Historically, the South Island of New Zealand has been called the Middle Island (when the southerly Stewart Island was factored in), or more commonly the Mainland (when Christchurch was the country’s main city). I like the latter nomenclature, as the South Island’s always been my main New Zealand destination, my on-and-off home.
It’s also proving to be a place with less-than-modern notions of internet access though. We’ve been down here a while now, and only now am I getting a chance to sit down with some semi-functional WiFi.
When we came over from Wellington a week or so ago, we immediately caught another boat and went deep into the Marlborough Sounds to catch up with my old friend Nadia. She’s living on the side of Mount Stokes, with a woodfired oven and a mighty fine view.
She’d made dough, and when we reached her place we had a good session sliding pizza into the oven and chowing down on the results mere minutes later. Gotta love 400-ish-C of woodfired oven.
Much of our visit involved working on her precariously tiered hillside garden, and chasing away a weka (a tenacious flightless NZ bird that is the bane of many people who try to have a veg garden in areas with nearby bush), but we did find time to ardently discuss Italian food, cook up some carciofi alla romana (Roman style artichokes), and even attempt a kind of ciabatta. For this, I used the remains of Nadia’s pizza dough as a kind of biga.
I mixed up a new dough, left it to ferment for a day, then stretched it and slid it into the oven. I hadn’t got the oven quite hot enough (hey, it’s my first time), so the spring wasn’t good, but it was still a pleasing exercise.
… Other than when I tried to make another variant, it got stuck on the peel, and I ended up losing the loaf to the embers. Hi ho. Live and learn.
Now we’re heading further south on the Mainland, after visiting another old friend, Susie, in the Buller Gorge, catching up with loads of other young old friends (some of whom I’ve know since their infancy – it’s disconcerting to go away for 10 years and come back and find all these adults).
We even managed to fit in a fairly intense tramp/hike/mountaineering scramble in the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. It was a route I’d wanted to do for years, but after weeks of summer, the weather turned back into winter and we found ourselves on a very exposed ridge, all rocks and scree, in thick cloud, horizontal rain and cold winds. Fran, who has a kind of mountain-ridges-vertigo, looked like she was about to file for divorce there and then.
We’re still married though, thankfully, and even survived a seven hour jaunt by car today, the start of a Mainland road trip. Which has even involved some slightly frustrating (I’m always designated driver as Fran doesn’t have a license) visits to several breweries, which I’ll write up at some stage.