Okay, I need to talk about Taupo, but it’s been a long day in the day job and I still need to write 2000 words to stay on track for my end of the first draft deadline for Christmas at Curlew Cottage. Instead of plenty of words, it will be mostly pictures. Is that okay with you? Besides, we were only in Taupo overnight on our mini NZ North Island road trip, so just how much can you say?

Taupo is just 81kms – or an hours drive – down the road from Rotorua, but it’s a very different town indeed. For a start, the light is so much better here. It’s also more geared to outdoor activities and adventure sports – from tramping to cycling to watersports and, with Mt Ruapehu not far down the road, winter sports. Taupo is famous for its marathon, IRONMAN New Zealand triathlon and the Iron Maori duathlons and triathlon, the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, Taniwha Mountain Bike and Trail Run and the Great Lake Relay.

And if you think that you’re missing out of geo-thermal tourism here? Not a chance – there’s some of that too.

Huka Falls

An absolute must-visit – and Huka Jet is an absolute must-do. I had, however, done it on a previous trip so this time just admired the majesty of the falls. And yes, the water really is that colour – no filters used.

If you look really carefully at the picture on the left above, there’s a little patch of water in the top right-hand corner of the photo. This is Huka Lodge and it’s been on my bucket list of places I really want to stay and eat at. I do have friends who have done it, but it’s way past a point that we can justify. When (notice I didn’t say “if”) I make real money from my writing I’ll be booking in there…and Blanket Bay at Glenorchy #justsaying.

The Lake

We went for a long walk around the lake and found a lovely cafe for lunch at The Wholesome Kitchen.

I took photos of these two lake-side cottages – or baches as they’re known here – in case I ever feel like using them in a book. #asyoudo

And, because it was so hot and we were staying across the road from the lake, I went for a lovely long swim and a float. You’d expect that for such a large body the water it would be cold, but the temp, around 20C, was perfect. There were the occasional little pockets of thermal warmth too. Just beautiful.

Where we stayed…

At Sail On The Lake. Right across the road from the lake, this place had a little kitchenette, friendly owners, and was handy to everything. #jobdone

Random Street Art

#justbecause

Join us for the Lovin’ Life Linky.

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Late in 2015, we spent seven weeks road-tripping around the UK. By the end of November, we’d landed at a cottage on a farm just out of Chalford near Stroud in The Cotswolds. It was one of those last minute bookings that I’d made just two nights before when we were getting ready to leave Scotland. We had four nights to fill before we were due in at Devon and Westley Farm appeared on my search engine. As luck would have it they had a cottage available – Cockshutt Cottage – and I booked it on the spot

Although I was on holiday I was writing my third novel and, around the 50,000-word mark, had become stuck. I really had no idea where the story was going or if I even had a story. I also had no real sense of place. The minute we walked into Cockshutt cottage, though, I felt something stir inside of me.

That afternoon we lit the fire and when I should have been writing I sat at the kitchen table and browsed through the River Cottage cookbooks on the kitchen dresser. There were also books on gardening and seasonal produce and that something that had begun to stir inside me became the beginning of an idea.

The next afternoon we wandered up the road to The Jolly Nice Farmshop. It was like no other farm shop I’d seen. Although I’d always had a vague notion of seasonality, I’d never really been actually inspired by it until I laid eyes on the produce. I wanted to cook with it all, even the Brussels Sprouts – especially the Brussels Sprouts which I’d never seen presented like that before. The Brussels we see are in little plastic boxes and wrapped in yet more plastic. They’re not on stalks like these ones were.

Jolly Nice also had an entire back area devoted to Christmas goodies. Even though we’d been to countless Christmas markets by this time, seeing all of this food in this environment I was suddenly struck with the possibility of what Christmas could be. In my head, I could see tables laden with the food of my Christmas dreams, a fire burning in the grate, and layers and layers of textured warmth.

I also had the story that would become Wish You Were Here.

That evening, after a dinner at The Bell at nearby Sapperton, I went back to Cockshutt Cottage and sketched out my fictional Cotswolds town – Brookford. Cockshutt Cottage became Curlew Cottage – with a reasonable amount of artistic licence. If you’re interested, I wrote about it on my author page. You’ll find the link here. Over the next few nights, I wrote the first 10,000 words of Wish You Were Here.

I’m back in Brookford and Curlew Cottage, virtually speaking, for my current work in progress Christmas At Curlew Cottage.

It’s a story that’s been lurking in my head ever since we visited the Jolly Nice Farmshop on that grey late November afternoon in 2015 – and I’m having so much fun revisiting it through the words. We’ll be back there for real for Christmas this year – and I can’t wait.

Wish You Were Here is available on ebook and in paperback. You can read more about it and where to get it here.

 

 

 

 

 

The week started in New Zealand, had it’s middle in the office, and finished on a high with my daughter turning 21. It really was the week that had everything. So, without further ado, let’s wrap it up!

Cheese scones…

These ones at Neighbourhood in Martinborough. So good.

Views…

These ones at the lookout at the top of the Rimutakas on our way from Martinborough across to Wellington.

Fish and chips…

I don’t eat a lot of fish and chips at home, but these ones at Paraparaumu Beach were pretty good.

More views…

So so so happy for my friends and their new dream home in Wellington. Not only is it utterly beautiful inside, but it also comes with views like this. Now that’s worth an Aperol spritz and a toast to good friends.

Wellington…

I know I’ve said it before, but I do love the soul of this city and one day need to come up with a story that suits it.

Phrases…

I came across this Danish phrase during the week: tandsmor. (There’s a diagonal line through the o.) Its rough translation is “tooth butter” to describe the teeth marks that you leave in thickly spread butter on bread and it’s about both joy and generosity. Just how lovely is that?

Cyclones…

Cyclone Trevor? Seriously? It gives weight to my theory that the naming of cyclones is a sort of reward and recognition scheme at the Bureau of Meteorology. ‘Okay Trev, you correctly forecast the recent heat wave in Sydney to the degree (pause for a round of applause for Trevor) so mate, the next cyclone is yours!’

Almost sunrises…

Sunrise is getting later and later and we’re almost catching it. It’s funny but even though you know there’s always a sunrise, seeing it makes a huge difference. Like when you know you’ve put on weight but until you see it on the scales you actually haven’t…or is that just me?

Cooking…

Shandong Chicken. This used to be our daughter’s favourite at the Chinese restaurant in Kellyville when we lived in Sydney, but we haven’t found a decent one since moving here. Then I found this recipe. It’s actually a healthier version than the original, but hilariously involved blow-drying the chook to make the skin go crispy – it worked.

According to Sarah – who knows about these things – my version is tastier. ‘Wow kids, why do you need to go out for dinner when you get food like this at home. Taste the serenity.’ Yes, she’s a fan of that classic Aussie movie The Castle. We served it with a quick pickled carrot side and a cucumber and radish salad and so much herb that you can barely see the chicken pieces.

I also ticked another few recipes off my Nigella How To Eat challenge: sponge cake, shortbread, parsley sauce, lemon creams. Note to self – I really must do a catch-up post for The Nigella Diaries.

Oh, I also made pikelets that were awfully like crumpets. You can find that recipe here.

Pineapples…

I’ve been watching this pineapple grow in our backyard for months and months. I hav no idea if it’s a real pineapple or an ornamental one, but it was getting bigger and yellower by the day. So I took a photo.

I went down the following day – everyday after I knock off work I like to water my garden and centre myself a little – and instead of seeing the picture above, I saw this.

I blame this.

Birthdays…

Finally but absolutely far from least, our daughter turned 21 today.

Sarah is the baby that we thought we’d never have. I remember my doctor called her a little miracle and she certainly is that – in many ways. She’s also an off-key whistler, has a super quick wit, smiles much more than she frowns, is the partner in many of my adventures, and is the absolute light of our lives. She has, however, over the years become a tad camera shy…

We celebrated with lunch at our favourite restaurant here on the Sunny Coast – Spirit House.

We’ve been coming here for years. Not only is the food great, but it really does feel as though you’re eating in an outdoor pavillion somewhere in South East Asia. Heaven forbid if they ever take the whole crispy fish with chilli tamarind sauce (below) or coconut soul of smoked salmon off the menu – I remember Sarah digging into the fish when she was half the age she is now!

Ok, that was my week…how was yours?

I can’t remember when I last slept past 5am. Sure there were days that I did in NZ, but that was before I’d adjusted to time zones and 7am there was really 4am at home so it doesn’t really count.

This morning though I was determined to sleep in. No alarm, no walk, just a leisurely rising before heading to the Farmer’s Market. Five am could arrive and I’d wave it away to annoy someone else and go back to sleep – at least until 7.

I bet that you know how this story is likely to end? Exactly. At 4.45am. The Moon was still up, the sun still down, but the kookaburras were stirring. At 5.30 I gave up and decided to make a batch of these pikelets from Ella Risbridger’s book Midnight Chicken (And Other Recipes To Live For). As an aside, I really will get around to reviewing this fabulous book. Truly, I will, because it is that fabulous.

I’d always thought that pikelets were like small pancakes. I remember making them when I was a kid. In fact, there was one night when we were living in Bombala (in Southern NSW) so I must have been 13 or 14 I suppose – I always judge my age by where we were living at the time – where my parents had gone to some meeting or another and I decided to make pikelets as a surprise supper for when they got home. Sadly we had no milk so being a younger version of the resourceful woman that I am today I improvised using the powdered milk that we used to feed the poddy (orphaned) lambs with. Possibly not one of my best efforts and Dad did turn a little green around the gills when I told him. Mum, though, is made of more resilient stock than that.

These pikelets aren’t like those pikelets. These ones are more like a cross between a yeasted small pancake and a crumpet that hasn’t been constrained within a ring.  It’s the size of a pikelet with the little bubbles of a crumpet. As Risbridger writes in  Midnight Chicken, “pikelets are like crumpets but untidy. Pikelets shouldn’t be perfect or precise. In fact, with pikelets, every imperfection is proof that you did it yourself.”

And there’s not much more imperfect than pikelets that are mixed up at 5.30 in the morning while you’re trying not to wake the rest of the house. These ones fell prey to the sorts of disaster that happens when your body might be awake but your brain hasn’t quite caught up. I accidentally measured in baking powder instead of bicarb soda and had to fish it back out. I couldn’t remember if I’d put the salt in or not and added a little more. I ran out of normal milk and had to substitute with the lactose-free stuff that Sarah uses in her smoothies. When whisking I had to take the bowl out of the kitchen and walk around the living room so neither of the sleeping beauties would be disturbed by the not-so rhythmic banging of bowl against kitchen bench.

None of these factors, however, damaged the end product – or at least they didn’t seem to. Apparently, they keep okay for a few days and toast okay too – although they didn’t last past mid-morning here.

Anyways, here’s the recipe.

What you need:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet instant yeast
  • 1/2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
  • 150ml milk
  • 150ml hot water from a freshly boiled kettle

What you do with it:

Pop the kettle on to make tea and while that’s boiling, measure the dry ingredients into a big bowl and your milk into something else. Once the kettle has boiled mix 150ml into the milk so that it’s warm but not hot and pour water into your teapot and set that aside. Now you can mix the watery milk into the dry ingredients, beating seriously hard for a few minutes. (I had to confess to needing a rest halfway through – my biceps aren’t what they used to be).

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, take a photo out the kitchen window of the sunrise, and take your tea back to bed with your computer so you can get a head start on next weeks blogs. If like me, you’re lucky enough to have a guest bedroom, I’d advise you to go there rather than disturbing anyone who probably should be up anyway.

Check Instagram – and Facebook – rather than catching up on your blogging and leave the batter for around an hour – until it’s bubbly and frothy.

Heat your largest frying pan over medium heat and add some oil in the base if it isn’t non-stick. (Although I must confess to never really trusting non-stick and adding the oil anyway and I didn’t use my largest frying pan because the handle is loose on it.)

Dollop tablespoons of the mix onto the hot pan, leaving plenty of room between the dollops, and cook for about 90 seconds. Flip over with a spatula and give them another 60 seconds before lifting them onto a plate.

Boil the kettle again and make another pot of tea and then devour the crumpetty pikelets with plenty of butter – or butter and jam – before anyone else is up. Then you can fib and say that the mix didn’t really make that many after all. Try not to flinch when your daughter uses the spray can of fake whipped cream – oh the horror.

 

Okay, I’ll be really honest here, I’ve never been that keen on the landscape around Rotorua – or Roto-Vegas as it’s also known. It doesn’t have the rolling green hills and pastoral gorgeousness of other parts of the island or the drop-dead breathtaking awesomeness of (much of) the South Island. The landscape aside, there’s also the “interesting” smell to deal with – sulphuric gas that wafts across when you’re close to a spring or step on a wobbly pavement. Even when the sun is shining the light feels a lot duller here than it does an hour or so down the road at Taupo. I suspect that’s to do with the gases in the air.

Despite this, there’s an undeniable attraction to Rotorua. A primitive watching the world get built sort of feel to it. It’s not traditionally beautiful, but it’s awe-inspiring in other ways. The things that you see and learn about here can’t be seen or learnt about anywhere else – and it’s stuff that you should see and should learn about. For that reason, if you’re in this part of the world Rotorua is absolutely and unquestioningly a fascinating must-see. Don’t even think about by-passing it. Besides, you actually get used to the smell. Settle in – there’s a lot to get through.

Downtown Rotorua

This is an easy town to walk around – and there’s plenty of history to absorb while you’re doing it.

Government Gardens is on land gifted by the resident Maori tribe to the British Crown in the late 1800s. The timber “gates” at the entrance to the garden are shaped in the form of a crown and were built in honour of a visit in 1901 by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (who would become King George V and Queen Mary). They are, however, impossible to photograph – the gates, that is.

Aside from actual gardens and roses that I shared with you the other day, there are sports facilities, a bowling green, croquet lawn, and bandstand. The Rotorua Museum is housed in the old Bath House – but this is closed at the moment following an earthquake assessment.

The Polynesian Spa is also close by – on the lake. I couldn’t be faffed this trip, but on previous visits, I have done the whole bathing in the thermal waters and then having a spa treatment thing. It’s quite surreal (and seriously relaxing and stimulating at the same time) to be sitting in an outdoor pool in the middle of winter, but there you have it. I did, however, visit and stock up on some mud masks (side note – my dog hates it when I put this on).

As you walk around, pay attention to the random springs and read some of the plaques. Many that had significance as places of burial – and battle – have been long closed up, but others bubble away. Like Rachel Pool – where the alkaline silica-laden water – is still piped across to the Polynesian Spa. It was named after Madam Rachel, an English cosmetician, who promised that these waters could deliver a soft and youthful complexion.

Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village

There are plenty of options to get your geothermal on, and heaps where you can find out a bit more about Maori culture. At Whakarewarewa (Whaka for short) you’re visiting a real operational village. The guides live in the village, the people who put on the culture show live in the village, they cook in the village and bathe in the village. It really is a living village – and guiding has been their business for over 200 years.

Don’t even think about visiting here without joining a guided tour. You’ll learn so much about Maori culture – from language (in case you’re interested, there are just 15 letters – including 2 digraphs: A E H I K M N O P R T U W NG and WH) to tattoos (and their meaning as a family tree of sorts) to cooking methods. You won’t be surprised to hear that the latter interested me.

Cooking – and bathing – with thermal…

This is the oven…

Pretty well anything that can be cooked in a conventional or steam oven can be cooked in here. In this box, if packed properly, the food for 45 families or up to 200 people can be cooked. The cooking time for a chicken from frozen to done? About an hour. The thermal power is tasteless – so the taste of the food is not impacted – and the result is meat that’s tender and falls away from the bones. You can taste it for yourself in the cafe. Apparently, they also have a pretty good repertoire of steamed puddings too.

Vegetables, root vegetables, leafy veg and seafood are cooked in cheesecloth bags (traditionally in flax baskets) in Parekohru – which means “murderous ripples”. As an aside, the corn that came out of here tasted flipping amazing.

This pool has no discernable bottom and surface temperatures between 96-200C. As the pressure builds the water rises and spills over to fill the baths – where the villagers bathe. Naturally, the actual bathing takes place when the village is closed to tourists lol. The waters are full of silica and natural oils and are absolutely clean.

The Geyser…

Pohutu geyser (“Big Splash”) is officially on the grounds of the neighbouring attraction – Te Puia – but it wasn’t always this way. Twenty years ago the 2 attractions were one but were split into 2 with a fence erected between them and the village trust managing Whakarewarewa. You can still see Pohutu – the largest active geyser in the Southern hemisphere – from Whaka.

For a while there, the power in this geyser was substantially diminished. The village successfully lobbied to have the laws changed to stop residents and hotels from boring into the underground springs etc to use the thermal power to heat their homes. As a result, Pohutu is now active again and “erupts” once or twice an hour again.

The Marae…

On the day we visited the Marae – or meeting house – was out of bounds due to a funeral. This gave our guide the opportunity to talk to us about funerals – the grieving process, the importance of each of the 3 mourning days (we were there on day 3), and even the all too real challenges of catering for the occasion.

We also learnt about how the structure of the Marae is likened to an ancestor:

  • The point of the gable is the head
  • The diagonal beams signify arms and the ends are fingers
  • The ridge beam is the backbone
  • The rafters are ribs
  • and the central column inside is the heart.
The Cultural Show

Of course there’s a cultural show and of course it includes the Haka.

Want to know more?

Check out the website. The link is here. As an aside, Te Puia, the neighbouring attraction, is an entirely different experience for the visitor to Whakarewarewa. It’s run by a government body so is a tad slicker. It’s probably better than Whaka for handicrafts and views of the geyser, but I happen to love the concept of the living village and the amount of information we learnt not just from our guide, but from talking to shop owners etc in the village. I’ll leave that decision with you.

Oh, one last thing – despite these pools being seriously hot, our guide told us there’s no record of any “accidents” – and that includes all the years before they put up the fences. I’m not entirely what that says about common sense and how it’s changed over the years.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

If you were bored in geography or geology class, check this place, just 20 minutes or so out of Rotorua, out instead. The tagline is “How the world began…the world’s youngest geothermal system.” It’s so true – this landscape is evolving literally before your eyes. Rather than talking like scientists usually do in terms of millions of years, what you’re seeing here is a landscape that was formed at a specific point in time. And that point in time is the eruption of Mt Tarawera on June 10, 1886.

Before this date visitors flocked to see the 8th wonder of the natural world – the Pink and White Terraces. After the mountain split open the terraces were no more, the landscape was significantly altered, and all life extinguished. The pic below is an artists impression of what it would have looked like from that exact spot.

You have to walk for your information here. The walk takes about 1 3/4 hours but is mostly downhill (steep in parts) or flat. Don’t worry though – there’s a bus at the bottom to take you back up to the top. Except for the blue crater – you have to walk up a heap of stairs to see that – but as you can see below, it’s worth it. (Spoiler alert – I was lazy and got Grant to climb the stars and take these pics.)

We spent almost a whole afternoon at Waimangu – and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s just some of what you’ll see…

We also opted for the additional 45-minute boat trip out onto the lake to see some of the craters formed by the eruption and check out the activity on the lakefront.

More information?

Duck over to the website. the link is here.

Redwoods Forest

Okay, I ran out of my word allocation in this post about 800 words ago. So all I’ll say about this is if you like a good forest come here. If you like a good forest walk (or run) come here. If you want to walk in the treetops come here.

I happen to like all of these things – except the running part – so could have spent much more time than we had available here. Head here for more information.

What else?

Okay, there’s heaps to do in Rotorua – what I’ve shown you here is just the tip of the iceberg. In previous trips I’ve also visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and also done some of the Maori Cultural Nights – Tamaki Maori Village was a great one. There’s also the Skyline Gondola and Luge – again something I’ve done on a previous visit – sheepdog and shearing shows, zorbing, and much more.

Just like castle overload in Europe, there are also only so many cultural shows and geothermal sites you can visit before your eyes glaze over. My advice is to keep it fresh and still fascinating, by choosing just one show and maybe a couple of geothermal attractions.

Getting there…

Rotorua is around 228kms or 2.5-3hr drive from Auckland. Plenty of people come in via a day trip from Auckland or from one of the cruises that dock at Auckland.

Staying there…

There are plenty of accommodation options here for all budgets. This time we stayed at the Quest Apartments in Hinemoa Street – which were really well located for everything, but I’ve previously stayed down at the lake.

Eating there…

Head straight for Eat Street at the lake end of Tutanekai Street. There’s a great selection of restaurants and bars serving everything from bar snacks to Italian, Asian, Indian, and even something a little more special.

 

 

the week in pics

It’s the morning after the night before as I begin drafting this week’s wrap-up post – and what a week it was…(and what a night before it was).

The night before was a joint celebration in honour of a 60th birthday (not mine) and a 30th wedding anniversary (also not mine) – and the ultimate reason for this trip to NZ…but more on that later.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the heart-breakingly sad events that occurred in Christchurch on Friday – but I have no words for that. Instead here’s what made me smile last week – my birthday week.

1.No day job work for a week. Yay!

2. The kiwifruit groves in the Bay of Plenty. I hadn’t really thought too much about how kiwifruit is grown, but up here the vines are protected by super-high almost maze-like hedges. You can see the hedges in the pic below.

3. The lemonade popsicle at the end of the Cathedral Cove walk.

4. My birthday dinner at Salt in Whitianga. A marina, fairy lights, good food and a warm Kiwi evening – what’s not to like?

5. The murals in Katikati on the way to Rotorua. Katikati has 3 claims to fame:

  • It’s the first planned Irish community in NZ
  • It’s the avocado capital of NZ
  • It’s full of murals – and a town full of murals is always a good thing

Plus the bakery here won the first place in the NZ pie competitions for their vegetarian pie. It had bok choy, kumara (sweet potato), carrot and parsnip in it. We didn’t try it, but we did sample their butter chicken spring roll – which was, to be honest, a tad weird.

6. The roses in Rotorua – I’ll tell you more about Rotorua on Thursday, but it’s fair to say it’s not one of my favourite places in this fabulous country. The roses in Government Gardens were, however, gorgeous.

7. The random puffs of gas and bubbles of springs that are literally all through Rotorua. The smell didn’t make me smile quite so much, but more on that on Thursday.

8. The line-up of retro Kiwi slices in bakeries. I think there are a few that I haven’t yet made at home.

9. The colour of the water at Huka Falls.

10. A swim in the lake at Taupo.

11. The sign for National Gumboot Day in Taihape. Yes, this town is the self-proclaimed gumboot capital of New Zealand – and we saw plenty of people wearing gumboots in a completely non-ironic way.

12. The bleak landscape of the Desert Road

13. The rolling hills as we got closer to the Wairarapa

14. An impromptu picnic in the grounds of a Martinborough winery with local wine and local cheese. We had no plates, borrowed glasses from the winery and used the swiss army knife to cut the cheese. Sometimes the simplest things really are the best.

15. A fabulous party with fabulous friends. Because the party was a joint celebration – J’s 60th birthday and H&J’s 30th wedding anniversary – the theme was the 60s and 80s. I channelled my 60s flower child and Grant donned a wig and was 80s bogan rocker.

The food was retro – think devils on horseback, vol-au-vents and asparagus toast canapes, prawn cocktails and deep fried camembert – and the music was also old-school. As for the venue? Tirohana Estate – a winery in Martinborough.

16. A visit to the seal colony at Cape Palliser – more on that next week

17. Best seafood chowder and great fish and chips at Lake Ferry Hotel – in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

18. Catching up with the best of friends – just priceless.

19. A birthday selfie. This is me at 52 – no makeup and sunburned but not really caring about any of that!

Okay, that was my week – how was yours?

 

 

 

Regular readers know how much I love New Zealand. I’ve travelled here often and am convinced that working for the NZ Tourist Promotion whatsit would be the job I’d love to do more than any other – except perhaps the be an extra (preferably a dog walker in Badger’s Drift) in an episode of Midsomer Murders. That aside, despite having tripped around in the Bay of Plenty I’d never turned left on the highway from Auckland and headed up the peninsula towards The Coromandel.

This trip is a relatively quick one – my Wellington-based bestie is having a party in Martinborough; a wine region just outside of Wellywood – so we’re making a mini road trip of it and after landing in Auckland, Coroglen on the Coromandel Peninsula is our home for the next 2 days.

The Orchard Homestay, Coroglen

There are not enough words to describe how completely perfect this place is. Not only is it clean, comfortable and spacious with a view down to the kiwifruit groves, but the stars at night…oh my goodness.

Anne and David, our hosts, have forgotten nothing. The fridge has enough provisions to make a country brekky, and anything you could possibly need is tucked away – right down to the spades for Hot Water Beach (see below) and a sensor light in the bathroom for those late night visitations.

We found it on Air B&B, but they have a website here.

Ferry Landing, Shakespeare’s Cliff and Cook’s Beach

Ferry Landing is one of NZ’s oldest Maori pa sites with, according to Maori story, Kupe, the famous/mythical Polynesian explorer and his people setting foot in Whitianga – just across the water – in about 950AD and calling it Aotearoa. In fact Whitianga’s full name – Te Whitianga-Nui-a-Kupe, means ‘Kupe’s big crossing place’. Ferry Landing is also the oldest stone wharf in Australasia, built in 1837 with the ferry taking passengers across to Whitianga.

Just down the road is Shakespeare’s Cliff – so called because the side profile is apparently very similar to that of the Bard. Yeah, whatever. Anyways from up here you can see for miles.

Captain James Cook ducked in here on HMS Endeavour when he sailed into Mercury Bay (so called because he mapped the progress of Mercury from here) in 1769 and dropped the anchor at Cooks Beach. There’s a very unimpressive sign at the actual spot.

Cook and his crew used Lonely Bay to “careen and clean” the Endeavour – I think that’s nautical talk for tipping the boat on its side so they can clean it up. That’s Lonely Bay in the pics below. Looking at it from above if you close your eyes you can perhaps picture the sight of the tall masted ship on its side, crew scurrying around. No?

Cathedral Cove

Like lots of places worth visiting in New Zealand, this isn’t a drive up, take a photo and move on sort of deal. You need to walk for your views – around 45 minutes from the start of the main track.

In the summer months – from October to April – the carpark at the start of the track to Cathedral Cove is closed. This means that you either take a shuttle ($5 return) from the park and ride at Hahei to the start of the track or you walk to the start of the track from Hahei Beach – an extra 25 minutes…and mostly uphill. Naturally, that’s what we did. We had, however, decided that we’d catch a water taxi back from the cove. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: these guys are smart.

The track from the beach is a steep bush track and from the carpark is what my friend John would call “undulating” ie it goes down steeply and up the same. At the end to descend to the Cove are about 150 steep steps.

Having said that, the track is pretty and the Cove at the end worth every drop of sweat. Do make sure that you check tide times though and avoid arriving at or around high tide.

As for the water taxi? After smugly congratulating ourselves that we didn’t need to walk back up the stairs and the steep bits we found out that the water taxi wasn’t running due to…wait for it…adverse sea conditions. Seriously? It was like a millpond out there. Note to self – check with water taxi before starting out.

Another warning – wear proper walking shoes. We saw so many people in jandals (that’s Kiwi for thongs or flip-flops) and swimmers. I have just 3 words for them: blisters and chaffing.

Hahei Beach

There are toilets (long drop composting loos) at the start/end of the main track and a couple of vans selling cold drinks and popsicles.

If you want anything else to eat you’ll need to call into Hahei. We stopped at the Beach Store for a mince pie and can of L&P – Kiwi as, hey? They also sell over-priced spades in case you need them.

Hot Water Beach

Okay, this place is seriously freaky. For a couple of hours before and after low tide, the beach is packed with people with spades digging holes in the sand. The water that comes through is hot – sometimes warm, but also sometimes boiling. It mixes with the cold waves as they roll in but its definitely hot.

Some people seriously bring their noodles, eggs and veggies down to cook. Completely non ironically.

Where we ate…

Our first night was spent at Coroglen Tavern – just up the road from our cottage. I don’t know if it was because our alarm had gone off at 3.30am and we were knackered after travelling all day, or if it was just the ambience of a mild Kiwi evening in the country, but our fish and chips were fabulous – and the beers went down easily.

Our second evening was spent at Salt in Whitianga. On the marina with good food, fairy lights and exhausted bodies it all couldn’t have been more perfect.

Next time…off to Rotorua…

Okay, so I’m beginning this post in the bar at Brisbane Airport. And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in a bar at an airport at this time of the morning. Just as it’s perfectly acceptable to be doing whisky tastings at the duty-free counter at 6am. Isn’t it? None of the normal rules apply when you’re on holiday.

I spent most of the week in Sydney for work but there was still plenty to smile at…

1.These escalators at Met Centre all dolled up for Mardi Gras #loveislove

2. The Isle of Rhum Instagram account. I want to go…now. Just look at those ponies. @theisleofrum

3. On the subject of Instagram, I’m loving the one I was introduced to from Min’s Zen Tip Tuesday @agirlandherdogontheroad. Her photos are great, her story is an inspiring one and Annie the Brittany Spaniel is drop-dead gorgeous.

4. After all these years of commuting into the city for work, the sight of the Harbour Bridge from the bus is still one I love – especially so in the early morning light.

5. The bus driver on the 652X Monday – Wednesday. Getting on that bus each morning at 6.45 he had a good morning for everyone – and a have a nice day at the end of the trip. You can’t help but start the workday in a better mood after that.

6. Hainanese chicken for lunch. Yummo.

7. and dumplings for lunch the next day (see above)

8. The nighttime antics of my parent’s corgi. He’s hilarious.

9. An early birthday lunch at Sum Yung Guys on Saturday. I think I’ve written about it before, but the food is fabulous. We shared 3 small plates – a kingfish ceviche with nam jim dressing and coconut cream (my dish of the day), prawn toasts, and pork & mushroom spring rolls – a fresh salmon and coconut salad, a Thai-style green curry with barramundi and a bruised cucumber salad with sambal. I do like a prawn toast – there’s something very retro and Puberty Blues about them.

10. Our accommodation at Coroglen, in the Coromandel Peninsula, for the next 2 nights. How stunning is this view?

That was my week…how was yours?

 

 

Okay, I’ve been jumping around in How To Eat a tad – mainly because it’s suited me – but today we’re back into Chapter 1 and talking about lemon curd. I love it – just like butter but tangy, sweet and smooth all at the same time. It’s also easier than you’d think to make and tastes much better than the shop-bought versions – although with a substantially shorter shelf-life.

Even though it’s really more like custard in method and texture, it was called fruit cheese in the 18th century – possibly because early recipes called for lemon juice to acidulate cream, with the resulting “curd” being the prize. Back then many recipes also called for pieces of sugar to be razed against the lemon to release the zest. Thank goodness, I say, for the invention of the grater.

Anyways, this stuff really is like a little zesty jar of sunshine – and, although fabulous on white bread or scones with cream – it’s much more versatile than that.

A perfect filling for meringues, when combined with the same quantity of whipped cream (or Greek yoghurt) and piled into glasses and served with almond biscuits (or even with the almond biscuits crushed into it) it becomes an instant dessert. I use it in my lemon pavlova – which is, of course, Nigella’s lemon pavlova – and in the lemon meringue ice-cream that I told you about the other week. We had friends over for dinner last Saturday night and I used it in Nigella’s no-bake no-fuss fruit tart that’s more like a cheesecake than a fruit tart. You can find the recipe here.

The biggest challenge with lemon curd is avoiding the dreaded curdle. If you keep stirring throughout you shouldn’t have a problem, but Nigella suggests filling the sink with cold water before you start so if it looks like curdling you can plunge your pan into the water and stir like the blazes.

Okay, the recipe. As luxurious as this is, it’s also very much a sometimes food so I halve the quantities that Nigella uses in How To Eat. Nigella also suggests using this recipe to make a passionfruit curd – and I’ve done that too when passionfruits have been in season at the markets.

Instead of the lemon use the pulp and juice of 10 passionfruits. Blitz it briefly in the processor (I use the nutribullet) – so the juice and seeds separate – and strain. You can then follow the recipe as below, but stir in the pulp and juice of another passionfruit at the end. This makes a fabulous filling for a tart or to spoon into those little mini pie shells you get from the supermarket.

What you need…

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 150 grams caster sugar
  • 100 grams unsalted butter – at room temperature and chopped into small squares
  • juice and finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

What you do with it…

  • In a heavy-based saucepan, off the heat, whisk together the eggs and sugar.
  • Add the lemon juice, zest and butter and, over medium heat, stir until the butter melts and then keep stirring until it thickens – perhaps another 5 minutes or so. Take it off the heat every so often while you’re stirring so that it doesn’t catch and burn at the bottom of the pan.
  • Once thickened – remember it will thicken more in the fridge – take it off the heat, allow to cool slightly and pour into a 350ml jar. Strain it if you want, but I can’t be faffed. Besides, I quite like the texture you get from the zest.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and, of course, me.

Inlinkz Link Party

 

February might be the shortest month of the year, but in many ways, it’s also the longest. There is, however, much to love about February – not least the fact that my favourite sister-in-law was born during that month…(see what I did there P?)

Anyways, February involved a lot of work, more than the usual amount of travel, and a reasonable amount of play as well. So, without further ado, let’s wrap it up.

Where I travelled…

I enjoyed a long weekend with my daughter in Melbourne at the beginning of February. You can find the post here, but here are a few photos.

I also was down to Sydney – for work rather than play though…

What I watched…

The latest season of Agatha Raisin made it to the ABC and I couldn’t have been happier.

Also on the ABC was Mrs Wilson. Based on a true story with Ruth Wilson starring as her real-life grandmother this one was fascinating viewing.

Other essential viewing during February was Great British Bake-Off (Foxtel) and Travel Guides (Channel 9) – which is easily the funniest show on telly — and I’m also enjoying Miss Fisher’s Modern Mysteries.

What I read…

With a lot of travel and plenty of time either waiting for on or buses and planes, February was a big reading month with 13 books read. The highlights were:

  • The House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz
  • How to be Second Best, Jessica Dettmann
  • Maybe This Time, Jill Mansell
  • Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan

Bloggy Catch-ups…

Two of February’s highlights – aside from seeing my family, of course – were catch-ups with bloggy friends. First up was lunch in Brisbane with Sue from Sizzling Towards Sixty & Beyond, Leanne from Cresting The Hill, Deb from Debbish, me and Min from Write Of The Middle.

Then in Sydney, I met up with Sammie from The Annoyed Thyroid. We met for a drink and a chat. Next time there’ll be dumplings…or scones.

Let’s talk about the weather…

We nearly had a cyclone. It was close enough to stir up some wind and some surf, but then rolled back offshore and left us alone. I did, however, get some great shots of the waves – one as it crashed over the top of me.

What I cooked…

On account of the travel, not as much as I would have liked…I did, however, update my Nigella Diaries – with a few posts yet to roll out. If you’ve missed any episodes you can catch up here. Also to come next month will be a review of Midnight Chicken – the best cookbook I’ve read in a long time.

What I crossed off my 101 things in 1001 days list…

I went an entire month – yes, an entire month – without buying a book. That is some sort of record for me and one that I’ve already broken with the delivery of 2 pre-orders on my kindle and a purchase at the airport…although as everyone knows books bought at airports don’t count. It’s like the calories from food on other people’s plates and whatever is consumed on holidays or on planes – those calories don’t count either.

The Challenge…

It was tough, but I managed it…lol!

Most popular Instagram post…

Based on likes, the most popular post for the month was this one.

Okay, that was my month…how was yours? Any highlights you want to share?

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