• Foodie Friday: Where to eat on the West Coast

    Whitebait fritters - Donaldo's at Carter's Beach, Westport

    Whitebait fritters at Donaldo’s at Carter’s Beach, Westport

    I’m not much of a small town person, and one of the reasons for that is simply that I love food. And usually, cities are where it’s at for eating.

    But the West Coast surprised me with amazingly simple, fresh pub grub and café eats. (I already raved about the degustation dinner at Te Waonui.) If you’re ever travelling up or down the coast, here are a few places I heartily recommend.

    Freddy’s Cafe – Greymouth

    We arrived in Greymouth around lunchtime on a Sunday on the TranzAlpine only to find most of the town shut. One place that was open was Freddy’s, tucked away upstairs on Mackay St. A couple of doors down was a chain cafe that we actually spotted first, but when faced with a franchise vs an indie? I’ll almost always try the local offering.

    While the sweet treats in the cabinet looked tempting, what we really needed was a proper lunch. I went for the classic fish and chips and was not disappointed. Generous plate, with a side salad to boot. If I recall right, my lunch buddy had the whitebait fritter special – not as big but apparently excellent.

    Coasters Bar – Hokitika

    We decided to follow the path of least resistance and dine in. If you’ve got the dosh and the desire for a somewhat upmarket dinner experience, the Ocean View restaurant is the way to go. But we wanted something more casual and a little cheaper, so we opted for the Coasters bar (it’s in the building in front). There were locals winding down with a beer after work, and a wall paying homage to local sporting talent that have done the town proud over the years.

    I ordered the paprika hotpot, which arrived steaming and topped off with a fluffy pie crust. I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to actually go about eating a dish like that, but I think a bit of mess is inevitable.

    Afterwards, it was back to my room for a soak in the spa bath while listening to my happy playlist on Spotify.

    Donaldo’s – Carter’s Beach, Westport

    Donaldo’s is a neat spot in Westport – Carter’s Beach to be specific – looking out to the ocean that was humming with locals when we popped in for dinner.

    I must confess, I don’t really get the appeal of whitebait. But I figured I’d give it another shot while I was here. It was prime whitebaiting season, after all – what better time to sample it? And while the whitebait fritters were crazy fresh, I can’t lie … I still think whitebait is plain and boring, no matter how much lemon or salt you add. But hey, a lot of people love it.

    In short: whitebait ain’t for me, but this is a great place to eat whitebait if you do.

    Denniston Dog, Westport

    Denniston Dog, in the main Westport township, came highly recommended. We wound up eating here not once but twice – first, an early breakfast, then for afternoon tea in anticipation of the plane ride home.

    I’m personally leery of anything Mexican down under, but my buddy had the breakfast quesadilla and had good things to say about it. I went for the breakfast stack myself and was absolutely blown away – every aspect was out of this world. I cannot fault the crispy hash brown, the perfectly poached egg, the hollandaise or any of the accompanying veggies. Also recommended: the cabinet snacks and the fresh fruit smoothies.

  • Livin’ the luxury life on the wild West Coast

    Te Waonui degustation dinner

    Having been on one road trip around the South Island, I thought I’d seen it all, really. More fool me.

    Last time around on the West Coast, I was a little on edge. We narrowly escaped getting our campervan stuck in sand, with the help of two gruff but kindly local blokes. And of course, the weather was crap.

    This time around I was even more on edge in general (as I have been for a couple of months) and the weather was similarly awful – this is, after all, one of the wettest parts of the country. But despite all that, this was exactly what I needed. A work trip with a healthy dose of leisure slotted in, with luxury and pampering making up for the typically wild weather.

    Franz Josef is a tiny little tourist town (population approximately 400) that revolves around tourism – glacier walks, kayaks and scenic flights; horse treks; 4WD adventures; skydiving. Luckily, there are other activities you can do in wet weather!

    As the rain intensified overhead, we sought refuge at the Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef. The public pools are incredibly nice, with 36, 38 and 40-degree pools, all nice and large so you aren’t squeezed up against half naked strangers. They’re under cover, so if it’s raining as it so often does, you can still enjoy the water. There’s also private pools out a little way into the forest, surrounded by trees and paired with their own changing rooms – these have heated floors and deluxe showers. Little covered alcoves at the end of each pool offer shelter from the elements; it was surprisingly cosy in there despite being restricted to maybe 35% of the pool area since we wanted to avoid the icy rain.

    Best of all, the pools backed onto Te Waonui, the five-star resort we were booked into. This is quite possibly the fanciest place this pleb has ever stayed at. Glasses of kiwifruit juice and fresh hand towels were brought to us at reception as we checked in. Branded umbrellas at the entrance were a nice practical touch. Service was outstanding, as you’d expect.

    Amazing fluffy cloudlike beds at Te Waonui

    Huge, fluffy and a welcoming sight for sore eyes.

    It may not look like anything particularly special, but this is the most wonderful bed I have ever laid in. It was like sleeping in a cloud. 8 hours was not enough. (A lifetime would probably not have been enough.)

    Heated bathroom floors (I need these in my life). A heated mirror to clear steam. A speaker in the bathroom that amplifies whatever is playing on the TV. An adorable little deck opening out onto the forest. I could so get used to this.

    While I’m not normally one for fine dining, I really don’t have any other words to describe the five-course degustation aside from exquisite (and not overwhelmingly fussy). Each course had approximately 5 options, and between the two of us, we sampled 10.

    Highlights: I found the ostrich carpaccio, seafood (hapuka, clam, octopus and squid ink) risotto, and L&P ice cream with fondant particularly innovative. The kumara croquette and spinach/potato gnocchi were both divine (though the accompanying venison and cheese, respectively, not as impressive – I’d expected the cheese to be melty, or at the most, a little bit stringy, but instead it sat solidly in gobs around the pasta). I even mustered up the courage to down some beef cheek – I think it was actually rather good; I just couldn’t get past the mental ick factor. Current menu in full here.

    And, importantly, the portions are good-sized. We both went to bed well satiated.

    Sadly, our glacier flight and heli hike were canned due to the weather, so instead we popped into the West Coast Wildlife Centre for a bit. I’ve seen kiwi before and I’m not sure I’d personally pay full price $35 to go through the centre, but perhaps the guided tour ($55) may be better value.

    I also got to do a couple of things I missed the first time around through the West Coast.

    With brief snatches of almost decent (or at least less wet) weather, my colleague and I managed a quick walk to a lookout over Lake Matheson (the postcard-famous mirror lake – on a fine day, that is).

    Swing bridge at Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast NZ


    Swing bridge at Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast NZ

    We also paused at Lake Ianthe between Franz Josef and Hokitika to stretch our legs.

    Lake Ianthe, West Coast NZ

    Stay tuned for more South Island posts!

     

  • Alps and gorges, oh my! From Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine

    Review of the Tranzalpine train ride in NZ

    Scenery from the TranzAlpine train

    I do love a good train ride.

    I’ve got fond memories of rail journeys through Europe (plus a few nightmarish ones) but I’d never done a long distance trip by train in New Zealand until this year.

    Stupendously scenic, the TranzAlpine is one of the world’s most famous rail journeys. It travels between Christchurch and Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass, a national park nestled in the mountains.

    I had a much needed doze in the beginning, as we rolled through the outskirts of Christchurch and the beginning of the Canterbury plains, peeking out every so often to catch glimpses of lush green fields and the darling spring lambs and calves.

    Scenery from the TranzAlpine train

    When things really get exciting on the TranzAlpine is the point where we reach the ice-fed Waimakariri Gorge. It is jaw-dropping – pure aquamarine waters carving through the steep ravine. Take my advice and get your ass up to the observation carriage before then. It’s open air, no glass windows between you and the scenery – all the better for snapping pictures. (Be warned: it’s a little smoky up here near the engine, and if you don’t tie up your hair it WILL whip you painfully in the wind.)

    Waimakariri Gorge seen from the TranzAlpine train

    Waimakariri Gorge seen from the TranzAlpine train

    From here the train approaches the Southern Alps and the weather gets wilder – foggier, windier, rainier. Enroute to Arthur’s Pass we snaked our way past rocky river beds and tussock, over bridges, and through tunnels and viaducts.

    Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
    Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
    Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
    Scenery from the TranzAlpine trainScenery from the TranzAlpine train

    Past the misty mountains, there’s a beautifully still lake and couple of cute little settlements before the last stop in Greymouth, a historic mining town.

    Lake seen from the TranzAlpine train

    If you’re taking the TranzAlpine back the other way, it departs Greymouth in the afternoon and returns to Christchurch just in time for dinner.

    Here’s what you need to know about taking the TranzAlpine train:

    TranzAlpine train journey: 4.5 hours one way. Departs Christchurch at 8.15am and departs Greymouth at 1.45pm

    TranzAlpine train tickets: Start at $89 one way

    Getting to the train stations: The shuttle from our central Christchurch hotel took about 10 minutes to reach the train station in Addington; in Greymouth, the train station is fairly central – it’s a small town – right by the big Warehouse and the i-Site and rental car depots.

    See more reviews of the TranzAlpine on Tripadvisor.




    Part of #SundayTraveler!

  • Street art in colourful Christchurch

    Giraffe in Christchurch squareChristchurch is going crazy for giraffes.

    There’s a wee cluster of them in the airport by the baggage pickup. And once you get into the city centre, they are the first thing you’ll notice in the central square.

    Apparently it’s all part of a big public art project. They’re on display over the summer; there is, of course, a smartphone app and a trail to follow.

    Christchurch colourful giraffe artChristchurch colourful giraffe art

    Christchurch colourful giraffe art

    There’s no shortage of colour around. Re:Start mall is looking vibrant, with tons of cool boutiques and souvenir shops housed in containers. And as we passed charming New Regent St I did a double take. Plus, there are countless cool murals on walls around the city centre.

    Christchurch-colour

    Christchurch mural on building wall

    Colourful Christchurch muralColourful Christchurch mural on building wall

    But it is still very quiet in the city centre – almost deathly still in the off hours we were there (Saturday evening). It was probably 90 percent tourists, and a couple of rough looking characters (the Christchurch housing market is squeezed, although for different reasons than Auckland).

    Christchurch city square in 2014Christchurch in 2014

    Abandoned buildings are scattered throughout. The iconic cathedral now houses pigeons, lined up on a perch under its roof, open and yawning onto the square.

    Christchurch cathedral after the earthquake 2014

    On the upside, the few eateries near our hotel that were open were humming. We had dinner at The Himalayas, a pulsing Indian restaurant. I wasn’t in love with my butter scallops, but I think it was more a personal issue with the texture of seafood in curry than a reflection of the food quality; the curry part was definitely fantastic. Chicken tikka masala = unreserved thumbs up.

  • Four crazy things to do in NZ

    wacky-nz-activities

    I’ve learned a LOT about New Zealand over the past few months in the course of work. Here’s a few zany experiences you can have here:

    A luxury tent lodge in the mountains

    Accessible only by helicopter. In a glacial valley. Insulated safari tents with ensuites and heated floors. THE MIND BOGGLES. Can I move there for next winter?

    Flyboarding

    In all honesty, this sounds like one of those things I would only do under duress (like skydiving). Swim like a dolphin, fly like a superhero?

    Hydro Attack

    On a similar note, apparently you can go skimming across Lake Wakatipu in what is basically a gigantic shark. Who comes up with this stuff?

    Zorbing

    Slight cheat on this one, as I actually have known about zorbing for years… but it deserves a mention, especially since I failed to include zorbing on this list of quintessentially NZ activities! Again, not really my thing, but I’ll happily come along to laugh at you as you bounce/roll down a hill in a giant ball.




  • Quintessentially NZ things I still haven’t done

    What do you think of when you hear ‘New Zealand’? Probably Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – majestic, untouched landscapes, that kind of thing.

    We’ve ridden this Middle-earth wave for a decade, and while we locals may be well and truly over it, the rest of the world is not. Everywhere we went, that’s what people associated with New Zealand.

    Sometimes people assume I was an extra in the movies, or that I’ve bungied AT LEAST once. Nope and nope.

    Thrillseekers Canyon Bungy, Hanmer Springs

    By: Aidan

    Bungy jumping

    We may be the home of bungy but I have to admit this is one activity I never, ever plan to do. I’ve skydived as part of a media trip, and that is enough for me. Voluntarily leaping off a bridge is too extreme for my blood.

    Swimming with dolphins

    I’m a bit torn on this one. I really love the idea of swimming amongst dolphins, but I don’t do well in deep water and I suspect I might freak out a little (or a lot) if I was actually out the in the ocean surrounded by creatures, no matter how cute they were. And that would be a terrible situation to panic in.

    Glow worm caves

    Not a big fan of small dark spaces either, but I think I could probably handle it just to see the spectacle of glow worms at Waitomo.

    Hot air ballooning

    Hot air ballooning would be pretty neat – granted, I’m a wuss when it comes to heights, but this would be a pretty gentle way to get airborne. Oddly, I never really had any interest in this at all until I saw something online about ballooning over the Bagan temples in Myanmar (it wasn’t that particular link; I can’t remember where the original was). Seriously, how cool would that be? I kinda want to visit Myanmar now and see it from the air.

    Scenic flights

    When we were tossing around booking a trip to Queenstown, T suggested doing a scenic helicopter ride. The prices for scenic flights can be pretty obscene, but I reckon in the right area it could be well worth it – I’m thinking over glacier country…




  • Five free (and easy) things to do in the South Island

    The thing about our country, if you’re a tourist, is that it will squeeze you for all you’re worth. That said, there are still things to see and do for free (and if you’re the outdoorsy type, there are countless trails and parks and beaches to explore). And as one commenter pointed out, they don’t have to be particularly taxing. Heck, some of them are even wheelchair-friendly.

    Write your name on the rocks at Byron Bay on the West Coastbruce bay names on rocks

    We drove past this beach, marvelling at all the smooth white pebbles –  and it took a few seconds to click to the fact that they all had writing on them. Travellers have apparently been carving their names into the rocks for years, or writing on them using markers. We had neither a permanent marker nor knife with which to scratch the date and our initials, sadly.

    Explore the trails in Mt Aspiring National Park

    mt aspiring national park thunder creek falls trailThere’s no shortage of spots to do so. Lots of smaller/shorter ones can be found toward the top end around Haast.

    Check out the Catlinscatlins, nugget point lookout

    The Catlin coast at the southern end of the country is home to seals, penguins and other wildlife. You probably won’t be rubbing noses with them, but seeing them in their natural habitat is truly awe inspiring.

    Pub crawl in Queenstown
    pub crawl in queenstown

    Pick up an attraction brochure (probably a Jasons one) in Queenstown and you’ll see ads for a couple of different pub crawls.

    Think along the lines of six free drinks, free food and plenty of company.

    Marvel at the raw power – and beauty – of the pancake rocks

    pancake rocks

    I’m pretty sure my mouth was agape for the entire time it took us to walk around this clifftop track. At high tide, the ocean rushes into the channels, throwing sea spray all up the sides, and blows off pressure through the naturally formed blowholes. And you’ll probably encounter some friendly native birds!