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|Touring New Zealand 2007 part 3|
The last part left us checking in at the City Close Motel in Napier but before we continue we will give some background on Napier and the Art Deco Festival we had come to attend for the next four days - those who are regular readers can skip this part which we will eventually extract as a separate page.
Napier now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English seaside resort. It is renowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawke's Bay and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town was gone and England offered no inspiration to the re-builders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It is also an excellent centre for the Hawke's Bay area, famous for its wines. There are references to an excellent book on Art Deco Napier and links to web sites on our site - search for Napier or Art Deco.
Once more we arranged our visit to coincide with their Art Deco Weekend - this is a major event with visitors coming from all over the world as well as New Zealand. We had been staying at Lake Tutira and decided to ring to see if we could come a day early and were pleased to find there was a vacancy on the Thursday night.
We had dinner in the Chambers restaurant in the classic Art Deco County Hotel - we had picked it out on a previous visit when we had been taken round the County Hotel as part of a tour of Art Deco buildings. They have a very high reputation in Napier and are almost invariably booked solid, especially so during the Art Deco Festivals so we were very fortunate to get in at the last minute. It was an excellent choice, formal enough to dress up in Art Deco finery but informal enough enough for the hotel manager who kept in the background to be dressed informally (unlike his staff). We met him last year when we were looked through the wine list and again asked him for his advice. Unfortunately it was not a repeat of last year when they had a bottle of 2003 Stonecroft Syrah which had been accidentally opened the night before which was from the top end of their wine list which he would cut some of his losses letting us have by the glass. We strolled along the promenade admiring the old cars and walked through town listening to the street music and absorbing the atmosphere.
On Friday we did some shopping and looked round town before going out to the Craggy Range winery for lunch - in a nutshell, excellent food but indifferent and overpriced wine.
As a holding action I am editing in our earlier report on Craggy Range in 2004 for comparison as this needs some thought as it seems that the food although good did not hold up to the standards of our last visit and the wines had developed slower than we had expected. This is perhaps backed up by the fact that it was impossible to get a table at Mission Winery whilst Craggy Range was half empty - they are a long way from town but it was Art Deco Week.
Craggy Range Winery is a complete contrast to Esk Valley. Esk valley is very much a working winery, all the wines come from local grapes grown on their own property and their newsletter contains down-to-earth and low key comments from their winemaker who has been there and done it all and keeps turning out award wining wines. Craggy Range is the complete opposite with spectacular new buildings housing a "technologically and ascetically inspirational winery" in a stunning location. The brochures and sheets have beautiful pictures and no expense has been spared in selling their product - everything is an advertising company's dream.
It is very much a new enterprise resulting from the merging of the skills of a well known vinticulture expert (Steve Smith MW) with an academic, research, and commercial background in the wine business and a foreign investor looking to bring together a burgeoning interest in wine and his business acumen. They have both the advantage and disadvantages of having to start from scratch, buying ground in the Grimblett Gravels area nearby for Bordeaux red varieties as well as Syrah, in the Te Muna vineyard in Martinborough for Sauvignon and Pinot Noir and using the small area round the winery for Chardonnay - in fact looking at the picture from above one wonders if the local vineyard is just for show.
Their current sound bite is "With All Our Wines Expect an Experience". So what was our experience - will it all be hype or will their commercial aspiration stand up? This is a two-part question as they have also set up a winery restaurant, the Terroir that had been highly recommended to us by both Pat and John and our friends in Palmerstone North. The surroundings are certainly stunning for a winery and restaurant with views of the Te Mata range whilst the winery nestles on the river flats with a tiny vineyard surrounding it on three sides and a huge (artificial) lake between the restaurant and the mountains. The menu looked excellent and they had beautifully printed copies to take away - we booked for Sunday lunch and continued to the winery to taste the wines and pick for our lunch to come.
We tried 5 wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay from Martinborough, two Merlots, one from a contract grower and one from Grimblett's Gravel and a Syrah from Grimblett's Gravel block 14. Firstly we did not regard any as good enough value to buy but all were very drinkable wines and showing typical features of the Martinborough or Hawke's Bay region - part of the decision on the Martinborough wines was our own prejudices and preferences for regions. Of the ones we tried the Syrah was the most interesting and showed the potential of a grape that has been somewhat underrated but is enjoying a resurgence. Even here there is some 'badge engineering' as it gained an Australian tanker wine reputation as Shiraz but is now being sold under the original French name of Syrah, but this is not unique to Craggy Range!
Craggy Range suffers considerable problems in pricing at this point in time. They have new vineyards, hence young vines on untried Terroir. They have planted with various densities, training, grapes and clones with every academic and scientific advantage in about 40 parcels but, as they admit some will shine and some will be good steady performers and some will provide contract grapes to others but they do not know which will be which - some good guesses maybe based on experience. In the meantime they have to cultivate expectations and pricing at a premium is a good way to avoid undesirable comparisons. Soon, if they have purchased well, it will be a different story as they gain experience of the Terroir and exploit the potential of the land - some of the current 'blocks' will seem cheap and some expensive. Think of Bordeaux where the classifications of 150 years ago are as true today as they were then. In a few years time Craggy Range should not need marketing hype and the current royalty will need to watch their backs as the young upstarts mature.
At this point I will jump ahead to the restaurant and food and this is a completely different story - they have already achieved a very high standard of food and ambiance in this French style restaurant. There are none of the shortcuts one often finds in winery restaurants or lunchtimes, even when you eat outside - crisp linen napkins are put on your lap, salt and pepper grinders on every table, quality cutlery and pretty plates all provide excellent expectations. The service was good and helpful and wine presented for inspection and served from the bottle, even when ordering by glass. The wine list covered a wide range of wines as well as their own, over ten sides of wine list. The only surprise was that there was a considerable surcharge on their own wines in the restaurant unlike most vineyards that are close to cellar door prices. The food came up to expectations and overall it takes the lead in winery lunches and the only competitor we have experience of is Shed 5 in Wellington, which is not a winery. We should note that this does come all at a price - the highest we have ever paid for a winery lunch, just a tad higher than Pegasus at $134 for two people including two glasses of wine (block 14 Syrah and a Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc).
We opened with a shared bread (Olive bread, petit pain and walnut bread with olive oil, butter and a whole roasted garlic) and an entree of Paua sausage (local shellfish) with kumara mash (local sweet potatoes), wasabi roe and soya glaze, the latter was an interesting and instructive combination but perhaps not one we would repeat. We both had Chargrilled eye fillet "Rossini" topped with foie gras and black truffle that came with Terroir potatoes. The steak was done perfectly and, although an inch and a half thick I cut it right through with the back of my knife - certainly the best steak I have had in New Zealand and ahead of all but the occasional exceptional American steak on the Queen Elizabeth 2.
The piece de resistance was however the sweet where we had their Dessert Platter for two - supposedly a selection of all their five desserts but it seemed as if we had a full portion of each and every one was a winner. For an example of their approach there was a selection of 3 home made ice creams, each in an individual cone on a special stand. There was also a chocolate and ginger gateaux to die for, not to speak of a Christmas Cassata, a coconut jelly with fresh fruit, and a perfect little creme brulee. We staggered out unable to do anything during the afternoon but marvel. Pegasus will need to ride hard to catch up with this!
We went up to Te Mata peak for super views over the area an for tens of kms in all directions - on a really clear day you can probably see well over a hundred kms from the 400m peak.
On the way back we stopped at the Te Mata cheese works and tried several cheeses. The sheep's milk 'Pacifica Blue' is perhaps the second unique and world class cheese we have found from New Zealand, it stands alongside the Kapiti Kaikorangi Blue. Their old 'Kaweca' Gouda was also excellent - New Zealand turn out several cheeses which compare extremely favourably with their Dutch equivalents. We did not try the white rinded 'Mt Erin' goat's milk cheese shaped like a pyramid till later but we then found it to also be worthy of note, very mild and it disappeared too quickly for comfort! At long last we seem to have found a cheese maker worthy of comment in New Zealand - keep an eye open for their cheeses. As I write this we have not tried our final purchase the 'Port Ahuriri' Blue but put the name down so we do not forget. These emails and web site form our own notes!
On Friday evening we walked round and looked at the old cars, Pauline was very taken by an old bus converted to a camper. The Harvards put on an airshow over Marine Parade. We the attended our initial function of the Art Deco Weekend - the Opening Soiree which officially opens each Art Deco Weekend. Deco dress was de rigueur and everyone was showing off their finery. Pauline in a long black evening dress and fox stole and Pete in his art deco waistcoat, There was a complimentary glass of Brookfields wine, this time a Malbec - it is unusual to get a pure Malbec rather than have it as part of a blend and unusually we disagreed, Pete found it very acceptable but Pauline disliked the pure Malbec. There followed the usual speeches by the organisers, the local MP, the Navy and the Mayor. Then it was open house for a light meal - good value for $20 and an indication of the real enthusiasm of locals and visitors and the scale of the event. We had booked in October as many functions, including the Opening Soiree, are popular and can be fully booked within days of booking starting. After the soiree had finished we strolled down the Marine Parade and admired the many vintage cars now parked along the Parade and throughout the centre of town and licensed to the bands in the sound shell.
One of the major problem in attending the Art Deco weekend is choosing between the many overlapping activities. On earlier years we have concentrated on the buildings and tours such as 'Deep in the Art of Deco', a guided tour through 12 of the best classic Art Deco buildings most of which are normally not open to visitors. These tours inside the buildings have given us an excellent overview which one can not get from books alone. There are other tours which involve walks round the various districts but they can to some extent be duplicated using the excellent Heritage Trails information sheets so we did not book any of the tours this year.
We have taken two steam train trips in the past so we decided to give them a miss this year although we did regret not taking the all day trip to Wairoa on the Thursday. We did however go across to the station to see the steam train depart and got a super picture of it leaving with lights on and the engine emerging from a mass of steam - we showed it to the manager of the Art Deco Trust and they may use it next year for their publicity.
In particular we were keen to fly in the Catalina again - we have had several superb flights and are members of Catalina Group. The flying is closely associated with the Art Deco Weekend and is usually from Napier Airport although last year it had ben from the nearby airfield at Bridge Pa - this year we could find little in the program although the Catalina's presence was clearly planned and in the club newsletter. We rang and left a message with the flight coordinator and she confirmed that it was once more Napier Airport as soon as they landed.
We set out fairly early to Napier Airport and got there before they were set up and were the first on the list to fly and in fact we had to wait till after 1200 for some conversion flights to take place and for a full load of people to put their names on the list for a flight. The flying is on a cost sharing basis as she is not licensed for commercial operations - the costs are shared between the crew and all the additional people who fly in her. We watched the daily checks being done, they walk all over the aircraft and there are extending footholds to get up on the wing and tail - it looked as if the briefing was done on the wing! Pauline renewed our membership and bought two new hats and a spare T-shirt - Pete reckoned we already have too many of both but it is in an excellent cause!
A large number of Catalinas (3200) were built in the war but less than 100 survive and under 20 remain airworthy of which only the one is certificated for passenger flights. We have always been interested in fly boats since our flights in the Grumman Widgeon in the Bay of Islands. We went out of our way in Australia to visit the The Lake Boga Flying boat Museum which has a complete Catalina airframe on display outside as well as a lot of exhibits in a grass covered bunker which used to be the communications centre. The main flying boats at Lake Boga were the RAAF Catalinas and those of the Americans but other aircraft included Sunderlands, Walruses and a few Dorniers, the only aircraft flown by both sides during the war. The Catalinas had many roles, they were thought of by many as intelligence and rescue aircraft but 70% of their missions were offensive against shipping and mine laying. They were painted black for night operations and known as the Black Cats. They were slow with a cruising speed of 112 knots (max 162) but had a long endurance and range carrying out raids and mining as far away as Hong Kong. After the war many were converted for fire-fighting by water bombing as well as passenger carrying.
We had well over half an hour in the air and as soon as we had left the ground the 16 passengers were organised so that turns were taken to stand behind the pilots and move through the two cabins as well as spending time in the two large observation blisters at the back which have almost as good a view forwards as the pilots and better in every other direction. Only four can go into them at a time otherwise the aircraft's C of G is moved too far aft with dire consequences. The slow low flight took us along the coast for a couple of passes over Napier before viewing the Vineyards round Hastings, we flew beside rather than over the viewpoint at Te Mata Peak where we had looked down onto Craggy Range winery and we got a glimpse of its distinctive shape in the distance. Pete has flown in many aircraft, some older, but nothing approaches a flight in a Catalina.
The Catalina in New Zealand is the PBY5A version used by many allied forces including the RNZAF and RAAF. The RNZAF had 56 of the pure boat versions in the Pacific between 1943 and 1953. The one we flew on was an amphibious version initially built by the Canadian Vickers in March 1944 for the Royal Canadian Airforce where she served for 3 years. There are gaps in the history but it is known that she was never modified for water bombing which was important as the changes made and flight stresses imposed virtually ruled out subsequent certification for passenger carrying.
It is known she was converted to a civilian aircraft in 1955 in Costa Rico although some of the paperwork was missing and she had to be re-certified in New Zealand. The original changes for civilian use included changing the flight engineers position from the pylon to the cockpit and the removal of the front gun turret removed and addition of a semi-clipper bow. She served many small airlines before being stored then refurbished for tourists flights down the Nile by the Catalina Safari Company of Zimbabwe. The route proving flight was the subject of the BBC documentary "The last African Flying Boat" for which she was registered Z-CAT her nickname to this day. Political unrest led to the service being discontinued in 1994 when she made an epic 10,000 nm journey in 90 hours over 13 days to her new home in New Zealand where she is operated by The Catalina Club of New Zealand who keep her in beautiful condition operating from fresh water whenever possible and land when not. She does not operate from the sea because of corrosion fears and she needs large lakes as the water run can be up to 3 miles off still water, a few waves help a flying boat unstick. The P&W Twin Wasp 1200 hp 14 cylinder radial air cooled engines still purr and the huge wing (104 foot span and 1400 sq feet) gives a leisurely cruise of 90 - 100 knots, an endurance of 27 hours (with multiple crews) and range of over 3000 miles.
We spent so long at the airfield we did not get back in time for the Vintage car parade through the centre of town which is an absolute must on ones first visits. We have however seen it twice and have hours of video and hundreds of pictures already. It is however where one really begins to understand the scale of the weekend. This year there were 306 cars, a considerable increase on the previous years 267 cars, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s all in showroom condition as well as being in full on-the-road condition. There were also many other vintage cars from a later period, many brought from England, which did not qualify for the parade but still added character to the town - everywhere one walked there were old cars gleaming in the sun.
The parades are always led by the Royal New Zealand Navy band. The Navy takes their relationship with Hawke's Bay very seriously because of the presence of HMS Veronica in the port when the earthquake struck and the important and courageous work done by the Navy in the days that followed. We got back just after the formal parade had finished but in time to see all the cars on display ready for the judging to be announced in the Sound Shell at 1500 and we had a chance to look at the ones we had not found earlier round the town.
Last year we investigated an evening at Brookfields Winery as an alternative but were too late to get a booking. This time we got in as soon as they opened bookings and secured a place at the Charleston Dinner Dance at Brookfields Winery for the Saturday Night.
We were collected from town by a double decker bus ex London . The meal, the band and the wine were all excellent and we had interesting companions around us on the table - we have made so many interesting contacts in such a short time - we need to print some more cards! We had tasted and bought wines last year and the evening confirmed our views and not only were they available without mark-up with the meal they were actually available at less than normal cellar door prices - we took a bottle of the Back Block Shiraz back with us. The return trip on the top deck of the bus was an exceedingly jolly affair with much singing after the bus driver turned the lights out to try to silence everyone. Overall a memorable evening and one to be repeated.
In the morning we went to Brunch with the Navy at the Thirsty Whale which used to be one of the New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd warehouses. We sat with Chris Holmes, the Captain who commands the Davenport site and had a number of interesting discussions with him and his wife who is a teacher. It was a function we had not seen in the past and was well worth while with lots of interesting conversations as well as the brunch. We got a glass of sparkling wine at the start and a huge breakfast starting with freshly squeezed orange juice (one can always tell) and a big bowls of fresh fruit salad on the table. It was then into choices and we made the mistake of the 'Whole Monty' which was huge with eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, fried potato cakes, fried bread and other disasters - great once in a while. There was lots of fresh filter coffee to collect.
We then walked round the area to recover including an interesting conducted tour of the National Tobacco Building (pictures are above from a previous visit) and the chance to see far more of the building than we had seen before. The whole site is up for sale and there are worries over the future. We had a talk in the old customs house to the ex chairman of the Harbour Board. We spoke to him a couple of years ago and knew he was not only a fund of information but knew how to impart the maximum amount of information.
We had barely got back to the hotel room and started into town when the flying displays started - they including aerobatics from 5 Harvards followed by the RNZAF display team, the Red Checkers who put on a nice display with their 5 trainers including many of the set piece close passes and formation aerobatics with smoke - it was a perfect day with little wind or convection to destroy their writing in the sky.
The Gatsby Picnic is to many the highlight and archetypal event of the Art Deco Weekend and Pauline had spent much time in antique and junk shops over the year gathering together suitable attire and equipment. Every area of grass from the War Memorial centre to the Sound Shell is filled with elegantly laid out picnics many under gazebos and taking many hours to set up. Some look more as if an elegant period living room has been transplanted to the shoreline complete with period furniture and wind up gramophones. The owners of the elegant displays finally settle at about 1430 in full 1930s attire to sip their tea from delicate china or more often indulge in a glass of champagne from cut glass and indulge in a few of the tiny sandwiches and little cakes and delicacies displayed on the multi-tiered cake stands and curved gleaming chrome tea trolleys. The Jazz band strikes up in the Sound Shell and vintage cars pull up bringing more guests to the picnic. As the afternoon progresses there are strolling groups of players mixing with television cameras and judges. The prime slots are filled early in the day, we suspect it is like an English sale in the morning.
Last year we set up our table and chairs for our relatively simple tea down by the sea front. Pauline had been building a collection for this throughout the years so we had bone china cups and saucers and a vintage crochet-edged linen table cloth, originating from Pete's mother, although we had to settle for a thermos jug of coffee to go with our plates of cakes and scones. This year we were still so full after our Brunch that we decided to forego our own picnic and to just admire those of others.
The last of the formal events is the return of the Veronica Bell and thanksgiving service at 1700. The Veronica Bell, from the HMS Veronica, is installed in the Veronica Sun Bay on the Marine parade for the afternoon, guarded by sea scouts and is then carried back in a procession led by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band to the St John's cathedral where the thanksgiving service follows.
For the evening it was back to the County Hotel for dinner but a smaller meal as we were still recovering from Brunch with the Navy. We had time to chat to the manager, who was named Richard Vaughan, before a final walk round town which seemed very quiet after all the festivities earlier, there were still a few of the vintage cars but very little else to see.
We left Napier the following morning after a bit of shopping including a trip to the Warehouse where Pauline also managed to secure a pair of walking boots for $9.95 and Pete a spare pair at the same price to leave in New Zealand.
The next part will continue with our leaving Napier on a backroad, The Inland Patea Heritage Trail, where we camped at 'Gentle Annie'.