Napier is a coastal town on the east side of the North Island of New Zealand, known for its excellent wine production and Art Deco architecture. But what I will forever remember most about the city is my night spent in a Napier Prison. Continue reading
Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world, a swirling international metropolis where people from all over Asia and the South Pacific meet and mix with the native Maori traditions, British influence, and a bit of shoulder rubbing (and ribbing) with the Aussies. Combine the unique culture that results with the laid back, inclusive vibe of the New Zealanders, and you get a pulsing heart in the middle of a country of rugged isolation and incredible natural beauty. Continue reading
It’s not at every new job that you find yourself bartending for Bono the first week, but that was exactly the case when I took a position at the five-star Hyatt Regency in Auckland, New Zealand. Continue reading
The brochure did not mention the eels.
I signed up for underground rivers, rappelling down a deep, dark, hourglass-shaped hole in the earth, green constellations of glowworms, squeezing under waterfalls along the cave wall, ziplining to rock ledges, the lingering spirits of Ruakiri and the ancient Maori chiefs, water up to my neck and the cave roof mere inches over my head, inching my way through holes with names like “Birth”, and climbing up waterfalls to find a way out- but eels? Eels? There are two things in the world I fear: the dentist, and eels. I had even avoided the proudly advertised “tame eels” in random restaurant/eel petting zoos around the country. Welcome to New Zealand.
But as I wade chest-deep through the flowing river two hundred feet below the surface at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the north island, I begin to doubt my decision to sign up for the most extreme Black Abyss Adventure with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Why couldn’t I have gone skydiving in Taupo, jet boating in Queenstown, or hang gliding in Christchurch? New Zealand is so full of adventure sports options, you must prioritize your adrenaline rushes and pick and choose how you will experience the Land of the Long White Cloud. Though I had selected black water rafting because it was an experience unique to New Zealand, I had also literally submerged myself in the only option that would truly make my heart squirm with fear.
I try to brush away the hideous thought of the cave eels (much as they were brushing along my thighs) and concentrated on my ‘cave snack’ of chocolate and steaming hot orange juice, which is surprisingly comforting when surrounded by the apple green glow worms- though cave insiders know what they are really admiring on the cavern’s ceiling is actually phosphorescent maggot feces. The term “glow worm” is just so much more romantic. The three hours spent underground in Ruakiri Cave are unlike any others in my life. This is no walk-through, look-at-the-stalactites caving experience. This is raw, cold, exhausting, and you might just look up that waterfall to the cave exit and doubt you can climb up through it. But you will, and you will emerge back out of the earth changed forever. Beware though: the brochure does not mention the eels.
Have you ever wondered what wildflower fudge might taste like? How about a bunny burger? Venison tongue? Larvae ice cream? If you like to taste your adventures, you live to eat, and you have an iron-clad stomach, then get thee to Hokitika, New Zealand for the annual Wildfoods Festival.
Hokitika is a tiny, beautiful town in the middle of the wild, cold, wet, and did I say wild? West Coast of the southern island of New Zealand. Billed as the “Greenstone (New Zealand Jade) Capital of the World,” the oceanside town is not much more than a few cute espresso shops and a beach reputed to wash up jade along the shore. But every spring over 15,000 travelers, tourists, locals, and freaks descend upon the village to put their mouth where their money is and eat all manner of cuisine from the forests, farmland, and ocean waters of New Zealand.
The crazy festival (any festival in on the South Island is going to be straight crazy) is not only a celebration of the bounty of the land, but also a festival of libation and a shout-out to the pioneering spirit of the land. Had the early gold-rushers and Maori before them not eaten huhu grubs and paua (abalone) fritters, the West Coast may not ever have been settled and Hokitika might not exist.
The Wildfoods Festival takes place this year on Saturday March 8; besides all manner of food flora and fauna there will also be plenty of music, activities for children, cooking demonstrations and live performances. The real attraction, though, is the menu. How many would YOU try?
• lamb’s tails
• whitebait fritters (whitebait are very small fish, sold in pint jars)
• horse, bunny, and dolphin burgers
• elderflower champagne
• grilled mutton bird (a New Zealand sea bird)
• worm truffles
• deep fried crickets, wasps, beetles, and grasshoppers
• eels on lettuce with cream cheese
• mussel kebabs
• fish eyes
• Viagra slushy (a wild food? perhaps)
• duck giblets
• crocodile and kangaroo
• huhu grubs (New Zealand grubworms)
• deep fried shark
• rose petal wine
• mountain oysters (sheep’s testicles)
How many would you try? Here from behind my lovely laptop screen I say I will try them all- but find me in Hokitika and see how gustatorially brave I am then!
Hokitika is a great stop along the west coast any time of the year- in fact, I would definitely recommend staying in Hokitika over Greymouth, Westport, or at Punakaiki (the Pancake Rocks). It is a much more interesting town with better restaurants and the best shopping for Greenstone along the west coast. Enjoy the beach and keep an eye out for New Zealand jade!
Adventure is new music.
When you travel around the globe you come across all kinds of music; people tend to associate vacation with the visual sense, sightseeing, but sightsounding is just as enriching if not more so. Fresh music exposes your ears to new aural vistas just as your eyes take in the new mountain scene or rolling landscape. Whether you stumble upon a local jam band ragin’ it in a tiny French village or beat drums on the Masai Mara in Africa, musical adventures will ring in your ears long after your return flight.
When I arrived in New Zealand I had absolutely no idea what an insane reggae scene is going off on those islands. It makes perfect sense though; reggae is island music for chillin’ out and New Zealand is made up of two beautiful islands scattered with the very laid back Kiwi people. The heart of the reggae world in New Zealand is the Waikato region and the city of Wellington, the cultural capital of the nation. An awesome reggae industry means a killer dub and dubstep scene as well, and all over New Zealand people are dancing and jamming to amazing music that 99.9% of most Americans have not heard of. I am about to induct you into the .01%. Get ready to bounce.
Fat Freddy’s Drop is the most well-known of all New Zealand music artists and skanks it right with a totally unique reggae and dub sound. They lay down thick swervy bass beats with an easy, ambulatory nature that creeps along purposefully under the smooth vocals of lead singer Dallas. His voice is like a bell, open and with an all-encompassing tone that pulls you in, and they have one of the best female rappers around. This Wellington band dropped big time in 2005 with stellar album “Based On A True Story.” Fat Freddy’s song Cay’s Crays is named after a crayfish (NZ lobster) stand on the South Island that you will most certainly drive by if you are road tripping around the country (such is the beauty of New Zealand’s many one-road towns).
Katchafire is a smokey-sweet reggae band named in tribute to a Bob Marley song with a leader singer whose voice will make you swear you are listening to Legend. On Revival they exhort you to bounce, skank, giddy up and get away. Katchafire’s edition of Redemption Song is a hopeful, uplifting recording and their song Collie Herb Man has been mixed and remixed by just about every DJ in New Zealand, and you can find a version of the song under whatever electronic music style you like, from house to drum and bass to dubstep.
Salmonella Dub throws dance beats down from Cape Reinga to Bluff. A sassy mix of electronica, jazz influences, and shaky reggae stomps combines with uplifting lyrics to post Samonella Dub at the top of the list for Kiwi music. Dancehall Girl is an ode to the shakers on the islands and Slide just makes you want to sit back down, breath deep and savor the kickin’ mountain scenery of New Zealand for another hour or two.
Other New Zealand reggae and dub bands to check out include Kora, Pitch Black, The Black Seeds, Trinity Roots, Shapeshifter, Herbs, and Cornerstone Roots. Go on a new music adventure and experience the inspirational qualities of New Zealand’s finest artists. I will see you on the dance floor.