Sunday, November 18, 2007

the grape escape ...

With only a couple of weeks to make our way up to Auckland, we moved sharply up the east coast to the Art Deco city of Napier.

In contrast to the overcast weather we had in Wellington, here we were treated to two days of glorious sunshine. Perfect for wine growing, and even better for taking a chaufeurred tour of some of the areas vineyards to sample over thirty varieties of locally produced wine.

Hawkes Bay seems to produce a far better white wine than my preferred tipple of red - certainly they were not a patch on the Pinot Noirs of the South Island. But quite honestly after the equivalent of a couple of bottles apiece, who cares anymore? It was a great day out, which we topped off with some excellent Thai food in one of Napiers many fine restaurants.

Of course all good things come to an end, and after a couple of days wining and dining in comparative style it was time to make our grape escape and pack up our backpacks for a couple of days of going bush in the wilderness of Waikaremoana Lake in Te Urawera National Park.

Just to get to the start of our trek we had to negotiate 25km of dirt track in the van, before chartering a boat to drop us at the other side of the lake. It all contributed to a genuine feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where we still were after walking for eight hours laden with 15kg packs when we stopped to spend the evening in one of the huts provided by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Our trek alternated between the side of the lake, and inland routes through pristine forests dripping with vines. The area is one of the few left on the North Island where the original native bush has been left completely untouched, and it still provides suitable habitat for the highly endangered Kiwi, whose numbers are being restored thanks to extensive pest control programmes for introduced predators such as stoats.

As our pre-arranged boat collected us the next day for the 40 minute ride back accross the lake to collect our van, we could easily imagine how it had been a great place for New Zealands latest suspected domestic terrorists to hang out. Thankfully the only thing criminal we encountered was the price of our water taxi ...

Thanks for all your fantastic support sponsoring my new moustache - the sponsorship total is almost into three figures. I've even had people I don't know complimenting me on it. If you still haven't donated you can find details below in the previous posts (just scroll down).

Things at the top end of the beer league have been looking a little crowded of late, so I've taken the opportunity to review and "recalibrate" to give a more accurate representation of merit. Basically you should find anything in the top 15 or so highly drinkable.