Down Under: Dining in Wellington

MEALS IN WELLINGTON  We found Wellington to be a great food city. There are more restaurants here per capita than in New York, a fact cited to us several times.  With our short visit, we only scratched the surface of good eating.

Artisan. The weather was so miserable our first evening that we opted to eat in the hotel dining room called Artisan. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the food was. We started with some mixed olives and two breads with a flight of four olive oils. The olives were lovely, the olive oils good, but the so-called artisanal bread disappointing. Our next courses were superb; both my smoked cheddar soufflé with cherry tomatoes and spinach and the Chief Penguin’s smoked salmon. We like small plates rather than large entrees and often order these smaller, usually lighter, dishes. My soufflé wasn’t light, but it was exquisite!

Ombra. The concierge in our hotel has been most helpful and enthusiastically recommended several restaurants. We’ve been taking him up on them and today’s lunch was at a casual Italian bistro. We ordered the gorganzola picante with walnuts and honey, gnocchi with cheese and lamb ragu, and fritto misto. Everything was delicious, but especially the gnocchi. To top it off we had three chocolate truffles: coconut, lemongrass and hazelnut.  


Whitebait. Dinner here was by far the best meal we’ve had in New Zealand. It’s on the waterfront and the dining room is simple with bare wood tables and high back fabric-covered chairs in muted shades of gray, blue, and aqua. Yvette and Josephine gave us friendly service and everything we ordered was not only beautifully presented, but superb. This is sophisticated dining. We started with anchovy toasts and smoked eel mini tacos (for the C.P. who likes eel) followed by snapper filet on slices of preserved Meyer lemon topped with celeriac for me and for him, lemon sole topped with a mix of peas and beans (very green), and a seasonal citrus salad with fennel, pistachios, and bits of green olive. The salad was reminiscent of a similar salad served at Ports of Italy in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, but more elegant, although I’d leave out the olives. The chefs here are fond of salty tastes.  


Chow. Our hosts at Te Papa tooks us to this Chinese place for lunch, which was perfect for our group of five. We ordered seven or eight dishes which were all small platters with five or six pieces including fish cakes, sesame crusted seared tuna, two kinds of dumplings, and chicken satay. Everything was tasty, but could have been spicier for this twosome.


Noble Rot Wine Bar.  For our last evening, we dined at Noble Rot, a very happening place recommended again by the hotel concierge.  He adopted us and seemed to eagerly wait our reporting back after each meal.  The front bar and high tables were fully occupied when we arrived, but fortunately for us shorties and oldsters, there were tables  of normal height in the side room.  Most were empty at first, but by the time we left all but one was taken.

With our wine (they have an extensive list of wines by the glass), we started with some chorizo and pecorino cheese with black truffle and accompaniments and then moved on to a couple entrees.  The Chief Penguin had the chicken with parsnips and mushrooms which had been done sous vide and was marvelously tender and lovely.  I had the fish of the day which was a local white fish served with capers and some roasted cauliflower and a bit of sauce on the side.  Also lovely.  Being chocoholics (at least I am), we had a dark chocolate truffle each.


Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Header photo is gnocchi with lamb ragu and Parmesan.

Down Under: Wellington in the Sun


Botanic Garden

Thursday was clear and almost cold (50 degrees), but a good morning to walk. Our first destination was the cable car up to the botanic garden. Interestingly, since the incline is very steep, some affluent individuals have their own private cable cars to deliver them to their homes. This public one takes only about five minutes, makes a couple stops along the way, and ends at the Cable Car Museum and the entrance to the Wellington Botanic Garden. We wandered in the museum, took our pictures with period hats and then were on to the garden.    

It was quiet and lovely and full of trees and plants native to this country. It’s also very well signed for specific locales within the garden as well as with plaques identifying most of the flora. We headed for the Lady Norwood Rose Garden which was said to be about a 20-minute walk. It took us longer, partly because I kept stopping to take pictures. The rose garden is probably glorious when in full bloom; today there were just a few rogue blooms, early budders.  

Bolton Street Cemetery

From the garden, you can enter the historic Bolton Street Cemetery which was in use until 1892. Founded in 1842, the original intent was that it be a cemetery for all religions and all people. It ended up being divided in three parts: Anglican, Jewish, and Public; the Catholics already had a cemetery elsewhere in Wellington. As you walk the main path, there are side paths that you can take deeper into the various sections. It’s a fascinating glimpse at the history of the city, its famous politicians and successful merchants, and the children who died of one disease or another, diphtheria and scarlet fever being two examples. Like the botanic garden, it’s a peaceful spot and we saw no one else on our walk.  



Note the understated summation of her life.





Wellington is a clean, compact city and very walkable. We like it a lot and have done almost all our wandering thus far on foot. By the end of this day with all our tramping around, we had reached 20,000 plus steps or eight miles!

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).



Down Under: On the Road to Wellington


On Wednesday, we left Napier and drove south to Wellington. A distance of about 280 km and estimated to take 4 hours or so. The main routes here are practically all two-lane roads so you always have traffic coming toward you. The first hour of the trip was challenging for the driver, simply for the number of roundabouts where he had to always remember stay left and then choose the appropriate exit. Between Napier and Hastings and a few other towns around Hawke Bay, there was a fair amount of traffic added to the mix. The sky was mostly clear and then began the off and on heavy showers that plagued us all the way to Wellington. But when it wasn’t raining, I gazed out at the rolling hills and green grass and saw three separate rainbows, one complete at both ends!

I haven’t yet been to Ireland, but New Zealand is very green, layers of green of different shades (grass green to hunter, emerald, and yellow green) that intermix from ground level to the trees and then the hillsides and peaks.

We brought our own new GPS from home (loaded with New Zealand maps), and we rented a Kruse device. Mr. Kruse’s device can also be used for navigation, but mostly it’s intended to provide history and background about the towns and villages along the route. When he doesn’t have info to provide, you can set it for background music (after awhile we turned this off, not caring for his selection).

We went through several market towns, Masterton, Carterton, and Featherston, which provide services for the neighboring farms, mostly sheep farms. Masterton is famous for hosting an annual sheep-shearing contest that attracts shearers from all over the world. Downtown Masterton was a bit of a time warp feeling like the 1950’s. Dining options were limited to Food for Thought, a cafeteria; Chan’s, a Chinese takeout restaurant; a fried chicken fast food place; and the Ten o’ Clock Cookie, a bakery and café all in one. The cookie restaurant looked like the best option and was filled with mothers and children and a few grandparents with kids, it being spring break week.

We snagged one of the remaining tables and after ordering and getting our food at the counter, tucked into a beef and mushroom pie (very good!) and a Philly beef and cheese pie along with some fresh fruit and a couple of cute mini cupcakes which were irresistible at the checkout station. Both Carterton and Featherston looked a bit more prosperous and one had a center island on the main drag with some lovely old deciduous trees and then a stand of grand old palms.

The rain had stopped while we walked to lunch, but as soon as we began the last leg of the trip, it poured hard. And continued to do so all the way up and over the Rimutaka Range with its narrow twisting roads,  no shoulder to speak of, and very sharp turns. Higher and higher we climbed (views would have been fantastic on a clear day, but mostly it was mist) until we reached the peak at just over 3,000 feet, and then started down the other side.

Almost immediately, the weather was better and the mountainsides were bright with yellow gorse, lots of it. The final 20 km into Wellington was along a short span of motorway (divided road with real exits);  fortunately, the distance to Budget Rental to drop off the car upon exiting was fairly short. Even better, the young woman who dealt with the car kindly offered to drive us to our hotel in said rental car! This offer we quickly accepted.

Our hotel room is large and pleasant with a view of a garden below. But, it’s pouring again so we have not yet ventured outside. Soon we will, with our umbrellas!

We did head out for a short walk in the heavy rain and were mystified to see so many people on the street without umbrellas. A woman informed us that it’s so regularly windy here that people don’t bother carrying them. It wasn’t windy then, but very wet; we were very glad we had our umbrellas!

Note: All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Header photo is part of a mural near the transit yard.

Down Under: Around Hawke’s Bay


The sun came out, finally, and we were happy. This was the day for our photography tour with a professional photographer. At 8:00 am, Richard Brimer, the photographer, and Edward from Long Island Guides picked us up. We were expecting only Richard, but Edward did the driving and was more knowledgable about some of the local history even though Richard has lived here all his life. It was an absolutely delightful day!

We first went to Craggy Range Winery, not for the wine, but for the view and their cellar. There is a pond on the vineyard property and a lovely view of Te Mata Peak so we spent a good hour there taking shots of the mist on the peak, reflections of buildings, trees, and vines in the pond, and then going inside to see the cellar. This winery’s barrels have a dull red band and are lined up precisely on their sides. Richard manned the lighting of this space for us and then at one point waved around a heavy duty LED flashlight to create additional scattered light while we took photos. He had the C.P. using his tripod and taking shots with long shutter times. Quite an experience.

From there, we drove to Ocean Beach, a completely deserted somewhat wild beach, for photos of the water on the sand and the distant views. We also tramped into a field (private property) to get a look at a lonely camping caravan sitting desolate beyond the grass. We were a ways from Napier proper and so got a look at several small burgs and some lovely views as we went up and down the local hills. We stopped off at Bluff Hill Domain above a working port and saw logs being loaded onto ships bound for China as well as sheep going on another vessel. Back in Napier, we took advantage of the sunshine for some more photos of Marine Parade and a short walk before having lunch at Mister D’s.


Richard seems to know everyone and the owner of the restaurant, a woman, welcomed us and saw us to a table while reciting some of the day’s specials. Three of us ordered the fish in a bag which was delicious while Edward had the market fish which included potatoes and some pumpkin.

Our last stop of the day was The Urban Winery owned by winemaker Tony Bish. Their tasting room and cellar are in an original Art Deco building, National Tobacco Company, with some lovely pink details. Karen Bish greeted us and we first went into their cellar for photos of their oak barrels and this marvelously huge oak egg holding a great quantity of wine. We took picture after picture and then retired to the tasting area for samples of three Chardonnays and one Syrah. Their Chardonnays were the best I’ve had so far here! Edward and Richard returned us to our hotel just before 3:00, leaving us with hugs all around.


For dinner we returned to Three Doors Up where we had dined two nights ago. The same waitress greeted us and we settled into the same table. This time we tried the cheesy garlic bread and mixed olives followed by calamari for the Chief Penguin and the crumbed chicken pieces with basil pesto for me. He had a green salad and their fries and I the carrots and asparagus, vegetable of the day. When I first read the menu, I thought it said “crumbled” chicken, but it had panko bread crumbs on it and had been lightly fried. They treat scallops similarly—“crumbed.”  Another very satisfying meal.

All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).