Tag Archives: travel

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.

Hokitika, the home of greenstone and treetops

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach

Know what amused me most about Hokitika? Tourists picking up handfuls of sand off the beach and placing it safely into a plastic ziplock bag, presumably to take home. Cute.

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach - plus couch

Okay, and maybe the armchair sitting in a puddle.

So, what’s Hokitika all about?

It’s a small seaside town on the West Coast, between Greymouth (north) and glacier country (south) – Franz Josef and Fox Glacier – the kind of place that’s a lunch stop or overnight stop for most visitors. (It’s also known for its end-of-summer Wildfoods Festival.) And lately, it’s been enjoying a burst of attention thanks to its inclusion in Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning novel, The Luminaries.

Here’s what we got up to in Hokitika.

Getting to grips with greenstone

I learned some fun new facts while in Hokitika, touring one of the local greenstone shops. Greenstone (or pounamu in Maori) is nephrite jade and it’s highly prized, yet if you do happen to find any on the west coast beaches of the South Island (only in these areas, though!) you can collect it and bring it home with you. There is a 5kg limit in place when it comes to taking greenstone out of New Zealand.

And did you know that we actually import a lot of greenstone – from Canada, Asia, and other regions? If buying a local greenstone product – a carving, a necklace, etc – is important to you, look closely to see if it’s genuine New Zealand pounamu. Or, if in doubt, ask.

So, head to one of the many, MANY greenstone shops in Hokitika. See if you can take a tour and see the master carvers at work.

Walking through the treetops

The  west coast is  the wettest region in New Zealand, so it stands to reason that the greenery here is particularly lush. At Treetops  just south of Hokitika, one of the newer attractions around, we went for an amble through the forest – 40 metres in the air.

Treetops walk near Hokitika

Treetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near Hokitika

I always seem to forget/underestimate just how afraid of heights I am. These bridges are engineered so that they do sway and flex under pressure, which was mildly terrifying even on a calm sunny day with nobody else around. That aside, it was a nifty thing to have experienced. If that’s your kinda jam, remember: Treetop Walk!

Alas, I’ve still yet to visit the Hokitika Gorge, which is a total stunner in photos. Next time?

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

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 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 it 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.

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.

My favourite things about Wellington

Wellington Harbour
By: Sally

Wellington really is a cool little city (region population 500,000-ish), perched on a harbour at the tip of the North Island. (Plus, I got engaged there!) In fact, I reckon I’m due for another visit soon.

Must do: Wellington Waterfront

The revived waterfront is one of the best things about central Auckland these days … but it’s still got a way to go. Wellington’s waterfront, though hits all the right notes – effortlessly. Wander down past the skate park, sculptures and artwork, and of course, the many awesome museums and galleries.

 

Sunday at Wellington Harbour
By: Graeme Churchard

Must do: Te Papa Museum

Te Papa, our national museum, will keep you engrossed for hours. Get stuck into our cultural and natural history; arts and science; and any of the special exhibitions on display at any one time. Did I mention that it’s free?

Te Papa interactive
By: Samuel Mann

Must do: Cuba St

Cuba St is synonymous with bohemian cool – bursting with great eateries and bars, vintage boutiques and street performers. It’s a registered historic area, and you have to stop to watch the most colourful feature on the street: the landmark bucket fountain in Cuba Mall. Get close enough and you might just get splashed on.

Must do: Wellington Cable Car

Who can resist a ride up a hill in a historic cable car? This one is over a century old and rides are $4 one way or $7 return. Starting from downtown Lambton Quay and ascending to Kelburn and the Botanic Garden. At the top you’ll find the free Cable Car Museum as well as the Carter Observatory and Planetarium – and, obviously, some awesome views over the city.

wellington red cable car
By: Brett Taylor

Still on my bucket list

There’s a couple of Wellington spots I’m keen to check out! One is Zealandia, a wildlife-eco sanctuary not far from the city. And, no surprise, the other is the renowned Weta Cave, for a slice of movie magic.

Where to stay in Wellington

There’s a huge range of interesting places to stay in Wellington. One new option is the Setup Hotel on Manners St, with serviced apartments handy to the inner city hotspots. If you’re heading down there between 15 November 2014 to 31 January 2015, book your stay anytime before 1 January and use the promo code trysetupmanners for 10% off!

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.