Hawkes Bay and Gisborne: A lot of Sheep and Treacherous Driving

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little down recently.  The weather certainly doesn’t help, winter in Auckland is a dark and rainy situation, where the amount of wind makes umbrellas obsolete.  While I was offered the chance to stay on with my company in New Zealand, with much research I’ve gathered that it’s pretty much impossible to get a dog from the US into NZ, (we all know what happened with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard with their dogs in Australia, and NZ is even worse).

biohazard

I have an almost three year old pup back in the states currently living with my mom, so unless I want to spend several thousands of dollars or take the risk of putting a dog who is prone to seizures through a cargo flight to NZ, it’s the most adult decision for me to go home.  And fight like hell to campaign against Donald Trump.  I’m sad, I’ve grown to love my dysfunctional family at work, but it’s been a great learning experience and I’m excited to see what’s next.  BUT, my time in NZ is now dwindling, so I have to do as much …ASAP!

I was surprised with a 3 day weekend a few weeks back – it was the Queen’s fake birthday, apparently.  Excellent.  Just another excuse to have a day off at work.  Her birthday is in April, but it’s celebrated the first weekend in June.  And I’m speaking of the Queen of England, Elizabeth…just in case you were wondering. How little the world knows of NZ politics, I am guilty as well.  With my extra day I decided I would venture on a road trip to Hawke’s Bay, NZ first wine region.

6am Saturday morning, I packed up my shit of a Nissan rental and pulled onto Route 1, the main highway in New Zealand (LOL, highway).  I expected the drive to be over 6 hours, but was happily surprised when my GPS informed me that it would take just under 5.  Hamilton soundtrack blasting, I was off… Until I was stopped less than a minute later by the police for a mandatory Breathalyzer test.  That’s a thing in Auckland; they wait at the entrance of the freeway, and test every driver at random times of the day.  As I was pulled over, (thankful that I hadn’t been drinking the night prior…which isn’t often) I was offered this machine that looked like a walkie talkie, to which I said, “um, so how do I this?”

I passed my test with flying colors, and finally, I was actually on my way.  I love highway 1. In Auckland City, it spreads over four lanes each way, but as soon as you get outside the city, it quickly shrinks to one.  The other three lanes are replaced with green hills, covered with sheep.  Thousands and thousands of sheep.  It pairs perfectly with your soul-searching playlist.

After four hours, I arrived in Napier, which is the main city in Hawke’s Bay.  Hawke’s Bay is famous in terms of wine because it was the first established viticultural region in the country.  It’s on the Pacific Ocean, on the east side of the North Island.  Napier was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931, a catastrophe that killed 256 people, the deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand history.  The city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, and today remains one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in the world.  It felt as though I walked onto the 1950’s set in Back to the Future.  Pastels, the fonts of the signs on businesses, all set along a gorgeous coastline.  It almost didn’t feel real.

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I was starving, so I decided to search out a spot that had been recommended to me a multitude of times.  Since Napier is quite small, I found Bistronomy quickly.  A spacious, minimalist interior, it was fairly empty when I showed up around 2pm for some lunch.  The staff made me feel at home immediately, and I chowed down on swordfish with brandade and a sparkling  negroni while chatting up the bar staff.  I recommend you go if you’re ever in Napier.  It was spectacular.  After lunch I walked along the streets, snapping photos of the beautiful buildings, then down to the beach, where many were enjoying the surprisingly good weather.  Then it was off to my Airbnb lodgings – possibly my favorite part of the trip.

My Airbnb was a solar powered converted shipping container up in the mountains overlooking Napier and the whole of Hawke’s Bay.    The drive took me along the rugged coast, then steadily up a dangerously curvy mountainside until all I could see was herds of pigs, sheep, and cattle.  As the sun was beginning to set, I found my shipping container.  Along with my four new pets – a herd of goats.

It was the coolest place that I have ever stayed.  It was incredibly modern on the inside, and the view was insane.  I even considered doing yoga on the porch, (if only I knew how).  The only problem was that it got incredibly cold at night, and a fireplace was my only source of heat.  The owner requested that I only used wood to build a fire, without the aid of paper, straw, whatever, so I ended up having to message my guy friend way past his bedtime to ask him how to light a fire.  I’m useless.  I got it, eventually.

I planned on wine tasting the next day, but started the morning with a hike around the property, which essentially entailed walking around around a bunch of sheep and pigs.  It was far more glorious than it sounds.  After some breakfast, I was ready to wine taste. I drove my car to the gate, opened it, and stepped on the gas to go up the hill.  It didn’t go anywhere.

I was stuck in the mud, in the middle of nowhere.  I was reminded of my childhood, where I lived in a house where the driveway was so steep that unless you had four wheel drive plus snow tires in the winter, you were fucked.  Luckily, after reversing a bit and then putting the gas pedal to the floor while steering haphazardly all over the place, I was able to get out.  I parked at the top of the hill for the rest of the trip.

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It was a full on day of tasting.  I started at Esk Valley around 10am, and happened to run into a gal who was working at the first wine shop I ever went into when I arrived in Auckland.  It was a hilarious coincidence, but not at all surprising to see that only industry folks were out wine tasting that early in the morning.  What can I say, we’re professionals.

I proceeded to visit several wineries in the area; Craggy Range, which is well known the states, and Te Mata, but I was blown away by neighboring Black Barn, which had a Chardonnay that blew my socks off.  It tasted like the priciest Chardonnay in Napa (which can run you upwards of $100) but was only $30.  I bought some, and was going to save some for my sister’s visit, but alas, I’ve already drunk it all.

I was ready for some lunch, and I heard that Elephant Hill Winery was the place to go for a treat yourself meal.  Elephant Hill is special in that it is one of the closest wineries to the ocean in the world, so I really wanted to see what they had to offer.  When I walked in, I asked if they had any lunch offerings for one.  They kindly told me no, but I could do a tasting with a cheese platter if I was interested.

Bitch no, I wanted lunch, not a stupid cheese plate.  At that point I was ready to grab a sandwich anywhere, but I agreed to at least a tasting at the bar.  However, halfway through, and the host came over and said, “Do you still want to dine with us?” I said yes, and he responded, “Are you Lauren?” And like any old hobag I told him, “sure, I’m whoever you want me to be.”  Turns out, Lauren never showed up for her reservation, so it was mine.  Thanks, Lauren, whoever you are!  The oysters, venison, and the view of the vines and the ocean was pure perfection.  And I loved their Syrah.

After checking out a few well known places, I really wanted to see something beyond the exported.  I found that in Alpha Domus.  It was as though I was visiting a tiny winery in Sonoma.  I spent my time tasting through an array of gorgeous wines in a garage while scratching behind the ears of the lovable dog.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  Great wines, with heart, and no pretension.  I walked out with a case…they were having a sale, guys.  I can never turn down a good sale.

alpha domus

The next day I took the 4 hour harrowing drive to Gisborne through the mountains.  Not before stopping in Tangoio for a little hike to check out the gorgeous waterfalls.  Gisborne just North of Hawke’s Bay, so I thought nothing of it, but it was the most beautiful and treacherous drive I’ve ever taken.  Too many curvy roads, with cars going way too fast.  I was grateful when I pulled into town.

Gisborne is the first place in the world that sees the sunrise, and is also where Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand.  So it’s kind of like visiting Jamestown or Plymouth Rock in the states.  Honestly, beyond a beautiful coastline, there was not too much else to see, so around 5pm I climbed back in my car, ready to what I thought was going to be maybe a 3 hour drive back to Auckland.  My mouth dropped when my GPS told me that it would take 6.  See, the only way to get out of Gisborne is a 3 hour drive through the mountains before you finally get back onto a real highway.  There was no way that I was going to drive in the mountains in the dark, so I decided to book a hotel for the night, and drive back in the morning.  Hey, why not be the first to see the sunrise?  I got a room right on the beach, and made friends with the super fat motel cat, who I caught chilling on my bed when I got out of the shower.

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The drive back to Auckland took about 8 hours, but it was one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever been on, through the mountains and along the coastline.  Back in Auckland,  although I was exhausted, I still felt as though I had more energy than I had in weeks.  I did a few loads of laundry, cleaned my room, and asked a guy I had been talking to out on a date.  Sometimes, you need to get away  for just a bit to re-calibrate, and it makes all the difference.

xoxo

B$

Why Auckland Should be your Next Foodie Trip

When it comes to food destinations, I never see any publication talk about Auckland, or even New Zealand, for that matter.  Perhaps it’s too remote, or, being known as Australia’s chia pet, cities such as Melbourne, which is located on an actual continent, get all the attention.  Has Anthony Bourdain even been to New Zealand?  On further research, yes he has, (and was almost killed by an ATV) back in season 1 of No Reservations, but frankly, that was awhile ago, like, when his hair was still terrible and he was promoting Kitchen Confidential.  

I’ve been lucky enough to live in and around several foodie Meccas in my life: New York City, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Napa Valley…yet I remain dumbfounded that not more people are shouting from the rooftops about the food scene in New Zealand.  It’s a melting pot of the Maiori, and a variety of Asian and European cultures, and literally most of it looks like The Shire, so local and fresh ingredients are diverse and abundant.  The tiny Capitol city Wellington has more restaurants per capita than Manhattan.  MANHATTAN.  Oh, and it’s ridiculously affordable.  So maybe it’s an intentional secret?  In that case…stop reading now!

Below is a list of my favorite food and beverage finds thus far.  It’s far overdue, but you see, there’s been so much, and too much more to discover.

Let’s talk about lamb, baby, let’s talk about you and me:

Flying into Auckland four months ago, I could see the massive herds of sheep thousands of feet in the air.  Lamb is to New Zealand like chicken breast is to the US…minus the hormones.  It is everywhere, and it’s incredibly inexpensive.  While a 1-2 lb rack of lamb will set you back $30 easily, in New Zealand, it’s about half of that.  It is a blessing, and my iron levels are happy for it.

Duck? Boar? Venison? Ostrich? Opossum? Right over next to the ribeyes, love:

My appreciation of game meats has gone through the roof since moving to New Zealand.  All of the meats mentioned above are readily available in the average grocery store, and in multiple forms.  Ostrich sausage? Yum! Venison kebabs? Sure! Opossum meat pies? Why not?  I’ve been having a blast experimenting with these proteins in my own kitchen, as well as trying them in restaurants around Auckland.

Burgers and McDonalds

I can’t write a food post without addressing globalization, so here it goes: Kiwis love burgers, probably more than Americans do.  Burger joints are everywhere, and they’ll put almost anything on them, notably beets (or beetroot, as it’s known here) and eggs.  I feel as though a kiwi could almost define themselves through their burger choices.  My primary example is McDonalds.  McDonalds in NZ has pulled a Burger King with the ultimate, “have it your way”.  At any McDonalds you can build your own burger, then share it on social media claiming it as your own creation.  What the fuck is the world coming to that someone needs to feel validated by sharing with the world what they put on their burger? But I suppose I can’t say anything, because I’m an American, and we have our own problems to deal with.  But seriously?

Coffee will never be the same:

Stumpton is delicious, Blue Bottle is magical, but nothing, and I mean nothing, is as transcendent as the average flat white served in the majority of cafes in New Zealand.  There is such complexity in the espresso, and the milk is so fresh due to the insanely large dairy market, that when I brunch, I prefer it to a cocktail.  And that’s saying something. Like really. saying. something.  Coffee is probably what I will miss most once I return to the states.

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Meat pies:

I stayed away from meat pies in Auckland for quite some time.  They are individually baked pies with a variety of fillings, stemming from New Zealand’s long and complicated British history, and you can find them hot and ready to eat in any bakery or cafe across the country.  So why did I stay away from them? I love chicken pot pie, but that sounds like one thing – meat pies, that’s a different animal.  I kept on being taken back to my musical theater days; whenever I would see a meat pie in the bakery I would start humming “Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies”… and all was lost.

However, on my birthday, two of my friends and colleagues and I went wine tasting on nearby Waiheke Island, and to line our stomachs, one of them suggested meat pies.  Appalled that I had never had one yet, I was told to try the steak and cheese, (after downright refusing the mince, which is the equivalent to ground meat, but sounds like the equivalent to the word moist, in my opinion) and I was delighted to find that it tasted like a fancier, flakier hot pocket.  My friend did not approve of the comparison, but I think that anyone who says that they truly hate hot pockets is scamming you.

Throw everything on the barbie 

Especially during the summer months, (that’s winter in the US, mind you) BBQ’S are a way of life.  Everyone brings something to throw on the grill, you sit on the beach, drink, and life is good.   Seafood is often the spotlight, where the local oysters, abalone and clams are one-of-a-kind.  Both bluff and rock oysters have been commercially harvested since the 1800’s; they’re relatively small and sweet, and I could go to town on a few dozen of them.  Followed by some grilled meats and veggies while the sun sets over the waves, it feels like vacation, but no, you’re just lucky.  Pardon me, you got some drool there…

Al Brown:

Not Alton Brown, Food Network fans, although when I first read my Lonely Planet guide that’s who I thought they were referring to.  Al Brown is a famous NZ food personality, and has been for quite some time.  His restaurant Depot is extraordinary, focusing on small plates and local fare, and Best Ugly Bagels next to my flat has rekindled my love of cheddar and marmite toast, a hangover treat a British friend of mine introduced me to years ago.  If you don’t know about him, look him up.  I’ve been really inspired by his food and recipes; they’re rustic and gorgeous – I guess Jamie Oliver-esque, without the mainstream pretentiousness.

Asian food overload:

I have never ordered so much takeout/ eaten out in my adult life.  And it’s because I want to try every Indian, Thai, Japanese, Malasian, Tibetan, Chinese, etc etc etc restaurant around.  I’m familiar with American-Asian takeout, but I’ve been playing this game where I look at a menu, where I only recognize a few of the dishes, and I order something completely random that I’ve never heard of.  I’ve only gotten food poisoning…once.  It’s positively thrilling, but also a great lesson that food from culture to culture is more relatable than we think it is.  A few spice changes here or there, a different noodle texture, a change in protein, but at the heart of it, we use different cooking techniques to achieve the same goal on a tough piece a meat, a stale piece of bread, or a pile of gnarly root vegetables.  Every culture has a rice dish, every culture has a meatball, every culture has something savory or sweet encased in a form of dough.  Once you get past the minor differences, it’s such a blast and education experiencing it all.

I’ve only scratched the surface, particularly when it comes to the Maiori food culture, but guys, if you sincerely love food, I urge you to add New Zealand to your list of dining destinations.  If this post doesn’t convince you, maybe the no tipping in restaurants will?

Below is a list of my favorite spots in Auckland so far.  If someone in NZ reads this, feel free to suggest some more!

Ortolana – brunch and incredible atmosphere

Depot – oysters, small plates, dinner

Odettes – brunch, dinner, people watching

Best Ugly Bagels – bagels and marmite toast

Westies – favorite work coffee joint in New Lynn

Mr Zhous Dumpling – a work favorite, best Chinese in Auckland

The Gin Room – favorite spot for a cocktail in the CBD, their selection of spirits is on point

Tiger Burger – food truck.  Octopus burger. Kimchi on everything.  Enough said.

Oh Calcutta – addictive Indian food

Golden Dawn – The best local and hipster wine list in Auckland, in my opinion.  Awesome food and outdoor patio to match.

Mix Moon Cafe – solid solid Thai food next to my office.  Maybe not the best, but it keeps me oh so very happy.

Expect this list to get longer, and longer, and longer…..

 

 

 

How to be Single in Auckland: The Two Towers

Alright, fine.  Normally when I release a blog post, I get a modest amount of views.  I thank my mom and my friends from college.  However, when I decided about a month back to post something about my dating life, I scored over 500 hits in a day.  Just from Facebook.  You filthy, cheeky bastards.  So here it is, a second account of what it’s like to be new and single in a foreign country.

A good friend of mine and I were Facebook messaging the other day, and he asked, “so what’s it like dating Kiwis as opposed to American men?”

Honestly? Sorry to disappoint: No fucking difference.

Yes, there are accents, yes, there are cultural differences, but at the heart of it, we’re human, so our basic instincts are allllll the same.  Case in point? The very lovely text I received yesterday saying, “so sweet to meet you, so when are you keen to sit on my face? X”.

Yes, there are accents, yes, there are cultural differences, but unlike the Amy Schumer piece that in the past I related to in too much of a way, shit’s getting old.

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To get a general idea of what I’m talking about, let’s go through a few of my dating highlights over the last three months. (Note: names have been changed, as you will see…obviously)

Frodo: The man who fulfilled all NZ stereotypes by using a Lord of the Rings reference in EVERYTHING he said.  And if you’ve read this blog, you know that I normally get a serious hard on from that shit.  Also, did not help that I was his first date in 6 months since he broke up with his girlfriend of 5 years.  Trust me, I know – that never works.  I WILL NEVER BE YOUR EX.  ISN’T THAT A GOOD THING??

Footy: Liverpool football (that’s soccer, y’all) player.  Oh yeah, totally had my “Bend it Like Beckham” moment.  But, like most athletes of a handsome nature, our dates were spent pouring over his phone while he showed me pictures of his “life-changing” 5 days in Copenhagen, while refusing to acknowledge my comments that, oh yeah, I lived there for a year. Ohhhhh did you go to Christiana? Did you smoke marijuana? DID YOU FEEL SPECIAL? Yawn.

Bob: I invite any other more generic names you can think of.  Can I get a date with Bob?  YES I CAN!  Bob seemed cool, an ex army bro who was training as an airplane engineer, but when I met the poor bloke, the guy was 35 and had never left Auckland.  Not even for a 30 minute flight to New Zealand’s capital Wellington.  Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Simba: sorry, that name is real.  I was out at a bar and my friends swiped right on a guy named Simba, who was actually rather attractive, but two weeks later I got a Bing on my phone after midnight from Simba, on a Tuesday, with the very creative message: 😉.  I was so pissed that he woke me from my weeknight slumber with an emoji, so I was rather inappropriate and responded with this: 🦁, followed by a GIF of Scar saying “I’m surrounded by idiots”.  He thought it was hilarious, and kept messaging me.  I’m the worst, because anything I tried to say back to him just came out in a Mufasa voice in my head, like, if we were ever to have sex, it would be like, “Simbaaaaaaa everything the light touches is yourssssssss”.  I can’t.

Hi: The fucking person who messaged me “hi”, everyday, for two weeks before I unmatched him.  That’s it.  It says I’m an American new to New Zealand on my profile.  Ask me a question.

Threesome: I hit it off with someone on a first date, only to have him drop the word “girlfriend” towards the end of the evening.  Didn’t I know? They were looking for a third for their threesome.  You could have mentioned that when we were messaging, mate.  Clearly, not enough wine was involved.  Otherwise, intrigue? Cataloging for later…

That guy: A friend of an acquaintance who is known for hitting on anyone that describes herself as women, and, oh hey! That’s me! Luckily, when I was drunk and got pinned up against the side of a concrete building, and said, “dude, what the fuck are you doing?” He stopped.  And to that, I give Kiwis, or this particular guy, credit.

Highlights, or, perhaps lowlights, my friends! The point is, unfortunately, there will be people that regardless where you live, no matter how much you love that friggin Kiwi, Austalian, or British accent, you might just not get on with them, and now I know, that’s okay! I think I was expecting that since I was living somewhere foreign, that everyone would be like the Kiwi guy I spent a summer teaching waterskiing with at a summer camp in Maine when I was 17.  Man, could that guy drive a motorboat.  But now I’m 10 years older, and 10 years more cynical. Or smarter.  Or both.

Finishing this post, you might think that I have total disdain for anyone of the opposite sex in New Zealand.  Well, you’d be wrong, but that’s to be continued, as I keep on having these very fine misadventures.

X

B$

 

Auckland: More Initial Thoughts

I’ve now been in New Zealand for 2 ½ months.  Wowza, time flies!  I’m really loving it here, the people, the work, the lifestyle, but as you learn spending an extended amount of time in any country, there are things that are different than what you are used to.  On that note, continuing on from an earlier post from when I first landed in Auckland, here are some additional, very first-world things that I’ve noticed about life down under.

Kiwis are the worst drivers.

It’s not Boston, it’s not California, it’s not anywhere else in the world.  Kiwis are the. worst. drivers.  I can’t get through one 15 minute commute without my heart almost stopping or desperately wanting to give someone the finger.  Signals seem to be optional, many drive way below the speed limit, and many don’t even bother looking when they switch lanes.  My office is next to a busy road, and without fail, there is either an accident, or near accident with the blasting of several horns, at least once a day.  It also doesn’t help that there is constantly road construction going on, and the lanes are scarily narrow.  On top of it all, on many major roads, parking spaces manifest themselves in the actual outer lane itself, not off to the side, so you’ll be driving around 60km/hour, and all of a sudden you have to switch lanes just to get around a parked car.  It’s madness.  Luckily, public transportation is decent, and uber is super cheap, so I leave the driving just for my work commute and road trips.

The chocolate and pineapple combo.

My first day at work, my boss sent out a company email welcoming me to the team, and that they looked forward to introducing me to “pineapple lumps”.  They’re like these pieces of pineapple-flavored taffy coated in a thin layer of milk chocolate.  They’re nasty as fuck, but the beloved candy of New Zealand.  I guess I just don’t do well with foreign candy, whether it’s lakrids in Denmark, or kiwi pineapple lumps.

But it doesn’t stop there, oh no, there seems to be this obsession in New Zealand about pairing chocolate and tropical fruits together.  I guess it makes sense, I like the chocolate dipped pineapple in those Edible Arrangements, but here it’s artificial pineapple flavour paired with chocolate.  I was introduced to this product called “Tim Tams” yesterday, basically two wafer cookies with a filling in the middle, again encased in poor quality milk chocolate.  While there are several different flavors of filling, everyone was excited about the pineapple filling.  I couldn’t get behind it, why can’t we all just eat the salted caramel flavored ones like normal human beings?

Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on the banana-flavored m&m’s.  It’s hell in mini chocolate candy form.

Locks

You unlock things by turning them towards the lock, rather than away.  It’s confusing.  That’s all.

Security, or lack there of

Getting on a plane in New Zealand is easier than getting on a Greyhound bus in the states.  If you are flying domestically in New Zealand, a photo ID is not necessary.  My boss offered me a ticket in her name to Nelson on the South Island, because you can just do that.  Additionally, the capital city of Wellington is the only city that you need to go through metal detectors to get to your gate.  You just go directly to your gate for all other domestic flights.  When you do go through a metal detector, no clothes or accessories are removed, and no items, except lap tops, are removed from your luggage.  As for liquids?  When I went to Wellington I saw a man walk through security with a beer in his hand.  Does that answer your question?  New Zealand is so small, so remote, and to be completely honest, no one really gives a shit about it.  I think that John Oliver puts it best by calling New Zealand, “Australia’s Chia pet”.  But it also means that (knock on wood) New Zealand is a peaceful country.  They barely have a navy, and they don’t own a single fighter jet plane, because they don’t need to.  My friend couldn’t join the military, not because of some physical impairment, but because they simply did not need him.  Isn’t that nice?  I hope that it always stays that way.

Kiwis are actually, in fact, hobbits.

Kiwis have an obsession with bare feet.  Male kiwis, in particular.  The only shoes I’ve ever seen the CEO of my company wear, if he wears any at all, are Birkenstocks.  Many of my male colleagues walk around shoeless and no one thinks twice about it.  Yesterday, at a grocery store that is the equivalent of Whole Foods, there was a man walking around the produce aisle, completely barefooted.  That would never fly in the US.  That’s a lawsuit just waiting to happen.  I have yet to prove the whole six meals a day thing, but since we have “afternoon tea time” at work, I’m highly suspicious.  They’re hobbits, people, hobbits!

The god damn metric system.

Celsius sucks.  It’s pounds, not kilos!  What fucking temperature am I supposed to bake these stupid cookies at?  How many grams is a half a cup of sugar?  How expensive actually is this gas? I mean, petroleum! Sorry! GAHHHHHHHHARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHH

I realize that America is totally in the wrong on this one, but still, thank god for conversion apps.

Clothes shopping

There’s no GAP in New Zealand.  No Banana Republic, no H&M, no Forever 21, no (thank god) Anthropologie, not even Anne Taylor to make you feel better about the fact that you’ve gained a few pounds because you can miraculously still fit into a small.  Beyond the super high end designers, the only clothing store I have recognized since arriving in Auckland is Topshop, which apparently is new to the city.  I needed some basics, so I finally bit the bullet and spent the better part of a day checking out each store to get a feel for their style and vibe.  On top of that, sizes are different.  Take your size in the US, now go two sizes up.  That’s your size.  And shoes?  I’m a size 40/41.  That took a bit of time to figure out.  I’m pretty sure that most the major shops are European or Australian based.  I like the clothes here.  The style is relaxed, loose, and flowy, with mainly neutral colors.  Also, another welcomed sight; the mannequins, while still very thin, are more normal looking than American versions.  It was an exhausting, but overall pleasant experience.

Delivery

Delivery is not special, every major city has it.  However, living in the middle of nowhere for years, the last time I had delivery was nine years ago when I lived in Washington DC, so let me have my moment, OK?  Delivery is glorious.  I get it now.  And the food, particularly the different types of Asian cuisine are insanely delicious.  All the Thai, all the Indian, all the Malaysian.  It’s heaven.

“See you later” and “that’s alright”

I’ve gotten used to many a kiwi phrase, “cheers” as “thank you” and “sweet as!” instead of “awesome dude!” have become an unconscious part of my vocabulary.  One that took me a bit to get used to; however, was “see you later”.  Yes, we use that phrase in the US all the time, but usually for our friends and family, people we actually will make it a point to in fact, see them later.  In New Zealand, the friendly and welcoming Kiwis use it as we would say, “have a great rest of your day”, “thank you for your business”, or just “bye”.  It’s not uncommon that a perfect stranger in a retail shop will say “see you later”, after you’ve purchased some clothes.  My first time in a wine shop, after I paid the woman said the three words, and I almost instantly felt self-conscious and thought, “HOW DID SHE KNOW???”  At first it just felt presumptuous, but now it just makes me feel at home, like, why yes, I will absolutely see you again, because you are part of my community.

The other one I’m still getting used to is “that’s alright”, as opposed to “you’re welcome”.  I guess initially it made me feel as though my “thank you” almost sounded like an apology rather than gratitude.  But then I realized the tone that they said it in, which was almost like a tone of embarrassment, like Kiwis are just naturally supposed to be gracious and kind, so the recognition of it is almost unnecessary?  Much like there is no tipping in New Zealand, because people are actually paid decent wages, hospitality becomes natural rather than forced.  So if you do leave an extra tip, like I did the first time I ate out, they almost get flustered by it.  Maybe we say “thank you” in the US because we’re surprised that we were treated with kindness, whereas in New Zealand, they are surprised that common courtesy deserves such praise.  Oh to live in the highest quality of life, English speaking city in the world.

See you later!

B$

I-heke, U-heke, We all Waiheke

It was my birthday last Friday.  I turned 27.  Yes, I realize for all my mom’s friends who are reading this blog, that’s young.  And yes, it is.  But for the last few years, I’ve dreaded getting older, because turning up a number on my “you’re going to die dial”, in a situation where I wasn’t content with my situation, felt troublesome.  This year; however, felt different.  I’ve accomplished, I’ve lost, I’ve learned, and now, I’m reinvigorated.  I’m ready to take my late 20’s by storm.  Plus, I had some pretty cool plans on my special day.

As part of the content writing team at my job, my two colleagues and I had been discussing a plan to visit Waiheke Island, a tiny piece of wine country just a 40 minute ferry ride north from Auckland, for some time now.  One of my colleagues had some contacts there, and suggested that we do some tastings and an overnight on the 26th.  Since that was my birthday, I said, “hell yes”, and the plan was a go.  We even got an approved paid half-day off from our boss.  A half day at work and wine tasting on a beautiful island?  Best birthday ever.

auckland

Around noon we clocked out and headed down to Auckland’s waterfront to catch the ferry, (not before getting a lovely card from my office and a great bottle of wine…thanks guys!).  It was gorgeously sunny, with the sun beaming off the turquoise waters in the harbour.  A quick ride later we pulled into Waiheke.

 

Waiheke only became a wine growing region in the 1980’s, before that, it was a hippy’s paradise, and pot was the main crop grown.  Known for primarily Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, my one bullet point about Waiheke from my wine school notes read: “where the rich go on vacation and drink overpriced Bordeaux blends”.  By New Zealand standards, this is probably true, the wines are more expensive than say a wine coming out of the larger Marlborough region that made New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc world-famous, but they’re significantly less expensive than wine coming out of Napa Valley and Sonoma, so everything is relative.  Don’t be so judgy-wudgy, wine notes!

fields

Waiheke is like Hawaii with vineyards instead of coffee farms.  Green farmland stretches over rolling hills, with stunning beaches and an undeniable “island-time” style of life.  You instantly feel as though you are on vacation.  As much as we would have loved to lie on the beaches and swim all day, we had some “serious” work to do, plus, Waiheke has recently been infested with “sea-lice”, a parasite that causes disgusting rashes to all who swim in Waiheke’s waters.  Fuck that, let’s drink some wine.

 

Our first stop was Man O’ War, a rather remote spot on the island that requires a car to get there.  Man O’ War is probably the most well-known winery on Waiheke, if not then it’s definitely the largest producing winery on Waiheke, owning about 150 acres of land on the island.  I had heard about this winery from so many people in the industry that it made me think that I would get a wine-boner as soon as I stepped on the property.

While the property was gorgeous, a small but stunning tasting room nestled on the shores of the island, the wines were…okay.  Well, that’s not fair.  I came in with such high expectations that I was expected to be blown out the water.  Plus, my job for the last three years was tasting and evaluating small production new world styled wines.  I can’t help but to compare it to what I know in California.  For example, Man O’ War produces a richly oaked, 100% malolactic Chardonnay.  For those unfamiliar with the terminology, that’s toasty, buttery, full-bodied Chardonnay.  In this particular bottling, I thought that the wood overpowered the fruit.  My colleagues disagreed, saying that I probably just didn’t appreciate “oaky wines”.  To which I responded, “Screw you, I just moved here from Napa, this wine just isn’t good”.  And indeed, the tasting room staff explained that the particular vintage was a hot and short one, thus the grapes didn’t have as much hang time on the vines as they normally would, something that is vital in creating complexity in the fruit.  Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know my buttery Chardonnay-that stuff is arguably my blood-type.

If I actually liked Sauvignon Blanc, I probably would have enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend.  It wasn’t as sharp as examples coming out of Marlborough; what I expected to be a jalepeno-tropical fruit bomb was more of a super grassy, citrus laden specimen.  I wasn’t mad at it, but I also had no qualms spitting it into the spittoon.  I consider myself a champion of new world wines, but in Sauvignon Blanc’s case, it’s Pouilly-Fumé for life, bitches.  I also found the Pinot Gris, New Zealand’s new darling variety, to be a bit viscous, and with residual sugar of 30g/L, entirely too sweet for a grape with such natural low acidity.

I wasn’t surprised that the reds were the highlight of the tasting, that is, of course, what Waiheke is known for.  The Warspite Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec blend rivalled some of the best Cabernet Franc’s I tried in Napa.  It was robust yet light on its feet, spicy with what can only be called sassy ripe red fruit.  I bought a bottle.  It was delicious.  The other stand out was their flagship wine, their Dreadnought 100% Syrah.  Powerful, meaty, spicy, fruity, smoky, I was reminded of great Syrah’s from the North Coast of California.  Fruiter than offerings from the Northern Rhone, but a far cry from Australia’s fruit-bomb Shiraz.  So I suppose my final conclusion is actually that the whites were “okay”, and the reds were pretty special, especially from such a new wine producing region.  Plus, the people who worked in the tasting room, or “cellar door” as it’s known here, were super knowledgeable, which made the conversation and overall experience that much more gratifying.

The producer I was most blown away by; however, was Stonyridge.  Not to be confused with Stony Hill, or Stony Mountain, or Stony (insert some kind of geographical bump in the ground.  It’s probably a winery somewhere).  Founder Stephen White was really the first to plant vines on Waiheke in 1982, back when most of the island was devoted to marijuana production.  They recognized the potential for Bordeaux varieties on the island, and was the first producer in New Zealand to produce a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  They were also the first New Zealand producer to make a GSM, (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre blend), and built Waiheke’s first underground cellar.  Production remains quite small, with just a few dozen barrels in the cellar, and the majority of the wine is sold winery direct, meaning unfortunately for the rest of the world, distribution isn’t really needed.

While Stonyridge makes a range of wines, we focused on their flagship offering, Larose, the Bordeaux blend that made them famous.  We got to try the current 2014 vintage, (remember, we’re a year ahead in the southern hemisphere when it comes to vintages) and enjoyed a bottle of the 2005 over some snacks.  I think that I was expecting this huge bruiser of a wine, similar to many of the Napa and Australian Cabernets that I’ve sampled over the years.  I was surprised when I looked at the bottle, and saw that the alcohol was at 13.5%, which is relatively low for a Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  It’s not uncommon for alcohol in a Napa Cab to be 15%abv or higher.  The 2005 had aged beautifully, with silky tannins, gravel, and luscious red fruit.  I likened it to one of my favorite producers in Napa, Corison Wines.  Cathy Corison is known for her unapologetically restrained and elegant style of Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s very much what this was.  Now, Stonyridge Larosa retails on average about $300NZD, which is about $200USD.  Corison retails around $80USD.  So does Stonyridge feel overpriced? Kind of?  But it’s made in such small amounts, and unlike Corison, is incredibly difficult to acquire, so one has to consider the value of that as well.  With all that being said, the 2005 Larosa is the best wine I’ve had from New Zealand…so far.

In terms of where in the growing season New Zealand is at, the grapes are finishing up veraison, which is when red grape varieties have turned from green berries to red.  Something that I’ve seen around the country which I never saw in Northern California is the use of nets over the vines to protect it from the vast array of birds.  A lot of these winged jerks don’t even actually eat the berries; they just poke a hole in them, allowing them to rot and ferment right on the vine.  Bastards.  With the protective netting, the birds and other creatures get caught, and it’s the vineyard crew’s job to go out to vines with baseball bats at least once a day to um, get rid of them.  I got the sense from the people I talked to on Waiheke that this growing season has been challenging, mainly due to the weather being all over the place, particularly with the immense amount of rain Auckland has received in the last few weeks.  You can kind of feel the concern in the air, yet as any Kiwi winemaker will tell you, “eh, we’ve had three good vintages in a row on Waiheke, four would be pushing our luck, wouldn’t it?”  Just another example of how wine, particularly those of small production, is an agricultural product that many depend on for their livelihoods.

netting

After our tastings, the snacks and the traditional meat pies we had lined our stomachs with earlier in the afternoon were fading, so it was time for dinner.  On the recommendation of our boss, we decided to try out The Oyster Inn on the main drag in Waiheke, a beautiful restaurant that reminded me of somewhere on the beach in York, Maine.  Overlooking the ocean as the sun set, my colleagues and I ate local oysters, probably some of the best I’ve ever had, in both raw and fried forms, sashimi, and for my part, a fresh pasta dish with peas, favas, fried kale, and homemade ricotta, which my dining companions couldn’t keep their forks out of.  Over glasses of bubbles we celebrated, and I got to know my workmates a lot better, perhaps a bit more information than I wanted to know.  Drinking wine all day can do that to you.

dinner

The next day we visited Passage Rock Wines, which touts itself as Waiheke’s “Most Awarded Winery”.  Deservedly so, the wines were excellent.  I was particularly blown away by their Viognier, which I could have blinded as Condrieu.  Viognier tends to taste like an oily alcohol bomb to me, but this was delightfully balanced, with tropical fruit tempered by salty minerality.  Their 2013 Syrah was the best Syrah that I’ve had in New Zealand, but unfortunately was not available for sale yet.  I even enjoyed their Pinot Gris, the neutral grape was just ever so slightly off dry, and was crisp and refreshing with Passage Rock’s wood-fired pizzas we stuffed ourselves with at lunch.  The best part though was the reasonable price points for the quality of wine, and I resisted the temptation to buy a case.

After all the wine tasting, we needed a break, so of course the obvious answer was to grab a beer.  We checked out the Waiheke Brewing Company, which partners with another company called Wild on Waiheke.  While you drink your brew, you can play life size chess, jump on trampolines, participate in skeet shooting, and participate in archery target practice amongst the vines.  Only in New Zealand, (and I guess Texas) will you see alcohol gleefully mixed with weapons.  We chose archery, and yes, I was terrible.  All those years of practice at summer camp meant nothing.  God.  It was super fun way to spend a Saturday, but I don’t recommend Russian River Brewing Company getting an archery range anytime soon.  I think the beer at Waiheke Brewing Company were low in alcohol for a reason…

Our last stop of the day, (because clearly we hadn’t had enough yet) was Te Motu Vineyards, founded by the revered Dunleavy family in 1988.  Te Motu comes from the original Maori name for Waiheke, meaning, “island of long shelter”.  They were kind enough to do a semi vertical of their Cabernet Sauvignon blend Te Motu, from 2000, 2004, 2006, and the current vintage 2014.  Unlike Stonyridge, which still had several years on it, these wines were definitely showing some age, but were still gorgeous, none-the-less.  You could smell and taste the continuity of the vineyard site in each vintage, but each wine was vastly different animal from the next.  That’s what is so cool about the same wine from multiple vintages, it allows you to see that a bottle can be more than what you reach for on the mass produced, grocery store shelf.  It’s experiences like these that have lead me to what I do today, and why I get so gosh darn nerdy about the whole thing.  I think if anything, the Te Motu wines reminded me of Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County, slightly more herbaceous and mineral than their Napa counterparts.


It was a fairly rocky ride on the ferry back to Auckland – I just waited for someone to spill their guts the way one kid did on a whale-watch back in middle school, but fortunately, that didn’t happen.  I was welcomed back by my roommate, who threw me an excellent birthday party at our flat, the highlight being me teaching all his friends how to saber bottles of champagne off our balcony.  It was a great birthday, a fantastic weekend, and I really enjoyed exploring Waiheke.  I was super impressed by the quality of the wines, and I can’t wait to take the quick ferry ride back to experience it some more.  Who knows how long the bottles I purchased will last?

Oh, and I crossed out that bullet point in my wine notes about Waiheke Island.  Despite the private helicopter that you can charter there, there is a whole lot more to Waiheke than I originally thought.

You just don’t get it, America.

We often think that our problems are our own.  Self contained, personal, not important to others.  That is not the case, especially when you are the most powerful country in the world.

Guess what, America, it’s not just us who’s worrying about the 2016 election.  The entire world, including a country as peaceful and remote as New Zealand, is scared AF.

I remember living in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 2009 and 2010.  I would watch the news with my host family every night.  Without fail, if it wasn’t the headlining news, one of the lead stories would always be about the United States, and our political climate.  Now, living in New Zealand, it is always the headline.  I don’t think we realize how much of an affect we have on the world.  Vice versa, when was the last time you thought about New Zealand, or Denmark, for that matter?  Hahaha, some of the most happiest countries in the world, consistently?  What’s the political system in New Zealand?  Who’s in charge?  Why don’t you care? (For your information, the Queen is the same as Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Prime Minister is John Keys, who people apparently hate so much that they would attempt to throw a dildo in his face.  Imagine what would happen if that went down in the US?).  New Zealand is certainly not perfect, but jeez, I would love it if someone could throw a dildo at Ted Cruz’s face without consequence, and everyone subsequently would call him “Dildo Baggins”.

It’s shocking how much more people from other countries know about our political climate than the average American.  My oldest host brother from Denmark, could probably skewer you on policy.  The boy’s a genius.  My co-worker sends me American political articles multiple times a day with his opinions and asking for my own.  And what makes me very afraid, I have met Kiwis and Australians who believe that Donald Trump would have the ability to fix America’s economy.  This is a belief brought on only through lack of travel, and what they’ve seen through media outlets, comedians, and foreign entertainment.

On a lighter note, Super Bowl Sunday, or Monday, as it was in Auckland, the bar was full of kiwis watching the entertainment.  Clips from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon gets sent around my office on the regular.  My colleagues ask me what I think of Chelsea Handler, All. The. Time.  Globalization is ever present, and everyone turns their heads towards America, more so than any other country, even China, to see just what we’re going to do next.

Let’s not disappoint, America, let’s remember that we are the global influence and role models.  Our decisions don’t just affect us, but billions of others.  We need to set an example.  Because everyone, and I mean everyone, is watching.

 

How to be Single… (In Auckland)

I met the CEO of my company the other day, although I didn’t realize it.  He approached my desk, asked how my work was going, and proceeded to comment on how brave he thought I was for moving across the world without knowing anyone.  Again, not realizing that he was the CEO until about 30 seconds into my response, I responded:

“Well, it’s no big deal, not like I had anything holding me down.  My roommate is from Melbourne, and he asked if I had a boyfriend, and I was like, of course not! Why would I uproot my life for the next 6 months if I had a boyfriend? And then he explained how young people in Australia travel a lot more than people in the US and I guess this’s true of everywhere else because we’re taught just to climb the capitalist ladder as quickly as possible and pop out babies and not discover ourselves first and *OH SHIT I THINK THIS IS THE CEO….JUST KEEP TALKING* and I’m just so happy to be here and my colleagues and the work is just fantastic!” AHHHHHHHHH

I was the laughing stock of the writing and marketing departments for the rest of the morning.  It’s okay, the amount of different accents that has offered me coffee or coding notes over the last two  months has made it totally worth it 😍😍😍

 

For the last 4 years, I’ve lived in a tiny, wine producing, tourist driven town.  It was beautiful…enviable via pictures on social media.  But as I’ve learned from a friend who I thought was incredibly happy due to her posts on Instagram, only to commit suicide recently, our genuine happiness is not what we portray to others through media platforms.  In fact, social media is often the most counterfeit versions of ourselves.

Living in Napa Valley for me, while incredible for my career and growth, in a word, sucked. That’s not polite.  It just wasn’t a fit, even in all its beauty. This is very much due to the fact that I was living there at the wrong point in my life.  Single, in my early twenties, ready to rage and meet and date a plethora of people to figure out what I wanted with no (significant) casualties.  That was impossible with my job.  With just a few thousand people in Saint Helena, and most of them being in the wine industry, the lack of diversity was astounding, and for years, I either didn’t care about anyone who lived there, or even worse, spent a significant amount of time trying to convince myself that I was romantically interested in someone I wasn’t.  I was incredibly bored, but found myself in a pickle because I loved my job.  But in the end, personal happiness won out, and here I am.

Since moving to Auckland, I’ve joined the bandwagon that is the awesomeness/horribleness of Tinder.  It was definitely available in Napa, but log on, and you would be sure to recognize about 95% of your matches, and God forbid, you swipe right on a guy that is trying to sell you 50 cases of their shitty Viognier blend.  Yeah, no thanks.  But, I KNOW NOBODY HERE, so Tinder is not only a function of dating, but meeting new friend groups as well.

I didn’t realize that it was possible to have more than one crush at a time.  The amount of good looking people here just blows my mind.  Men and women, (if you want a girlfriend, move here). It’s intimidating, and makes me even consider drinking a green juice.  ew.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve  genuinely liked a guy, most other relationships were either out of dorm-convenience, feigned intrigue, or just plain loneliness.  I am a rather independent person, and while I love helping others, the idea of someone supporting me in my day to day life seems positively ludicrous.  I am the girl who dropped everything and in a matter of weeks, sold my mustang convertible, and left my dog with my mom and moved to New Zealand for at least the next six months. I am the definition of unattached, and perhaps selfishness.  I like being alone, and it’s only the rare person that makes me feel otherwise.  Or, maybe I just went to a women’s college and then lived in a tiny farm town, so I’m not used to such things as seeing tons of smart, kind, attractive, and single men. Because now I’m like, well, “how you doin’?”

I guess I’m feeling as though my heart and mind has been a bit more open.  I think that it’s because living in a city and working in an international office, I’m meeting so many people from many different walks of life.  (Not going to lie, being from the states helps.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a message saying, “I love the movie The Town!” Or, “CA-LI-FORN-IA GIRLS 🎤😍😂xxxxxxxxxxx”).  Even if I don’t hit it off romantically with a guy on a date, there’s this thing that happens in NZ where people just ask you to go out and do things with their buddies.  No expectations, (well, at least no aggressive expectations) they all just want to chill and have a good time with their friends.  If you’re a cool person, regardless of whether or not they want to bang you, they just want to surround themselves with good people.  Ok yeah, I’m totally being naïve on this, but whatever, I’m enjoying myself, and hopefully we’re all responsible adults.

To be clear, I’ve since had very professional conversations with my CEO, the Tinder competition with my workmate is another story, however.  I guess I’ve thought in the back of my mind for years now that being single meant that you were alone, because that’s what it felt like where I was living, and few people were experiencing this thing called “being in your 20’s”.  But as I’ve gotten older, being single does not mean that you’re alone, it just means figuring out what fits and betters the person you’ve created for yourself, so that you can be the lover and rock for someone else who has been through the same, in their own way.  And God forbid, enjoying yourself, through every frustration.

And, you feel no guilt batting your eyelashes at the French Calvin Klein-esque model who writes code in your office.  Jesus Christ. #blessed