The wine tour that wasn’t

4th day in paradise.  My plan today was to rent a car and visit wineries.  Waiheke is packed with highly regarded wineries, none more so than Stonyridge.  They produce the world-class Larose, one of NZ’s top Bordeaux-style reds.  Most of the Larose vintages are sold out even before bottling (at $220/btl). I was looking forward to their tasting (and most of these wineries have excellent restaurants), as well as visiting several other wineries since they’re all nearby.

HOWEVER, it’s pouring rain outside and Ginger says she’s going to stay home and have a crash day after her ordeal yesterday.  If I know what’s good for me, I’ll stay home too and take care of her .

Sigh.  Oh well, the grapes were probably sour.

Coastal Hike

3rd day in paradise.  We decide to take a hike along the coast.  My NZ guidebook says “One of the island’s finest walks (2-3 hrs) which visits secluded beaches and windswept headlands ….”  Sounds good to me!  It visits 4 bays – Fossil Bay, Island Bay, Owhanake Bay and Matiatia Bay.  And pretty it is!

Now, pretty as those pictures are, we’re now heading toward 3 hours of up and down, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and Ginger is getting tired.  We have light, but like an hour or two.  There are two “bails” shown on our map that go up to a ridge road, but we’ve seen other trail offshoots that look like bails, we’re not quite sure where we are on the map, and that ridge road itself winds around quite a good distance before it gets us back to somewhere we can bus or taxi home.  It’s shorter, but it’s not short.  I convince Ginger she can do it, and to press on.  She agrees, but is not happy.  I would say grim.  The next section going down is really really steep, mud slippery, and on an edge.  It’s not too bad, really, but Ginger is not amused.  Then in looking at the map, she notices what it says about our trail (the map describes 10 separate trails on the island): “3 hours: access from wharf at low tide only.  A challenging route, with some steep, exposed and slippery sections ….”  So now she’s gone from “not happy” to “pissed”.  Somehow I’m at fault here.  She occasionally expresses displeasure.  Then at the base of that last picture’s headland (above) is a sign that says how far we are from the end: “3km (45 min); the last stretch impassible an hour either side of high tide.  Experienced trekkers only”.  Oooookay.  I’m thinking we’re pretty close to the other side of high tide; but how much?  But that is enough for Ginger, who looks tired, is a bit red in the face, and wants to kill me (luckily the cliffs are back a ways).  So off we go, goodness knows where, up a trail that may or not be the bail on our map.  It is steep.  I keep out of swinging distance.  Finally we get to the road.  It’s desolate, with occasional driveways disappearing into the forest.  We can at times see our destination on the other side of the ridge, but getting there?  The road goes parallel to it.  A couple cars pass, and I ask if we should flag one down.  Ginger doesn’t answer, but is either thinking about it or is planning to throw me under one.  Hey, why is this my fault?  Luckily we pass a lady walking her dog, and she shows us a driveway we passed that says “Private; do not enter; not a path to beach” and says “That’s a path to the beach, keep right”.  So off we go.  It’s not short, and it takes us back to the part of the trail along the beach that is impassible at high tide, but it is passable, and we limp to the end.  We just miss the bus, and it is an hour until the next one, but a local takes pity on us and drops us off in the little town near our apartment.  Whew!  We decide to celebrate our adventure and survival with a good meal and good wine.  View from restaurantPicture of the view from the restaurant is below.  Isn’t that nice?






From the looks of things, I’m still in the dog house.

Arrival NZ – Waiheke Island

We left Tacoma Washington for Auckland NZ on Saturday the 7th, arriving 18 hours later at 6:30am NZ time on the 9th (A day?  We lose a day?  Where does it go?  It’s gotta be lurking somewhere).  It’s a little weird to be writing this in sunshine on Sunday and knowing that it’s still daylight there in Cincinnati, only it’s Saturday.  So it sounds like I could buy the Wall Street Journal here on Tuesday and make a killing in the stock market there on Monday.  No?

As soon as we arrived in Auckland we left the airport for the wharf and took a ferry directly to Waiheke Island.  We’ll recover here for a few days (did I say they have some very good wineries here?  Like >20?  Waiheke is quite an attractive place – in spite of having their warmest winter ever, and no rain for like 5 months, the place is green, green, green.   And green with different flora than we’re used to seeing.  Lots of flowering stuff.  The pictures below are from the beach that’s at the base of the hill where we’re staying.  Nice!

2nd day in  paradise.  After sleeping for 12 hours we walked to 2 wineries a few miles away, up and down hills along a coast before turning inland.  Living on a coast certainly has an allure; there’s the rhythm of tides and breakers, a tranquility, dogs and owners walking on the sea strand, dog chasing the gulls … nice.

The many wineries on this island are apparently all boutique.  They sell everything they produce, and prices are high – they start at $30.  One of the two wineries was amazing – MudBrick Winery.  They own 15 acres and produce something like 15 wines, for a grand total of 4,000 cases.  We tasted 10 wines, bottle cost $30 – $50, and they are worth every penny.  Yummy!  I’m really going to like NZ!  I asked if they export at all, and they said yes – they send 40 cases to Auckland (35 minutes away).  Below is a picture of their vines, protected from the wind by those hedges at the top of the hill.  Wind here can be fierce.  We also got an interesting tutorial in our wine tasting; the hills produce quite different microclimates, and the wines from the same grapes just a km away were quite different.

Speaking of prices, we are shocked at the high cost of living here.  Auckland, NZ’s largest city, is known to be expensive, and here on the island everything has to be ferried over, but still!  A decent simple house is $500,000, with a view $750,000, and an actually nice house is well over 1 mil.  Asparagus is $1 a stalk.  Pasta is $14 a box.  Bananas are $2.25 a lb.  Everything is at least twice the cost in the US.  Lunch for 1 (crab omelet, coffee) is $25.  We quickly decided to do dinners here in our room (seems like most hotel/rooms come with an efficiency kitchen).  We’re hoping things settle down once we leave the Auckland area!

The landscape here is really interesting!  It’s sub-tropical, so all those fascinating plants you see in nurseries there in the US are growing wild here.  It’s kind of like walking through Cincinnati’s Conservatory.  On the hillsides no tree type is dominant, so there is an incredible mix of tree ferns, palm trees, evergreens and deciduous trees creating a multi-hued quilt of green (and white, it’s spring).  The trees themselves look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss.  Tree ferns are 20 feet tall.  Some flowers are recognizable house plants, others just strange.  Pictures below:

The birds we see are typically large and interesting, with very beautiful calls.  I’ll be showing  you pictures of birds – NZ has unusual ones; the islands originally had no mammal predators like rats or possums or foxes, so birds evolved to fill the niches that mammals usually inhabit.   That gave rise to, for instance, the flightless kiwi bird that feeds at night …. The birds took a beating when mammals were introduced (Kiwis [the people] hate possums), but predator-eradication programs have created sanctuaries on islands and other regions where these birds now do well.  There are two birds below: we don’t know their names yet.

I almost forgot to mention what I think is a somewhat wacky sense of humor in the official NZ world.  For instance the duck crossing sign?  Also an official sign for parking at the wharf, that says “Parking”, next line “48 Hours”, next line “2880 Minutes”.  Duck crossing

All for now, more adventure tomorrow.