Now, before I tell you about our time in Napier I just want to apologise for getting a bit behind with the blog. To be quite honest we are having such a good time in New Zealand, and there is SO much to see and do we just haven’t had time to bring you all up to date. We promise to try harder in future, assuming we can find time out from our adventures! Anyway…
…Napier is a small seaside town on the east coast of New Zealand, it is the centre of the Hawkes Bay region which will be familiar to any of you who read wine labels and is notable as an Art Deco town. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and when it was rebuilt the builders chose to reflect the Art Deco style that was popular at the time. Two things about this stand out when you visit Napier, first the sheer number of Art Deco buildings, particularly in the centre of town where whole streets of shops reflect the style; and second that many of the buildings are very simple, homes, shops, village halls etc. In many places Art Deco buildings were commissioned by wealthy patrons and are often grand houses or business premises, in Napier the style was adopted for ordinary homes for working people. We saw an interesting exhibition in the museum in town that captured the detail of some of these homes inside and out.
Our lodgings in Napier was the Cobden Garden B&B run by Rayma and Phillip, it was a beautiful Victorian wooden villa (a lot of old houses in NZ are made from local hardwood which is incredibly durable), true to form it was right at the top of the hill that rises above Napier, another long, steep walk into town for dinner! Having shown us to our room Rayma invited us to join her and Phillip for drinks and canapes at 6.30; they serve drinks (Hawkes Bay wine) every night creating an opportunity for all their guests to socialise and share stories of their travels and plans for the coming days.
We walked in to town and went to an excellent Indian restaurant called Indigo; the poppadum’s’, sizzling chicken, curries and rice were all excellent but we regretted indulging quite so fully when we set off to walk back up the hill to the house, we got a taxi. We got back to our room to find a small decanter of port waiting for us along with some chocolates – I don’t remember B&B in England being like this.
There was a farmers market in Napier on Saturday morning so we decided to walk back into town to see that and then to explore the centre. It was a lovely sunny morning and we enjoyed the market. We stopped at an apple stall to try some local apples, we were particularly intrigued because we didn’t recognise any of the varieties. As we chatted to the local woman on the stall she asked where we were from, our stock answer is Cambridge, people have heard of Cambridge. She smiled and said she had spent time living in St Ives and in Ely, turns out she used to work at the Boat House Restaurant by the river in Ely and will almost certainly have served us on some of our many visits. Small world.
After the market we walked along the sea front and visited the museum which was very good. In particular they were running filmed interviews with elderly people who as children had survived the earthquake, it was amazing how much detail they remembered after so many years. Finally, we set of back up the hill just as dark clouds gathered overhead, we were about half way back when thunder started rumbling and the rain started, we hurried home pausing for breath and shelter wherever there was an overhanging tree or a doorway. Drinks at 6.30 with two couples who had arrived during the afternoon then back into town for dinner by the seafront, and a taxi home, once up the hill on foot was enough for one day.
On Sunday we had booked a tour of some of the Hawkes Bay wineries. We were picked up at 10.30 by Greg in his Grape Escape mini bus, after a couple of other pick-ups our tour group of 11 set of for the first vineyard, Askerne (named after a village in Yorkshire where the founder came from). When we arrived there were 13 wines arranged for us to try(!) reds, whites and dessert wines, we were only given a taster of each but we pretty quickly realised we were going to have to pace ourselves and make use of the barrels provided for unwanted samples if we were going to survive the tour. Next stop was a big commercial winery called Sileni which exports wine to Europe, another nine to taste and it was still morning. Third stop was Black Barn Winery which had a bistro with a beautiful terrace overlooking the valley, this was our lunch stop so we took a seat at the table they had reserved for our party and reached for the menu. Mark and I were hoping for pasta or something similarly carbohydrate rich to soak up the mornings wine and prepare us for the afternoon, no such luck. The menu was lovely but just short of being Nouvelle Cuisine, we ordered lamb rump served with (about two teaspoons of) buckwheat and some chargrilled little gem lettuce leaves. While chef prepared lunch we were ushered to the tasting room for another 9 samples. Lunch was delicious and the location was perfect but we could have done with something a bit more absorbent.
Our first vineyard after lunch was a very small, newly established boutique winery called Ash Ridge Wines, up to this point I was beginning to think maybe Hawkes Bay wine wasn’t really to my taste, it all tasted very acidic and no matter what the hosts said I couldn’t taste much fruit in any of them. Ash Ridge was different, the wines were delicious and Simon, the guy hosting the tasting was really knowledgeable and entertaining. The whole group agreed these were the best wines we had tasted, one couple ordered a case there and then to be shipped to California. Even we took a note of the shipping costs, Mark is talking about ordering a case for our first Christmas in Cornwall, watch this space. Our final stop on the tour was Ngatarawa Winery, by this time we were flagging and I don’t think any of us tried all the wine they had to offer. Wine tasting complete we all sat down in their orchard and shared a platter of local cheese and biscuits, it was a lovely end to an interesting tour, we set of back towards Napier and were dropped of at about 4.30. We decided not to go-out again that evening and after drinks with the rest of the household we had some more cheese and biscuits in our room along with some of the apples from the Boat House lady and fell asleep dreaming of vinyards.