This is yet another fine flowering specimen that I saw in Hagley Park, Christchurch.
Not only was I captivated by Hagley Park’s begonia display but its dahlia border garden, too. The dahlias occupy a small strip along the periphery of the much larger rose garden, a great attraction in itself. The stunning variety represents the hybridizer’s craft. On one end are the single-row specimens from their native Mexico. How they were hybridized into much more complex forms is and will remain a mystery to me. This amazing morphological variation is showcased in the much larger dahlia garden section by flowers developed by New Zealand horticulturists, including the intriguing ‘cactus’ varieties.
I’m a sucker for farmers markets. It’s not only because they sell fresh local produce, but the fact that the produce may be native to the area and the prepared foods reflective of what the locals eat. Of those I’ve visited in the U.S., my personal favorite is not my city’s Pike Place Market, Seattle’s pride and joy and tourist destination, but Honolulu’s KCC Saturday Market. I love that you can get a great variety of tropical fruits and mind-boggling number of ono grindz there.
One of the largest on New Zealand’s South Island is Christchurch’s Riccarton Farmers Market, uniquely situated on a public reserve called Riccarton House & Bush. On Saturdays, farmers and food vendors line the area near the historic Riccarton House along the Avon River. Toward the northern end of the site is an ancient grove of kahikatea trees and throughout the grounds are trees planted over 150 years ago, including a tall, mature Tasmanian blue gum planted in 1857 that sits prominently next to Deans Cottage.
My daughter and her family dine at Samurai Bowl often. It used to be once a week. I suspect that it’s not the parents’ decision necessarily but my five-year old grandson’s, who seems never to tire of their miso ramen. Today, just my daughter and I had lunch here, while the kids were in school. When served our meals, waitress asked daughter, “Where’s your son?” I myself have eaten here several times, enjoying their solid bowls of ramen more than their other items.
Looking over the menu, I decided to have curry ramen, despite the lackluster experience I had with their karaage curry-don almost a year ago. This choice turned out to be a good one. I’ve only had a very few curry ramens before, but none this good. The broth, slightly thick, mild and mildly sweet, is an excellent example of the flavor of Japanese-style curry. Unlike Samurai Bowl’s curry-don, there was no grittiness or pronounced coriander seed flavor. Maintaining their firmness throughout the meal were the medium-sized, curly egg noodles. And what wonderfully succulent, flavorful and fatty slices of roasted pork belly that melted in my mouth. The menma (seasoned bamboo shoots) were a tad salty and the extra-cost ajitsuke tamago (half-boiled egg) was plonked into the hot broth, straight from the fridge, the yolk half-congealed and still cold.
I can say that I’d now order curry ramen (☆☆☆½) over their signature samurai ramen in the future—without the egg.
Shop 5/574 Colombo Street
Christchurch, NZ 8011
Of the pizzas she’s had in Christchurch, my daughter likes best the wood-fired ones served, not at a pizzeria but a brewery out in the borough of Woolston. Known for award-winning beers that they’ve been crafting since 2010, Cassels & Sons added a gastropub to the brewery. Enter the pizzas. I’ve eaten there three times on the way back from Sumner, the Port Hills or The Tannery, of which the brewery is a part. Like my daughter and her family, my impression of the pizzas has been very good.
C&S opened CBD Bar in Christchurch recently with almost the same pizza menu, with slight differences. Its presence near the central business district (CBD) attracts the big city folk—and would make it more convenient for my NZ family to get a good pizza.
CBD Bar lists 13 wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas on the menu. All of them are named for local geographic areas and nearby towns. Mine was the Burnham, simply prepared with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, olives, red onions and mushrooms, all from the Woolston Market. The tomato sauce is fresh tasting, with no strong herbal or zesty notes, that places more flavor emphasis on the other ingredients. The only complaint I had were burnt, bitter spots on the bottom that a minute less in the oven could solve. Otherwise, this was practically a perfect pie (☆☆☆½).
208 Madras St
It was a spur of the moment decision. One of those times when your intention suddenly changes as a fleeting thought goes through your mind. I was on my way to Re:START Mall to buy lunch from one of the (shipping) container food businesses until I walked past a food truck stationed just east of the Worcester Blvd bridge over the Avon. I’d gone by Mr Burger several times in the past, not giving it much thought—until today. This time, I looked at the menu posted on the truck’s side for a few minutes, then continued on. But, I stopped not more than 20 feet beyond. It occurred to me that I’ll be leaving New Zealand in a few days, and I hadn’t yet had a burger, Kiwi-style, on this latest visit.
It’s an odd reality that most burgers in New Zealand are sold by fish-and-chips shops. I’m sure there’s an interesting history behind that. Anyway, no doubt because of my expectations in the U.S., I had never even considered the idea of getting a burger where the main offering was fried fish. Even my favorite fish-and-chippery in Christchurch, Coppell Place Seafoods, has one on the menu.
There I was, in front of Mr Burger, a “real” burger enterprise (albeit a mobile one), considering my options. I studied the menu to look for a quintessentially Kiwi sandwich with fried egg and beet slice (called beetroot here). The Big Robby came closest, also including onion, cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and double patties but no beetroot. Predictably, I got a monstrous sandwich, fully 4” high, a blow to sensible portion sizes. That’s not all. A stiff wind from the east made it hard to have a pleasant al fresco experience. Sea gulls were gathering around me, including one that alighted on my table, waiting for handouts. Cheeky, as Kiwis would say.
The first bite was comical, the fillings pooching out at the other end, sauce running down my fingers and hands, lettuce and tomato hanging out of my mouth. Every bite was no less messy. I must’ve gone through a half dozen napkins. The patties were tender and high-quality New Zealand grass-fed beef. Kiwis like their bacon flabby instead of crispy as most Americans would prefer. A better bun I would be hard pressed to recall, soft and with enough gluten to resist falling apart. Rather than a Thousand Island-like sauce, a sweetish barbecue sauce lent an interesting smokiness. In summary, the Big Robby was a fine burger sandwich (☆☆☆), messy to the end, over-the-top maybe but culturally fitting. I couldn’t finish a quarter of it. Maybe I should’ve fed it to the gull.
In January-March, flower lovers are treated to one of the most spectacular displays of begonias in the world. Townend House, part of the Hagley Park Conservatory, has a seasonal exhibit of double-flowered begonias, many of them hybridized by New Zealand horticulturists. All I could do was gawk—and snap away with my camera.
Hagley Park in Christchurch has some magnificent sequoia redwood specimens. I happened to be walking past one when I noticed something odd. Seemingly growing right out of the base of the trunk was an ivy, incredibly old by the looks of it, appearing more like tropical vines, a growth that needed to be cut out. It apparently is doing no damage to the tree. The more I stared at it, the more I admired its artistic effect and the chutzpah it took for the caretakers to leave it alone.
Oamaru is home to a colony of blue penguins that visitors from all over come to see. They’re endemic to coastal New Zealand and southern Australia, the smallest of 18 species at 43cm (17in) in length and 1kg in weight. Unusual too is the fact that their color is distinctively blue (and white), while all other penguins have the conventional black-and-white markings.
I saw them for the second time in less than a year, the last time on Phillip Island in Australia (near Melbourne). I took my pre-school grandson to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony because of his love of penguins and the fact that he wanted to witness firsthand the blues’ nightly march to their nests from the sea. This he got to see, as they arrived in several waves. Though there were 111 officially counted tonight as having arrived at the facility, the penguins come ashore all along the Otago coastline. On the tramp back to the hotel, we were able to walk up to several along Waterfront Road and the Esplanade, one of the best opportunities to get close to penguins in an urban environment.
Blue penguins nest wherever they can find a rock crevice or dig out niches in soil. At the colony, we noticed artificial structures throughout the grounds, clearly encouragement for the birds to make themselves at home at this former rock quarry.
Along the facility’s periphery is a concrete breakwater, built before the turn of the 20th century. While the audience was waiting for the blues’ arrival, we could see and hear from the bleachers tremendous waves crashing into its side, accompanied by the roar of scrabbling rocks, an impressive show in itself.
Exciting as this experience was, we got an unexpected surprise earlier in the day. As my grandson and I were walking past a small building along the Esplanade, an employee called out to us from behind a chain link fence and asked if we were heading toward the penguins. We were. Don introduced himself and wondered if we’d be interested in seeing the penguins he’d built shelters for on the grounds. Despite my suspicious tendency, I said, “Sure,” with some reservation, I admit. Don was quite jovial and explained that he’d been doing this for 8 years, keeping watch on blues that have nested in about 15 small shelters made out of wood. He lifted the roof of one to reveal a mother penguin and her two chicks. There was only one other resident in the compound, the empty homes awaiting the squatters’ return from the sea. Don encouraged me to take pictures, personally a great opportunity because no photography would be permitted at the Blue Penguin Colony.
Further down the Esplanade, Sumpter Wharf, its decking long ago rotted and damaged and therefore entry completely fenced off, was occupied by thousands of spotted shags (parekareka) who ignored the rickety underpinnings.
While Oamaru has other tourist draws, including an historic distinct called theVictorian Precinct and being the steampunk capital of New Zealand, its main draw is the penguin colony.
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
2 Waterfront Road
03 433 1195
Along the rocky beach of Akaroa’s French Bay, the low tide exposes all sorts of interesting things. Among them are seashells, including turrets that curiously seem to accumulate in one small area.
The tide pools reveal not only various forms of sea life, including small crabs, mollusks and sea cucumbers, but marine algae, including this most unusual-looking brown seaweed, hormosira banksii, commonly known as Neptune’s Necklace. They are found only in New Zealand and Australia. Besides jewelry, even children’s pop beads, they look to me like strung-together green olives.