Street scene on walking tour

The water front in Wellington N.Z.

In windy Wellington, the capital city located on the North Island of New Zealand, two unabashedly determined females started innovative local tour companies. While in Auckland, a TV personality’s originality knows no bounds.

I had underestimated the hot topics would be food and wine- not bungie jumping. Cooking classes are mushrooming in both Auckland and Wellington and their wines are getting high marks internationally.


Petra Mathias’ favourite breakfast haunt

Petra’s cooking class room in Auckland

Wellington being a smallish city, approximately 163,000 population, is easily walkable. Catherine Cordwell, of Zest Food Tours, proves that’s an ideal way to discover hidden culinary delights.

Cordwell, vibrant, energetic and charming, discussed the Slow ‘Food Movement’. “We sit around the table for hours, the courses come out whenever they’re ready, we have great conversation and good wine, rather than eat food fast.”

The idea of a 3 ½ hour tour made me a bit skeptical. But motivation and a breezy sunshine filled day moved me into go-mode.

Starting from the waterfront’s Museum Hotel where I was staying, we walked passed Te Papa Tongarewa Art Museum, the city’s reference library, several public art sculptures, (one being the Mekau palm, a tree native to this area) and within 10 minutes we were at our first stop.

Wellington, is known as the café capital and the people are “coffee snobs,”

If Catherine and I needed a morning kick, we got it at our first stop Mojo Coffee Café. Early each morning on-site roasting of fresh green coffee beans imported from Kenya, India and “secret places”, takes only 15 minutes. For a country with only 4 million people, they drink ½ million cups of espresso each day. Perhaps it’s their caffeine fix that makes everyone seem so buzzy.

Even though the internationally renowned American designer coffee brand has several cafes in Wellington, Kiwi cognizanti don’t rate it as ‘real’ coffee. Samples in small cups are passed around for our first tasting where, naturally, the most popular blend is Dr. Mojo’s Medicine. Terminology includes the famous ‘flat white’ (one third espresso and two thirds milk), Piccolo, (a ristretto shot of coffee with milk) and affogato, (a shot of espresso over NZ vanilla ice cream scoop).

With caffeine flowing through our veins, we march to Meat on Tory (street) – a butcher shop with a difference.

“Most butchers know how to cut, but Rob also knows about cooking,” owner and former lawyer, Hilary Domett tells me. She and her husband Ian opened the successful shop just over a year ago. For our tasting, low fat sausages, ostrich mixed with pork, and blood and beef sausages are three creations by Rob which is served with these is sweet prune and rum chutney.

Through an old concrete car park, is a treasure trove of all the best produce, picked in the morning and trucked to Moore Wilson Fresh. We try New Zealand brie and goat’s cheese, some jams and fresh bread.

Our lunch reservation is at Logan Brown, a 10 year old eatery with 350 listed wines and they won best wine service award for 2005 throughout NZ.

This circa 1920 grand old bank turned modern restaurant, is a visual treat but when the first of three courses, arrives, I forget the old endearing moldings and sleek new furniture. The food is a gourmet’s delight. We start off with their signature dish, Paua Ravioli (abalone) with a coriander lime beurre blanc and deep fried dumara (sweet potato) shavings served with Riesling wine. As often as the Logan Brown has tried, regular clients will not allow them to take this dish off the menu.


Caffeine shot at Moho in Wellington

One of the most famous pubs in Wellington

Jennifer Looman Wild couldn’t have had a better name when she conceived her travel-oriented tour company, ‘Wild about Wellington’. Downtown Wellington Tour includes four different quality shopping experiences. My smugness about European, Canadian and American fashion got a swift kick when I saw very sophisticated New Zealand designs at the fashionable department store, Kirkaldie & Stains. The “Audrey”, sleeveless black wool crepe and Hepburn-like designed by local Jane Daniels, is a runaway best seller.

In the Old Bank Arcade, with beautifully original coloured tiled floor, ornate lighting fixtures and dark wood trims, there’s Nature Unplugged, featuring, Hema Skincare products. It’s become known throughout Hollywood due to the loyalty of stars from films King Kong and Lord of the Rings, both shot in Wellington. I’ll just have to wait and see if it really works since I couldn’t resist the fountain of youth come- on.

The finale is a surprise. A beer tasting at Mac’s Brewery with knowledgeable Neil Miller. A tray holding six glasses is presented to each of us. From the cloudy wheat beer Verboden Vice to New World Pilsener Wicked Blond (my favourite), Golden Lager Reserve followed by India Pale Copperhop then bitter Sassy Red (Jennifer’s favourite) and finally a robust porter Sultry Dark, I am more than ready to walk ( or to be honest- wobble) to my nearby hotel for my nearby hotel for forty winks.


There’s plenty of ‘retail therapy’
for all ages in Wellington

Auckland is the largest metropolis of the country with 1.2 million people, 48 extinct volcanic cones and home for the 49th volcano or a ‘gypsy’, as she calls herself. With stop-light red flaming hair and vibrantly printed outfits, noted chef, cook book author, TV food show host, personality and teacher, New Zealand born, Peta Mathias, is a ‘star’ throughout the country. When she came to meet me at The Langham Hotel, the concierge was so impressed that I knew ‘her’, I am sure I’d be upgraded to an executive suite. I’m not.

Peta is prepared to take me to her favorite restaurants and city’s food landmarks. Just looking at her, I know this would become a most memorable day.

Breakfast at Bambina’s issues forth smiles of recognition from the regulars in this bright, airy neighborhood café. While eating our ricotta cheese pancakes, a special muffin, Peta’s favourite, is brought over for her to take home. Not only does this flamboyant woman love food, she loves shopping- my kind of gal. Before leaving the very up-market Ponsonby Road, Peta insists we visit a few of the boutiques along the street.

But work we must, so we drive down to the Auckland Fish Market where both wholesalers and the public buy their fish. Fish auctions take place early each morning in an adjacent room. “Freshness is all in the eyes,” states Peta as I peer down into the icy counters. Upstairs is a 40 seat classroom and a fully equipped kitchen where Peta teaches once a week.

A table for lunch at Cibo has been reserved. With its faux mink drapes, extremely modern interior and location in an old but newly renovated building in the commercial area of the city, this is yet another side of the city that few tourists see.


Fishmarket in Auckland

Proud fish owner

As a starter (which they call entree), coconut batter shrimp comes with a lemongrass custard and ginger sauce. Peta rates it as a great success. The risotto doesn’t do as well. She would have like it more al dente.

We meet in the evening for the high point of my culinary experience. Mollies, is a Victorian house in a respectable residential area. When Kiwi born, New York residents, Stephen Fitzgerald and his opera singing wife, Frances Wilson, decided to return, they renovated the inside, added some rooms and masterminded one glorious luxurious boutique hotel. It was voted the Best Small Hotel in the World in 2005 by the prestigious Harper’s Hideaway Report.

A French Empire settee sets the stage when you enter this ‘other world’ along with clear plastic Phillip Starck designed ‘Ghost’ chairs. World renowned celebs have stayed in this 16 room eclectically decorated mansion. Fran often sings as a staff member plays one of the several pianos while guests dine. For the famous rockers who stay, their suite often comes with a baby grand piano. To add to this romantic love-child, is a very fine cuisine. The atrium-styled restaurant, the verandah now covered with a glass dome, has seating for about 20, each table exquisitely set. Starting with cucumber and apple soup, our next course, pearl barley risotto gets better reviews than the midday offering. For our main choice from the prix fixe menu Peta chooses Red Snapper served with crab tempura and cauliflower vinaigrette and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I opt for venison, spiced cabbage, rice polenta, pears and fennel with a glass of Pinot Noir. We end by sharing a triumph of lemon tart, preserved orange and ginger and ice cream on the side.

What a way to end a day with a most noted and noticeable foodie, the best food and internationally known wine.

WELLINGTON

Museum Hotel 90 Cable Street Tel. 04 802 8900 email.info@museumhotel.co.nz

Zest Food Tours by Catherine Cordwell
Tours@zestfoodtours.co.nz
For NZ$195, Zest Tours offers other options.


Cibo for lunch in Auckland

Wild I Wellington Tours by Jennifer Wild
jennifer@wildaboutwellington.co.nz
Shopping Deluxe Tour NZ$110 per person. Boutique Beer Tasting Tour NZ$120 per person ( both 3 hours)

Kirkaldie & Stains 165 Lambton Quay
Old Bank Arcade 223 Lambton Quay

AUCKLAND

The Langham Hotel 83 Symonds Street Tel. 09 379 5132
Bambina, 268 Ponsonby Road Tel. 378 7766
Auckland Fish Market, Corner Daldy St. & Madden Street, Freemans Bay Tel. 379 1490
Cibo 91 St. Georges Bay Road, Parnell Tel. 09 303 9660
Mollies 6 Tweed Street, St. Mary’s Bay Tel. 09 376 3489 ( per person NZ$95).

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