Tag Archives: Wine

A very foodie Christmas

Christmas and the extended holidays – a time for catching up with family and friends, and enjoying humongous amounts of food and drink. In New Zealand, we are so fortunate to have summer in December, and Christmas to us means bright sunny days, chilled G&Ts or white wine, and barbecues with lots of fresh salads.

We don’t always dispense with the roasts and the hams though, as tradition is a powerful thing, and more food is always welcome. 

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Dad does the honours
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BBQ all fired up
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Drinks while we wait

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Fresh!
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Come and get it
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Last but certainly not least

Hmm, I think I might have just indulged in Gluttony and Sloth as well as Peace and Joy.. oops!

Auckland for the solo traveller

Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of travel to Auckland, NZ for both business and pleasure, and we have been lucky enough to see many parts of the city over the years.

Tip: Auckland is such a spread out city, that I find a rental car very handy. A day’s rental is almost always cheaper than the cab fare to the airport from town, and you can get some good deals, so it can be a very cost-effective and convenient option for visitors.

I was in Auckland last week for a few days for work, and managed to fit a little sight-seeing in between meetings – that’s what occasional travel is all about. It is fun to travel with companions, but there is equally a distinct pleasure in travelling alone. You set your own schedule and pace, and don’t need to consider anyone else’s needs or interests: you can do whatever your own heart desires (although you do still feel guilty!).

These are some of the things I’ve enjoyed doing in Auckland when travelling on my own, and hopefully you’ll consider doing these if you ever visit too. Most of these are free to do too – Bonus!

1. View the City from a vantage point

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Because of the number of hills around Auckland, there will usually be a vantage point not far from your current location. I like Mount Eden and Bastion Point at twilight, when you can see the city lights coming on. The transition from day to night makes for some amazing pictures too. Mount Victoria behind Devonport is another great vantage point, especially during the day when the green hills frame the blue Pacific Ocean, with the iconic volcano Rangitoto and the Auckland cityscape in the background.

These visits can be a quick 15 minutes, but if you have a couple of hours in hand, take a drink and find yourself one of the walking tracks nearby. You will be rewarded with some lovely vistas, birdsong, the murmur of the wind and the peace of solitude.

2. Spend some time by the water

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Auckland has a water view for every weather, mood and budget.

On a sunny day nothing beats a stroll through the long beach at St Heliers, with kids frolicking in the water, seagulls chasing morsels of food and the windsurfers and boats sailing past Rangitoto set against a glorious blue sky. Grab an ice-cream for twice the fun, and offer to take pictures of families enjoying themselves for an extra-warm glow on the inside. Warm evenings are made for people watching at Wynard Quarter or the Viaduct with a glass of local wine in hand.

On a wet windy day, drive out to wild Piha or Karikari beaches on the west coast and feel the rain on your face and wind whipping your hair. Or if you’d prefer to stay warm and dry, get a coffee in the ferry terminal at Devonport and enjoy the storm through the glass.

  • 3. A stroll through Parnell Village

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I have spent a few pleasant hours strolling through Parnell, looking through stores with gorgeous clothes, lovely products, and splendid antiques and enjoying the atmosphere. Some of Auckland’s best restaurants are at the top of the street, and if you stop for a libation, do get a table on the deck out back. Each café or restaurant has a deck and they are all connected and look out over a little green oasis of calm – a perfect spot for some liquid refreshment. At the very top is the road through the green domain to the Auckland museum. Be sure to stroll through the winter gardens which are small but perfectly formed, and watch the ducks fussing in the pond outside.

You may not find these recommendations in the must-dos in the guide-books, but when you don’t have much time or just need a quick break, they can be great. Strolling the streets and hanging out where the locals do can often give you a wonderfully different perspective to the stuff you’d generally do as a tourist. And this way, I can save the ‘must-do’ items for the trip with the family.

What about you – do you get the chance to break away from work even when you travel on work? What do you look forward when you travel without family or friends?

I took a cruise, I didn’t like it (apologies to Ms Perry)

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This was meant to be the perfect vacation, and the best way to introduce our little dude to travel overseas.  We had been looking for a relaxing holiday to get away from thinking about our increasingly busy & stressful jobs. We wanted to avoid long flights as the li’l dude suffers from travel sickness. The idea of a holiday with lots of food (and drinks!), entertainment and activities (and kids clubs!) with minimal effort, whilst being transported painlessly from port to port overnight seemed perfect. The price was right, and several family members who had been on a cruise were enthusiastic converts.  Every article and review on the internet enthused about the joys of cruising whilst the dissenting views seemed few and far between. There was no way we could NOT have gone on this holiday!

I know you’re itching to hear what happened next  (OK, I know you aren’t). And sadly for us, (Spoiler Alert)  yes, we hated it  (so not a Spoiler, it’s in the title of this post).  And hopefully, you’ll read my reasons below and go ‘Pfft, you big girl’s blouse’ and they won’t matter to you and you’ll have a great time on your cruise. But just in case you wanted to read a dissenting opinion (or tell me in the comments how wrong I am), here it is.

But hey, this was a vacation after all, and it’s not all rainclouds and stink-bombs. There were some pretty good things about our cruise too.

  1. Ports of Call: We visited 5 islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu as part of the cruise itinerary, and each one was better than the last. The beaches were picture perfect, the people were friendly and the weather was wonderful. We enjoyed snorkeling at Lifou, poking around tiny Mystery Island, and wines on the powder-soft beach at Ille de Pines. We adored Noumea’s gelatos and coffees, and even a hiccup with a disorganized tour operator at Port Vila turned into an opportunity to play with the local kids for our son. It was a great way to check out a number of places and figure out which ones were worth coming back for a longer stay. Yes, I’m aware this sounds smug and like I’m rubbing it in, because I am.  🙂

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2. Onboard space and service: Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, and the stewards were efficient, friendly and unfailingly helpful. Rooms were serviced twice a day, treats were handed out to grubby little hands (not to me! to the 8 year old) and cute towel animals were created for the pampered little dude. Restaurants were large and light, service was prompt and courteous and our needs anticipated surprisingly often (or maybe we are that predictable!).

3. Food, glorious food: Anyone who knows me will cheerfully, and quite truthfully, tell you what a chow-hound I am. The only thing I like better than pigging out on a delicious meal is drunkenly exclaiming how much I am enjoying this amazing wine. The rock star is an absolute foodie (post-gig band-bonding McDonalds sessions notwithstanding) and the little dude is a picky foodie in training (and bloody hard to cook for). Let me just say that every meal onboard, at every restaurant had something for everyone. The rock star doesn’t do buffets, but even he didn’t have too much to complain about on the occasions we had to. And the food at the Chef’s Table degustation and Salt Grill were to die for!

Okay I can see you’re getting set to sign up already. So let me just provide a run-down of the things we didn’t rave about.

  1. Sea-sickness: You knew this was on the list the minute I mentioned that little dude gets travel-sick. But everything we’d read and heard (and we talked to a pharmacist) made us believe that sea-sickness tablets would be literally a magic pill. Sadly this was not the case not just for little dude but for me as well. Although actual throw-up incidents were limited to 1 (not me!), the first 2 days of unease continued in mild form throughout our trip. For example, the night we ate at the Chef’s table unfortunately coincided with slightly choppy seas, leaving me unable to fully enjoy my amazing meal. And little dude was unable to stomach the Kid’s Club (on the higher decks) for long periods of time, leaving him nauseous, bored and restless, and one us was always confined to the cabin with him.

So if you or any children in your party are in any way travel-sickness inclined, please proceed cautiously. I guess you could always tough it out and enjoy yourself in spite of your sea-sickness (we met some of these hardy souls on board), I’m just too much of a wimp to achieve this myself.

2. Time Limits suck:  Ok, so this is what I feel at the end of every vacation. But I’m actually talking about the limited time you get at each port. Mystery island is tiny, and a few hours there is plenty. But each of the other ports had so much to see and do that there was no way to do it all. When you’re docking at 8.30 and leaving at 5.00, that isn’t much time at all, and long disembarkation times cut into it even further. Worse, we were so anxious about not getting back in time that we’d make sure we were back a couple of hours before the ship was due to leave. The one time we didn’t (in Noumea), we (Ok, me) were sick with worry about whether we would make it. I don’t need that shit on holiday.

3. Cabin Fever: It is a massive ship. It will take you ages for the first day or 2 to get your head around what is where. But once that is done, it is like being trapped in a hotel with the same layouts and carpets and upholstery no matter where you go. What makes it worse is that wherever you go, the people are the same too. I’m a city girl who hates exercise and loves the great outdoors only when there are glass windows between us. I can veg out in bed all morning and not leave the house all day (unless it is to get another bottle of wine from the beer fridge in the garage). If I couldn’t cope, you sporty, outdoorsy types are DOOMED!

4. Same same but different: One of the things that makes a holiday interesting to us (a belated realization, thank you cruise!) is the opportunity to do something completely different. In Thailand, it’s night markets and hanging out at temples and just all the things that make it so different from New Zealand. In Auckland and Melbourne, it is walking around the quirky bylanes and alleys, discovering cool places to eat, drink and shop. It is the ability to stay up late watching the locals from a table at a café while li’l dude stays up way past his bedtime and has a massive dessert. Unfortunately the time limits at port force you into an on-board routine pretty quickly, and we were getting bored and going to bed early. And when your seasick child is in bed by 8 pm, you feel like a bad parent for sneaking away even for a quick drink. Added to this, the much anticipated entertainment was sub-par, the jokes too clean and the boozing around us just exhausting. I stopped feeling silly going to bed at 10 about halfway through the trip.

5. Demographics: In spite of cruise industry advertising to the contrary, I just think we were a bad fit for this kind of holiday.  We didn’t have many other couples or families in a similar age group, and it was hard to connect with people with quite different interests and concerns. There were loads of people under 25s and over 50s, and not many in our 30’s age group.  We weren’t interested in partying until late, or in Bingo or Line dancing, although we did enjoy Trivia and a few other activities. The little dude wasn’t particularly well catered for outside of the kid’s club and we aren’t fans of leaving our child there all day, so his participation in child-friendly events was limited as well. Ultimately, we were looking for a bit more culture and excitement from our holiday than the cruise was able to provide.

Obviously, these observations and opinions are ultimately very specific to the kind of people we are, and our particular ages, interests and expectations of a holiday. But given that we are not particularly unique in these things, I do hope that someone else in a similar position at least thinks about and prepares themselves for these challenges before they pay out that deposit. And I’m really unsure how much more we could have done to mitigate these things. I researched ships, ports, tours, sea sickness remedies – you name it – as much as humanly possible. But it was one of those things that you need to try to realize if it is for you or not, and it was not for us.

Still, we’re the type of people that never say never. Rock Star and I have agreed to give it another whirl – this time when we’re 60, and without the li’l dude cramping our style. Until then, we’ll just stick to our land based holidays.

What about you – have you had similar experiences on a cruise? Or have you been in exactly the same circumstances and still enjoyed yourself tremendously, and think we could have done something different?

Food, Glorious Food – The Chef’s table

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

One of the little indulgences we allowed ourselves on the Pacific Pearl was complete surrender to good food. Because we were celebrating a birthday, we felt justified in booking Chef Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill for dinner. And when we found out about the Chef’s Table Degustation Menu with 10 courses and matching wines, well, we just had to celebrate the Rock Star’s birthday a little early as well!

Food and service onboard the Pacific Pearl were impeccable in general, and seem a mindboggling feat when you realise that they maintain this quality every day, for every meal, catering for 2000 people at each meal. But the lavish service and attention to detail at these special dinner events simply blew us away. The additional price onboard compared with the cost of a similar meal on land also make them a fantastic value proposition. If you are doing a cruise, seek out your maitre d’ and book the Chef’s table as soon as you get on board – it is an experience to savour.

On to the food porn!!

First the Chef’s table. Apologies for the camera phone photos, and the meals we were too busy eating to remember to take a picture.

A little taster: Beef Tartare, Tuna and Prawn starters with bubbles

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The Head Chef and Maitre d’ spent about 10 minutes talking about food and wine and what to expect before taking us on to the Chef’s table, beautifully done in the centre of the main restaurant. As part of the experience, we were also taken on a galley tour (in the midst of full service) which made us appreciate the enormity of the task of catering for a ship-load of hungry souls.

Over the next few hours, we ate:

Quail Galatine (Saint Claire Sauvignon Blanc 2011)  – forgot to take a picture before scoffing.

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Lobster Bisque (Katnook Chardonny 2010)

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Barramundi FIllet (Katnook Chardonny 2010).

I’d never eaten Barramundi before and thought it was quite good – chunky white fish well cooked but still moist. Special commendations here to the Rock Star who does not eat seafood at all, but finished every seafood dish placed in front of him.

* Grapefruit Sorbet * palate cleanser

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Roasted Wagyu beef (St Halleth Faith Shiraz 2011) – my favourite (non-dessert) meal of the night. The Garlic potato mash it came with was outstanding (i’m a huge fan of mashed potatoes done well).

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Selection of Australian cheese with lavosh (E minor Cabernet Merlot 2008)

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Mango 4 ways (Sepplefield Muscat Fortified Vin 8)

By now, we were groaning with the amount of food eaten, and the seas had been choppy enough to be feeling just a wee bit uncomfortable. However, Dessert is my favourite part of a good meal and mangoes are my favourite fruit, so there was no question of not polishing it all off.

Another of the hidden bonuses of doing the Chef’s table was meeting fellow food-lovers Grant and Steph. They were charming, well-informed and great conversationalists, and we enjoyed their company at various points for the rest of the cruise. The wonderful Steph also let me have the rest of her dessert that night- bonus!

For those of you marvelling at my memory for food (and wine!), alas it is not my superpower. At the end of the meal, we received a photo of us seated at the table with the Head Chef and Maitre D’, and a copy of the menu to take for our memories – a final little touch to make our evening complete before we strolled back to our cabins.

Imagine our delight the following day when we received an additional little memento of our experience – delivered to our cabin to enjoy at our leisure.

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