Thursday, January 29, 2009

Part 2 of Long Weekend: The South Island

(Annoying blogger thing - or just me being stupid - photos show up in the opposite order added so they go with the narrative from bottom to top more or less...and i can't figure out if there's any way to get them to be within text. I think not. FYI - the van with the slightly offensive but yes, funny saying is a type of rental van you see everywhere around the South Island...this was one of the least offensive.) Ferrying down to the South Island through the Cook Straits is breathtaking and our photos cannot do it justice. We stopped in Havelock, known for its mussels, for a late lunch on the water where the highlight was a light but rich mussel chowder. (Mussels themselves were big but not remarkable otherwise.) Swung through Nelson - a fun tourist town where a family we know through Washington State friends will be for six months doing the same thing as us (but they hadn't arrived yet) - and arrived at our lodge right next to Abel Tasman National Park in time for a beautiful walk right before sunset. It was marred only by some rather aggressive seagulls demonstrating behavior similar to Hitchcock’s Birds. We figure they must have been defending their nesting area, but we were in open beach so not quite sure. The beach just went on forever and ever, but we had to get home and to bed to wake up for our kayaking trip the next day.

We kayaked with the help of Hiro, our friendly Japanese guide who has been in NZ for two years. Just us and a couple from Israel in our group. I didn’t ask them about the current situation over there; big news in the Wellington paper had been a cafe owner refusing service to a pair of Israeli tourists. Super-calm on the way out to Split Apple Rock and then quite wavy as the wind came up on the way back, but Nikko and I pulled together and survived. (He only yelled at me for slacking a few times.) The second part of the day was low labor on our part – sea taxi up/down? coast of Abel Tasman to see lots of seals, including new pups. Then a 90-minute walk through drizzle to where the boat picked us up, at this point in driving rain. We walked through a campground and I was feeling bad for the dampness the campers would endure and being relieved that we would return to our cozy cabin where we enjoyed a couple scoops of really good chips (fries) wrapped in the customary white paper, a Greek lamb burger, a mussel burger (yes, the shellfish all glued together somehow – very good), and beef burgers -- a bit different in that it wasn’t one patty but lots of different little crumbles of meat. These all came from a funky take-out stand by the entrance to the park called The Fat Tui – tuis being a classic NZ bird (also name of popular beer) that make some amazing and varied calls, from warbles to grunts. Apparently they're great mimics and your neighborhood tuis can start sounding like your cell phone ring!

Day next, we headed in a circle (Mark’s favorite; he hates backtracking) through the countryside to the east coast of the South Island, passing through acres and acres (actually, hectares and hectares) of cows, sheep, farmed deer, and fruit orchards – mostly pears we think, although some kiwis and berries – and then grape vines as we approached Blenheim. More on less in the center, we stopped to take a drizzly walk at Nelson Lakes National Park where I discovered that the sweet scent I’ve been smelling in every forested walk so far – mysterious in that flowers are not usually present – is the scent of honeydew produced by a scale insect that burrows into the bark of certain trees and creates drops of “honeydew.” At Nelson Lakes, this is also food for a black sludgey mold that then grows on the trees, not too attractive but usually not detrimental to the tree, a ranger informed me. It does attract wasps, however, one of the many invasive pest species within the NZ environment. At the lake, we also saw traps for other introduced animals that have become major pests – stoats (ermine in the US), weasels, and rats. (The only native mammals in NZ are a couple varieties of bat – all else has been brought in.) All of these animals eat eggs of threatened native birds, including kiwi, and so are under attack by the DOC (dept of conservation) everywhere with traps and poison. (And big signs warning you to keep your dogs on a leash so they don’t accidentally consume the cyanide. yikes.) The original problem was rabbits – brought over for food (rats, too) – which, naturally, bred like rabbits and their burrowing made mincemeat of sheep pastures, so the stoats and weasels were brought in to take care of them, but since NZ has no coyotes or foxes (which explains why there are not sheep barns at all – they stay out all the time), the stoats etc. have few predators and therein lies the problem.

So on to Bleinheim, home of the famed NZ sauvignon blanc, unfortunately my least favorite style of wine (I have been known to call it essence of lawn clippings in a bottle, but Mark rightly pointed out that it’s really the pithiness – as in grapefruit pith ­– that I’m reacting to). We managed to pop into three vineyards for tastings before they closed on Sunday evening, which did not change my opinion of NZ sauvignon blancs but did open my eyes (palate?) to other decent wines from the area including a nice pinot gris from Wairu River, one of the original wineries, and a good merlot from River Farm, a vineyard with new owners and a new name as of this year. We did not venture to one of the highly regarded winery estate restaurants with the kids, but went to a good restaurant in town named Bacchus where highlights of the meal were a lovely rack of lamb (if they can’t do that right here, there’s a problem), wild goat ragu over pasta (goats are also sort of a pest, although they are farmed too), and Nikko said not to forget his steak (a cut they call Scotch filet) wrapped in bacon. There were two bowls of fresh veggies (they call them veges here) for the table, which must have each been swimming in a stick of melted butter. Now I like butter, but that was even a bit much for me.

Back home on the ferry the next day (after the boyz squeezed in a round of mini-golf – critical to all Pasanen warm-season vacations) and, after a stop at Paraparaumu beach for great fish and chips (groper – no “u”and not related to grouper) under the watchful eye of many seagulls (but no attacks), arrived home late Monday night. And even after such a brief time here, it did feel like coming home. (End of travelogue for the moment - next entry will be more day-to-day observations.)


Beth said...

Am jealous, jealous, jealous! Also hungry. Hope you find a New Zealand wine you truly enjoy.

Beth W. R.

ps is snowing 1+ feet here right now

Laura said...

This is great! Dan and I went to NZ for our honeymoon and loved it. Will try to dig up some of the places as they would be perfect for "boyz".

BTW, what is the catalyst for the trip?

jerichosettlers said...

Glad you and the family made it safely. Would love to get there myself someday to check out the farms. Curious what NZ laws are in regards to keeping agricultural lands in ag use.

How is the grassfed beef? Some of our Beef genetics comes from a NZ herd (since dispersed), The bull we used this year is a Rotakowa Red Devon. Rotakowa is the name of the ranch. Ken McDowall was the ranch manager. They had a beautiful herd of 100% grassfed Red Devons.

All the Best,

Mark Fasching

Melissa said...

hi all - thanks so much for reading. Beth, don't worry, I've found wines I like! Laura, we did this to expand our horizons...the boyz, primarily, but i think equally our own. Mark got leave (not sabbatical though), and is working here so we could do it. Mark F - I will definitely do further posts on the ag situation here. Very interesting tension between farmers and conservation because of erosion of countryside due to overstocking. And it looks like McDowell is in our city/region! I'll try to find him and maybe go see the relatives of your cattle. melissa