We’re big fans of train travel, but NZ seems to have decided it’s a novelty, not a basic, logical sensible part of a sustainable transport policy: so the train from Auckland to Wellington only runs every other day. And is a tourist attraction, not really a quotidian mode of transport. So instead of a stately cruise down through the North Island on two rails, put in at great expense and manpower in the 19th century, we headed south in a coach instead.
We arrived in Wellington, NZ’s pint-sized, hill-and-ocean-hemmed, notoriously windy capital around 8.30pm after 12 delightful hours in the combustion engine behemoth that is the InterCity coach.
The wind – which had kept the first European visitors to NZ, Abel Tasman and James Cook, out of the harbour – wasn’t blowing, which is probably a good thing, as we found ourselves on the 22nd floor (actually the 14th or something, after all the superstition non-floors – 13 etc – have been factored in) of the generic chain hotel we’d accidentally booked. If the place had been being gusted it would have freaked Fran out even more; as is she was already worrying about what this elevation would be like in the event of earthquake.
Earthquakes are of course no joke in NZ. Christchurch, the South Island’s principle city, was terribly mangled by quakes in 2010 and 2011 and as a result building legislation has been revised. Now Wellington is a city that boasts fascinating topography, with craggy bays and hills, but it’s also defined by plentiful dull modern architecture, notably, but not exclusively in the CBD, and piss-poor town planning. The fact that the only characterful historic areas, notably the idiosyncratic Cuba Street, will probably get a massive makeover due to the combination of the new legislation and your predictable developer greed (lack of vision, aesthetic insensitivity etc etc) means the city will probably look very different if we come back in a few years.
In the meantime, we enjoyed trying to find interesting eating and drinking places, scrabbling through our hefty NZ Rough Guide, pottering up and down Cuba Street, round into backstreets, where older buildings are just about hanging on amid the identikit modernity. Having slept badly in our air-conned eyrie of blandness, we fancied the comfort of a cinema, so bought tickets to go to the Light House on Wigan Street. (Great little cinema, which even had some local craft beer like Tuatara; profoundly manipulative film One Chance.) Beforehand, however, we managed a quick beer across the street at the Havana, a bar, or pair of bars, in two old huts dwarfed by depressing modern buildings.
At the Havana we had a couple of beers from ParrotDog, a local brewery. Both – Bitter Bitch IPA and Flaxen Feather Blonde – were bottled, too cold straight from the fridge, very carbonated, but featured a decent amount of tasty NZ hops.
After the film, we went to dinner at Olive on Cuba Street. This was a really nice restaurant, one of the best meals we’ve had for ages. It felt kinda posh, and I felt kinda scruffy, and I agonised about what wine to have (I settled on a very pleasant Milton Te Arai Vineyard Demi Sec 2009 Chenin Blanc) before changing tack after a glass and deciding I’d much rather try a beer from Garage Project, another Wellington brewery, a micro operation based in an old petrol station. The eccentrically hospitable waitress accommodated this with aplomb, as did the amiable waiter with his stupendous beard (if he’d had a black t-shirt showing off tats he’d look like a classic craft beer hipster). Jeepers, I’m getting serious beard envy. I’d love one of those dense lustrous beards, but unless I glue one on, I know I’ll go to my grave without every having that experience.
Anyway, the Garage Project beer was called Angry Peaches and was it great. The scent was fruit, cranberry, lemon and “Fairy Liquid” (Fran) and it was pleasingly not over-carbonated, mellow (despite the name) and sweet.
The following day we went to the Malthouse (Courtnay Place), a great beer bar with an impressive selection, including more from Garage Project. There was even another guy with a great beard, damn him. We were served by a helpful, knowledgeable barmaid (no beard) who gave us several samples before we both alighted on the two beers on the hand pumps as an alternative to all the carbon dioxide on other taps. Our choices were from another local brewery, Fork & Brewer: Moon Blink Black IPA (5.8%) and Base Jumper (6.3%). The latter is a really smooth, surprisingly mild APA, with caramel and cereal tastes, and several hop varieties (Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial from the US; Orbit and Motueka from NZ) while the former is floral and blackcurranty.
Afterwards, we went to Chow, a kinda pan-Asian tapas place, with more good food – and, shock horror, actual spiciness, something that was very elusive in NZ a decade ago – and good beer. I had another ParrotDog, Dead Canary Pale Ale (5.3%), a gingery, orangey, malty ale while Fran had a Stoke Amber Ale. Stoke is part of the sprawl south of Nelson, original home of Mac’s, and Stoke is the McCashin family’s new brewery’s new brand. It was a delicious beer too, smooth but crisp. Good to see the McCashins back in business. Be interesting to see if they sell (out) this brand in a few years too, or keep it a microbrewery.
So all in all, Wellington hasn’t disappointed on the beer or food front. Oh, and that thing I mentioned in the last post comparing its food options with NYC – the Rough Guide 2012 actually says “Wellington has more places to eat per capita than New York and the standard is impressively high.” Yep.
Now we’re on the ferry taking us across the Cook Straits to the South Island, aka the Mainland, aka the Middle Island. This route seems to be where old English Channel (and other European) ferries go when they retire. Just a week or so ago, one of these veterans dropped a propeller. Hopefully ours will make it, as at the other end, Picton, we get a smaller boat back up into the Marlborough Sounds to meet my wonderful old friend Nadia, who was one of my principle baking (and cooking generally) teachers and has a wood-fired oven with a view of the sea. Hopefully we’ll do some baking together, and I can get some bread back onto this blog, which has, I know, become somewhat ale-focussed of late.