The first time I went to Wellington four years ago gave me a brief snapshot of a city that kind of took me off guard as I was always under the impression that such a small city with an equally small population must be as boring as you know what. Boy was I wrong. My first visit was in summer when Wellington was smiling with blue skies and a glistening harbour scattered with boats, and by the harbour and in backstreets the locals and visitors lounged about at outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars. I just couldn’t get my head around how easy it was to walk around this place. Yes there are museums and galleries and whatever but all that I was interested in doing was eating good food and drinking the local vino and damn good coffee. That trip came and went and despite the fact that we vowed to go back we somehow got distracted by other destinations on the opposite side of the planet. You know how it is.
So out of that same blue sky I’m landed with an email inviting me over the Tasman to partake in Wellington On A Plate 2010 with three other Sydney bloggers, an invitation that would have us eating and drinking, sampling and exploring for just over three days. Until I got the itinerary I really had no idea what we were all in for. Is the human body designed for what we were about to be put through?
Touching down in Wellington on Thursday afternoon gave us all some micro time to relax and freshen up. I tell you what. No blue sky this time. The bleak weather came out to play in full force and made me realise New Zealand was still enduring an icy winter unlike our increasing temperatures in Sydney. Not that I cared. New Zealand is green for a reason, right? While Helen and Peter check into their hotel, Billy and I get our own separate corner rooms at the Holiday Inn. Ooh … look … a goodies bag! The chocolate and coffee only lasted a few minutes while I unpacked and sat on the big bed while looking out over the choppy harbour waters. Please don’t rain please don’t rain please don’t rain.
Billy and I meet in the lobby and then make our way to the Te Papa to meet the others for a little tour around the museum. I came here last time with Mr K where we wandered about ourselves without a guide and left feeling none the wiser. This time ’round I can’t help but say that I’ve learnt something thanks to the beyond fantastic and extremely funny Rangimoana Taylor.
Our tour started in the museum cafe where Rangimoana gave us insight to Maori culture with its history and development as well as touching on the local traditional herbs and medicines that are still used today. The fresh kawakawa leaves he was showing us are only ready for use when insects start to eat holes into them and the leaves can be used to alleviate toothaches just by chewing on them or infusing a tea with them helps digestion, blood pressure and even asthma. However, we’re told that a few cups of this slightly sour tea will send you straight to the toilet! Laxative, anyone? Another leaf we’re shown comes from the manuka tree. The antibacterial qualities of the oil were used by Maori for generations and it’s still used today to help with bites and stings, cuts and even aching muscles.
As we sat and talked we got to sample a few “local” ingredients such as the brioche-like rewena made using potatoes. Think soft bread, not too spongey. A trio of cups held a delicious and creamy manuka honey, a pesto made with pikopiko (young fern fronds) and a tartare-like mayonnase containing the native pepper horopito. Sadly I couldn’t get a sense of the fern frond flavour due to the other ingredients of the pesto and the mayonnaise was just mayonnaise. They were both quite flavoursome, just a little removed from being “traditional”.
I loved the kumera chips doused in manuka, as Helen had instigated and those mussels (kutai) were absolutely divine. The flavour of the dressing is very much like ceviche – zesty, fresh and sharp against the creamy and earthy mussel flesh.
Leaving the traditionally-inspired food behind, or rather the empty plates, Rangimoana led us outside into Bush City to check out the native plants and learn a bit more about them in this lush and dense forest between the city and the harbour. It’s fairly small and compact but you get a good sense of the native bush and volcanic landscape along meandering walkways that also take you through a wetland mock-up and even a glow-worm cave. Before we know it we’re back inside the museum building making our way up to the Marae where we have a very engaging and personal mihimihi (greeting) in Maori and then repeated in English. The structure of the marae itself is intricate and colourful and the contemporary “carvings” identify with the origins of other cultures that came to this country many years ago.
The Te Papa is jammed full of interactive exhibits and showcases the history, art, culture and heritage of Wellington and New Zealand. It requires much more time than the approximate hour and a half we had and having a guide goes without saying. Why did we only stay for such a short time? Ania from Positively Wellington Tourism was hosting us for our first dinner …
hnf joined the Te Papa tour and stayed at Holiday Inn as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism for Wellington On a Plate (WOAP)
Other posts from my Wellington On a Plate experience: