Monday, 23 February 2015

Newtown (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

I lived in Newtown during my student years. Did I live off pot noodle and toasted cheese sandwiches? Of course not. You can't live in Newtown and not eat well. It's my favourite suburb in Wellington, and I'm not even sure why exactly. It just feels special. Speaking of special, let me introduce a few characters who I came to know during my time there:

Coke Bottle Guy, who walks around in his metalhead shirts with a 2.5L bottle of Coke occasionally asking people for cigarettes and mentioning that he likes Coke. 
Prostitute Lady, who can be spotted a mile off from her peculiar dress sense (skimpy clothes or a matching tracksuit, always in vibrant colours) and gait (duck footed with lots of turning). She will sometimes stop walking to strike a pose, usually at busy intersections. I saw her wearing a ball gown once. 
Glue Lady. Although she's dropped off the radar now, she used to be a regular on Riddiford Street. We saw her with what looked like golden paint all around her nose, and she once threw shoes at our friend Leon. 
Denim Hat Guy, who would (surprise surprise) walk around wearing a very strange denim hat. It would shrink and grow in size when you saw him, and I suspect he used it as a method of storage. 

We had a great window - literally - into the lives of these characters as we lived right in front of a place called the Tin Palace, a sort of community centre which had a traffic flow of such individuals, and has since been made into an apartment block. We would routinely be woken early on Saturdays by fervered arguments. 
Others to note are Juggling guy (a toothless man who juggles tennis balls on Lambton Quay), 'Scuse Me (who says to passersby "'Scuse me, can I have a dollar?") and his girlfriend Beetroot Woman (so named as she is the shape of a beetroot), and the famous Blanket Man (rest in peace, you are missed). These people make Wellington what it is, as without them it would be a much less interesting place.  

But back to Newtown. Come, take a journey with me through this eclectic suburb.

Pranah cafe
This cafe provides sustainable vegtarian food for the masses (and there are masses for good reason - delicious food). There are a multitude of vegan and gluten free options as well. Here I have oat and walnut pancakes with boysenberry compote, banana and maple syrup. It's a delight whenever you get a chunk of walnut in your pancake. The fair trade flat white was perfectly brewed. 

This warehouse holds a wide array of Mediterranean foodstuffs, from fresh cheeses and salamis to wines, canned goods and chocolate. But the best part of Medi's is the pizzeria, which provides woodfired pizza with traditional toppings. On Mondays, they offer a two-for-one pizza special! (Also something to do with pasta on Tuesdays, but I can never get past the pizza. The Bufala mozarella pizza is amazing,) They now have locations in Kelburn, Lower Hutt and Kapiti as well. 

The zoo
Wellington's zoo is located in Newtown. My dad used to live on Daniel Street and be woken each morning to the sound of lions roaring or monkeys howling. There's a wonderful meercat enclosure with windows into their burrows, as well as giraffes and kangaroos and baboons. There's even a full sized rhino (disclaimer: made of plastic). It's probably a great outing for children, but arguably equally as great for the young-at-heart.


A quirky little cafe that's open for brunch on weekends and always full of hipsters. They do good Cajun skinny chips with homemade tomato sauce, and French toast with greek yoghurt and rum fried bananas. I've heard they provide very good gluten free bread, but there is an expensive charge for it.
Even better than the food are the tables that are covered in large sheets of paper for doodling on and the shelf full of board games that you can play when you wait for your food! They even have that 'Guess Who' game where you have to ask questions like "Are you a ginger?" and "Do you have a mustache?". My flatmates and I would play a version where you could only ask non-politically correct questions. As you can imagine, this produced interesting results. 

A tiny shop that makes great coffee.

This place truly is curry heaven. They offer a $9 lunch special (includes a huge curry and naan) and it can last you for two meals. Not only do you get 'bang for your buck' as they say, but the curry itself is excellent. The only downside is that occasionally they won't follow spice orders exactly: if you order a mild you might get closer to medium, order medium and you might get mild. But whatever spice level they give me, I eat it all up. (Yes, sometimes my mouth is on fire. Still worth it.) There is hot debate between whether Curry Heaven or Planet Spice is better, but as you can tell I'm an advocate of Curry Heaven.

Across the street is a Viva Mexico, which was originally located on Left Bank Arcade off Cuba Mall. While I love Viva Mexico on Cuba, I've never been to this one as I can never seem to catch it while it's open. 

This one might technically be in Mount Cook, but I consider pretty much anything on Adelaide Road as Newtown. Cheap, large portions of noodles mean that it's poplar with the Massey uni students as it's just down the hill.

Cicio Cacio Osteria
This charming osteria has cropped up down the alley that has held about five restaurants since I moved to Wellington in 2008. I really hope this one lasts, as the food is to die for and I went with Yannick two weekends in a row as we couldn't get enough. We even saw Bret McKenzie dining here the first time we went, so it's somewhere that famous people go! And in spite of that, the prices are reasonable (though they only gave us a tiny bit of wine when we ordered glasses - might go for a half litre carafe next time).

Story time: This jar was a remnant of our time flatting. It's a mixture of apple peel, food colouring and bulk bin lollies that we had used as tokens on board game nights. We were too afraid to open the jar to try to dispose of the contents so we just wrapped it in lots of layers of plastic bags and deposited it in the nearest bin on the street when we all moved out. Before that, it had loomed down on all our visitors from the top of the pantry. Who knows why we kept it that long...perhaps it was extra food supply in case of the imminent zombie apocalypse. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Harbourside Market (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Every Sunday, in rain or shine, farmers go to sell their goods at the Harbourside Market in Wellington. 

Locals from far and wide come to get their fresh produce at affordable rates. There are quite a few stalls, so it's best to shop around for a good deal. My dad sometimes plays a game in which he tries to find the largest vegetable he can for $1.

There are a range of eat-and-go stalls here too, including crepes, Fritz's Weiners, churros and pizza (made from a portable wood-fired oven). This stall is called "Excuse My French".

A little fishing boat christened "Crystal Princess" is pulled up to the dock to sell freshly caught fish, but you have to get in quick as it sells fast.

Marathons and 5Ks often go in part around the waterfront. The route is blocked off so they don't get stuck by crowds of people, and I found this high visibility sign fairly amusing. 

This rather impressive mural is to bring attention to the dangers of shark finning. It spans the entire side of a car parking buildings across from the market. I really like how much detail has been put in, as each shark has its own personality.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Thorndon: Not Molesworth Street (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

There is of course more to a suburb than its main road (usually). These are some of my favourite places that aren't on Molesworth Street.

Set in an old timber frame building, the Thistle caters for many businessmen on their lunch break, for meetings and for after work drinks. They even have bookable meeting rooms upstairs. Shown here is a starter - the scallops with black pudding over smoked mash with pinot jus. The duck liver parfait with toasted bread is particularly delicious as well.  

The mains are just as delectable. In the back is the venison loin with a beetroot and feta salad and crumbed sweetbreads. In the foreground is the lamb rump with kumara mash, green beans and jus. It's around $25-30 for mains, but you get what you pay for here. I've never left unsatisfied.

The lunch set menu (Formule Compl├Ęte) is fantastic value for money at $35, and who doesn't love a wine with lunch? Out of the three times I've been here, I've ordered the salade de chevre chaud (goat's cheese salad with bacon, pear and walnuts) twice, as it is too good to pass up.
The Toulouse sausages are also excellent, and I hear that the confit duck wings also are. The chocolate mousse for dessert is very rich and I have had it every single time I've been. (I have tasted the other desserts but there's nothing quite like a great chocolate mousse with slivers of roasted almond on top.)

Mari Luca Ristoro
A charming little Italian restaurant tucked away on Mulgrave Street, Mari Luca Ristoro serves traditional fare at reasonable prices (especially if you get the set menu). The first time we went, I got the beef ravioli with sage and burnt butter sauce. The beef was super tender and the sauce just right. Above you can see the squab with roast potatoes, which was a beautifully cooked dish. As a starter, they offer a bruschetta of the day of which I have had good and mediocre versions. 

The dining area is welcoming and there's even a fireplace for cold nights.

Old Saint Paul's 
Contrasting the huge pink blemish on Moleswoth Street that is New Saint Paul's cathedral, Old Saint Paul's is an old church built entirely of native timber located on Mulgrave Street. It's nice to wander in and look at the colonial architecture and the stained glass windows, and to read about the history of such a building. 

Bordeaux Bakery
The main Bordeaux on Thorndon Quay has a huge range of desserts and pastries, including some of the best mille feuille in New Zealand (or so I've been told - I'm not much of a fan of custardy desserts myself). The opera cake would be my recommendation. You can also buy whole cakes for special occasions, most of them costing around the $50 mark. Bordeaux also has smaller offshoots such as the Bordeaux Express on Featherston Street.

I always sit upstairs as it's a bit quieter. It's lovely to get breakfast here, whether it be crepes or a pastry with coffee, but be warned: the hot beverages can be hit or miss.

Another French cafe, this one is located in the Woolstore building. The experience was nice but nothing really jumped out to me as being special. A decent yet average cafe, which I will probably not return to as there are much better options for French fare. 

Technically in Kaiwharawhara, another great place to get breakfast or a cheeky pastry is La Cloche, where we ordered 'Ze French Breakfast' ($15). This includes a croissant, a pain au chocolat (they had run out so we got 2 croissants), baguette with jam and butter, a hot beverage and juice. It was so big we should have shared one breakfast between us!

Yannick (looking beardier than usual) humours me while I take pictures of the food. When I don't forget to whip out the iPad once food comes (and I often do), I have to tell him to wait. It can sometimes be a huge effort to resist just for those few seconds, especially when the food smells waft up at you whispering eat me.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Thorndon: Molesworth Street (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Molesworth Street is one of the main streets of the suburb of Thorndon. Here I look into the sights and delicacies scattered around.

A huge draw for tourists (both international and domestic), Parliament comprises of several buildings, some more attractive than others.
The beehive has a very mixed view, with some loving it but most hating it. I prefer the more traditional building next to it, where parliamentary sessions are held. The beehive holds the MPs' offices. Parliament Green sits in front and many people come here at lunch to enjoy nice weather, either sitting on the grass or on the park benches that are dotted around.

A bit further along is 'New' Saint Paul's Cathedral, which is pink and ugly and needs a good scrubbing. I won't burn your eyes with a picture of it here. Go and see Old Saint Paul's if you want to see a nice church (on Mulgrave Street).

The National Library of New Zealand

The National Library is one of my favourite places just to go and read. You can also use a computer to work on. Upstairs there are computers that have software useful for research and ancestry tracking, all free of charge. I'm amazed this place isn't packed full of people all the time, it's such a useful resource.

There's a cafe inside called HOME. The food is generally good, but the staff are not up to par, which really brings it down. They serve a variety of cabinet food - the slices are the best, with my top 5 picks being:
1. The ginger slice. It's so gingery that it's spicy, with an oaty base.
2. The banoffee slice. Rich with a caramel sauce and chocolate chips on the top.
3. The lemon slice. Properly lemony and lighter than the others, suitable for a nice morning tea.
4. The coffee slice. There are walnuts chopped into the base. This one is also lighter but it's quite sweet.
5. The anzac slice. Enough said, amiright?

Word of Mouth Catering
I generally go to Word of Mouth if I'm eating out for lunch. The staff are brilliant, and they have a large range of food to chose from, for reasonable prices. They have several salads that they make fresh every day, and it's always something new. If you're after something light, I recommend the ham and cheese roll (sourdough roll, gruyere cheese, champagne ham) which costs less than $4, with a side salad of your choosing. They also do a soup of the day, hot dish of the day (pictured below is the chicken tagine), and a panini of the day.
There are so many slices and cakes on offer that I just ask the staff member on till what they like the best. The coffee can be a bit hit and miss, however.

Whenever someone comes into the office with Nudel for lunch, everyone wants to go out and get some for themselves. It smells amazing (and tastes it, too). You get so much food for $10-15 that it often lasts me two meals, and there is plenty on offer including vegetarian options. The cooks stand right behind the counter tossing around huge woks and everything is made fresh in front of your eyes. It might not be very healthy, but it's good Asian comfort food.

A tiny coffee shop and bottle store, Cellarvate is right next to the Backbencher (see below). There are always people lined up to get their coffee fix before work. I've tried it, and it's not the best coffee, but also not the worst. And at $4 for a small takeaway cup, it's cheaper than the customary $4.50 around the area.

They also do daily soups. I took a picture of this sign because on that day I read the "beef goulash" as "BEES goulash" and found it far more funny than it ought to have been.

The Backbencher
I haven't eaten at this pub, as it's a bit out of my price range, but it's known that many politicians have eaten here (and continue to eat here as it is right across from Parliament). They air a TV show called Back Benches from here, with MPs and candidates being questioned by the hosts and members of the public. You have to get in early, as it's always crammed full with people wanting to join in the debate or just go along to watch.

Metiria Turei's puppet as an eco warrior, co-leader of the Green Party (source)
The political puppets are an interesting sight lining the walls. They had a fire a couple of years back and lost several of them, but you can still see satirical representations of John Key, Winston Peters, Bill English (entirely remade after the fire), and many more. From a article, the cause of the fire is said to be "spontaneous combustion of tea towels".

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Taranaki Region Day Three: My Kingdom for a Quadbike

Still New Plymouth
In the morning, we visited The Market cafe for breakfast (Earl Grey tea and a blueberry and lemon loaf).

The decor was rustic, and they had the same birdsnest light fixtures as some of the lights on the Poet's Bridge.
We walked around a bit as a few shops were opening their doors, and I bought a new pair of jandals as the ones I was wearing had been purchased in a Greek supermarket over a year before and were wearing through. They had served me well.

We decided to try to drive up Mount Taranaki some way, but Google Maps was not helpful and we ended up driving around it instead. Looking it up later, we discovered that the only way to access is it from Stratford. If we had known that at the time we passed through, we would have ascended in order to get some good views.

Along the road that circled the base of the mountain, we stumbled across a "garden with the rhododendrons or whatever [sic]". Yannick wasn't impressed and said it was more of an arboreum (a tree garden).
I did find this pretty flower though, which was near the toilets.

Driving away from the mountain, we wanted to visit Egmont Lighthouse. We had passed a sign saying something about a museum for it, but wanted to see the real thing so we kept going. It wasn't very impressive. (Imagine a white lighthouse. Now you've seen Egmont Lighthouse.) Yannick took a panorama near it to show what the lighthouse may see when it looks out, as we found the landscape more interesting than lighthouse itself.

South-bound on Surf Highway 45, there were loads of signs for surf beaches. One of the most famous, Stent Road, had to have its road sign replaced with a large rock as the sign kept getting stolen so often (a souvenir for hippie surfers worldwide). We selected a surf beach at random and drove down. 
The road ended and we walked for a little while down to the beach. The path was sandy, and being black sand it was scalding. The short walk seemed to take twice as long, and once I saw the sea I made a run for it to cool my toes. 
A quad bike seems like a much better way to get there, and we saw that a fisherman had done just that, casting his line into the tumultuous surf waves.

On the way back to Wellington, there wasn't much to note. We took a break in Wanganui and then carried on our merry way home. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Taranaki Region Day Two: Lights, Camera, Mountain!

New Plymouth
Hearing there was a French bakery to try, we plotted a course for Petit Paris in New Plymouth, which is 30km from Urenui. Not knowing what the city centre was like, we were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of parking and easy-to-navigate streets. The hot chocolate was great and very chocolatey. (I cannot understand why some places make a milky hot chocolate - it's not difficult.) The croissant and pain au chocolat tasted nice, but were flat. Perhaps they had not risen properly or had collapsed, but either way they were a bit dense.

Walking around the city streets, we saw a house of organised religion with a very pointy roof.

Going on the famed coastal walk, we saw the wind wand swaying to and fro. I prefer the wind needle (Zephyrometer) in Wellington, even now that it has been struck by lightning and taken down for health and safety reasons. The entire coastal walk is 11km long, but we just walked until we were bored and turned back. When it was a reasonable time to have lunch, we went to Lush Gelato, where the coffee flavour had won an award. (By now you know that we cannot pass up gelato or French pastries.)

Yannick chose chocolate, coffee, and caramel with a chocolate sauce. The caramel was salted so I ate most of it as it isn't to Yannick's taste. We both found that while the coffee gelato tasted very good, it didn't really have much of a coffee flavour to it. I would have thought that an award winning coffee gelato would taste like coffee. I opted for a lighter combination of raspberry and lemon sorbet.

Pukekura Park
So, we went to the park. And we had raspberries. And this is what happened. Don't ask.

The Poet's Bridge, with a hireable row boat drifting underneath. When we first visited the park, we were going to have our picnic and then take a five minute walk in the park just to see what it was like. We ended up spending rather a lot of time and our legs were sore by the end of it (probably also due to the coastal walk). There were many paths to take and things to see, including a zoo!

The zoo was community run and free of charge. It had monkeys! And meercats. We watched the monkeys for a while, as they were cute and mischievous.
Seeing that the park had a Festival of Lights on, we decided (after some hemming and hawing) to stay in New Plymouth that night to see it.

Needing to kill an afternoon's worth of time, we went to the museum,which was also free of charge. There were some interesting sights, including these moa skeletons. The tall one is normal moa-sized, and the little one beside it isn't a baby moa as I had guessed, but a pygmy moa! I had no idea there were small species of moa, but there you have it. The museum is attached to the i-site, which is attached to a restaurant called Arborio. Thinking it may be a good idea for dinner, we looked at the menu but it looked as though it might not be very authentic Italian - the menu was full of what sounded like huge portions of thick pasta and heavy sauce. We decided to just get dessert there later, and went off to find a campsite. After setting up Nefertenti, we read in the sun until it had nearly become dusk.

We started with a bruschetta at Arborio, which was okay but had a "raw vegetable" taste. The tiramisu was quite nice, with an espresso syrup to pour over it to keep it moist, and a grainy chocolate ice cream. Overall I enjoyed it, but the experience was nothing special. I'm glad we didn't go for the mains.

The Festival of Lights was actually a lot better than I expected, with many different exhibitions. The one above used orbs that changed colour on the top of the pond, and the fountain in the centre was also illuminated. Alongside the exhibitions, the foliage of the park itself was lit up with different coloured lights, which you can see to the right and behind the lake.
Jellyfish hanging above a stream that changed colour and looked like they were floating gently on the breeze.
The Poet's Bridge again at night. There seems to be a cloud perpetually hanging around the summit of Mount Taranaki, but it made an appearance on this clear evening.