Last-Minute Christmas Listing

It’s been just over a year since I last wrote about food in any big way. I had taken a hiatus to concentrate on my children’s book writing. But the year has flown by and Christmas took me by surprise. When I looked up from all the busy things that life has thrown at me this year, it’s already the year end and the Christmas is just about upon us. I have had to scramble to prepare, so I looked to what I have relied on for the last few years. So here’s my listing of last-minute Christmas prep, for those who, like me, have been caught unawares. There is still time to get the party going and you don’t mind buying in.

Ever reliable in quality and quantity, the takeaways from Goodwood Park Hotel almost always has a clever Asian spin on festive classics. I’ve been buying from them for several years, and always their Asian rendition of the Christmas turkey. This year, they’ve come up with a slow cooked, soy-braised turkey with toasted spiced almonds and homemade chilli sauce with egg noodles or pumpkin rice; mini turkey char siew bo lo buns and crisp breaded turkey rillettes ‘cheong fun’. For best value, get the Local Christmas Combo ($278) usual price $348) which consists of the soy-braised turkey, mini turkey po lo buns (12 pieces) and the hotel’s signature Goodwood D24 durian Christmas log cake. (Last order for Christmas is 19 December.)
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Located out in Changi, Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has to up their game to get people driving all the way east to pick up their turkeys. Good for ‘easties’ like me who get to benefit from their keen pricing, and convenient location (read: no traffic). This is where I got my party packs last year, and it has not disappointed, so I am returning there this year. I’ve made my orders: Har Cheong Roast Turkey ($168+, 6kg for 10-12 pax)  which has been marinated for 24 hours with prawn paste and Chinese yellow rice wine, then roasted for two hours and served with Asian style bread stuffing, gammon bone-in ham ($195 for 6kg), BBQ roasted beef ribs ($138 for 2kg) and crispy pork knuckles ($90). All of them come with various sides of potatoes, vegetables and sauce, and are good for big parties. There’s 25% off when you shop online. http://bit.ly/cpchangi-e-store

Still in the east, Baba Chews of Indigo Hotel Katong has a small but good menu of takeaways suitable for smaller parties. Its Peranakan-style Christmas dishes are ideal if you are tired of the usual turkey and gammon spread. The Iberico pork ribs ($98 for 10 ribs) is pretty good with a piquant kecap manis glaze; so is the crackling pork belly panggang ($84) in satay style marinade, sous vide first for tenderness, the slow roasted for a delightful crackling. My vote goes to its beef rendang made with USDA prime beef short ribs ($168 for 2 kg), stewed in a full-on unctuous rendang gravy and served Hainanese rice and acar. Super good. End with their chendol log cake ($59 for 1kg).
http://babachews.com.sg/happenings/festive-takeaways/

Pan Pacific Singapore also offers an Asian style turkey—the baked eight treasures turkey ($178) with chestnuts, yam, wolfberries, red dates, mushrooms and Chinese sausages is good for 12 people. It features also as part of a bundle where $298 will get you the turkey with lotus leaf fried rice and a D24 durian pandan log cake (1kg). There’s also plenty of sweet treats for takeaway including a tempting Drambuie infused rich fruit cake ($40 for 650g). Three days advance order required for roasts; last orders 23 Dec.
pacificmarketplace.sg

For dessert and sweets, or for last minute gift hampers, Marks and Spencer is always reliable. For an indulgence, serve up the 12 month matured Christmas pudding ($25.90) with brandy soaked cherries, nuts and ‘enriched’ with more brandy, cognac and stout. Then there’s nice mince pies – get the classic recipe selection ($15.90) comprising two all-butter mince pies, two all butter Frangipane mince pies and two iced topped mince pies. An advantage of being late is also the chance there are sales going on now at M&S, so some goodies are on serious discounts.

 

Hellos And Goodbyes!

hellos ….

I landed in Auckland … on 1 July 2017 with only four precious things. Most valuable – my 12 year old daughter who would start college here. Most practical – a few bags to help us get settled before the rest of our things arrived. Most unexpected – a job which I was signed up to literally the month before I left Hong Kong. Most useful – a large measure of faith to meet the challenges ahead.  This last item being the most important as I keep opening up that bag to rummage it, using every bit of what I have in there, amazed that it has not run out.

goodbyes …

I cried long and hard … after sending my husband off at Auckland International Airport, He had accompanied us for the first two weeks to settle us in. Even though he promised to come back soon, the realisation that I would now actually be here – solo parenting with a pre-teen, was slowly sinking in and I was beginning to question myself, wondering if I was crazy, thinking that I could take on New Zealand, alone. This would be our second move in ten years – leaving behind family and the creature comforts of home on Singapore’s safe shores in 2007, to a new job (waiting for him) in the fast-paced glitz and glam of cosmopolitan Hong Kong. Ten years on in 2017 found us moving once again. Abandoning the bright lights of the fragrant harbour for a completely different experience in the serene city of sails, home to the long white cloud.   

hellos …

The craziest part about my move to Auckland was perhaps landing a job before I arrived. Something that I did not expect (and according to new friends here) almost impossible to snag for the average migrant as most Kiwi employers actually want to hire someone with some actual ‘in-market’ experience. So, I am very grateful for the opportunity and privilege to have been given custodianship of the marketing and communications function, working to rebrand Auckland’s prolific grand dame hotel, The Langham into it’s modern, stylish and equally interesting new self – Cordis, Auckland.  

The job turned out to be this season’s greatest blessing. My job had to do with a re-brand project but really, the experience ‘re-branded’ me.

It forced me to get connected immediately in the most efficient and effective way possible, giving me fantastic opportunities to meet and connect with new people – colleagues, contacts and friends. It fast-tracked my appreciation and understanding of how life is lived and business is done here. 

Different projects and ideas that I wanted to implement got me quickly initiated. I  digested everything fast and furiously – learning what and where the city’s hot spots were, what was considered trendy and relevant, what cultural elements and sensitivities existed, the overall vibe, the Auckland lifestyle, it’s etiquette and work ethic.  

The job and its different interactions gave me the opportunity to practice my personal passions – connecting with people, selling clever stories, creating and breathing life into marketing ideas … evolving strategies to birth a brand footprint.   

goodbyes …

Today, 18 months on …  I say a fond goodbye to Cordis. Not just because it is now successfully re-branded and ready. But that it … has also successfully re-branded me and  I am ready.   

Reaching once again, into that bag of faith that I first arrived with … I am confident, I will like what I find inside. After all, if life is anything like a box of chocolates … you first need to lift the lid, to then savour with surprise … each delightful bite!   

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Elaine

 

 

‘Ro-zay’ Season Arrives

I love how a change of seasons brings new tastes to the table. I have never been an ‘eat the season‘ type of gal. I am just your average Ms Greedy. I eat and drink what I like, according to what I fancy.  But after moving to Auckland, where the seasons are much more distinct, eating and drinking the season, does mean that you get a taste of the season’s best in terms of enjoying the freshest farm-to-table harvest in that period.

In Auckland this week, I’ve walked into wine-shops and supermarkets, greeted by delightful rows of pink populating wine shelves everywhere. A sure sign that despite the still-cool weather that we are having here, summer is surely on it’s way and Rose (pronounced Ro-zay) season has arrived!

Over the last few months, my Kiwi friends have tried to swing my tastebuds in favour of  the bubblies. I’m ok with the occasional glass of Prosecco and Champagne but I am still a reds fan and white, only if its a Reisling or a Chardonnay, and sweet. However, lately I have started to appreciate a glass or two of pink.

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My new favourite is this Hawke’s Bay, easy to drink, semi-sweet 2018 Sparkling Rose ($23 a bottle) from Blackbarn Vineyards. Light and summery, without that dry-mouth aftertaste and that horrible heavy hangover feeling that overtakes you after you’ve had a glass too many – this one gets my thumbs up.

Not all Rose’s are equal though. Most tend to be crisp, borderline dry and not always sweet. But they do taste great chilled and yes even better … horrors (with a cube of ice in them).

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Not just limited to Auckland, it seems … Rose season is everywhere. In Hong Kong  where Winter and the party season is about to descend,  Somersby  have just launched their latest cider flavour – a Rose Sparkling blend (HK$19.90 a bottle) with only 4.5% of alcohol (available in all supermarkets and convenience stores in Hong Kong from December 2018).

So with Friday here and Summer (in Auckland) on it’s way … Hello Ro-zay! I’m definitely planning to drink the season …

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Elaine

That Saturday Stroll

I  have been an absolute failure at exercise in Auckland, except for ‘that Saturday stroll’. Ok I confess, at the heart of it all I will exercise only if I have to (ie. when clothes start to get tight) and I do absolutely hate getting a tan (which my lovely Kiwi friends seem to love).

Kiwis are an amazing lot. They love the great outdoors and in fact, I’ve seen Kiwis brave the rain and shine to just get out of the house to ‘get some air’ and there is plenty of it to go around on a Saturday stroll.

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You want to start early before it gets hot so leave home by 9am. Cardinal rules before you step out of the house are to slather on the sun-block, wear a hat, put on sunnies (kiwi for sunglasses) and wear comfortable walking shoes.  Sigh, I am already tired just thinking about all that. I need to sit down already!

I live in the Eastern bays in Auckland, in an area called St Heliers and fairly near me are 3 great walking trails – the Orakei Basin Walkway, the Panmure Basin Walk and the Pakuranga Farmcove Loop. Encouraged and accompanied by my lovely South African neighbour, Anne – I have been spending weekend mornings with her on ‘that Saturday stroll’ on a mission to discover hidden paths, enjoy the great 18 degree weather as Spring kicks in and admiring all the flowers that have started coming up in full bloom.

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The Orakei Basin Walkway is a 45-minute stroll on foot (not suitable for cycling or wheelchairs) and brings lush scenery and dog-friendly paths. It combines steps, bridges and earthy paths, as you walk along the mouth of what was once (some 85,000 years ago), an active crater lake. Sometimes you can see various groups of people – like these paddle boarders (main photo in this post) out in groups taking in the great day.  After the walk, stop for a coffee at Bird On A Wire or any of the lovely coffee stops at the nearby Orakei Village.

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A shorter 30-minute alternative is the Panmure Basin walk that takes you along the rim of another extinct crater lake. It is great for kids as it has 3 playground stops along the way, a dedicated and almost flat cycle, tricycle and scooter path and is fairly shaded. A great place to stop for a coffee and sit out on the deck is at the cafe in the Waipuna Conference Centre 

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A good place with even flatter walkaways perfect for slow walkers, kids cycling or even a wheelchair stroll is the Pakuranga Farmcove Loop that takes you along the Tamaki Estuary, through Farm Cove, and you can have that completed in 30 minutes.

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Besides soaking in flora, fauna,sun and scenery, a walk also gives you a chance to ogle at the real estate and the mega homes built around the water. This is a rare backyard peek into what the rest of Asia would consider a good feng-shui purchase – owning a home along the fertile water’s edge. After that head to Howick Village nearby to the Saturday morning market or anywhere in the village for a coffee.

Free walk guide here

Elaine

Auckland Day Trips – Titirangi to Arataki Visitor Centre to Piha Beach

My latest adventures have been around seeing what there is to do outside of Auckland on a day drive just to explore everything around me. I have been pleasantly surprised at how many great day trips there are to just drive out to – with GPS, of course. So if you are an avid instagrammer and want your feed populated with shots of scenic lookouts, black sand beaches and some delightful stop-over eateries – this is a good one to do.

 

From the heart of central Auckland (say Sky City), you would be driving about 40 to 50 mins West heading into the Waitakere ranges. Total round trip following the route below – just under 1.5 hours drive time (not counting your stop overs)
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Recommended route: 

1. Drive from your location to iTi cafe in the smallish town of Titirangi.

This charming little restaurant is where you can stop for a morning coffee, hearty brunch menu, a vegan salad with even a selection of small plates with surprising items like peking duck pancakes with hoisin sauce and dukkah dressing.  Open for drinks, larger plates and dinner, this is also a good stopover choice on your way back.

2. Drive straight on after to Arataki Visitor Centre. This is part of the Waitakere Regional Park. Here, you will find three must-sees that will make that drive there, nothing short of insta-worthy.

  • First photo after you park the car, look for the giant photo frame where you take that great scenic background shot of the  Lower Nihoputu dam and Manukau Harbour.

  • Second snap is in front of the totem pole looking structure – this is the pou (post) standing as a guardian to Arataki
  • Third snap – get a shot at the scenic decks which extend out behind the Visitor Centre  – its worth making your travel buddy go all the way across to the adjacent balcony deck to capture a snap of you against the wilderness

  • Last but not least – the Lookout which is a small area that you climb up to (5 min walk from ground level) that gives you an unexpected 360 degree view of everything around the park.
  • If you are feeling adventurous – a fifth shot is one of you on the Nature walk amongst the Kauri trees which are specially protected as these are native New Zealand trees. There is a long walk – 45 mins, a short 15 min option or a 5 minute hike up to the nearby lookout (mentioned above).

3. Don’t head back to Auckland from here – instead, drive on another 40 mins on to Piha Beach – if you are all the way out here, you might as well make this visit there as the volcanic black sand on this beach glitters like tiny flecks of gold when the sun’s rays hit the beach and is indeed a sight to behold. This is also surfer’s paradise. Think – You, the Board and the Waves.

4. On the way home to Auckland from Piha, head to the Elevation Cafe for refreshments or lunch.

The fare is simple but you are there for the views so brave the weather and sit outside on the balcony.  This is another insta-worthy stopover for sweeping views whilst you slowly sip that mocha.

Elaine

Auckland Oyster Hunt

I am a little late to the Oyster game here in Auckland. Oyster season happens in May, I am told … with Bluff Oysters … possibly New Zealand’s best seafood export. They come from a tiny town called Bluff in the South Island and are almost sweet, light to the taste and absolutely delicious with a glass of white wine. Each year there are several events that celebrate this particular New Zealand oyster. Like this one happening next year.

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Well, short of missing the entire season and not finding any more Bluff oysters to enjoy and suddenly having this crazy unshakeable craving for them – we decided to brave the drive to Clevedon, home to Clevedon Coast Oysters a farm that sells these lovelies – tempura-ed, raw, fritter-ed and steamed – you name it, they have it.  Our instagram post on the visit is here.

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By the way, my Kiwi friends are constantly laughing at how I think everything is far away when it’s only about 40 minutes away (which is ‘near’ – in Kiwi speak). Just love New Zealand and how chill everyone and everything is here – 40 minutes would have me screaming ‘Or-luak’ and ‘I want it NOW’!

Made mental note that I am so-o-o-o taking favourite girlfriends here when they next visit. Also another detour nearby – the fabulous Clevedon Farmer’s Market (which deserves a separate post) just for its fresh produce – well worth the drive – ah hem, all 40 minutes of it.

Elaine

 

 

 

 

‘doing life’

Hello everyone – Elaine here

I’ve been very quiet in the last year … ‘doing life’ is what i call it. A crazy ride that has taken me from Singapore in 2007 to Hong Kong and in 2017 to Auckland.

An  upheaval every ten years that I seem to go through to teach me the importance of being grounded in the right things – family, faith, friendships and to remember … no matter how it goes – to ultimately land on my feet.

I have been crazy busy, settling in, working part time, setting up home … sad because along the way I lost my dad and after that .. happy again, because now – finally  after a year, am finding my step — and I am grateful — and in at a good place – just where I need to be (for now) – ready – ‘to do life’.

So … look out for adventures from this part of the world which I would love to share with you …. and maybe this way .. we can be ‘doing life’ …. as the kiwis, here call it … simply and fabuliciously … together!

City Guide – 4 Tips On How to See 7 Sydney Sights In 8 Hours

On the way to Auckland recently, I had an 8 hour stopover in Sydney with my pre-teen in tow. For once, the usually organised me – did not have a plan.

My last visit to Sydney was probably over twenty years ago. My daughter has never been to Sydney so since a stopover was a must, to get into Auckland as all the other flights were full – I decided – heck, why not!

So we landed at 6am in Sydney with no idea what to do except advice from a friend that I could take a train to Circular Quay from the airport terminal and work out the rest from there so that is exactly what I did.

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We ended up seeing 7 places in the short span of 8 hours, having a great meal by the Darling harbour and getting back to the airport in time and here are 4 useful tips on how to do that.

1. Foodstuff – Pack It With A List    

We arrived with two hand carries. One filled with computers, charges and iPads and the other filled with foodstuff so that we did not have to open our heavier main luggage when declaring it going into Auckland.  Not the wisest move to bring food out of transit in Australia, as Oz is the home of “Border Patrol” and they have strict, if not the strictest restrictions on what you can and can’t move out of customs. So if you are ever on transit here and in the same predicament do yourself a favour (like we did) and write a comprehensive list of what’s in your food bag. Eg. 1 packet dried shrimp. The general rule – no raw eggs, meat or honey and no seeds. Also do not take any foodstuff off the plane as that is also not allowed. Yes, leave the bottled water and the packet of nuts behind. If you have no food on you and don’t want a hassle queueing – that should be a point you want to note.

2. Find a Storage Locker

We found one in Sydney airport, right next to the Flower Shop after we happily cleared customs. For something like $12 for 8 hours per hand carry – it was the perfect drop off.

3. Look for the Train

The local train into the city runs right into the airport – a very good thing about Sydney’s airport.  Go to the end of arrivals and board the train into Central Sydney. We bought a day pass for under AUD50 each and off we went. It may seem high – but leaving the airport is already AUD15 and back is another AUD15, individual stops if you get off and on are AUD3 to AUD4 per one way.

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We got off at Circular Quay by 8am, home to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and within walking distance to the Rocks and the Darling Harbour so that was four attractions covered off in one stop.

4. Look for a Sydney Attractions Pass Booth

We headed to the Rocks for breakfast and coffee and around the area, ask any of the Tourism Info Centres where you can buy an attractions pass.

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Sydney is built for tourism and the good thing about Sydney is that the attractions are all nearby to each other – at least the main ones for kids are.

We found this place where you can buy it at one of their booths or online and we bought tickets (about AUD$65 each) to 3 attractions (the Aquarium, the Wildlife Centre and Madame Trussard’s Wax Museum) which we discovered were all located side by side along the Darling Harbour waterfront (our 7th and final stop) where we afterwards had a lovely late lunch before getting back to the airport by 3pm to catch our 5pm to Auckland.

City Stopover Summary  

  • 6am Landed in Sydney
  • 7am Cleared customs stored luggage
  • 745am Train to Circular Quay
  • 830am Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • 10am Breakfast and Coffee at The Rocks
  • 11am Buy Attraction Pass and walk to Darling Harbour Waterfront
  • 11.15am Aquarium Visit (its small with a travelator that goes under the fish dome that does not move so you can walk through. So expect to be done in 45 minutes)
  • 12pm The Wildlife Adventure (liked this best out of all the attractions as it was more unusual)
  • 1pm Madame Trussard’s Wax Museum – after all the goofy pics that we took and the realisation that some of the stars were actually shorter than I thought that they would be in real life, we got hungry!
  • 145pm Grabbed a quick Italian lunch at one of the lovely waterfront restaurants
  • 230pm Took the half hour ride back to the airport in time for our 530pm flight to Auckland

Other top Sydney Attractions HERE

Best and most productive and efficient 8 hours ever spent in one city!

 

 

Comida Mexicana – Mexican Fare & Margaritas We Can’t Get Enough Of

Newly opened in Katong, Comida Mexicana is technically not new — it was formerly Margarita’s East Coast. In its refreshed branding and new menu, proprietress Vivian Wee continues to serve up top notch Mexican fare with a focus on healthy cooking, quality ingredients and fabulous flavours. I’ll admit, this post is particularly enthusiastic because hers has been our favourite neighbourhood restaurant for well over 15 years (ie. we’ve put our money where our mouth is), and we are very familiar with her as well as the food she whips up.

Oh, but Mexican is so heavy, and it’s all just refried beans and tacos, you say. Well, rest assured, not here.

For those who like their tipples, let me just state that they serve the best margaritas on this earth. There are several grades on the menu. The higher grades are smooth and well rounded, but the house pour margarita’s ($18) are good enough for me — I like them with a bit of an edge. And you’ll definitely feel the buzz from these. I like them classic, but if you fancy a twist, the tamarind margarita — as odd as it sounds — is actually very nice. There’s also sangria, mojito and daiquiris if you prefer.

Food portions are very generous here and meant for serious sharing. Not like the trendy ‘sharing plates’ that are actually two-thirds the size of full main courses, these are genuine, generous, hefty dishes. As a guideline, if there’s three of you, you’ll just need two appetisers and two mains to share, and get a jug of margarita. If you still have space for desserts, order two again to share. We promise you’ll be rolling out the restaurant after that.

So, on to the food. To start, share the mashed avocado sopes ($20), little tarts (made from scratch) piled with refried beans, guacamole, and a lime wedge, and my must-have, tortilla chips with home-made red salsa ($6), tangy, rich, with a substantial chillied kick. The mushroom fritters are great too.

From her main courses, the Mexican Yucatan chicken ($28) is a must have, comprising five large pieces of grilled leg meat on skewers. Marinated in achiote, garlic, orange and lemon juice, they are tasty, juicy with a zippy tang, served in a tortilla ‘bowl’ filled with salad and four steamed tortilla. Get hands-on and assemble your own tortilla wrap, filled with meat, salad and pieces of fried tortilla bowl. Since it made its debut, this dish has been making ‘instagrammed’ countless times and has won many over. And it’s large enough for two to share.

The carne asada ($52) is a drippingly juicy, boldly flavoured grain-fed beef marinated in brandy, tequila and orange juice, served with tortilla, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, salsa rojas, and black beans. It comes to the table sizzling, and is absolutely delectable. We love the carnitas, too, comprising delectable pulled pork slow-cooked for two and a half hours and served with tortilla, salsa rojas, salsa verde, and guacamole. Like the chicken, these are meant for hands-on assembling fun. If you fancy seafood, the cornflakes crusted baby snapper fillets ($32) with roasted tomatillo sauce is good – crisp, zingy and generous. The chicken burrito, and the braised lamb shank ($38) are also favourites.

If you’ve still got space for dessert, have the salted caramel pina colada bread pudding ($15). Unapologetic and not for the faint at heart, this is made of brioche soaked in dark rum and cream, with chopped pineapples, coconut ice cream and lashings of salted caramel sauce. Divine. And there’s the kahbrita ($14), a moreish composition of homemade coconut ice cream coated in chocolate powder, kahlua and a shot of espresso. A Mexican version of the affogato.

A passionate cook who is also totally health conscious, Vivian makes everything from scratch in her restaurant kitchen, from the sauces and salsas to ice cream. She imports most of her ingredients from Mexico and the USA, including avocadoes, chillies, beans and tomatillos — and most of them organic as far as possible. Canned ingredients are avoided as far as possible. Another thing worth noting, with three days advanced notice, she offers made-to-order reduced-sugar cakes such as Kahlua Tiramisu, Carrot Cake, Banana Cake, and Bread & Butter Pudding ($80-$150 for 3kg, takeaway only). And did we say they serve the best margarita’s on earth?

404 East Coast Road, Singapore 428998
Tel: (65) 6440 8030
(Closed on Mondays unless they are public holidays or PH eve)

Road Trip To Rotorua, New Zealand

The next time you are in Auckland, New Zealand put a 2 day road trip to Rotorua into the itinerary. It’s a rare opportunity to get out of the city, a fairly leisurely drive and just enough activities to get you busy, immersed in both nature and a bit of Maori culture for two plus days.

I love how the Kiwis just get to the point with their quick deals.

This was evident pre-trip, when we headed to JUCY rentals and emerged having rented a car from their El Cheapo range of budget cars.

Our trusty rental was a great deal – a 1.6 litre sedan at about NZ$50 a day. We added on a rental GPS (although you could use your phone if you have data) and we were off out onto the open road with a rough itinerary in mind.

Can you see the rainbow in the distance on our front windscreen?

Day 1

From Auckland to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves 

The drive to Rotorua is about 3 hours long. Leave in the morning and stop for lunch,  coffee and cake along the way. New Zealand coffees are just the best – perhaps its the weather or the fact that you have enough time to savour your cup of joe instead of hastily gulping it down before rushing to your next meeting.

 

Our first stop was Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. I would rate this a must-go, something you do before it gets dark (closes at 5pm) and a max 1.5 hour stop. Don’t expect a glitzy theme park experience from this nicely set up, modern looking ticketed attraction with a gift shop ensuite. This is definitely all-nature and all about your experience taking a peek into it. You are literally brought into the experience, rather than having it present itself to you so it takes a bit of an open mind to appreciate the visit. First up, you are ushered by a guide into the cave where there is a request for silence or minimal noise. Leave the bawling babies and noisy kids at home. You listen to stories told in first person by an experienced host about the history of the cave and how it was discovered. After a short walk in, you get on to a boat and ride the rest of the way into cave – all mobile devices on silent, in complete darkness – right into the heart of the cave where you see glow worms nesting in the recesses of the cave ceiling above you, their tiny bodies giving off an eerie faint blue light. You look up and it seems that the night has come and all you see above are a million stars. Surreal!

Check into Hotel and have dinner at Food Street

Staying along the Lakeside – would be my advice as the main city of Rotorua is built along the lake. You know that you have arrived when you wind down the car windows and the pungent smell of sulphur greets you head on. The closest description of the smell is rotten eggs. We stayed at the Novotel, Rotorua Lakeside. Very comfortable, has its own mineral spa (think onsen) inside the Hotel which is free for guests and is right next to the pubs and eateries along the next door main dining thoroughfare known as Food Street in Rotorua.

Day 2  

Tepuia Hot Spring Geysers

Tepuia, is the closest hot spring geysers to visit in Rotorua, This is a ticketed attraction with a walking guided tour, a visit to the Maori cultural centre in side and gift shop.

The pools are hot enough to cook food in and most definitely not safe for a swim or leisurely dip of any kind.

After the walkabout, wander into the Maori craftsmanship areas where weaving and boat building techniques are explained and demonstrated.

Expect to spend about 1.5 to 2 hours here. In perfect time for you to drive back down to the Lakeside area and check into the Polynesian Spa which we did not visit this trip as we were already too spa-ed out at the Hotel spa.

Tamaki Maori Village 

Our dinner highlight on Day 2 was boarding the bus arranged by the Tamaki Maori Village which took us to the village, about half an hour away.

The Maori villages are actually run and owned by existing Maori families here in New Zealand.

Here, we were given the works – a Maori traditional welcome ceremony, an explanation of the significance of each tradition. This was followed by an engaging evening of Maori folk songs, dancing and performances which ended in a traditional Hangi meal.

The Hangi is a meal much like the Hawaiin Luau where the food served has been buried in a pit below ground and using the natural volcanic heat and a combination of steam heating, meats and veggies are cooked and served in a large communal buffet style spread.

Day 3 

To Hobbiton and then back to Auckland 

We wanted to get our trip time’s worth so with some Trip Advisor Forum advice, we managed to craft a detour from our original trip to Hobbiton and the Shire, before heading back to Auckland.

Make sure that the day you head to this ticketed attraction is dry as there is a fair bit of walking to conquer around Peter Jackson’s set which apparently was torn down after the movie and recreated again on premises.

A stop by the village pub – The Green Dragon is mandatory.

Definitely a must-visit for all LOTR fan’s.  With that under our belts, we drove back to Auckland back to the safe haven of The Langham Hotel and the comforts of its marvellous Club Lounge.

Below – the round-trip route for anyone who wants to brave the journey.