Thoughts: A Weekend in New Plymouth *updated*

Katherine needed to be in New Plymouth for work today so we decided to make a long weekend of it and see what this place has to offer.

I have roots here. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived here so I remember as a child being bundled into the Holden Kingswood and coming up from Palmerston North to do the visitations. EVERY holiday (it seemed). The weird thing for me is that I have strong memories of certain places – Pukekura Park, the miniature railway enthusiasts club on Gilbert St, the building where Bennetts (?) Bookshop once inhabited (and I was unjustly accused of shoplifting by an undercover store detective – oh the outrage of a 7 year old boy) and yet I have little or no memory of the waterfront.

I wonder if my parents were just doing the family thing and the idea of taking us kids out and exploring was a bit much? Who knows. I might ask them next time I see them…

Ah the reminiscing.

OK. What was I talking about? That’s right: exploring New Plymouth.

First recommendation. Don’t get a hire car. Catch a taxi into town and then get amongst it all on foot. We would have missed so much if we drove everywhere and we would have developed a much different perspective.

We walked along the Coastal Walkway. We hired bikes and rode along the Coastal Walkway. We found pop-up markets, and farmers markets, and were able to get a good feel for this place. People were/are friendly. You couldn’t walk past someone without a smile or a ‘good morning’. People were chatty.

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We walked from the CBD to Paritutu Rock. We climbed Paritutu Rock. I was determined to do this as I don’t recall having every done it in my youth.

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We were taken by the Len Lye centre at the Govett Brewster gallery. I loved the kinetic sculpture on display as well as the other exhibits. Definitely a must-see.

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We managed to see the last evening of the annual Festival of Lights at Pukekura Park. It was cool seeing what they create and nice to see the locals getting out and about.

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One thing that struck me is that there is a pride here. And a definite style. Many shops had fantastic interior fitouts and the eateries looked great and served up equally great food. We didn’t have one bad experience.

A quick review:

Joe’s Garage – as you’d expect. US diner fare in a cool setting. Good coffee.

The Black Harp – Irish pub. Good food, drink, music and sports on the big screen.

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Peggy Gordons – Irish bar. Same deal. Good food, drink, music and sports on the big screen. This one definitely is one for the locals.

Frederics – Bar. Good food, big craft beer selection. More than one type of gin. Nice vibe.

Kathakali – Southern Indian fare. Great vibe. Authentic flavours. I was really impressed by this restaurant.

Monica’s Eatery – we went here for breakfast on two days. Loved the ambience and the food was good. Excellent coffee too.

Manou’s CafĂ© – If we had not been walking we would not have found this place. It’s awesome. Rustic. Nautical. Views of the boat ramp and is right on the water. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. It’s right next to a hire company where you can obtain SUPs and Kayaks and go explore.

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Prohibition – I loved this burger joint. Everything about the decor and the food was terrific. It would certainly give the best of Auckland burger makers a run for their money.

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And my favourite? Social Kitchen. This was utterly fantastic. It’s meat. It’s social dining and shared plates. It’s flavours. It’s ambience. It’s great music playing. We had their spiced goat (I’ve not eaten goat before) and it was sublime. I like my food and this restaurant ticked all my boxes. It could even be making a run for my ‘favourite ever place to eat’ trophy. It’s that good.

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We realised early on that New Plymouth eateries are popular, probably because they’re excellent. You need to book. Otherwise you won’t get in to the places you’ve been recommended.

We stayed at the State Hotel. It was really nice. The decor was eclectic and the weird thing was you never really saw anybody unless you happened across the cleaning staff. Its central location was perfect for us. Definitely recommended.

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I have really enjoyed my time in New Plymouth. That’s now two of my childhood towns visited in recent weeks, and quite frankly New Plymouth makes Palmerston North look even worse. I’m now not sure why my parents left here and didn’t return.

New Plymouth has so much to offer, and it was nice seeing that even the youth here are excited about their town.

I haven’t mentioned the housing prices – they’re really good – so if you’re considering getting the hell out of Auckland you could do a lot worse.

Not bad, New Plymouth. Not bad at all.

UPDATE:

All flights out of NPL were cancelled yesterday so we had to stay another night. (terrible, I know!!).

The State Hotel was fully booked so we went to the King and Queen Hotel Suites. This place is magical. From the second we arrived we were transported to relaxation. I am so impressed with its decor, vibe and staffing. All top-grade.

I have no hesitation in recommending this as a quality place to stay.

The hospitality group behind much of the redevelopment and establishment of hotels, bars and restaurants in the West End of New Plymouth need to be acknowledged and applauded. Their investment in this town is invaluable.

 

 

 

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Thoughts: Camping 2017

For the last five or so years, I have instituted a bit of a ritual: taking my kids away to a campsite somewhere in New Zealand for a week. The idea is simply to get closer to them and to expose them to what this country has to offer outside of hotel rooms and big cities.

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They do look forward to it and we have successfully found that necessary balance between device-time and interacting with each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in.

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This year was a bit different. I decided to book a site at the Waitomo Top 10. The idea was to explore the glow worm caves and several others. I’m a bit mean actually: my daughter (11) hasn’t ever been all that comfortable in underground tunnels (for example, those found on North Head in Auckland) so I thought this might be a good way to encourage her to deal with her fears.

 

What I hadn’t considered is that her fears weren’t limited to tunnels. It turns out that her list includes tunnels, caves, dark, bugs, wetas, sounds of water, drips… and we managed to find all those things in one tidy package.

 

So when one of our guides told us that he did things that no other guide did, such as turning off all the lights, the look of betrayal my daughter gave me was quite special. I laughed.

 

She coped admirably and grudgingly admits that there were aspects of the adventuring she enjoyed. Stalactites and stalagmites made the list.

 

Katherine and her daughter joined us for two nights which was fun. It created a change in our usual dynamic which isn’t a bad thing. Change is good as they say.

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Waitomo. What can I say? Majestic natural wonderlands underground. And more to to point, the organisations overseeing these treasures have created something great. I have harboured a default position where I suspect New Zealand tourism businesses do things a bit on the cheap and end up with an overpriced experience for tourists that ultimately is a bit shit. I’m happy to say that in the case of Waitomo, this perception is dead wrong. I felt pride in what we (Kiwis) are showing people here.

 

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I also love getting off the beaten track a bit. We went to Marokopa on the West coast (47kms West of Waitomo) to see what was there. Not that much in truth, but there is a seaside community, great fishing off the bar, coffees available en route and some beautiful scenery. I loved it. The kids… well, not so much.

 

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That being said, I love seeing how my kids are growing and maturing. Each year they’re a little bit less useless and more autonomous. They’re not requiring my help with keeping them entertained quite as much. They’re able to (and actually take personal responsibility for) their showers, doing dishes, hanging togs and towels etc.

 
The Waitomo Top 10 is also pretty cool. It’s not as big as other campsites we’ve visited, and the population is more transient. There’s not much to do beyond visiting the caves. In hindsight I think perhaps 2 nights there and then somewhere else may have been a better option.

 
It was so good seeing close up how important tourism is to our country. In the course of the week I’ve had decent conversations with people from France, Germany, Australia, the US and more. All are here with a sense of wonderment. All are here to experience something quite unique in the world, and they were getting it.

 
An aside: I note that Mercedes pretty much owns the campervan market. They’re doing something right!

 

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All up, a very good week. A chance to reconnect with my kids and spend time with them outside of routine. It’s valuable. And there is nothing better than getting just a little bit feral before addressing the new work year.

 

That being said, I am ready for it now!

Thoughts: the New Zealand School of Food and Wine

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I had the opportunity to visit the New Zealand School of Food & Wine this week.

I have wandered past their front door in Customs St West on several occasions, always on my way to various meetings, always having a brief ‘I wonder what they do’ moment each time.

And now I know. And it’s pretty cool!!

Given my increasing love of all things food, wine and hospitality, being in their office felt… it felt like coming home. These are my people!

They run culinary, wine, coffee and hospitality courses for people wanting to start their career, and also short courses for people who want to add to their cooking knowledge. And the best thing is that they have practical components on-site at local restaurants. They don’t leave their students hanging with a qualification.

In the week of 13-15 September they are presenting a Wine and Food Celebration on site.

Sessions include ‘Discovering your Palate’ (Celia Hay – working out why you like certain foods and how they influence pairing wine with food), ‘Taste with a Master (Bob Campbell MW talking wine), ‘Italian Wine Regions’ (A tour in your wine glass), an ‘Artisan Food Producers showcase’ and a ‘Coffee Masterclass’.

There will be cooking demonstrations – learning how to ferment foods, how to smoke fish, how to make sourdough bread. You could learn how to create your own doughnut. You can learn about Mexican Street food.

I’m seriously excited.

Find out more and buy your tickets online: event.foodandwine.co.nz.