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I should have realised from the journey we did five years ago that Pauanui to Hicks Bay was too far in one day. We travelled inland down through Rotarua which had the straightest and fastest roads but it still took us best part of eight hours driving. The weather had turned cloudy with mist hanging low over the hills so, unlike our previous trip, we were not seeing the East Cape at it's best.
At the Hicks Bay Motel we all ordered Gin & Tonic but what was served up tasted nothing like it, in fact Chris could not even drink it, something previously unheard of! We ordered our expensive (NZ$28) meals with some trepidation including salad. After a long wait they arrived with over cooked kumera and cauliflower cheese, the waitress explaining they were out of salad!
One of our regular readers has complained that I complain too much so I didn't complain and simply left the meal mostly intact. The waitress was obviously used to meals being left as she didn't ask me why I hadn't eaten it. On the plus side the motel unit was well provided with a full kitchen so I would advise anyone visiting this area to bring their own food. You do not have much choice on the East Cape and at the Lottin Point Motel where we stayed last time, which still advertises itself as "the most modern motel on the Cape", the food was equally dire.
We did manage a stop or two on the way including Raukokore Church, beautifully situated on a rocky promontory where little blue penguins often nest. There was a sign in the church apologising for the fishy smell as the penguins were nesting under the font but we could see no sign of them.
Unwilling to risk breakfast in the motel restaurant we made do with what food we had brought with us and I concocted Philly cheese on dry toast with slices of salami on top then lightly grilled. It was suitably unpalatable!
We set off in dismal weather and searched in vain for the largest Pohutukawa tree in the world but could not find it. Byron told us to stop at the Tikitiki church which we did and here was some real history. It was built by the local Ngatiporou people as a memorial to the Maori battalions that fought in the two world wars and the interior is decorated throughout with Maori carvings. Most people would be unaware that the Maori battalions were formed entirely from volunteers as only the Pakehas (Europeans) were conscripted. The stained glass window behind the altar was made in Christchurch and depicts two of the soldiers who were killed in the first war, kneeling before a crucifix. The font is a carving of the Maori chief who introduced Christianity to the local area and the whole church is an interesting mix of Maori and Christian religious symbols.
Byron had also said we should visit Ruatoria and when I asked why he had no answer. I have to report that nothing of interest was discovered in Ruatoria except Chris, who, following the Duke of Edinburgh's advice, is unable to pass by any public convenience without using it, opened the gents toilet door to be confronted by a large untrousered Maori having his elevensies and reading the paper!
On his first voyage of discovery, Captain Cook first landed on 9th October 1769 at the mouth of the river on which now stands the city of Gisborne where he killed a few Maori who he thought were attacking them. If the traditional Maori welcome used for greeting visiting dignitaries today was the same one with much tongue waggling and facial gestures, then it is hardly surprising he felt threatened. Unable to provision his ship he named the place Poverty Bay and sailed north to Tolaga Bay where we walked the 650m to the end of New Zealand's longest jetty.
We rented a lovely old house here, five minute walk to the city centre which only cost us NZ$100 a night. Unfortunately it was only available for two nights so the retail pleasures were rather restricted for Carol and Sue. Chris & I had a look around the botanic gardens then drove up to the top of Kaiti Hill where we discovered yet another statue of Captain Cook. This statue was erected on the bicentenary of the landing and was cast in bronze from a model of the original marble statue, purchased in Italy in the late 19th century by the owner of the Captain Cook Brewery in Auckland.
The problem seems to be that the statue bears no resemblance to Cook and the uniform is not that of the British Navy as you can see from comparing the two statues so nobody knows who it is! The statue remains a source of delight to photographers and a source of embarrassment to historians!
The view from the observatory on top of Kaiti Hill takes in the whole of Gisborne and Poverty Bay across to the Mahia Peninsula, our next destination.
Stopping for a brief hot bath at Morere Hot Springs we continued on to Mahia Beach where we rented a huge beachside villa for four days called Bella Vista, appropriately named as you can see from the photograph taken from its balcony.
After a journey into Wairoa for provisions and to raid the ATM for cash to pay the rent, Chris received a call from Australia to announce the birth of his daughter Claire's triplets. They were ten weeks premature, tiny but were all breathing unaided weighing in at just over 700g each. Olivia was the first born quickly followed by Willow and finally Mackenzie so Chris went out and bought a bottle of Moet and we wet the three granddaughters heads in some style. These are critical days now due to how premature the babies are and they will remain in hospital for a further ten weeks which is when Chris and Carol are due to arrive in Sydney, bang on time for a bit of wet nursing!
About 7km further along the peninsula is the Kinikini reserve which has a 3.5km bush trail through the coastal forest. Sue and I wandered sedately round it, first to a lookout across Hawkes Bay and then descending into a valley following a river to a picnic place before climbing back to the start.
The weather stayed fine for the four days we spent on the peninsula before heading south again to the fleshpots of Napier where we will spend three weeks which will include Carol's and my birthdays, the Christmas and New Year holidays in a luxury apartment beside the Harbour at Ahururi.
Elaine, the nice lady in the local shop who manages the villa letting, turned up on our last day there with two big fresh crayfish which we ate almost immediately with a salad washed down with a bottle of Hawkes Bay Chardonnay and declared them the best fish dish so far on this trip. Back in the UK they would have cost a kings ransom but out here they are a staple diet it seems!
We arrived at Napier and checked into our rented apartment. This was the day that a webmaster of some repute was born some 71 years ago so I bought them all fish and chips to celebrate.
We walked along the fish quay where the fishing boats were unloading their catches. There were boxes of Ling and one of the fisherman told us that some of their innards are regarded by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac and fetch NZ$200 per kg! We also discovered one of the classic art deco buildings, the National Tobacco Company building.
On returning to the car park in the apartment complex I backed the car out, not noticing a small steel stanchion just behind the drivers door and crunched the front wing. A visit to the local repair shop quoted NZ$1000 to fix it so serves me right for not being more careful. However, the repair bloke said he would get his electrician to see if he could fix the seat belt switch problem and if not he would try to get a replacement.
We drove along the bay to buy some fruit from one of the orchards, apricots, peaches, nectarines veggies and avocados then back into Napier for a wander around the centre and collect some tourist information.
Back at the apartment, Sue and Carol relaxed in the heated swimming pool while I brought the web site up to date. We also have the use of an excellent Gymnasium so you can expect to see some TTT bods (trim taut and terrific) by the time we leave!
I managed to locate a seat belt switch using the net for NZ$200 but before purchasing took the car to an Auto Electrician who plugged his computer in and was unable to find a fault so he simply cancelled the SRS alarm and the air bags are now functional. He warned me that it may happen again and if it does we should visit the local sparkie who will repeat the process and counselled us not to spend money as it is a well known problem with Honda Avanciers. These Kiwis are restoring my faith in human nature and this bloke would not even let me buy him a pie let alone a beer saying he was too fat already!
The panel repair shop guy knocked NZ$100 off the quote as he had found a cheaper wing which was another bit of good news. I doubt if a UK repair shop would pass on such savings to it's customers. We find this attitude to service all over New Zealand. People just want to help you get what you want for the best price, even if it means their own firm will not get the business which in the longer term will ensure your return.
We drove to the Sunday farmers market in Hastings to get some goodies for Christmas then on to Havelock North and the top of Te Mata peak (pictured above looking towards Hawkes Bay). Lunch was taken at Te Awa winery. We first tasted all their wines so we could decide what to order with our lunch. Sun dried tomato bread with local olive oil and Dukkah dip put us in the mood then the girls had an assiette of fish which included just about every type of fish and shellfish in the sea on a leek, celery and carrot risotto and the boys had Panko coated Hapuka (my favourite NZ fish) with proper chips (not frozen), Greek salad and tartare sauce, all washed down with an unoaked Chardonnay and all delectable. We all had something different for pud which was arranged so artistically that Chris had to take a photograph of it and we all tasted each others. I also indulged in a glass of pudding wine, a 2009 Noble Chardonnay, honey sweet with a sharp finish. All this good food and wine in lovely surroundings served by a pretty little Kiwi for about £30 a head which we thought was a steal.
Here is a short rant, especially for Courtney back in Somerset. New Zealand television is the pits and someone ought to do something about it. We tried to watch a film the other night which was twice as long as normal as it is 50% adverts, in fact sometimes the adverts are better than the programmes!! We all ended up going to bed early as this time even the adverts were crap!! They even run the adverts across the bottom of the screen when you are trying to watch the cricket and in the Rugby World Cup they didn't kick off until the adverts had finished! And Courtney, it's my web site and if I want to rant I will. If you don't like the rants you don't have to read it! End of rant.
Arriving back in our apartment car park there was another car with the drivers door badly dented and the wing mirror completely missing. Obviously made the same mistake as me but I bet the local repair shop does a roaring trade in offside wings, doors and mirrors and should have an advertising billboard at the park exit!
Our Christmas preparations continued with various shopping expeditions into Napier and while the car was being repaired we travelled by bus back and forth.
The cruise liner "Sun Princess" was in port and while the passengers pottered around the shops and cafés they were entertained, as we were, by a jazz band dressed in 1930's style playing "Temperance Seven" numbers accompanied by suitably dressed locals. "Sun Princess" sailed away north the next day and we watched her from our apartment balcony.
We accumulated quite a pile of presents to each other and the girls have bought a few presents for themselves! We ordered a beef sirloin to roast for Christmas day dinner and one of the locals promised us a couple of crayfish but they didn't materialise.
The palms that grow here are, I think, the same ones that are planted all around Torquay in Devon where they are called the Torbay Palm. Here they grow to twice the size and were flowering spectacularly
I really like Hastings even better than Napier and they have an eclectic mix of Art Deco and Spanish architecture. Here you can see a shot showing the Spanish architecture whilst in the foreground are the latest modern street lamp standards which they have made art deco and a single track working railway line which goes right through the city centre and even bisects the fountain right in the centre.
Havelock North just a few miles away is a delightful "Carmel" type of place where we found a good butcher and purchased his prize winning sausages plus a cooked ham on the bone. He told us that Christchurch had just had another serious earthquake force 6 and we will be there in a few weeks. Hope our motel is still standing!
Our final visit was to the Farmers Market at the Hastings showground where we stocked up on fresh fruit and veg and found some excellent black pudding for breakfast whilst munching pizza cooked in a mobile wood fired oven by a mad German!
We had a long skype with the Petherton Friday Night in the Brewers Society, it being Friday night there but Saturday morning here. Here you can see one of them, Courney Salway, who continually criticises me for criticising things on this web site. As you can see he looks, and is, completely gormless!
Carol rose early on Christmas Eve and trotted across the road to get a couple of crayfish for our supper then it was off around the bay to visit Church Road, Moana Park, Crossroads and C J Pask Wineries to find a full bodied red for Christmas dinner. Church Road won the contest so we returned there to make our purchase. Another indulgence was the Silky Oak Chocolate company where Choc-a-holics like Chris can get their fix, rather spoiled by placing our chocolate selections in a paper bag rather than a box like they do in Belgium.
The O'Connor triplets are doing fine and you can see them all together here for the first time.
Here they are, Olivia, Willow and Mackenzie, aged 15 days, who send their Christmas greetings to one and all. This is the first time they have all been together since their birth and we are pleased to report that all are doing fine.
They have now opened their eyes and are taking their first look at the world, still about 10 weeks before they were supposed to.
The four of us would like to wish all our readers the very best for the festive season. Most of you are freezing your socks off in dear old Pommieland or 'barged' in Bruge while we laze around in the Hawkes Bay sunshine but heck, we can take it. We will miss you all though, especially the Otter!
Christmas Day breakfast was the traditional scrambled egg and smoked salmon washed down with a bottle of bubbly with the subtle difference that it was ate on the balcony of our apartment looking over Napier Harbour and the Pacific Ocean on a gloriously hot sunny day. Then Chris could not contain his excitement further so we opened our presents.
Santa Sue had managed to buy us all something Kiwi like Chocolate covered Pineapple Chunks, Jaffas (chocolate balls covered in an orange sugar coating), Chocolate Hokey Pokey (butterscotch like Crunchie bars), chocolate fish (pink marshmallow) and silicone cut outs of a rugby ball, shirt and player in which to fry your eggs. Santa Carol, not to be outdone, bought some Kiwi Poo (chocolate covered raisins) for me and a dental kit for Chris! We also exchanged nice pressies with each other then drove off to the beach. We found a really nice one just North of Napier called Waipatiki where we frolicked in the surf and managed to get a little burnt.
Back in the apartment the girls prepared our Christmas dinner whilst the boys posed on the balcony drinking Steinlager Pure in their sheep shaggers grundies much to the delight of the local ladies. You can see an enlargement of the motif which is all over the grundies. We do have one criticism, especially for Courtney, in that there should really be more buttons on the fly as the willie is prone to pop out, good for quick action when in sheep shagging mode but not when one is posing on a balcony in full public view.
Dinner was a large beef sirloin roast with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, baby carrots and horseradish sauce washed down with a couple of bottles of Church Road 2009 Reserve Syrah. This was followed by a Cagsie Trifle that contained brioche, cream, custard, raspberry jam, raspberries, banana, boysenberries, white chocolate ganache, hazlenuts and almonds. This was accompanied by a Mistelle Muscat from Millton Vineyard in Gisborne. We then tackled some 24 months old vintage Cheddar which we washed down with a glass of Hawkes Bay, Gimblett Gravels, Mills Reef 2007 vintage port. Largely replete we relaxed with a nice glass of Glenmorange and a few chocolate liqueurs before retiring for the night. Happy old Christmas!
As you can see above, Chris made up for his disappointing steak by tackling a giant chocolate pud with which he struggled to finish.
The weather continued to be poor with torrential rain which rather put a damper on the local festivities. Not that there was much to report and there was not even a New Years Eve special on TV to let us know when to kiss each other! A few fireworks went off and we went out on our balcony to exchange greetings with the few others who seemed awake, then off to bed.
Looking back up the hill there was a big slip with a house perched precariously on the edge. They are still building houses up there at the edge of the hill which provides far from solid foundations. What with being on an earthquake zone it seems a strange thing to be doing.
A big cruise ship was in port so Napier was again buzzing with a jazz band and loads of vintage cars swanning around the town. We walked back around the shore passing the "Dawn Princess" on the way.
Our last day in Napier we had planned a day on the beach but the sky was overcast so we prepared for our journey the next day down to Windy Wellington via Balmy Palmy.
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