Christmas Eve in Hawkes Bay

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Sitting here at the Elephant Hill Winery, very lucky to have wi-fi. Won’t have it for the next couple of days, so this post below may be it for a while. NZ is not as “connected” as we thought it would be and getting a signal can be a challenge.
I wrote this earlier today…happy holidays and we’ll blog soon!

It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and and I’m looking at one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen outside my window: an incredible garden full of wildflowers and plants, bordered on one side by a field of tall grass, the other a huge stand of pines. In between is our cottage, the larger of two cottages known as Tom’s Cottages (we’re in Big Tom’s Cottage). The smaller cottage was voted “best remote wilderness hideaway in the world” by the NY Times, so I suppose ours could be the second best? I’ll take that!

We’re in a town called Havelock North, in Hawkes Bay, and the area is full of beautiful wineries with a backdrop of steep mountains, covered in the green of late spring and early summer, with thousands of cows and sheep grazing around every corner. No corn fed beef here…it’s all grass fed and pasture-raised, something that we pay a hefty price for back in states.

Our drive from Taupo to this side of the north island took a little over two hours…longer than we expected, and we’ve been told that by everyone here: distances are deceiving. The road from Taupo was some of the scariest and most exhilarating I’ve ever driven, winding around, and cutting through the steepest of mountains covered in lush greenery or huge stands of tall trees. The fact that I was driving a rented family van and not some cool sportscar certainly added to the white-knuckle experience, especially when I tried passing huge tractor-trailers going uphill.

Our cruise on Lake Taupo was fun. The lake is the size of any of our great lakes, so it feels and rocks more like a bay, but we cruised through it in a catamaran, so the rocking was kept to a minimum. Our captain was a nice enough guy, but boy did he like to talk…very informative, but I could’ve used some more silent moments to enjoy the scenery! The Maori carvings, the focus of the cruise, were quite fantastic, and I will post a photo of them as soon as I can.

After the cruise, we took a short drive to Huka Falls, where the water leaves Lake Taupo and heads north along the River, the longest river in New Zealand. Imagine an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water going over the falls every second, and you have some idea of the volume of water flowing through here every day. The falls were a short detour out of town, and worth every bit.

We returned to our Taupo hotel to pick up our luggage we left behind (didn’t want to leave a car full of goods parked while we were on the cruise) and then we started our long and winding trek to Hawkes Bay.

We had our best dinner of our trip so far last night at Craggy Range Winery and their restaurant called Terroir, just a short drive from our cottage. I think I’ll be saying this a lot this trip: it’s hard to describe the beauty of this place…you just have to see the photo. Not only is it a winery with excellent wines, but the restaurant is top-notch, using the best local ingredients available. And they even had 42 Below vodka, so that I could enjoy martinis with their own grown olives which were nothing short of fantastic. My first martini only had two olives. My server gave me six with the next one…almost no room for the vodka!
Kelly ordered a steamed dish of local clams that were really intensely flavored but matched beautifully with the wines they paired them with. I had a fabulous roasted quail (speaking of which, I just saw one run across my yard just now…wondering if I can repeat that dining experience?) For her main course, Kelly had roasted lamb and I had the best fish of my life: a wood fire roasted whole flounder that was absolutely perfection. The only disappointment of the meal was a plate of local mushroom that were smothered with garlic so heavy and raw that they were not enjoyable.

But the meal was amazing in a huge dining room that took it’s architectural inspiration from the inside of a wine barrel…a huge, soaring ceiling, round walls, wood all around, massive marble fireplace…just beautiful. Nothing we’ve ever seen in the US has matched it.

Today is our only full day of exploration here in the sense that most places will be open, though they might close early for Christmas Eve. But tomorrow, we plan to stay here in the cabin for the most part, though we might stray out of the property to tour the countryside a bit. Few things will be open, but that’s OK…rarely do we stay in a place where we’d rather be in the cottage vs out and about. It’s our chance to chill before a long trip on Dec 26th, when we drive about five hours to the bottom of the north island, catch a car ferry that takes us to the south island (about a three-hour trip) and then finally plant ourselves in Blenheim, a town in the famous Marlborough wine region of New Zealand.

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