Waking up amongst plush pillows in a log cabin to bird song and the gentle rush and sigh of the sea outside was the perfect welcome to New Zealand. Stepping outside to breathe in the fresh sea air, I knew that despite the long drive ahead of us and the jet-lag beggining to creep into the corners of my brain, today was going to be a good day. The first stop today, after stopping for poached eggs and a flat white to get us going, was Mount Maunganui. Formed from the extinct volcano Mauao that rises above the town, a climb to the summit offers breathtaking views of the town below and the bay stretching out into the ocean. The name of the extinct volcano – “Manau” means ‘caught by the dawn’ in Maori and is based on Maori legend.
Having reached dizzying heights this morning, it was time to come back down to earth, and feel it’s raw nature. We mooched around exploring the mud pools and took a chance to relax in the Polynesian Spa – not quite as muddy as some people get, but equally relaxing.
Rotorua, or “Te-Rotorua-nui-a-kahumatamomoe” (The Second great lake of Kahumatamomoe) is found in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, in the Bay of Plenty region. After a snoop around the mud pools, inhaling enough sulphur to power a small town, it was now time to sooth the aching muscles and our sunburn in the thermal mineral spas of ‘Polynesian Spas‘. In Rotorua you can also find the Tama-te-Kapua, the Maori meeting house.
BISTRO 1284 – ROTORUA
So zenned we could barely walk, we ambled back to our hostel and got ready for dinner, little did I know, that even after a good scrub in the shower would I still smell of sulphur!!
We dined at Bistro 1284, a hotly anticipated stop, renowned for its lamb and beef dishes and an outstanding wine list. Staff were amazing – friendly and attentive, but as for the outstanding lamb and beef, they had actually run out, of both, which was devastating. the very apologetic waitress suggested some of the alternative dishes and complimentary wine to make up for the lack of beef or lamb. I would suggest calling in advance and reserving a portion of beef or lamb if this is possible to avoid disappointment, especially at this time of year when you’d be lucky to get a table anyway.
Next morning, after coffee we were up and out to explore some of New Zealand’s most famous thermal pools in an other-worldly array of colours. If you’re lucky there is also a geyser that blasts off once a day, with steam reaching far into the sky.
THE BRANTRY RESTAURANT – LAKE TAUPO
Lake Taupo is a beautiful region, just south of the Bay of Plenty, all kinds of water (and air) sports can be done here, including skydiving. Unfortunately for us, after getting all excited and even going up in the plane, we didn’t get to jump on this occasion as the storm clouds just didn’t budge. Still, this meant we did get a free ride up in the aircraft tho, which was fun. That evening we dined at the truly amazing Brantry Restaurant trying award-winning dishes and select New Zealand wines to accompany. Choosing the 3 course set menu for $55 gave us plenty of options. The grilled halloumi for starter had a cheeky twist, comprised of greek yogurt and stuffed green olives, garnished with lemon and honeycomb, I could just eat this all evening! But, I must leave ample room for the mains, of which there’s a fine selection. I settled for the Caramelised Pork Belly with white polenta, shaved final, goji berry salad and apple aioli – yum! With the unusual yet effective combinations of flavour and fare for each dish, it’s clear to see why The Brantry has won so many awards and I would highly recommend a visit. But how could I finish off this post without telling you what we (or I at least) had for afters? Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Tart, obviously! Unfortunately there is no photo to accompany this as a) my phone was dead and b) I had already eaten most of it before I thought of taking a photo. But just imagine a fine crust encasing melt in your mouth chocolate and sea salt caramel, to accompany, both flavour and texture, there is a light garnish of delicate crunchy peanut brittle, a dollop of soft vanilla mascarpone, cut through with the tartness of a light berry compote. Just beyond amazing. Wash this all down with a Pencarrow Pinot Noir and you’ll sleep well tonight!