Déjà vu in Oamaru, New Zealand,

Oamaru Historic Precinct, South Island, New Zealand

Some towns have a profound effect on the psyche. The moment you wander through their streets, or enter their buildings, an overwhelming sense of déjà vu confounds you. Oamaru, in North Otago, New Zealand, is one of these special places. Did my ancestors spend some time in this town before heading down south to settle in Invercargill all those years ago? Or is it the multitude of well-preserved Victorian architecture and streetscapes that enables a visitor to re-enter an imagined past?

Open the following photos individually to get a more intense view of this exceptional town.

Some streets are beautifully restored and are occupied by craftspeople, galleries, cafes, bakeries, and  brewers. Further south, towards the sea, the dark grey stoned industrial area bordered by an old railway, is more mysterious, in a ‘dark satanic mills’ kind of way.

The Oamaru Historical precinct was built of local limestone from the 1860s onwards. This is New Zealand’s most complete Victorian streetscape. You could spend days wandering around this town. It is an evocative place and not to be missed if travelling through the South Island of New Zealand.

Next time: Oamaru’s other attractions- food, parks and steampunk.



Invercargill Farmers’ Market

A pottle of delicious things, Invercargill Framers' Market.
A pottle of delicious things, Invercargill Farmers’ Market.

This sign on a food counter at the Invercargill Farmers Market intrigued me. I had never heard of the word pottle before. Have you? The young woman behind the counter held up a large disposable cup (a kind of show and tell lesson) and explained that these were pottles. She was equally intrigued to find out what I would call them. I had to think- hmm- a cup maybe, or a container or a serve? She declared that pottle was a more apt description and wondered why I had never used this label.

Colourful Kohlraby, Invercargill Farmers' Market
Colourful Kohlraby, Invercargill Farmers’ Market

A pottle, according to Colllins Dictionary, ( imagine an annoying Steven Fry voice here) is an archaic measure for liquids equal to half a gallon, or a small conical punnet of strawberries or other fruit or, in New Zealand, a small plastic or cardboard food container.

Purple Kale and Brussel Sprouts, Invercargill Farmers' Market
Purple Kale and Brussel Sprouts, Invercargill Farmers’ Market

These pottles were quite grand in size and the contents of said pottles were mighty tempting but at 10 am, it was just too early to indulge in a pottle of a battered mussels with aioli or fried calamari rings, which is a crying shame as this was a missed bargain. ( if only I had a good old hangover, I might have polished off both).

Huge Southern Swedes - a Tess of the D'urbervilles moment.
Huge Southern Swedes – a Tess of the D’urbervilles moment.

The vegetables on the 46th Latitude grow large and luscious in late Autumn. The Vegetable Man with the big truck explained that the air on his farm was  extremely dry- ‘we live close to the largest desert in the world, Antarctica, which sucks all the moisture out of the air. Our vegetables never suffer from any mould or bacteria as a result.’ In May, the late Autumn vegetables are alive and abundant, straight from the source, and I am thankful that I am travelling around New Zealand in a motorhome, enabling me to buy and cook such gorgeous produce. His farm experiences temperatures of  up to minus 15c in winter. Crops above the ground simply turn to mush.

Happy and Handsome Invercargill farmer offers me a slice of fresh kohlrabi.
Happy and Handsome Invercargill farmer offers me a slice of fresh kohlrabi.

If you are travelling down south in Autumn, a timely visit to the Invercargill farmers’ market is a must. It is a small market, but apart from a pottle of calamari, you can purchase some of the following: swedes, Jerusalem artichokes, kale and broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage, parsnips, leeks and carrots, freshly dug potatoes, yams and celeriac. Other vendors supply new seasons pears, apples and plums, garlic, cheeses and eggs.

Invercargill Cabbage
Invercargill Cabbage

Another Invercargill gem for the self caterer is Kings Seafoods in Ythan Street. The array of fresh and smoked fish is enormously tempting. We bought fresh sole fillets, smoked Hapuka, smoked salmon fins and sadly, not a kilo of the little neck clams ( $11) because they had run out.

The Invercargill Market runs every Sunday from 9.30 am.


Earth Down South

The Catlins, South Island, New Zealand.
The Catlins, South Island, New Zealand.

In the deep south of New Zealand, travelling via the coastal road from Dunedin to Invercargill, the road winds through the Catlins. Green takes on a different colour down here, one that is almost blinding to the average Australian traveller. We are close to Slope Point, the southern most tip of New Zealand and it feels like the edge of the earth.

The Tautuku Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand.
The Tautuku Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

Travel Theme: Horizons. Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week, Ailsa from Where’s My Backpack has set horizons as the travel theme. After a  quick scroll through the digital files, I was surprised to find that all my big horizons shots were taken in New Zealand earlier this year.  It’s not surprising really. Although a small country, New Zealand has 14,000 kilometres of coast. It borders the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean and one is never far away from a spectacular horizon . This also means abundant fish and seafood, but that is another story.

The Tasman and the Pacific oceans meet off the tip of Cape Reinga.
The Tasman and the Pacific oceans converge off the tip of Cape Reinga.

Cape Reinga, Te Rerenga Wairua, is situated at the northwestern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. It is a magical 100 kilometre roller coaster drive to reach the tip, and well worth the effort.


According to Maori legend, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife to leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800 year old pohutukawa tree and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki, ( Polynesia)  using the Te Ara Wairua, the ‘Spirits’ pathway’.

The spirituality of this place can be overwhelming.



Ake Ake Vineyard and Restaurant. New Zealand Road Trip.

Travelling around the North Island in a motorhome provides a great chance to taste some regional cooking, especially in out of the way spots. Ake Ake vineyard is located a few kilometres from the little town of KeriKeri, near the Bay of Islands. We booked for dinner one Sunday night ( this is necessary as the dining area is quite small) and were able to park our large motorhome and camp there for the night. This offer is only available to vehicles that are completely self contained. No facilities are provided, just a little spot alongside the vines out the back of the restaurant. I love this flexible approach to camping in New Zealand. This enabled us to try a wonderful bottle of Ake Ake wine then trot off to bed after our meal.Image

Above- Waking up to a chilly but sunny morning in the vineyard.

The entrees were few and this was the only disappointing part of the menu. I should mention that I don’t eat meat, only fish, and so this limited my choice. Three items were on offer- garlic and parmesan ciabatta, ( $9.50 ) seafood chowder ($14.50)  and a vineyard platter for two ( $25.00). There was also a special of the day which was meat based.Image

Starting with garlic bread, to me, is not a sound idea for dinner although it is a crowd pleaser and would probably go well with the platter at lunchtime. As I was ordering the main course of  fish, this left very little choice for entree. I had the garlic bread and shared it with Mr Tranquillo, who ordered the chowder. The bread was very filling ( four large slices) and very garlicky. It is fortunate that I love garlic.  His chowder was subtle and creamy and included prawns, a scallop and fish.

My fish of the day was a substantial piece of dory, cooked perfectly, served on a bed of tiny roasted Autumn vegetables, with a house made tomato sugo and pesto.($33.00) while Mr T had the gnocchi, which was also served with the Autumn vegetables, a tomato and sage butter and shaved parmesan. ($27.00 ). Both meals were substantial and very satisfying.ImageImage

For dessert we both ordered the creme brulee of the day, ( $12.50) served with ice cream and a biscotti. The brulee was studded with blueberries and although well executed, with a perfect toffee top to crack, the blueberries detracted from the creamy sensation of the custard. The accompanying ice cream was sensational- a cassis gelato, and the little biscotti was house made.

ImageAbove- Mr T can’t resist creme brulee and I was a little slow with the photo!!

The Ake Ake Chardonnay was one of the better wines we tried in New Zealand and it is a shame we didn’t start the evening with a quick wine tasting to sample the others.

I would recommend Ake Ake Vineyard and Restaurant for its honest cooking and reasonable prices. It is a modest establishment set in the middle of the vineyard and I suspect it would be a great spot for lunch with friends. Then the platters and breads would shine.Image

Ake Ake Vineyard

165 Waimate North Road, Kerikeri

New Zealand.


New Zealand Road Trip. The Mangonui Fish Shop.

The ‘World Famous’ Mangonui fish shop is located on the water front at Mangonui, Doubtless Bay, in the North Island of New Zealand. The town has two distinct districts: the original historic town, then further around the bay, the residential area, mostly consisting of beach houses. The original town is well worth a detour off the main highway.


“In 1769, Capt. James Cook sailed past the entrance to the area and recorded in his journal  “doubtless a bay”, hence the name. At the same time, the French ship St Jean Baptiste of François Marie de Surville was anchored within the bay. Each ship was unaware of the other.

Not long after, European traders, whalers, sealers and missionaries arrived here and Mangonui became a thriving port providing supplies, repairs and R & R for the many ships and their crews. Kauri trees grew in abundance and their trunks were sought-after for their length and diameter to serve as spars and masts.” More info here.


The town is picturesque and quaint, retaining many original weatherboard buildings from the early days. Coffee shops, waterfront pubs and other tourist facilities line the streets. The use of public space is generous, as are most public spaces in New Zealand, with boardwalks, grassy areas and seating along the waterfront. There is also a nearby Lions park set up for ‘freedom’ camping.

The fish shop perches on the water and is inviting, with alluring signs promising fresh seafood and fish cooked on the premises. The interior seating area is large, with a casual restaurant layout plus sea fronted high benches and open sided windows with plastic blinds. They also sell wine, beer and non alcoholic drinks.


We ordered two fish of the day,Tarakihi fish, and one serve of chips. The fish is indeed fresh, is battered and cooked to order. Sadly, the batter on our order was poorly executed. The batter, which was a tempura style mixture, didn’t stick to the fish, hence the fish became oily. It was necessary to tear off bits of fish as the batter fell off in pieces. The sizing was small. We were informed by the shop assistant that the average sized fillet weighed between 80 and 100 grams. The chips were tasty and well done, but few. One scoop cost $3.00.


Total cost for a packet of two freshly cooked fish of the day, with one serve of chips? $19.00. The lemon wedges are free.

The view is really outstanding but the prices are over inflated and the cooking is not up to scratch for a fish and chip shop. This place is probably set up for bus tours and large groups and so tourist prices apply. Perhaps next time I would ask for the snapper, paying a little more for a bigger piece and insist on the batter sticking in true fish and chip shop style!



New Zealand Road Trip. Cooking the Local Produce.

ImageOne of the joys of travelling abroad is the chance to eat the local cuisine. Even better if you get the chance to cook it yourself. Some of my fondest food memories are of meals cooked in backpacker lodges in Ireland and Scotland, rented houses in Italy and France as well as meals made camping, both here in Australia and in New Zealand. I often dream of the wild salmon and new baby potatoes we cooked in the backpacker lodge in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, or the fig jam we made in St Michele d’euzet, Languedoc, France or picking local herbs to enhance a lovely farro soup while staying in Guido’s  ‘Casa dello Scrittore’ near Lucca, Italy.

A trip to New Zealand in a campervan/motor home/RV provides another chance to eat some very fine local produce. Seafood is plentiful and inexpensive- just look at the amount of coastline on a map!

ImageNew Zealanders love to smoke fish and I am really pleased about this. Chowder is on the restaurant menus and it is always on mine too.  Heavenly smoked mussels from Coromandell are addictive. Smoked Hake, Tarakihi and Trevally are readily available in supermarkets. Fresh green lipped mussels can be purchased for $2.00 a kilo, while local Gurnard, Salmon, Snapper and Tarakihi are the main fish varieties commonly available. Pipis and clams can be collected or purchased.Image

ImageThe seasons in the North Island are mild; the soil is rich and fertile, largely due to earlier volcanic action. Visiting Farmer’s markets along the way to find fresh, local and organic produce is so satisfying.  In May, you can expect to find local avocados, persimmons, mandarins, apples, all manner of lovely vegetables, field mushrooms, organic cheeses, sourdough breads and olives. Many farmers sell directly from stalls along route, and the wineries of New Zealand are always close by and very tempting. The local Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are very tasty indeed. The Sauvignon Blanc I can happily leave on the shelf.

Here is one sample of ‘on the road’ cooking from our recent trip. This is a simple and easy dish to prepare on a two burner stove inside a motor home using all fresh NZ produce.

 Salmon fillet, with Mussel, Spring Onion and Cream sauce, mashed Agria potatoes.

Ingredients ( for 2)

  • 2 pieces of New Zealand salmon fillet, skin on, around 150 grs per person.
  • 150 gr fresh green lip mussels
  • one small container of local cream
  • unsalted New Zealand butter
  • 4 spring onions
  • 4-6 Agria potatoes, peeled
  • EV olive oil
  • salt, black pepper



  1. Cook the mussels until they just open. Shell them and then chop the flesh, removing any hard bits, into 1 cm pieces.
  2. Melt a knob of butter in a small pan, add finely chopped spring onions, including some of the green. When soft, add a slurp of white wine ( straight from the glass that you are drinking), reduce, then add the chopped mussels and a generous glug of cream. Season with pepper only.
  3. Boil the potatoes, add salt to taste towards the end of cooking. Mash with a knob or two of butter, finsih off with a little cream and fork until until smooth.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the salmon fillets in a frying pan with a little EV olive oil, until crispy on the skin side, then turn and cook briefly. Remove from heat. The salmon will continue cooking as you assemble the dish.
  5. Re- warm the mussel sauce, plate the mash, add the salmon fillet, then arrange the mussel sauce over and around the plate.


Note. On the road means always making extra. The left over potatoes and mussels became the next day’s tasty mussel and potato patties.


New Zealand Road Trip. Top 5 reasons to travel in May.

There are some compelling reasons to choose the month of May for a road trip around New Zealand, despite the fact that winter is looming.


  1. All the major hire car companies drastically reduce the daily cost of renting large motor homes (RVs) from the beginning of May. The daily cost of a 7.2 metre self contained motor home reduces to around AU $30.00 per day. We have rented vans from Britz and Apollo companies over the last two years. The vehicle layout, insurance liability and excess, and other features differ slightly from company to company but the price is the same. More about this below.* These vans come equipped with a cooktop stove and microwave, sink and fridge, shower and toilet, heater, large bed, linen, DVD player, kettle, toaster and kitchen utensils.Image
  2. Travelling from Melbourne to Auckland in May is often economical as Jetstar annually cuts the return fares to around AU$ 200 pp ( walk on 10 kilo hand luggage, no extras). We hope this trend continues.
  3. The camping grounds are often empty, allowing you to choose the best spots overlooking glistening bays dotted with islands, yachts and distant promontories. The price is reduced slightly as off-season rates apply. The facilities are clean and empty.Image
  4. Freedom camping is alive and well in New Zealand and some ‘choice’ spots can be found overlooking inlets and bays, or along green verges. Camping for free reduces the average daily cost. The van DC batteries are designed to last 2 or so days without plugging in. We ran the lights, DVD player and the water pump and used gas for cooking in these situations.Image
  5. The weather in the North Island is perfect for travelling. The mornings are sunny and warm, around 20-22c, the afternoons can be the same but with an intermittent shower, followed by chilly evenings, making for comfortable van sleeping.Image
  • The fitouts of the vans vary from model to model.This year we rented our vehicle from Apollo. The fitout was cumbersome, with wasted spaces and unusable features, obviously designed by someone who had never camped.  Last year’s fitout ( Britz) was sensational. You could attempt to hassle the companies regarding your preferred fitout but on the whole, these companies don’t promise much. It was hard enough to get Apollo to agree to an automatic transmission.
  • Despite having researched credit cards which provide insurance excess on these vehicles, some insurance slug will be necessary. Car hire companies make money from insurance products, interest transactions and add ons, such as rental of outside chairs and tables. The latter can be negotiated.
  • These vans have Mercedes engines and run very economically on deisel fuel. Factor in the cost of a tax for Pay Road User Tax, around $10 per 100 kilomteres. This tax is collected by the hire company, who pay it on your behalf.
  • The Britz hire company provides a ‘recycling’ corner where travellers may leave left over, non- perishable provisions after their journey. In 2013, I picked up EV olive oil, spreads, soy sauce, plastic wrap and tinfoil, coffee, salt and pepper, flour, toilet paper and more. Then on returning the vehicle, I knew that I had some lovely offerings to leave on the shelf. Sadly, Apollo doesn’t provide this service. I had to hunt around for someone in a camping ground to take my little pile of yummy, useful things. I hate waste!
  • Paid camping in New Zealand is not cheap. Prices vary from NZ$32- $50.00. Prices are related to the star rating of the facilities and the location within the camp, seafront often requiring a surcharge, despite the absence of customers in May.The other odd feature of NZ camping is that hot showers are not included in the price, often requiring a 50 cent coin. These showers have a habit of running out without warning, requiring a dash OUTSIDE the cubicle to feed the coin vending machine. In the flashier camping grounds, showers are free but the overall fee ( particularly those in the TOP 10 Holiday Park chain) is excessive. These franchises are often equipped with playgrounds, silly giant chess pieces and other unnecessary geegaws. On the up side, all camping grounds come with functional indoor kitchens, BBQs and TV rooms, providing a break from cooking in cramped conditions, especially when fish is on the menu. The overall weekly cost of camping is reduced dramatically when interspersed with freedom camping. See 4 above.Image

More on the food and wine of New Zealand next time.