ anyway, ie from the 1800s). So the comparison is fair, I think.

Our search for genuine Maori crafted pounami (greenstone) turned up trumps here, so I bought myself some earrings. Normally it would only be gifted, not bought. I gather the Maori makers consider the money you offer as a donation towards their craft work, rather than a direct exchange for the stone. I like that idea, but of course it hangs on only by a thread in our consumer age.

On our one complete day in Dunedin, we had the bluest sky yet, half of it was even cloudless, which is unheard of in New Zealand. I was confused, because going South in the UK usually means the weather getting slightly warmer, but in New Zealand going South means getting closer to Antarctica, so the weather is supposed to get colder. Although it was quite cold when we arrived in Dunedin, the weather became warmer than we’d experienced anywhere else in NZ! That is the New Zealand spring season for you.

We stopped off at the farmers’ market for a browse, a delicious coffee and crêpe made by a Frenchman…

…then we drove on the high road up onto the Otago peninsula.

The sun was so bright it threw the trees into sharp relief. After only a short while, suddenly the city dropped away to our left, and there it was. Glorious views over the shapely harbour. All was blue; blue sky, sparkling blue sea, and warm yellow sandy beaches alternating with dark rocky coves.

I realised this is one of the most stunningly beautiful corners of the world I’ve seen. Particularly if I’m thinking about cities. To have this peninsula so close to the city and for it to be so unspoilt is incredible.

We went to the albatross colony at the end of the peninsula, where they also provide one of the largest nesting sites for the apparently endangered red eyed gull (it was hard to believe they’re endangered there were so many of them here).

I couldn’t get close enough to get a picture of an albatross, though we saw a few through the binoculars from the hide, though not in flight.

Albatrosses are incredible creatures – really big birds (these had about a 3 metre wingspan). They glide out at sea for a vast amounts of time never landing anywhere, and only come to land in order to nest once a year. They mate for life and only produce one egg per year, which may or may not survive, too.

We saw another couple of seals on the beach by the Albatross colony too 👆🏼

We visited (and climbed) the world’s steepest street. (“Not suitable for camper vans”! Such a kiwi kind of notice!)

We also visited the Chinese gardens:

On our last evening in Dunedin, we explored the city a little bit more on foot and then went out for a delicious posh meal to celebrate being together. It was glorious!

On the way into the city Tash explained to me about the green cabs here. These are taxis painted green that are either entirely electric or at least hybrid. The company operates across New Zealand. While we’ve been sleeping in our arrogance in the UK this technology and investment has been happening elsewhere. Maybe London has green taxis? Maybe not? I don’t remember being aware of any hybrid or electric taxis anywhere in the UK. I wonder again how come a country with such a smaller population has managed to think of this and bring it about without fuss so successfully so quickly. We so need to get with the programme.

The next morning we had breakfast – I had my most glorious bircher yet – on George Street (also a salubrious street in Edinburgh) before heading off to the airport.

The road to Dunedin

We decided to adopt the motto “If in doubt, ask at the i-site”. (“i-site” is the name for NZ tourist information bureaus.) Everywhere we went, they had super helpful staff, who were very knowledgable about the area and gave great practical advice on routes and sights we should see.

I’ve spent most of my life struggling to work things out independently for myself. The joy of asking someone who actually knows stuff for help has been a recent discovery. I still struggle to do it, but we accumulated such good advice from people on this trip, it reminded me to keep practising asking for help. I actually really don’t like doing it, but of course most of the time people love to be able to help. (Maybe I should think of it as giving someone the opportunity to be able to help me? Would that persuade me to do it more…?) It’s an uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling, needing help. But maybe this is one of the gifts of this trip to me? To exercise vulnerability, to become more accustomed to it? Or maybe to change the way I think about needing help?

On the road to Dunedin, we stopped for lunch, and Tash introduced me to New Zealand lolly cake. “Lollies” are what we’d call “sweets” in England. This cake is a sweet kind of refrigerator cake, made (I think) with crushed up malted milk biscuits, some sort of condensed milk and marshmallows. The taste of it was very sweet and reminded me a lot of the taste of dolly mixture. Yum!

A general reflection about traffic. It’s been a relief even being in a country where you drive on the left. Even though I’ve not had to do any of the driving, crossing roads is so much less stressful here a) because the roads are usually only single carriageway or at most dual carriageway, b) because there’s hardly any traffic out here in the South Island and c) because when walking across, I automatically look in the correct direction to see what traffic might be coming. In America I found it pretty stressful trying to work out where to look at major crossroads, where each road had about four lanes to it. Here, you’re generally more likely to come accroper from sheep roaming across the road!

Many of the beaches along this coastline (including the South Island’s very own Brighton Beach) have long stretches of distinctive white sand. Although the weather was not great, it was good to stop and admire the view periodically.

Purakaunui Falls, two bays, a seal and a sea lion

This waterfall, just a short walk from the road, was different from any of the others we’d seen. We wondered exactly how that huge bolder ended up sitting in the middle of one of the shelves.

We met an older couple travelling around the area in the opposite direction and swapped their tips about Dunedin for our tips about places we’d been to. We were often bumping into kind people here, all too ready to share tips of good sights to see or things to avoid, or just to pass the time of day.

We’d decided to brave the long, unsealed road to Cannibal Bay in the hope of seeing seals. The guy in the chic café in Owaka gave us his top tip, which was to walk from Cannibal Bay across the dunes to Surat Bay, where he said we were pretty much guaranteed to see seals or even sea lions, even if we didn’t see them at Cannibal Bay.

I paddled in the Tasman Sea at Cannibal Bay. It felt like it was probably the coldest place we’d been to yet because of the wind chill factor, but the smooth sand was just so unspoilt and inviting. As with pretty much all the beaches I saw in New Zealand, there was not a scrap of rubbish anywhere.

We enjoyed our walk along Cannibal Bay and just as we reached the dunes where we would cross to the other bay, we saw a seal sun bathing. And some extremely big kelp, too (trainers for scale).

Then we continued to Surat Bay, and were rewarded by the sight of (we think?) a sea lion, who seemed very pleased with himself, basking in the sunlight:

After a short while, the sky became overcast and we had to hot foot it back to the car before the rain.

Owaka & The Catlins

We stayed one night in an Airbnb in Owaka that had really awesome morning views over the river and lake:

This 👇🏼 is about a minute long silent (Apart from a dog barking and birdsong) video of the view. It makes a lovely moment of wonder and reflection, should you enjoy such a thing:

Apparently the Australian company that makes the reduced cream you use to make “kiwi dip” is stopping producing it. This was the information we found out in the Four Square mini market in Bluff. There was great consternation at the checkout! Once the footie’s over I think the kiwis will have to mount a revolt. And maybe start producing it themselves being one of the world’s largest dairy producers presumably that’s not beyond the realms of possibility (as all kiwis I meet keep drily observing to me). Chippies and kiwi dip is apparently a national institution in NZ. Very tasty it is too!

The reality of being off the beaten track in sleepy Owaka took us a bit by surprise. There was no breakfast venue open at 9am, or much choice for dinner in the evening. On both occasions we were saved by the Four Square mini market. And in the morning also by the surprisingly chic coffee bar that was open. The guy gave us tips about seal sighting while he made immaculate mocha, long black and flat white coffees for us. The availability of extremely good coffee in NZ even in real backwater places is really extraordinary. I tried to explain to Stu and Tash the concept of a greasy spoon café that such a place might have in England. I’m not sure if they had any real concept of how awful the instant coffee there would be.