Archive for the ‘Food and Wine’ Category

New Zealand: Christchurch – So Much to do, So Little Time

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

New Zealand – Six Days into the Cruise, Christchurch

Hagglund Ride by Sheree Zielke 

What to do in Christchurch, New Zealand?

I can think of at least one thing, perhaps even two or three things to do while visiting Christchurch, the country’s “Garden City.”  The hard part, especially if you are a cruise ship passenger with only 7 hours in port, is deciding how best to allot your precious time in New Zealand’s oldest established city. 

If you aren’t into old Edwardian architecture, you don’t feel up to punting (boating) down the Avon River, you don’t want to spend a few hours in the third largest city park in the world, you don’t want to ride the tram, you don’t care for a stroll around world class Botanic Gardens, and you don’t fancy a hot air balloon flight (from the centre of the city) or a gondola ride high to the top of an extinct volcano, then how about a trip to Antarctic, where you can experience (if only for a couple of minutes) the bone-numbing cold and the roaring noise of an Antarctic storm, complete with -18C wind chills? (That’s one of the adventures my husband and I chose.)

Failing that, you can always feed an eel in the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, or feed the giraffes in the Orana Wildlife Park.  You can visit endangered live Kiwi at the Aquarium and Kiwi House, or explore two million items at the Canterbury Museum.  You can take in the splendor of the gorgeous Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, or wile away your time sipping a creamy “flat white” coffee from the Yellow Rocket Coffee House, in Cathedral Square.

Christchurch Tram by Sheree Zielke

Perhaps you want to do something a little more active like driving a military tank, or going whale and dolphin watching?  Or maybe you’d prefer something a little more sedate like gambling in Christchurch’s handsome casino on Victoria Street, or taking a leisurely stroll back in time through Ferrymead Heritage Park.

Or just decide to spend your day shopping, sunning, and eating in the Christchurch’s town square.  This is where our exploration of Christchurch began.

It was six days into our voyage, and as avid port participants, we jumped ship as early as possible.

It was 7:30 in the morning; we had just pulled in to Lyttelton Harbour. We hired a cab driver, David, to take us on a whirlwind introductory tour of Christchurch before dropping us at the visitor centre in the town square.  After sipping a “flat white” coffee (our newest food desire) purchased at the intriguing “Yellow Rocket Café,” and pouring through a pile of brochures, we decided on the International Antarctic Centre, a 15 minute ride away.  We knew the Antarctic is one destination far far down our list of “we-can-hardly-wait-to-go-there” travel destinations, so this was the best way to visit. 

Christchurch Airport Bus by Sheree ZielkeThere were numerous ways to get there, but we chose the $5 Airport Bus (the driver supplied us with $2 discount coupons, too).

What fun!  A kid of ANY age will love the Antarctic Centre with its climatic zones (real snow, ice and blood-freezing storms, as well as a snowmobile for photo ops), little blue penguins, and a wild hägglund ride. 

We did it all, including visiting the centre’s Antarctic Storm booth where tourists are given both parkas and rubber overshoes Antarctic Storm by Sheree Zielkein order to survive the wind chills in the room.

The arctic hägglund ride was a blast. Strap in and hang on.  TIP: When riding, be sure to secure ALL photography equipment, especially any cameras hanging around your neck.  Otherwise, you’ll take someone’s teeth out (like your own) during the bumpy ride.

Leaving the Antarctic Centre was easy; tourists can choose from the Penguin Express bus (big penguins on roof), a city shuttle bus, a city bus, or the reliable $5 airport shuttle.

Having enough time to hang out before rushing back to the ship, we visited the Christchurch casino, New Zealand’s first casino, opened in 1994. We got the shuttle bus operator to drop us – she even waited to ensure we were acceptable (to casino management) in our casual shorts and cargo pants (we were, so we stayed).

We weren’t there on a Sunday unfortunately, but if you manage to visit on a Sunday, take in the Riccarton Rotary Market.  It’s New Zealand’s largest outdoor market – Bus #83 will get you there.Antarctic Snowmobile by Sheree Zielke

TIP:  Ship internet service is very costly, and horribly slow; pay a visit to Christchurch’s excellent and affordable Internet station, eBLAH BLAH instead.

TIP:  Lord of the Rings fans; catch a LOTR “Edoras” tour from Christchurch.  This full day trip will intrigue non-LOTR fans, too.

TIP: Kaikoura is 180 km north of Christchurch; the town is New Zealand’s whale watching capital.

Sheree Zielke

Napier: The Perfect New Zealand Port-of-Call!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

  TEN Good Things about Cruising into the Port of Napier, New Zealand

  1. No tender boats necessary.  Walk down the cruise ship gangplank to awaiting shuttle buses and taxi cabs.  (You can’t walk out of this port though; have New Zealand money handy.)
  2. Trip into Napier is very affordable.  And very quick.  $4/person via cruise shuttle bus or $10NZ for a cab.  Trip is about 5 minutes.
  3. Napier, New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeNapier town has something for everyone.  Miniature golf, great shopping, restaurants, an ocean spa, a museum, botanical gardens, a skate park, and great architectural scenery (Napier’s downtown was destroyed in a fire in 1931, so rebuilding was done in Art Deco style.)
  4. Easy affordable access to the Internet via email cafes in the city centre area.  $2/15 minutes.
  5. Golf course nearby.  Just grab a cab and you’ll be there in less than 15 minutes.
  6. Taxi drivers and tour operators actually like their guests, and aren’t just in it for the tips.  (Our driver, Splinter, was surprised by our tip – he told us he rarely got one.  That’s too bad, because it certainly wasn’t due to any lack on his part.)
  7. Marine Parade – This is Napier’s great main street.  Spend your entire day just walking this stretch of land which hugs the coast.  Beautiful views and great exercise.
  8. Olive Branch Bread Company – If you like freshly baked bread, this is a MUST-visit bakery.  It’s located on Hastings Street just down from the Visitor’s Centre.  My mouth is watering at the memory of this bakery’s crescent-shaped, black olive and rosemary bedecked, candied fried onions-stuffed, loaf of bread.  You must visit early in the day – breads are sold out by mid-afternoon.
  9. Sail away is a blast.  Set sail to the sounds of a Dixie band, and a show and shine of a ½ dozen vintage cars, complete with drivers in period dress (local volunteers). It’s fun to watch the maneuverings of the tug boat as it nudges the giant cruise ship into position to make its way safely out of its very narrow slip and back into the harbor.
  10. WINE!  If you are a wine lover, grab a cab; there are over 50 wineries in the area, like the Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand’s oldest winery shown below. 

    Mission Estate Winery by Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand might be considered the perfect cruise ship port-of-call.  But don’t take my word for it – go visit for yourself.

Sheree Zielke

Wine Lovers — Go Down Under for some of the best wines!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Wine Lovers Must Go “Down Under”
(no not under the table)!

Well, not exactly “Down Under,” — that’s the term more reserved for Australia.  Actually go to Aotearoa, that’s the native peoples (the Maoris’) name for New Zealand.

If you are a wine lover, and you haven’t yet become a fan of New Zealand wine, you might want to try a bottle.  Soon.  As soon as possible, in fact.  Because this Southern Hemisphere’s fruit of the vine is as fine as any fine wine can be.

My husband and I love a good wine, a wine with a hearty smooth flavour, great on the nose, and with a pleasing aftertaste.  We recently visited New Zealand and Australia, but as we are very familiar with Australian wines (Peter Lehman’s Barossa Shiraz is one of our regular favorites) we decided to concentrate on New Zealand wineries.  We are very glad we did.

New Zealand is the youngest country in the world, so it would naturally follow that it is also has the youngest vineyards.  And the newest wines.  But only a real snob would turn up his or her nose at the remarkable flavours this infant country has produced.

We visited wineries along the eastern coast of New Zealand (both the north and the south islands), in the area of Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, Wellington, and Dunedin, to be exact.  We had every intention of bringing wine back in our suitcases, but there are baggage weight restrictions, so we wanted to be very selective.  Tasting was a must!

Our first stop was Mills Reef Winery, a father and son operation (the Prestons) located in Bethlehem, Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty.  It was fairly early in the day so we had the sommelier all to ourselves; the barrage of cruise ship passengers who had paid for the winery shore excursion was yet to arrive.  So, we took advantage of this two-time winner of the title of New Zealand Winemaker of the Year.

Begun in 1989, Mills Reef (named for the owner’s sea captain great grandfather) specializes in Bordeaux Red and Syrah wines, but the winery produces many other varietals, too.  The winemaking team has won over 500 awards for the wine produced here. Mills Reef vineyards are actually farther south down the coast at Hawke’s Bay, but the grapes are shipped up to Tauranga for processing. 

We sampled a number of whites and reds.  And we tasted some of the most delicious ice wine and fortified wine here, too.  Since taste is a very personal issue, I won’t describe any of the wines, but suffice it to say we eagerly bought a few bottles.  We settled on a 2004 Riesling Ice Wine (Reserve), a 2002 Vintage Port (it’s suggested that you let this one age, but in my opinion, it’s too delicious to leave sitting on a shelf), a 2005 Malbec (this one has been given the thumbs-up by Winestate Magazine), a 2005 Merlot Malbec, and a 2006 Chardonnay (Reserve).

A day later, following a day at sea, we nabbed a cab in the Napier area; it’s a little further south than Tauranga, but still on Hawke’s Bay. The area is a favorite among cyclists and backpackers who make their way along pretty country back roads, sampling fine wines as they go.  Our cabbie quipped, “Yea, by the afternoon, they forget where they left their bikes.”

These wineries were no disappointment either, except for one of the largest, Craggy Range Winery, which struck us as too cold, too institutional, and far too commercial. At least for our tastes.  We visit wineries, not only to sample their wine, but to enjoy their atmospheres; Craggy Range was like visiting a big box store.  We were asked to pony up a $5 sampling fee here, but as soon as we did, the sommelier decided we weren’t riffraff and refused the money.  Do check out this winery’s web site – it is very nice.

Our cabbie (Splinter is his nickname) then took us to Mission Estate Winery, a large vineyard with a picture-perfect estate, and charming old seminary building, dated back to the mid 1800s.  As New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate is not to be missed. 

Many weddings are held in its huge backyard overlooking the vineyards below which stretch away into the horizon.  This is where we found one of the finest ice wines we have ever tasted — unbelievably smooth, fresh, exotically sweet, and oh, so drinkable.  I made a joke of not getting enough of a taste just so the sommelier would pour me another sample.  He knew I was kidding, but he kindly obliged. 

A trio of very reasonably priced bottles left with us: a 2005 Noble Semillon (Reserve), a bottle of the outstanding 2007 Estate Ice Wine, and an expensive 2005 Jewelstone Chardonnay (unfortunately, we never got to drink this wine.  Our bags were opened for a security inspection in San Francisco, and this bottle went mysteriously missing.)

Brookfields Winery New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeFrom here we moved on down the road to a smaller winery, Brookfields Vineyards.  There was nothing small about the wine we tasted here, however.  Rich and satisfying, we chose a 2006 Burnfoot Merlot, and an unfamiliar 2007 Viognier.  Brookfields, begun in 1937, has a Tuscany feel about it, very pleasant and homey.  We loved our very personal visit here.

We picked up a final bottle from a farmer’s market in Dunedin, from Black Ridge Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard/winery in the world.  It’s located on the outskirts of Alexandra. We chose a 2006 Gewurztraminer (the winery’s “flagship for many years”) on the say-so of the booth attendant.  Since there was no opportunity to taste this wine, we are looking forward to the adventure.  I doubt we will be disappointed as the winery’s Pinot Noir won a gold medal in both 1997 and 1998.

Advisory:  If you are a cruise ship passenger and you are visiting local wineries on your own, be prepared for officials on your ship to confiscate your wine, returning it to you on your last evening of sailing.  This is common practice. But if you have visited the wineries as part of a ship excursion then management may allow you to keep your wine (this happened on the Mercury). In addition, some ships, like the Grand Princess, tended to turn a blind eye to a bottle or two.  But if you board with boxes in hand, the way we did, expect your wine to be taken away.  We never had any problem getting on with single bottles though. 

As to whether or not you can drink the wine in your cabin, it’s best to review your individual ship’s policies first.  Did we drink any wine in our cabin?  My lips are sealed.

If you are wondering about importing wine for transit, please see my future blog with tips for secure packing of wines destined for the airline conveyor belt and airline luggage wranglers.  But beware, you risk losing a bottle or two to unscrupulous security bag checkers.  Next time, I think I will put a note on a bottle advising them that this was purchased especially for them.  A cheaper bottle, of course.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand: The Right Cabbie Will Make Your Shore Day Exceptional!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Need a cab driver in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand? Try Lance — A Great Find! A Great Friend!

There he stood, a large man resembling a sea captain with his salt and pepper hair, and weather-worried complexion.  Laugh lines near his eyes complemented the thoughtful pattern of wrinkles that lay horizontally across his brow; he made me think of the actor, Sean Connery.

Photo by Sheree Zielke

His cab, a small four-door white sedan, occupied the last spot in the taxi queue.  We were in the town of Mount Maunganui, in the Port of Tauranga, situated on the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  Since leaving the ship, we had already run the gamut of at least three dozen assorted cabs, shuttles, and tour buses before espying the taxi driver who was to make our day of adventuring very special.

The cabbie’s name: Lance Calder.  He told us later he had chosen not to be part of the vicious back-biting under-cutting group of taxi drivers awaiting the arrival of the cruise ship passengers on the pier.  When we asked his price, he stated simply $60NZ per hour.  “Not per person,” he added quickly, but “for the car.”

Lance Calder - Photo by David Thiel

Photo by David Thiel

He wanted to know what we had in mind; as seasoned travelers and photographers, we told him to drive in the direction of Rotorua, and we would tell him when we wanted to stop.  And that he was to avoid the regular tourist stops.  That gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Lance, also known by the handle, “Olddog13-1,” was very quick to learn our desires, and our sense of humour.  He soon joined in our inside jokes as though he’d known us for years.  As a resident of the area since birth (he was born and raised in Te Puke – not as in vomit) he navigated the roadways well, stopping to give us views of the scenery, and share oodles of insider tips on the lifestyle and cultures of the area.

We spent seven hours with Lance – and in that time we saw stinky bubbling sulphuric mud pools in Rotorua, patted a lamb at the Kiwi Lumberjack Show (farm) (ask for Thomas –a handsome young man with a mischievious nature), tasted exquisite wines at the Mills Reef Winery, paid a quick visit to the art deco style Rotorua Museum, lunched in a small café, just up from the old Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (where young boys would dive for coins thrown into the water by tourists), and we visited the Comvita bee centre in Te Puke.

We also visited the Kiwi360 kiwi farm (Lance was extremely knowledgeable in this – he took us under the kiwi orchard canopy where the fruit was hanging like grapes from vines, he pointed out the male and the female vines and how kiwis are chosen for import, with flat-sided ones being rejected and turned into wine instead.)  Lance took us into the shop where we tasted our first kiwi wine (a little too much fruit flavour for our palate) and he took us to a favorite photography subject of ours, an old Mission cemetery, without ever being asked to do so.

Lance Calder - Photo by Sheree Zielke

We learned, through Lance that the huge tree with the gorgeous purple flowers is a Jacaranda tree, a soft drink is called a “fizzy drink,” a car trunk is called a “boot,” and that cruise ship passengers should never share a cab just to split the cost during shore excursions.

“It’s not a good idea,” says Lance.  “The couples can never agree on anything.”  He says he has never seen a cab shared successfully by people who barely knew one another, and who have gotten together just to split the cost of the taxi fare.  He says the only successful shared cab rides are those where the passengers have previously agreed upon where it is they want to go, and what it is they want to do.

Besides knowing the area so well, and being a charming traveling host, Lance is also specially trained in the art of assisting the handicapped, or the ambulatory-challenged.  He has extensive experience dealing with special needs children, and seniors in wheelchairs.

And if you are a wine lover, Lance has an inside track, having a son-in-law in the business.  Be sure to ask him for a little advice if you are going into the Napier-Hawke’s Bay area on what wineries to see, and the best route to take to see them.

Planning a trip to the Tauranga, New Zealand area via cruise ship?  Contact Lance Calder in advance.  You will feel like family when this burly congenial man welcomes you at the pier.  Tell him Sheree says you’ll need to buy a “Peepsi.”  He’ll know what you are talking about.

Contact Lance via email at

Sheree Zielke

Oahu, Hawaii: How to Have a Great Time with Little Cash!

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Flight and accommodations have been paid for and now your wallet is feeling a little light?  No problem.  Here’s how to spend a week in Hawaii and have a great time with very little cash. 

Giovanni's famous shrimp truck on Oahu's North Shore by Sheree ZielkeMoney Saving Tips for Vacationing in Hawaii 1.    From the airport, opt for a hotel shuttle or bus instead of a cab.  If taking a cab, you’ll need $35-40 to get from the Honolulu airport to the Waikiki Beach area.

2.    Get settled in…throw on your bathing suit and then stop at an ABC store (they are on almost every street corner). Essential Hawaiian beach equipment by Sheree Zielke.Buy an air mattress for $3.00…pay an extra 60 cents to have it blown up.  This is both your beach mat and your ocean toy.  It will easily last a week as long as you don’t tear it.While at the ABC store, purchase a 4-day bus pas for $20.  Best investment ever.  No need for a rental car because this pass will get you anywhere on the island as many times as you like.

3.    While you are walking, grab several tourist mini publications like “The Best of Oahu” booklet.  The brochures are full of great maps, both city and island.  In addition, you’ll find lots of coupons like “two-fer” specialty coffee drinks and Beard Papa’s cream puffs.  4.    And speaking of food, if your accommodations have even a tiny fridge and or microwave, use them.  Stock up on essentials like butter, eggs, cheese, bread, and juice at an ABC store or the Food Pantry on Kuhio Avenue.  If you are really feeling adventurous, do what the perennial tourists do and head to a major grocery store.  A quick call to “The Bus” and you will know exactly where and what bus to catch to get to Foodland or Safeway or Wal*Mart.

5.    As to Wal*Mart, there is no better place to buy cheap souvenirs, bathing suits, towels, and other beach essentials you may have forgotten in your rush to get away from the snow.  But if you can’t get there, an ABC store is always near by and they are well stocked with oodles of clothing and sundries. 

6.    Want a free ride?  Hop on a Hilo Hattie shuttle.  You’ll be chauffeured in an open air trolley all the way to the main store.  Here you’ll be greeted with shell lei…and fruit punch.  Wander through the store and exit into a bus depot.  As long as you are wearing your shell lei, you will be taken back to Waikiki for FREE.  And if you managed not to spend anything in the store you will truly have had a free ride.7.    Love to window shop?  Board a #8 or # 42 bus on Kuhio Avenue and travel to the Ala Moana shopping centre.  This gorgeous open air mall has everything from Prada to Longs Drugs.  The food court covers every taste from Asian foods to great cheeseburgers at the Cheeseburger Factory.  If you want a bus map, ask for one at Customer Service.Waikiki Beach sunset by Sheree Zielke.8.    Nighttime entertainment?  Watch the Waikiki Beach sunset for free and then make your way to the Banyan Tree by the police station right on the beach.  There is always a free hula show.

Or go to the Waikiki Town Centre or the Waikiki Mall for more free hula shows.  Excellent entertainment and it’s all free.

9.    Want tropical drinks but the prices are ridiculous?  Make your own in your room.  ABC stores sell everything from wine to beer to Cognac with Passion Fruit juice.  Just add your own choice of juice, ice, and enjoy at a fraction of the cost.10.                       Ready for an adventure?  Then grab that bus pass and board a #52 Circle Island bus from the Ala Moana shopping centre.  Put up with an hour of city driving and finally you’ll be in the Hawaiian countryside heading for the North Shore.  Hop off and hop on as many times are you like as the buses run on a 30 minute schedule.  Make your first stop the charming village of Haleiwa.  North Shore of Oahu Hawaii by Sheree Zielke.Ride up to Waimea Beach, Shark’s Cove, and Sunset Beach.  Pack a picnic lunch and your Circle Island trip won’t cost a dime.  Oh, and be sure to pack your camera, bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen as some of the most beautiful beaches in the world line this coast.

Hint:  If you can afford to splurge at least once, you must budget $12 for a plate of garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s shrimp truck in Haleiwa.  Absolutely delicious!  Sign his truck while you are there.

11.                       Continue around the island towards beautiful Kailua or catch the bus back in the direction you came and make your way back to the Ala Moana shopping centre.12.                       Want to snorkel?  If you have your own gear, take the #22 bus to Hanauma Bay.  This ocean preserve is a great place to see all kinds of bright tropical fish and green sea turtles.  If you don’t have your own gear, Snorkel Bob offers a complete snorkel kit for $9 for the week.

And there you have it!  If you can’t have a good time in Oahu, Hawaii following these instructions, then your pleasure meter is busted.

Best advice:  Use sun screen or budget your time in the hot Hawaiian sun.  After all, do you really want to lose 2-3 days to a nasty sunburn?  That’s one terrible and completely unnecessary price to pay.

Sheree Zielke