After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Napier & Hawkes Bay - December 2012

At the beginning of December we took a well-earned break to see a little more of the North Island - we had only left Wellington once since arriving!. We decided to check out the Hawkes Bay area, so hired a car for a few days and hit the road. The drive was pleasant enough (although longer than expected due to the rural nature of most of the roads outside the main towns), starting with the slightly hair-raising drive over the Rimutaka Range before heading north-east, mostly through undulating farmland with occasional settlements and towns along the way.

As luck (ahem) would have it, the Tui brewery (or Tui HQ as they like to call it) was about half way, so we took a break to peruse the small museum and of course sample a few 'special brews' only available at Tui HQ. The  beer wasn't anything to write home about, there's probably a reason they don't bother to market them outside the brewery! But we weren't expecting miracles as Tui is one of the more prolific commodity beers over here; think Carling or Carlsberg only sweeter (as is the NZ way with most things!). Tui are arguably more famous for their advertising than the quality of their beer, hijacking the phrase "yeah right" by proceeding it with various jokes, stereotypes and witty irony. It was interesting seeing some political causes they have got behind, such as 'Rural communities don't need schools. Yeah, right', as well as some overtly sexist adverts that you might imagine most businesses would now be airbrushing from their history, such as 'Her butt walked into my hand, yeah right'. Some of their posters are genuine attempts to encourage healthy debate about important issues, for example 'My missus walked into a door. Yeah, right', and 'I always check both ways for cyclists before pulling out. Yeah right', but could be easily misconstrued as supporting backwards or negative attitudes. That's probably the genius of the campaign, that it can appeal to everyone. You are free to interpret the statement according to your own prejudices and opinions, and if anybody complains it can easily be argued that the complainant lacks a sense of humour, or that the advert was actually intended to imply the opposite. When the bottom line is that they are promoting a product rather than raising awareness for social issues, it does add up to a brilliant advertising campaign. Their other slogan is "Distracting the boys from the task at hand since 1889", seemingly with more than just beer. It certainly had us talking and writing about the brand, so the marketing department has definitely done their job. When we first arrived in New Zealand, we were attracted into buying a carton of the beer due to the cheap price, brightly coloured orange cans, and the promise of the 'East India IPA' contained within. It didn't quite live up to it's tantalising description, you can't argue with that fact that you get what you pay for. I suppose it is an acceptable 'lawn-mower beer', as they say.

Tui - distracting feminists and the easily offended since 1889

Arriving in Napier early evening, we thought we'd make the most of the evening sun and take a dip in the outdoor pools at Ocean Spa. The name itself gives nothing away, and if you're imagining fluffy white robes and underwater fancy lights, think more of a down-to-earth, slightly grubby 1960s-style lido with a few different pools of varying temperatures and sizes. It was, however, overlooking the beach and made for a very pleasant hour. Suitably relaxed and wrinkled, we caught the sunset and looked out over the port from Bluff Hill Lookout before heading back to the motel for an impromptu picnic tea. Having never really stayed in a motel before, we were naive in our expectations of what a 'kitchenette' in the room might involve. We had hoped for a hob, but instead were faced with the prospect of boiling pasta in the microwave. We cut our losses and instead used the smoked salmon and creme fraiche intended for a pasta dish on toasted bagels along with a couple of glasses of crisp white wine, and rather good it was too.

The next day we had a chance to properly explore Napier. The town was pretty much flattened by an earthquake in 1931, the subsequent rebuild throughout the decade means it is a rather unique time capsule of 1930s Art Deco architecture, so in 2007 it was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (but didn't pass the test, and as the Mayor of Napier herself said, 'there will be no surprises in the conclusion that art deco itself is not of outstanding universal value'). It has some notable architecture such as the National Tobacco Company building, which harks back to an era of eclectic design and bold geometric shapes.  Art Deco symbolises the 1930's Zeitgeist  which embraced the development of science and technology, the overthrow of old conventions and increasing independence of women, and individualism in society.  This led to prolific use of angular patterns and shapes; including symbols of power and speed such as lightning flashes, and symbols of freedom and the dawn of a new age, such as leaping deer and greyhounds, dancing women and the rising sun. An interesting point of difference in Napier is that Maori legends have been worked into the designs, making the architecture even more unique from a global perspective. There were some pleasant sea-front gardens with a huge picturesque fountain, which lent it an air of an Victorian/English seaside town. But zooming out from the fascinating architecture and experiencing the town as a whole, we couldn't help feel it lacked the expected charm, due to the presence of some ugly modern developments, tacky shops and traffic. Further shattering the historical feel were some inexplicably naff Christmas decorations, which seemed at odds with the sophisticated art-deco image touted to tourists. The road noise seemed seemed quite oppressive due to the close proximity of buildings, and a lack of pedestrianised streets (another recurring theme in NZ) didn't lend it a particularly relaxing air despite the glorious weather and enticing street-side cafes. Our final impression was very mixed, and we felt it had fallen short of what it could be, given that it must be one of the biggest concentrations of historically interesting buildings in Australasia outside the major cities. Sadly, we weren't convinced it lived up to the hype as a tourist destination.

After escaping to the peace and quiet of the coast (well, not all that quiet due to some pretty high winds), we enjoyed some delicious fish and chips on the beach (another recurring theme down-under, there is no such thing as bad fish and chips, our only criticism being the lack of mushy peas!). We were on our way south through Hawkes Bay to Cape Kidnappers, to visit a gannet colony. We had originally hoped to walk from the car park (a 5 hour round-trip) but the tide times didn't end up working in our favour, so we took a tour out to the Cape instead. The selling point of the tour was that we would be towed along with about 20 other tourists in an open trailer by an antique American tractor! Bouncing down the beach, it was pretty fascinating having the huge fractures in the rocks pointed out to us, showing how New Zealand is literally being lifted up at one end as one tectonic plate is forced under another, sometimes as much as 9 metres as a time. We enjoyed watching the gannets and learning about their unique behaviour here in New Zealand; they travel to Australia for a few years in their late adolescence, then return home when they decide it's time to start a family. Our guide pointed out that this mirrors a lot of Kiwis' real lives as they set out to Australia for work and play while they are young, before coming home to New Zealand for a more family-friendly lifestyle. The first time they ever flap their wings and fly, they just go for it and end up in Australian waters, feeding out there for a while before returning back to the exact same rock that they were raised on. They are pretty huge birds and completely unfazed by humans, so we were pretty close to them while they went on with their daily business undisturbed. The afternoon drew to a close with a trip back along the beach, and we were glad to get out of the sun and wind and head back to Napier.

On our final day we had an early start thanks to a minor earthquake (it sure beats an alarm clock for ensuring you jump straight out of bed!), and headed to Havelock North for a craft market held at a local cafe and roastery, Hawthorne Coffee. We enjoyed a welcome caffeine hit after perusing the stalls. and there was an air of a school fair as some young girls murdered Christmas carols on string instruments, but it made us feel a little more Christmassy than we had done to date. We buzzed over to the Arataki Aviary, New Zealand's biggest honey producer. We learnt about how honey is made (not sure we'd ever thought about it too hard before) and sampled 10 types of honey (Liam was in heaven!). Apparently Kiwis are the biggest consumers of honey in the world and I had to prevent Liam from purchasing the largest jar of honey I have ever seen, although I eventually regretted doing so, as the one we bought didn't last long! They even offered a 'fill your own' service, probably a good job these don't exist closer to home! Feeling suitably sugared up, we then headed for a lovely farmers market at Black Barn Vineyard, where we stocked up on fresh broad beans and garlic, locally made olive oil, and fig and cardamon compote. Scrummy!

It was almost time to head home but we had one last thing to tick off our to-do list, Te Mata Peak. We parked at the bottom and hiked to the top for some great views of the local area. We thought we were being clever by trying to find an alternative route back down to the car, and promptly got lost in a forest which seemed to have impassable inclines wherever we turned. Thankfully we eventually ended up back at the car and hit the road back to Wellington.

And so, like all holidays, it was over and we were back home before we knew it. But it had been great to get out of the city for a while, not having a car it's something that we don't do as often as we'd like. Already we are planning our next trip, to try and make the most of living in this beautiful country!

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