Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

New Zealand Gannet Safari

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand – 6 Things Not to Miss!

Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier

Wines of New Zealand

Mission Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winery, founded by French missionaries.

Mother Nature practiced her own brand of “tough love” on Hawke’s Bay, but this fishhook-shaped stretch of land along the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island is all the better for it.

First, she changed the course of a river leaving gravel beds behind. But the stony surface proved beneficial for growing grapes, forcing the vines to send their roots deep into the earth to seek nutrients. That gave the wine produced from them extra character. Hawke’s Bay became New Zealand’s oldest wine region, now yielding 70 percent of the nation’s red wine.

Then in 1931 she sent a 7.8 magnitude earthquake unleashing death and destruction. But in the 40 seconds the quake shook, 8,500 acres of land rose from the bay and stayed above water, a fertile tract of new real estate locals call “The Gift.” The quake flattened the nearby city of Napier, but residents rallied to quickly rebuild in the style of the day. Napier now proclaims itself “The Art Deco Capital of the World.”

Don’t be mad at Mother Nature. She blesses Hawke’s Bay with a mild Mediterranean climate and ample sunshine, so you’ll find plenty to do in any season. Don’t miss:

Wine: The Hawke’s Bay region boasts 170 vineyards and more than 70 wineries, 40 of them with cellar doors for tastings. You won’t find many of these wines outside New Zealand, so your only chance to sip them might be right at the winery.

Mission Estate, New Zealand’s oldest winery, was established in 1851 by pioneering French missionaries in the Gimblett Gravels wine-growing district. It still employs winemaking techniques brought from Bordeaux. At Church Road Winery try for a hard-to-get taste of its famous Tom McDonald reds, named for the father of New Zealand’s red wines. Afterward, visit the Tom McDonald Cellar, the nation’s only wine museum. Twilight is the best time to visit Craggy Range winery because the view of rosy light on Te Mata Peak from a table on the patio is one you won’t soon forget. See Elephant Hill Winery in broad daylight when the light green contemporary building mirrors the Pacific Ocean across the road.

Art Deco: Art Deco is not unusual, but an entire town of Art Deco is unique. Napier has 140 original Art Deco buildings as well as many in the 1930s Spanish mission, stripped classical and jazz-age styles.

Make your way to the Art Deco Shop to buy a brochure for a self-guided tour or join one of the daily guided walks of one or two hours given by the Art Deco Trust, formed in the 1980s to preserve these buildings. The Trust also has hop-on, hop-off bus tours and vintage car tours if you want to tool around town in a Packard. Among the most notable buildings are the National Tobacco Co., a mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and the Dome with copper cupola and clock tower above a former insurance company building that’s been converted into four luxury apartments you can book for overnight stays.

On the third weekend in February, modern vehicles are banned on the main streets and nearly everyone dresses in 1930s attire for an Art Deco Weekend of parades, music and dancing.

Cape Kidnappers: When Captain Cook landed off the cape in 1769, the local Maori tribe thought his Tahitian cabin boy was one of their own and snatched him. The kidnapped lad escaped and made it back to the ship, but not before forever giving the cape its name.


New Zealand Gannet Safari

The gannet colony on Cape Kidnappers is the largest mainland gannet colony in the world and the most accessible.

A 6,000-acre sheep and cattle station operates on the cape on Hawke’s Bay, but its most famous animals are the 20,000 gannets who spend October to April gathered in 100-bird clusters of noisy nesting pairs. Not only is this the largest mainland colony of these rare birds, but the most accessible. Gannet Safaris takes you within a few feet of the white birds—related to the booby family—for a close-up view of their black eye markings and toasted marshmallow crowns.

If you prefer fairways to feathers, the Cape Kidnappers Golf Course perches atop the cape with ocean waves crashing on the rocks far below—now that’s a water hazard. Designed by Tom Doak, it ranks in the top 50 golf courses in the world and is part of the five-star resort, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Don’t be fooled by the resort’s exterior, resembling a cluster of farm buildings. Doors open to plush rooms and stellar cuisine. Guys, you’ll need a jacket for cocktails and dinner here.

Food: The Fruit Bowl of New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay grows an abundance of stone fruits, olives and vegetables. You’ll see them on display on weekends in New Zealand’s oldest farmers market along with yummy baked goods, flavored mustards, giant crayfish in the seafood case and mugs of craft-brewed beer. Free samples! The Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market is the place to socialize with the Kiwis who come for breakfast and stay through the morning gathering around tables on the grass and listening to music from a live band.

Or you can rub elbows with the locals at the communal table inside The Kitchen Table, a breakfast and lunch spot in Napier. Walls and tables adorned with kitschy items from childhood—school lunch boxes, storybooks, toys—give you something to talk about.


New Zealand’s lamb dishes are famous, especially the short loin at Black Barn Bistro.

New Zealand’s lamb dishes are famous, especially the short loin at Black Barn Bistro.

For serious dining, restaurants in the wineries stand out. At the Black Barn Vineyard, take time for lunch in the bistro, especially if you can get a table in the courtyard screened by a trellis of trailing vines. You can’t go wrong with the lamb short loin or the kingfish carpaccio. Terroir, the French country fine-dining restaurant at Craggy Range, sources Hawke’s Bay’s best produce, seafood and meats, especially First Light Foods’ venison and grass-fed Wagyu beef, also prized by chefs at top restaurants in the U.S.

Biking: Choose from more than 110 miles of bike paths in the Hawke’s Bay region, most of them dedicated off-road trails.


New Zealand Wines and Bikes

Watch out for frisky cows on the bike paths.

Takaro Trails Cycle Tours has several self-guided day tours that include bike and helmet hire and transfers. Itineraries may lead you along the coast or follow river tracks stopping at a string of wineries for a day of sipping and cycling. You’ll chuckle at signs on livestock gates with a cartoon graphic warning bikers not to get too close to “frisky” cows.

Maori experience: Rub noses with a Maori as you are welcomed to their sacred site, settled after these first peoples arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia in the 14th century. Waimarama Maori Tours allows outsiders onto their spiritual grounds, but only after answering a challenge from a fierce-looking bare-chested man carrying a spear. Once inside the palisades, you’ll learn a few words of Maori songs, listen to music played on traditional flutes and watch warriors go at it with sticks and clubs. Then it’s time to eat. Sit down to a feast of Maori dishes made from local seafood and produce. Sea urchin, anyone? You’ll also find eel and seaweed on the buffet along with paua (abalone), fry bread and a luscious pavlova made of meringue, kiwi and whipped cream.

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand Travel Resources

Hawke’s Bay Tourism


Istanbul Stopover Tours

Gay Istanbul – It’s not what you think!

Istanbul is a great destination, especially if you are Gay.

Istanbul Stopover ToursI’m afraid I’ve played a little bit of an April Fools on you – I should have spelled it Gaye Istanbul, that’s Gaye as in Gaye Reeves the owner and personality behind the Ayasofya Hotel (which incidentally, is gay friendly, in case you were wondering) in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet  District and Istanbul Stopover Tours.

While I’ve been told that there is an active and fun gay community here, this post is really about my friend, Gaye Reeves and how she can make your stay in Istanbul much better than if you don’t get in contact with her.  Gaye is an Australian expat who came here for the first time seventeen years ago  and fell in love with Turkish culture and this magnificent country. So much so that in 2009, she decided to buy a run down Ottoman house converted into a hotel and turn it into one of the top boutique hotels in Istanbul.

Easier said than done but three years later, The Ayasofya Hotel is charming guests and earning a great reputation amongst travelers. This is a far cry from when she picked it up. While the building has been upgraded and the facilities are certainly better than when she got it, I tend to think that the success of her hotel is due to her own personality.

Which one of these ladies is Gaye?

Gaye is a passionate traveler who has globe trotted with the best of them and stayed in more than her fair share of bungalows, hotels, guest houses and hostels.  In addition to using her own travel finesse to turn her hotel into a comfortable haven for those seeking to explore Istanbul,  she has the warmth and hospitality that the Aussies are renowned for.

All of that is the reason, I always recommend the Ayasofya Hotel to friends, family and generally any nice people who come to Istanbul (including you).  At this point, I’ve stayed at the Ayasofya enough that it feels like a second home to me and I get a welcome from the staff that is more like that of a returning family member. In fact, we asked Gaye to be our daughter’s Godmother – and well, it might not be a complete coincidence that our daughter is named Aya Sophia. She is made in Turkey, after all.

In any event, when you come to Turkey and you are wondering what to do and it seems like every tout is out to get you and you don’t know who to trust – my suggestion is that you trust Gaye. She’s created a small travel agency that does private tours through all of her favorite areas of Turkey.  Whether you want to do a classical tour or take a trip to small village and explore village life there. Gaye can get you set up.

And while I realize that I’m posting this on April Fools day – the truth is that today is the 3 year anniversary of Gaye taking over the Ayasofya Hotel. She’ll be the first to tell you that she bought the hotel on April Fools day because it was the most foolish mistake she has ever made but don’t believe a word of it – have a conversation with her and you’ll see – she love’s every second of it and wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Wellington, New Zealand – A Fantastic Foodie Walkabout

Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier

Neil Miller gave up his day job to drink beer.

Food tour guide Stephanie Cutfield expounds on kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Food tour guide Stephanie Cutfield expounds on kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

A political speech writer in New Zealand’s capital city, Miller had a fondness for the suds and started moonlighting as a beer writer for a local beer magazine. Then he began blogging about beer. Then leading beer-tasting tours. Soon beer became his occupation as well as his avocation and the allure of politics fell by the wayside.

“Wellington has a reputation as the best beer city in New Zealand” Miller told me when I joined one of his Wild About Wellington walking tours. “We don’t make a lot of beer, but we drink a lot of beer.”

Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Young and hip, Wellington is no stodgy capital city. Nearly 60 percent of its residents are under age 50, compared to 45.1 percent in New Zealand as a whole. Last year Lonely Planet placed it at No. 4 in its list of Best in Travel cities. Compact in size, it’s a miniature Hong Kong, with hills ringing its horseshoe-shaped harbor. While Auckland is spread out, you can get almost anywhere in the Central City on foot, which is why walking tours, particularly those devoted to food and drink, are so popular.

The first stop on my walk with Miller takes me to The Malthouse at 48 Courtenay Place in the heart of Wellington’s nightlife district. On Thursday through Saturday nights this street is jammed with young revelers, some of whom have imbibed a bit too much. But as this was a weekday afternoon, I feel reasonably safe from getting vomit on my shoes, so I settle into the warm and cozy bar to hear Miller give his spiel.

Kiwis consume 77 liters of beer per person per year, making New Zealand the 14th biggest beer-drinking country in the world (the Aussies out-drink them, however). Miller says Wellington may be the not-so-flashy little brother to Auckland, which produces more beer, but here it’s all about high-quality beers. We sample four: Three Boys India Pale Ale; Tuatara Pilsner; Epic Pale Ale, a very hoppy brew using hops from the U.S.; and Tuatara London Porter, an old-fashioned English-style beer that English home brewers and American microbreweries have been bringing back. Between tastings, servers bring out platters of pizza.

We barely make a dent into what The Malthouse has to offer. Rated Best Bar in New Zealand by Beer & Brewer Magazine, it serves the broadest range of beers in the country. It even has a “hopenator,” a device that looks like a fancy espresso machine that infuses flavors to beer, such as coffee bean, chocolate, even fruit. The Malthouse’s 168 beers, including 30 on tap, range in alcohol content from 3.7 percent to a whopping 18.2 percent for the $30-a-bottle Tokyo from the BrewDog Brewery in Scotland, so potent it has been denounced by Scottish Parliament.


A Monteith Black is paired with blue cheese, red wine-poached pears and caramelized onion at St. Johns Bar. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

A Monteith Black is paired with blue cheese, red wine-poached pears and caramelized onion at St. Johns Bar. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

We pass on the Tokyo because it’s time for some serious food. We stroll down to the waterfront to St. Johns Bar at 5 Cable Street. Miller describes it as having a “colonial Humphrey Bogart look, like the Raffles Bar in Singapore.” Originally an ambulance building, it still has a 1930s Art Deco style to it.

We sample three beers here, all made by brewer Monteith. Chef Kit Foe pairs each to a dish he’s created. With the Radler, a flavored lager, he serves us pork belly with honey glaze and apple and ginger chutney. The Celtic Ale accompanies venison on a mushroom tart. The earthy red ale brings out the caramelization of the meat. For dessert, the Black, a Schwarz Bier, goes with a triple cream blue cheese served with red wine poached pears and caramelized onion. Sweet.

Wellington has more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita than New York City. On Zest Tours’ Gourmet Walking Tour I find out how seriously Wellingtonians take their food.

We start out walking down Cuba Street, a once debauched, now bohemian section of the city with ethnic restaurants, cutting-edge shops and cafes catering to the literati. Victoria University is just up the hill.

Our first stop is Havana Coffee at 37 Wigan St. We head to the back where master roaster Joseph Stoddart is pouring Cuban coffee beans into the roaster set at 203 degrees Centigrade. The only New Zealand coffee roaster to carry real Cuban beans, Havana Coffee is one of the three original roasters that opened in Wellington in the 1990s. Now there are more than a dozen catering to the city’s coffee craze. I look around and see burlap bags of beans piled along a wall labeled with their country of origin: Peru, Colombia, Bolivian, Zambia, Ethiopia, India, Vanuatu. I move into the café and order a flat white, the Kiwi lingo for an espresso served with two-thirds steamed milk. It comes with froth in the shape of a silver fern, the national symbol of New Zealand, and is almost too pretty to drink.


Master Roaster Joe Stoddart tends the roaster at Havana Coffee. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Master Roaster Joe Stoddart tends the roaster at Havana Coffee. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Next stop is Moore Wilson Fresh at Lorne and College streets. Why is our guide taking us to a grocery store, I wonder? But this is no ordinary market; it’s where local foodies and chefs shop. A family business specializing in gourmet fresh foods from small, local providers, it’s all word-of-mouth rather than advertising. When it opened in 1998, it drew lines zigzagging through the parking lot. I walk over to the produce bins and pick up a gold kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato, and peruse a refrigerator case of game meats, including bacon made from wild boar. In a tasting kitchen, our guide has arranged for us to sample single variety apple juices, aged New Zealand cheddar and a selection of Ruth Pretty jellies. I especially like the feijoa chutney—can’t get this at home.

We continue walking, stopping at 19 Allen St. and the Kura Gallery, selling in ethnic art and a range of contemporary and indigenous New Zealand gift items. But we’re not here to shop, but to taste New Zealand honey from a display set out just for us. The Kamahi has a lily-of-the-valley scent, the Rata a medium flavor from the flower that grows on New Zealand’s South Island. My favorite it the Manuka because it not only tastes wonderful, but is said to have medicinal properties. I make a note to pick some up at the airport on my way home.

The hour is getting late and I’m ready to bail on the walking tour to allow time for an afternoon nap. Then I learn we’re walking across town to Bohemein Chocolates, 109 Featherston St., and can’t pass up a chance to sample my favorite treat. Owner George Havlik, a pastry chef who chose to specialize in chocolate, is waiting for us. He uses the best Belgium chocolate and mixes it with all sorts of unexpected ingredients, which, oddly enough, work. I taste the pineapple black pepper ganache, the wasabi cream and the balsamic vinegar and honey ganache and I’m sold. There will be no waiting to buy at the airport this time. I make my selection, stuff my chocolates into my jacket pocket and head back to my hotel. No time for a nap? Who cares. Between sleep and chocolate, chocolate always wins.

Wellington Resources

Wellington Hotels

Flights to New Zealand

Wild About Wellington

Zest Food Tours