Last week at about 4:00AM Thursday morning, I booked a car online for the weekend. My flat mate Elizabeth and our across-the-street neighbors Emily, Lauren and Aron decided it would be awesome to get out of the city for the weekend, but it wasn’t until late on Thursday that we decided on a destination – Hawkes Bay. After some car rental issues we ironed out on Friday morning (only Lauren is 21) we packed our silver Nissan sedan and I got behind the wheel and got ready to drive on the left side of the road.
Once we got out of the city and onto the highway, it was a much less stressful drive. The most difficult part of driving was keeping my eyes on the road because the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We saw the sunset on the Kapiti coastline, which is just north of Wellington and then continued the rest of the drive in darkness. After stopping in Palmerston North for dinner at a Subway (where they do NOT have American cheese and the turkey has no preservatives), Aron took the wheel and drove the remaining two hours north to Hastings, a small city just south of Hawkes Bay. We had “booked” a hostel just before we left Wellington and at about 9:45, we located the Sleeping Giant. Apparently, though, this hostel is not frequented by backpackers. Instead, it is a hub for migrant workers. After we saw one of these workers polishing his gun in the lounge, we decided it would be best to find another place. Luckily, there were a few to choose from and by 11:00 we had settled into our home for the night, opened a bottle of wine and planned our weekend.
Saturday morning we headed towards Napier, a centre of this region. However, when we saw a sign for Cape Kidnappers, our plans changed and we turned off the main highway to see what many guidebooks have referred to as a must see for this region. These coastal cliffs are home to the largest gannet colony in the world. What’s a gannet? I didn’t know either…but here’s a picture:
Unfortunately, I didn’t take that picture. The hike out to the gannett colony takes about 5 hours round trip and since it’s the middle of winter, the colony is rather sparsely populated. However, we did get some gorgeous pictures of the scenery.
We then loaded back into the car and finally arrived in Napier. After exploring the city and finding a new hostel to stay in, we drove out to two vineyards on the outskirts of town. Hawkes Bay is one of the largest wine producing regions and is the oldest in the country. We visited Mission Estate, the oldest vineyard in Aotearoa and Church Road, a sister vineyard that was the first in New Zealand to produce a red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon. We took a tour and dd several tastings at Church Road and then headed over to Mission for more free tastings. I bought a few bottles of white that I hope to bring home without having to pay a customs fee. Mission also had a sweet bottle of Syrah, which typically I don’t even like but would consider shipping a case to the US. With the Hawkes Bay vineyards under my belt, its Malborough next. This is the true heart of New Zealand wine country and luckily where Natalie (my kiwi-mate) lives. Her parents have offered to drive us around the vineyards there and I can’t wait for that. This is a cuvee from Church Road Winery
These large fermenting tank holds enough wine for you to have one litre a day for 60 years. I want one.
Following the tastings, we went grocery shopping and returned to the waterfront lodge, where I made steak, corn, potatoes and a blue cheese sauce for dinner. The best part of this? $6 each.
Sunday morning we headed south again to the small town of Havelock North which is at the foot of Te Mata Peak, a 399 metre tall hill. We tramped to the top and saw spectacular views of all of Hawkes Bay as well as the Mt. Ruapehu, the tallest mountain on the North Island and featured as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The views were absolutely incredible and the landscape we tramped through was just a beautiful.
Following the top of the mountain, we headed down to the redwood forest at the base of the mountain. On our way, we found a sweet cave on the side of the hill, where you could see so many shell fossils that showed how this mountain had originally been part of the sea bed. We sat in the cave overlooking a valley, eating steak sandwiches and drinking the Syrah that I had bought the day before. What an incredible day.
We followed this amazing mountain with a trip to Ocean Beach to watch the sunset. It was cold, but totally worth it. It really reminded me of spring break in Myrtle this year. A bunch of friends on the beach having a good time.
We conserved money that night by eating ramen noodles with eggs for dinner. Add on the cookies (Tim Tams…more about these later), milk & bread and dinner cost us each $2.50. And that’s NZ$.
We had to leave Havelock North early Monday morning to make sure that we were back in time for classes at noon. Leaving at 6:30, we saw the sunrise over the mountains while driving, stopped for pies in Palmerston North (more about pies later too) and arrived safe home in Wellington at 11.
I don’t think that I can pick a favorite part of the weekend, but it was so awesome to get out of the city and explore this country a little bit. It was a completely spontaneous weekend full of good friends, good food, good wine and good times. In two weeks I’ll be heading north again with a bigger group of people and I can’t wait.
This country is slightly smaller than Colorado, and it seems like I’ll never be able to see it all. Which is making me realize how big the world is, and how much of it I’ll probably never see. But I’ve got enough trips planned before I leave the country and then I’ll be adding Australia and Fiji to the list, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
I’ll put up the rest of my pictures this weekend, so stay tuned for them.