New Zealand Part Deaux
Aurum Winery, Cromwell, Otago, South Island, New Zealand
We spent five days at a winery called Aurum. The winery is run by the Lawrence family. Tony helps with viticulture when not at his orthodontic practice. Joan runs the tasting room as well as maintains the amazing garden around the tasting room. Brooke, their son, is the main viticulturist while his wife Lucy is the wine maker. Our hosts were amazing and stunningly good cooks.
We also had the company of three other Woofers, a French couple named Analise (Anne-ah-lees) and Pierre, as well as a charming Belgian man named Laurent. I learned the nitty gritty of weeding saffron, I will never balk at the price now. I watched asparagus grow right in front of me. I spur trained a vineyard that was transitioning from cordon to spur pruning. I pruned an olive grove so the trees had the appropriate "goblet" shape. Sooo much fun! I even developed blisters and calluses from my secateurs (it's French for clippers, but that's what everyone down under calls them) like a real agriculturalist.
Andrew and I cooked an amazing dinner because we had to "one up" the French couple that had cooked a four course meal the night before. Andrew made a Roulade of pork trotters with a mock frisee salad, poached egg with crisped bits of pig skin. Very fancy. I was too wishy washy about my dish so I ended up just grabbing early spring goodies from the garden. I made a nettle soup with yoghurt and chives as well as braised artichoke hearts. Pretty eff'en tasty.
Hiking the Rob Roy Glacier
We decided to tackle a quick glacier hike while we had an off day from winery work. By the time we made it down the dirt road, forded countless streams, battled oncoming sheep herds it was cold, rainy, and very windy at the trail head. What to do? Hike anyway. It was really lovely but I can only imagine what the place looked like with the sun shining and the sky open. We saw so many unusual plants and mosses, I have become slightly obsessed with moss in New Zealand.
Making Gin, Arrowtown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand
We had too much fun at our first Wwoofing appointment so we decided to go back after some wine appointments in the Otago region. Joerg, the German pilot from Arrowtown, invited us to come back and make our gin a second time. He liked the first batch and so did we, might as well try to improve on something good right? Well, ideally thats how it works. Our first batch which we named "Tickety Boo" after an expression our German host used often to mean "everything is all right" was awesome. The second batch we aptly named "Tiggety Two" which came out a bit more soapy and with a different spelling because I was less observant. The process of making a gin twice (with extremely similar recipes) but coming out with two really different products, was really informative. Small batch, artisanal producers have so many variables to deal with. I got a small window into the reality of working on that small of a scale. We were doing 10 liter batches and the nuances in reaching temperature and total final alcohol were really different. The necessity of writing everything down exactly reminded me of firing a kiln or making a glaze. I guess daring to create means you still need the weights and measures of the more analytical set, otherwise you can never recreate the things you did the first time. Ughhh, I hate measuring.
Disappointment in One Act
Andrew and I were both REALLY excited to climb on the Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of the south island. It is apparently, not to be missed. The family had been very generous and gave both of us tickets to go on the glacier, in a helicopter, to climb around, with crampons, CRAMPONS!!! Seriously exciting stuff. The first day we had booked our trip, it was cancelled due to weather. The second day was sunny, clear, and drop dead beautiful. We were all suited, booted, and wearing our crampons round our necks. We had been weighed, measured, and sorted for appropriate helicoptering lift off. We were on the the tarmac with the blades of the whirly bird whirling...and then...they cancelled the trip. Wind on the glacier and blah blah, safety smafety. They offered us the opportunity to try again the next day. That would be our third day waiting. Ughhhh....We couldn't afford to wait another day, time and money where in the offing and we had appointments in the north.
On the Open Road and Moving North
We left Otago and all of our new friends and started heading north. We did some intense wine tasting days and tried to really get a handle on the Marlborough and Nelson regions. We came away excited about a handful of really cool producers. We met up with Josh Allan, who is the owner and brewer of one of our favorite beers, Moa. He spent the afternoon with us discussing the in's and out's of his new projects and was really open when discussing things he viewed as issues in the industry and in the tiny community that is Marlborough. After a bite to eat and a quick sleep, we ended up on the first ferry out of Picton and we finally said goodbye to the south island. We landed in our favorite city in New Zealand, Wellington. I highly recommend it, great beer and people. It also happens to be the windiest city in the world. Just be advised, seriously, it's really windy.
Climbing on Volcanos and Sh*t
We managed to squeeze in some hikes on our mad dash north. My favorite one was called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is 20 kilometers long and crosses over a volcano. You get dropped off at the trail head and hike back to where your car is. The scenery is otherworldly. It is where they shot the scenes for Mordor in Lord of the Rings, or as the Kiwi's call it LOTR. Volcanic boulders and unusual vegetation were everywhere. We took the first ride to the trailhead that was offered at 6:30am. That got us there, boots on the ground, at 7am. We were lucky to take that time slot, the ice hadn't yet melted when we got to the saddle of the summit. That let us cross the volcanic ash/mud without getting too wet. Crunching the ice with my shoes and watching the melting water and mud squish under the ice was incredibly satisfying and I soon found myself lagging far behind Andrew as I became absorbed in the mini drama of my own *crunch*crunching*. Can you imagine the pleasure of walking over a kilometer of bubble wrap but more action packed? It was like that. We moved past the volcano and hiked through knee deep snow for about two kilometers. The whole area is full of Maori holy sites, including these amazing blue pools. After the snow, you make it to the other side of the mountain that is inexplicably a grassland area where you slowly descend on tight switch backs for about an hour. You weave through impact craters the size of VW bugs that were created in the last eruption a few years ago. I judiciously hurried through that bit. The last couple of kilometers have you in a rain forest area with water falls, thick fern groves, and smoking sulfuric pits. The hike was an excerpt from one of the "Great Walks" of New Zealand. The full walk is several day's long and something I would love to do in it's entirety one day...
Glow Worms and Kiwi's, Oh My!
We zoomed to Auckland to check in with Andrews cousin Steph then prepared ourselves for one last epic jaunt with the car. We were headed to the far north on recommendation of my favorite Kiwi, Sarah Varley. We made it to Waipu cavern which is famous for glow worms. Glow worms sound cute but in reality they are bugs that hang from the ceiling and dribble out a gooey saliva strand from their butts that is luminescent. Despite that, I still wanted to see them for myself. The entrance was fittingly magical as it was being guarded by a group of semi wild horses that were keeping post and grazing at the mouth of the cave. We chatted with a couple that was exiting and they assured us that we needed to go all the way to the third cave. I was already getting nervous. The first cave was full of interesting stalagmite/tite's and was a good primer in getting used to the dark. The second cave was lovely and the glowworms looked like small constellations. The third cave seemed to be nowhere. Andrew dissapeared out of sight by following the river through a wide but low roofed tunnel. Andrew got me over my fear long enough to pass between the caverns (which involved crouching and walking in knee deep water with the rock above pressing down on your back as I begged to turn back). We spent over an hour in the cave. The glow worms were really beautiful and you could make out the topography of the cave ceiling by the patterns the glow worms made. Andrew got to try lots of cool long exposure camera shots and I got to work on my fear of the dark and the idea that maybe, just maybe, the cave would not end up collapsing on me and squishing me with the rest of the bugs.
We left the caves on a high, we swapped our muddy shoes for flip flops in search of the wild kiwi. I had found us a campsite at a place called Aroha (the Maori are descended from the Polynesians and the languages have a lot of overlap. Aroha is the same as Aloha) which is also a kiwi preserve. We picked a gorgeous campsite on the coast which had wild oyster beds and amazing wildlife everywhere. I arranged for some headlights that had a red bulb so we could go Kiwi hunting that evening. And so began the most thrilling and mostly actionless three hours of my life. Kiwi's are nocturnal and like to dig in the underbrush. They don't make much noise except for a shuffling sound as they move around digging for grubs. We were hiking by the light of the moon very slowly. We could hear the Kiwi occasioanlly but they were always heading in a direction away from us or in such deep brush we couldn't see them. We gave up. We decided to keep walking quietly on the off chance we might get lucky but headed back to camp. THEN IT HAPPENED. It sounded like a wheezey kid was mucking around in the bushes. Andrew and I switched our red tinted head lamps on and slowly crouched down. In the underbrush about 4 feet away, we saw several brown kiwi digging for grubs and flirting. We were so excited, we watched for a few minutes then realized, you can only watch kiwi's on your hands and knees in the dark, for so long. We tramped back to camp and bragged to all who would listen. The next morning when I returned the headlamps, I reported to the woman who ran the preserve. Apparently we saw the kiwi's doing a mating ritual, they are usually solitary and we saw something really rare.
I am thinking of you all, so far away. Drop me a line to say hello and happy holidays!