On my recent trip home to Aotearoa, my sister Arani and I met our late mum’s birth whanau, at a family reunion in Dannevirke, in the beautiful Hawkes Bay. It was amazing to meet so many lovely new relations, that had us laughing and crying throughout the weekend! After reconnecting with a hundred new souls who now call us “cuzzies”, we began our drive to Napier. We hit Havelock North just on lunchtime, so we stopped off to meet our local friends at Malo Restaurant. A simple, yet exquisite menu, and our sommelier companion Rachel, superbly matched a complex Hawkes Bay pinot gris, and as the afternoon sun descended on us, we all headed off to Napier!
Legendary NZ film-maker, and our extraordinary hostess for the next few days, Barbara Sumner, showered us with her incredible kindness, and delicious hearty Japanese inspired broths! Each morning, we feasted on a simple porridge, drizzled with sensational coconut milk, from her eldest daughter Bonnie’s company Little Island. I felt so nurtured and loved, plus two of Barbara’s other talented daughters were also around to share this special Easter weekend with us. Ruth gave me this gorgeous image below with her cheeky daughter Dot, running freely down Port Ahuriri. Whilst Rachel, a local PR queen and wine connoisseur, made us feel so relaxed and comfortable. Barbara introduced me to the magic of this small, energetic town, where I felt the spirits of my mother and aunty following me, guiding me. It felt like a community of like-minded people were gathering in this place, especially when I entered Hapī, a new food establishment where owner Gretta, had just created a vegetarian & vegan warm pocket of utter LOVE. Outside this cafe, Hapī also caters throughout the Hawkes Bay region, inside Farmer’s Markets and the recent Kapa Haka event. It’s wholefood goodness that you’re sure to enjoy on your next visit to Napier.
Saying “ka kite ano” (goodbye) to Hawkes Bay was difficult, but we made our journey back to Auckland fun by stopping into Esk Valley, to buy a case of their sensational Rosé, one of the many amazing vineyards in this garden of Eden, and we knew a kai (food) stop was on the cards in Taupo. Believing in my strong intuitive ability, we parked our trusty Budget rental around the corner from Replete, where we found a perfect Hakanoa Handmade Ginger Latte and a delicious Sri Lankan inspired fish dish. A gem in Taupo-nui-a-Tia!
We finally arrive safely in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland). It was my last night in the North Island, before flying south to Ōtautahi (Christchurch) and I have to say Facebook helped me out here. As the rain pounded hard on the window in my lovely inner-city Airbnb room, my puku (tummy) was rumbling, I spookily found a post about a new POP UP Italian-style restaurant, called Cotto. Within five minutes, I was in an Uber, zooming to K Rd Co-Op on Karangahape Road. Walking towards the building, I was gripped with déjà vu, suddenly I was back in the 80’s with a Lion Red in my hand, listening to NZ’s greatest reggae bands at the iconic Rising Sun pub! Zoom to the present moment, I walk inside and am greeted with a warm smile by maître d’ and co-owner Sabastion Charles Smith, who finds the last remaining table, and like perfect synchronicity my sister and her partner walk in. Felicity proceeds to inform me that the other owner of Cotto is Jonathan Poutney, from the infamous Grey Lynn pasta restaurant Delicious! What a combination, with Bar 69, offering outstanding views overlooking Auckland city and the best home-made Italian cuisine outside of Italy. We all finished our meals, and felt like we had gone to heaven! Check out Cotto on Instagram, your mouth will be watering in no time.
The last leg of this culinary journey, I flew in the capable hands of Air NZ, to Christchurch. As I descended onto the tarmac, I felt a range of mixed emotions, my youngest child Sofia was born here, however we left a few months before the massive 22 Feb, 2011 earthquake, having previously lived just around the corner from the CCTV building. To ease the pain, my dearest psychic friend Janine picked me up, and I asked her to find Gatherings, a new restaurant, created by sustainable conscious chef Alex Davies. Securing the last park on a Friday night on Papanui Rd, we whiz in, and find yes! ONE small intimate table. As part of Gatherings charm, you normally must book, but our beautiful young waiter told us to take the table, as a previous booking had not shown. What a meal of superb combinations, crafted on seasonal findings, matched with mouth-watering Waipara wines, it was utterly perfect!
Next day, I visited the amazing Kākano Cafe & Cookery School, founded by the exuberant, multitasker supermum Jade Temepara, who also happens to be a whanau friend, (for a deeper understanding of this incredible community social enterprise please visit their website). We immediately clicked, and her natural manaakitanga (warm hospitality) made me feel like I was “home”, so we drove with her local posse of Christchurch creatives out to Hanmer Springs, on our way to the highlight of my trip Hiakai!
I had forgotten how stunning the drive is to this very popular hot pool attraction. Even though it was the weekend, the pools did not feel over-crowded, and slowly my stressed-out body relaxed within the healing powers of the mineral waters. After a few hours, we all floated out the door, and jumped into our cars to drive an hour to the Food Farm, who were hosting Monique Fiso’s unbelievable Māori pop up fine dining event in her bell tent.
At dusk, we arrived at Waipara’s special organic and bio-dynamic, family-run farm, greeted warmly by host Angela Clifford, with a devine homemade cocktail. “Hiakai” in Māori means “hungry, having a desire, need, craving for food”. It’s a pop up series of Māori cooking techniques and ingredients, devised by Michelin-trained, Kiwi Chef Monique Fiso. We were treated to an eight-course degustation of the best kai (food) I have ever tasted. The oysters were so sublime, that I dreamed of them for days afterwards, each course was fabulously partnered with The Food Farm’s own wine company, Tongue in Groove Wines.
The evening felt even more special as only 10 guests are seated around a beautifully presented table inside the bell tent, designed by creative NZ company, Nomadic Tents. Within this intimate group of foodie lovers, was Giulio Sturla and his lovely wife Christy, founder of ConversatioNZ and owners of Roots Restaurant, in Lyttelton.
But Lyttelton will have to wait until Part Two of this blog post! Keep an eye out for the next post coming soon….
Safe Travels, Arohanui, Louise
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