Tuesday 11 December 2012

Ascension Epiphany Matakana Pressings 2002

Having been in the bottle for 10 years, we decided it was time to open the Ascension Epiphany Matakana Pressings 2002. I am always hesitant opening these bottles, not knowing whether I've left them too long, not long enough, or it's just right, and I'm happy to say it's drinking beautifully now. Whilst there was a little sediment, the structure of this wine is still very solid.

This is the flagship wine from Ascension that they have only produced in '02 and '05. This is a Merlot dominant Bordeaux blend that has light leather and plum characteristics to the nose. Deep red, full of strong plum flavour, very smooth, full bodied, light tannins, no unpleasantness, medium tail, quite divine. This is one of the best wines I have had in a while.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Samoa Day 5: Back to Apia from Lalomanu (via the To Sua Ocean Trench)

There was a big downpour of rain in the morning as we left Lalomanu and started our drive back towards Apia. We decided to abandon going swimming at the beach and went to To Sua Ocean Trench instead (Tala$15 each). There are beautiful grounds here and the trench itself is magnificent. It does however seem a bit out of place in such beautiful gardens where people were going around picking up the leaves. Chris and Wendy climbed down the ladder to swim below. I got to the top of the ladder and decided that I’d prefer to stay at the top and take photos.P1030154_160

P1030166_172It was a nice drive back to Apia, a large amount along the coast. Our air conditioning was a bit better than the local transport.P1030167_173

For lunch we had a nice meal at Scalini’s (just down the road from our hotel),P1030169_175P1030170_176

and managed to time it perfectly leaving with a huge downpour just stopping as we walked outside.P1030172_178

At dinner time Jane & I weren’t feeling the best but I went out with Chris and Wendy anyway to Italiano Pizza Bar. After ordering we sat down outside and I took a turn for the worse and started sweating and getting tingles in my fingers. The waitress knew exactly what to do, diagnosed it as Sun Stroke and then proceeded to give me a head and neck massage, which also included a bang on the top of the head (like a coconut) and then rubbing tea leaves in my hair. It worked! I didn’t feel like eating much of my pizza but what I did have was excellent. It was a nice base and flavoursome. I subsequently drank _lots_ of water.

Samoa Day 4: South East Coast and Fales

We headed over the Cross Island Road from Apia after breakfast, driving by the Bahai temple before coming across the Papapapaitai Falls (what an awesome name!).P1030082_094
P1030084_096Once on the other side of the island we went to the magnificent Coconuts Beach Resort for lunch. This is one beautiful resort and we relaxed here for a number of hours on the edge of the ocean. P1030090_102P1030091_103We suspect this has been rebuilt since the Tsunami on this coast in 2009. The food here was also excellent.P1030118_129
The resort was very quiet. Wandering in either direction yielded beautiful views.
P1030098_110P1030109_121We then popped into the Togotogiga Waterfall which was along a beautiful track.P1030128_139P1030129_140
Driving along the coast was very sobering as we approached the South Eastern portion of Upolo. This area was hard hit by the Tsunami and there are many vacant buildings.
We stayed at the Taufau beach fales in Lalomanu for the evening; well actually Chris and Wendy stayed at the beach and Jane & I stayed 2km away at their self-contained mountain view rooms which actually overlooked the ocean from the top of some huge cliffs. The accommodation was nice with a beautiful bathroom but no hot water. P1030131_142P1030130_141
P1030147_153Chris unfortunately got bitten by a dog on his way back from our place to their fale; there are lots of dogs wandering around. When you’re on the island and you don’t have much in the way of first aid, a clean in the ocean followed by cleaning it with bacardi (on the cut directly and from the inside out) was required.
We did have dinner and breakfast down at the beach at a long table which was a great way to meet others. Dinner was at 7pm island time (i.e. 8pm).

Samoa Day 3: Driving around the North Eastern Coast of Upolo (inc. turtles)

We got a car today and headed out of Apia along the north eastern road that runs along the coast. The speed limit in Samoa is slow so going anywhere takes a while; 25mph in towns and 35mph between towns.P1030024_038

P1030025_039Our first stop was the Malua Turtle Feeding Site. The was free and after trying to feed the turtles vanilla wine biscuits, which didn’t work, Jane had the idea of feeding them coconut. There was a coconut nearby so once some flesh was extracted we were pleased to see that the turtles liked it and this attracted others too.P1030043_057

We then headed further along the coast, past the airport to Aggie Grey’s Lagoon Resort, which is a lovely resort in quite a secluded location. P1030063_076We enjoyed some lovely cocktails and a nice meal at the poolside restaurant. I had a coconut lime curry accompanied with jasmine rice and roti that was excellent.P1030061_074 Jane had a grilled chicken salad that was okay, but not spectacular.P1030058_072

Wendy also had a salad.P1030060_073

Chris had a good looking burger.P1030062_075

Driving further along the coast P1030067_080we passed through lots of small villages and on some roads that were more like tracks than roads until a local flagged us down to help them out. They hadn’t seen a car for a while and their truck was in need of a jump start. We got the feeling they were quite used to jump starting their truck once we saw the heavy duty and long jumper cables they had. A short time later (and a Tala$10 entrance fee for the car) we arrived at Return to Paradise beach (apparently after a movie was filmed there) and we were the only people on the beach. To get to the beach required driving past a sign saying Keep Out Construction Zone (or word to that effect) and over a rugged track. There was a worker nearby with his son in a fale but they slept and didn’t wander from the fale.P1030077_089We relaxed in a small tidal pool that was super clear and watched little fish scarper around us.P1030076_088

We took a road back through the middle of the island, with the gps coming in handy to find the correct roads to take (they weren’t always marked). It was a nice journey back passing through lots of small villages.

Dinner was at Amanaki’s on the other side of the by from Club X in Apia. It was a nice meal.

We concluded the evening with a night out at Club X again. Saturday was a little quieter than Friday but once we got onto the dance floor inside about 11pm after a huge downpour of rain people emerged and we had an excellent time dancing with the locals until the bar closed at midnight.

Samoa Day 2: Flea markets, Snorkelling at Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, Aggie Greys

After breakfast we headed into Apia to the visitor information centre and got a few more ideas of things to do while in Samoa. Amusingly one staff member recommended us one village and Fales to go to and the other then made a remark that there are other Fales you can go to that aren’t all owned by the same family. We got the feeling he was recommending his relatives accommodation to stay at.

Jane then bought a sarong at a nearby store and we then wandered through the flea market which was essentially many stores of which there weren’t many variants. Sarongs, T-shirts, Earrings and Wooden items were the predominant items for sale.

After a photo with a local cop, we went into a significantly bigger supermarket than yesterday and bought more water. With 34 degrees heat we are going through lots of water.P1030008_025

Once stocked up with water we grabbed a taxi (for Tala$5 of course) to the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve. This is located a few minutes drive from the centre of Apia and is known as a good place to go snorkelling. After paying the Tala$4 entry we put on our snorkels, masks, and flippers (which we had been carrying around through Apia), put on sunscreen and snorkelled out about 60 metres to a coral reef. It is worth noting that you can hire gear at the reserve.P1030012_028

There was a lot of sea life to see and lots of beautiful coral. We stayed out here in the luke warm water in slightly rough sea conditions for a while before retiring to the shade of one of the many trees on the coral-lined beach. I unfortunately got a bit too close to some coral and got scratched; we should really have come here at high tide.

Aggie Grey’s (the one in Apia) was our lunch destination. This hotel has a very large restaurant next to the pool. P1030014_029We started with some lovely cocktails. P1030017_031Jane & I both had the tuna and it was significantly overcooked and lacking anything special. P1030018_032I finished with a coconut to drink and then eat which was good. P1030021_035Our waiter also showed us how to scoop out the coconut using your thumb which worked remarkably well. We won’t be rushing back here for the food.

For dinner our hotel had an island buffet where we had a variety of dishes. I particularly liked the Oka and marinated chicken and Chris loved the Poke (tuna marinated in chilli and soy).P1030023_037

X Club was our drinking and clubbing location for the evening. After a Tala$15 cover charge we got a jug of Pina Colada (Tala$25) and enjoyed it outside near the ocean. After seeing numerous other tables have towers of beer we decided that we had to get one too (Tala$45). This only came with one beer option; the local beer Vailima. We then danced the night away inside with lots of locals until the bar closed at midnight. A great night out.20121019_223353_001

Samoa! Arriving, Giordano’s & Paddles

The bus ride from the airport in Samoa to our hotel in Apia was a lovely drive along the northern coastline passing through numerous villages. The trip took about an hour and it was a nice introduction to Samoa, seeing families chatting or sleeping in their Fales, numerous buses overly packed with people (I must get a photo), tropical fruit growing everywhere, beautiful blue coloured water, many homes with gravestones outside, shelter stops along the road and many little convenience stores at regular intervals.
Everybody else on the bus got off at Aggie Grey’s except for our group that continued on to Insel Fehmarn Hotel a few minutes drive inland from the town centre.
After getting ourselves sorted at the hotel we headed across the road to Giordano’s Pizzeria and had a late lunch in their lovely courtyard. This was our first experience (on this trip) of island time whereby once we had placed our orders, it took about an hour for our food to emerge rom the kitchen. It’s okay though, we had Vailima (their local beer) to sample and we indeed made sure we sampled it well; it is a nice very light (and simple) lager that is very easy to drink.P1020985_004
I had a lovely tropical salad for my meal. This contained toasted coconut, papaya, mango, apple and numerous other fruits. I would very happily order this again.
Jane had the seafood salad that she really enjoyed and we shared some garlic pesto pizza bread that was flavoursome. This was packed with prawns. Chris had a pepperoni pizza which I believe he enjoyed and Wendy had a nice salad.
After eating we headed along to a local supermarket and picked up some supplies. Many of the same items and brands we can buy in NZ are available in this store that was more akin to a Foursquare but also sold alcohol, including spirits, and Coke in glass bottles.
We returned to our hotel and attempted to chill water in our fridge. It’s fair to say our fridge isn’t the best and cold is something it may have done in a previous lifetime. We also had a cat make itself at home with us.P1020986_005
A Tala$5 (which is about NZ$3) ride into town (and slightly beyond) took us to Paddles restaurant that has a nice outlook over the water, although the girls just seemed to like checking out the muscles on the various waiters.
We all started with cocktails, and I particularly enjoyed the Midori Vice I had that had Midori and coconut cream (milk?). Jane really enjoyed her Papaya Flyer too which was packed with flavour.P1020988_007
A few of us started with the Samoan Oka (marinated tuna) which was really good but a huge course for an entree. It was also accompanied by breadfruit chips that were really good.P1020989_008
I had Yellowfin Tuna done in a cajun style for my main that was accompanied with  a nice lettuce and watercress salad, and whilst the meal was okay there wasn’t any wow factor.P1020994_013
Jane and Chris each had Chilli Prawns and Chicken for their mains, which was on glass noodles (although I recall they had some other name for them). They both really enjoyed the nice fresh flavours of it.P1020995_014
I can’t recall what Wendy had but it looks good.
P1020996_015The service was good, food good, arrived in a timely manner, cocktails were great and the waiters good eye candy for the ladies. We would happily return.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Driving Creek Cafe, Coromandel

Located very close to the Driving Creek Railway in the Coromandel township, the Driving Creek Cafe looks rustic from the outside and delivers superb organic food, smoothies and juices in a relaxed environment.

We had a couple of meals here with friends over a two day period.

On our first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed the button mushrooms with a blue cheese creamy sauce. I accompanied this with a berry fruit smoothie that was full of flavour.

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Jane had the poached eggs on rye with spinach and avocado that she enjoyed. Her eggs were slightly overcooked.

For my second visit I enjoyed the pancakes that were accompanied by berries, mango and a jug of maple syrup.

2012-08-26 15.02.20_001Jane enjoyed the lentil and pumpkin soup.

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We would very happily return.

Sunday 19 August 2012

The Hardware Cafe, Titirangi

Brunch this morning was at The Hardware Cafe in Titirangi.

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This is one of those cafe that serve a latte in a bowl by default, as I found out. I really prefer the additional boost of caffeine I feel when there is less milk, oh well I now know for next time. The coffee itself was however nice.

I had the Gluten Free Kumara Rosti with spinach, grilled tomato, poached egg and hollandaise. I didn’t enjoy the flavour of the rosti but did enjoy the rest of the dish, each of the other components was nicely done. I particularly enjoyed the hollandaise although the presentation could have been better.

The service was friendly, the food arrived in a timely manner and the cafe had a nice vibe.

I would go back, but would steer away from the rosti next time and try and remember to order latte in a glass.

Takapuna Beach Cafe

The Takapuna Beach Cafe used to be a regular location for us to go out to for brunch but it had been months since our last visit, so when we did go on Saturday I was pleased to see a revamped menu with lots of really interesting options.

I love the location of this cafe near the Takapuna boat ramp at the end of Takapuna beach with a beautiful view over the ocean to Rangitoto. The circular tables and large metal chairs however, whilst contributing to a nice beach feel, I feel are oversized and crammed in.

In addition to the complementary sparkling water, I enjoyed a good trim latte and Jane enjoyed a lovely fresh juice and long black.

I had the “Grilled King Salmon, folded free range eggs, homemade croissant loaf“ for my meal. The Salmon was quite rich but it worked well with the butter flavour from the croissant. I enjoyed the dish and would order it again.2012-08-18 12.09.57_010

Jane had the “Poached eggs, salsa verde, wild rocket & potato salad, grated reggiano with pancetta” which she really enjoyed.2012-08-18 12.10.03_001

All food was beautifully presented, our waitress was excellent, our water was regularly filled and the food arrived in a timely manner.