There’s more to Gold Coast than the glitter


Gold Coast, living on the canals
Gold Coast, living on the canals

Meter maids in gold bikini’s, schoolies on drinking binges, leather skinned woman of a certain age in tight white jeans,  plastic surgery outcomes on display everywhere – the tacky glitz and glam is something you either love or hate. But is there more to the Gold Coast than it’s popular image?

I didn’t think so but this weekend has convinced me that there is another Gold Coast and it’s one I like. My sister and I spend the weekend visiting our very charming cousins, Jill and Ernie. They have a house on the canals just ten minutes inland from Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. It is huge and modern and spacious with a gorgeous swimming pool in a tranquil river corner setting. Apart from wandering through the tropical botanical gardens just five minutes away, it would be easy to just stay here in on the loungers in the sun, especially as Ernie is such a great cook! But we drag ourselves out for some sightseeing.

Gold Coast, The Spit
Gold Coast, The Spit

Gold Coast – the northern end.

At the northern end of the Gold Coast is The Spit – a 5km stretch of almost undeveloped beach, very popular with surfers, picnickers and dogs. At the very northern end is the Seaway entrance, where a seawall provides a protected entrance from and to the rivers and canals to the open sea. A walk out along the seawall gives a fantastic view all the way down the gold coast. Near the seawall is a jetty extending almost half a kilometre out into the ocean, part of the sand bypass process that recycles sand back to the beaches as the sea washes it away. Walk out along the top of the wooden jetty until you are 450metres out to sea and feel the wind on your face and the giant swells making the jetty supports tremble (or maybe that is just my knees). From here I can see the beach stretch out straight for thirty six kms and then curve around to Coolangatta at the southern end of the Gold Coast. In the middle I can see the mass of glitzy highrises of Main beach and Broadbeach.

Gold Coast – the southern end.

Towards the southern end of the beach, the long white strip of sand finally starts breaking up into smaller bays and headlands. The first is at Burleigh Heads, an iconic surf spot. And just a little bit further south is Coolangatta, and finally Rainbow Bay and the famous surf of Snapper Rocks. Here is the perfect sunset spot. The glorious old Rainbow Bay surf lifesaving club is a two storey building with a large balcony running all the way around, a genuine spot that hasn’t been ruined by a flashy makeover. The perfect spot to pull up a chair, grab a cold beer and look back up all those thirty six kms of Gold Coast curling across in front of me on the horizon. Below me the surfers are out in force as dusk falls, and I am starting to wonder where I can find some fish and chips for dinner.

Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads
Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads

Gold Coast – the markets.

The Carrera Markets are another slice of Gold Coast without a flashy makeover. These hugely popular markets are open 7am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday, spread over vast fields and have an incredibly diverse range of tack and treasure. Looking for bargains on novelty electronic items and kids toys? Tick. Looking for bargains on summer beachwear and footwear? Tick. How about garden furniture and plants, new pets and pet accessories? Tick. Can I find Emu Oil, hair accessories, crystals, handbags, jewellery? Tick again. And plenty of food stores and fresh fruit and vege stands to boot. We buy the largest, melt-in-the-mouth strawberries, the sweetest I have tasted in years. It may not be the trendiest or the artiest, but it is a giant flea market with something for everyone.

Yes, there is a softer, gentler, more relaxing, low key  Gold Coast after all. Who’d have believed it?

Banging the wok in Bangkok

It’s a long flight from Australia to the UK, which is why I am exiting Bangkok’s airport at midnight into a wall of pleasant heat for a twenty four hour stopover. First priority is to get to the hotel and sleep. Now that its morning, I am relaxed, refreshed and ready to jump into my cooking class, or more specifically jump into the free transport van which is waiting to take me to the BaiPai Thai cooking school in a lovely two-storey house in the suburbs.  Downstairs is a big open air but roofed, custom built cooking area. There’s a huge central bench where the whole class (up to 10) sit around and watch the chefs demonstrate each dish, there’s even an overhead mirror to make sure we can see every bit of the action.

Then there are 10 separate cooking stations, with our own gas ring, wok and implements, where we attempt to create the same dishes. On the side are beautifully set tables where we sit and dine on each course as soon as we have finished cooking. I am looking forward to this stage, having skipped breakfast on the assumption I am going to be doing lots of eating.

Bangkok Cooking Class – Deep Frying.

They throw us straight into making Kra-tong Thong, Crispy Golden Cups. This one scares me – its involves large amounts of very hot oil and an extremely steady hand. I’ve made the batter, now I pick up a brass utensil that looks like a tiny tart tin on a long handle. I dip it into the batter, the goal is to evenly coat the outside of the shape with batter, right up to the lip, but not letting any get over the top to the inside. Then I thrust it into the wok of hot oil, holding it just barely submerged for 3 seconds, then pushing it gently to the bottom of the wok and holding there for a few more seconds until the little fried pie crust pops off the tool as I release it from the bottom, and I quickly scoop it out, put on the side to drain and then start the very precise process all over again. If I get it wrong it either sticks to the mould, or breaks into little pieces. Due to my expert supervisor, I manage to make my six more easily than I had imagined. We now make a quick tasty stirfry filling with pork and sweetcorn, and with an audible sigh of relief, sit down to savour our crispy golden cups.


Bangkok Cooking Class – Noodles.

Our next dish,  Yam Woon Sen, (glass noodles), is a more gentle option of a simple light five-minute meal. The glass noodles are “cooked” by standing in boiling water. We use the wok  to make a light minced pork & mushrooms mixture, seasoned with celery, shallots and spring onions, and pop in the prawns at the end to quickly cook. As I have repeatedly learned in asian cooking classes, the trick to the wok is to toss and swirl the ingredients as I stir-fry, and not to push them around with a spoon – use the arm and wrist muscles and the stir-fry won’t stick or burn. I add the now transparent and drained noodles to the pork & prawn mix for about 20 seconds, tip onto my plate, and add a dressing of chillies, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Its so light its like eating spicy air.

Bangkok Cooking Class – Curry & Chilli

Finally its time for the chillies and curries. First is Nuea Pad Prik, a beef chilli stirfry. I thinly slice my beef, green and red chillies and onion, and add garlic, oyster sauce, soy sauce, a splash of broth, and a touch of sugar to balance it out, and toss around the wok till just cooked. This is where the individual cooking stations come into their own – I love chilli and some of my classmates don’t, so we each make and eat our own with our own preferred level of heat. Finally we tackle the rich yellow chicken curry, Gang Ka-ree Gai. Having pounded my own yellow curry paste of red chillies, salt, ginger, galangal, shallots, garlic, curry powder and turmeric in the stone mortar, I now add it to fried onions, with a mix of coconut milk and coconut cream. I add chicken meat with diced potato and carrot, and surrender my senses to the rich aromas and glossy yellow thickness of this curry as it quickly cooks. A side relish of cucumber, shallot and chillies in rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt is a fresh contrast to the big taste of the curry. Although this is now the equivalent of eating four dinner mains, I have to finish off the whole bowl, it’s addictive.

Bangkok sightseeing

I am amazed we have achieved all that in half a day, thanks to the very friendly, professional and helpful approach of the class chefs. So clutching the glossy little pack of recipe cards for the dishes I have cooked, covered in my scribbled notes, I am happy to roll back into the van and head off back to my hotel with a very full belly indeed. And I still have about eight hours left before I head back to the airport. This is where getting a very late check-out is essential. It means I can walk off all that food in the steamy heat, explore Wat Pho, home to the world’s largest reclining buddha, neighbouring Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, and nearby Chinatown, get a massage and still have a hotel room for a final shower, change and then head off to the airport in the middle of the night feeling fresh and relaxed.

Shanghai Stirfry

Wet markets are brilliant, all that fresh produce, some so fresh they are still alive, at least until you pick them out from the display. This local market in Shanghai has live chickens, fish, crabs and frogs amongst others.  And lets not be squeamish about this, the floor is very wet from the constant hosing off of blood and guts as we pick out our live ingredients and the stall owner dispatches them quickly into whatever serving size and shape we find appropriate. Add to that the array of fresh and exotic fruit, veges and spices and we soon have all the ingredients for our cooking lessons. Luckily we are not cooking frogs, or even the black chickens that I saw, the strangest things – their skin and flesh (raw) is completely black. All in all a lot more fun than a supermarket.

Shanghai Stirfry Cooking Class.

We make our way back  a couple of blocks to an edgy industrial Shikumen block that has been converted into a maze of small creative businesses. This is where the Chinese Cooking Workshop has one of it’s two classrooms, near the centre of Shanghai.  We all share one large central bench to prepare, and each have a dedicated gas burner and wok to cook with. The classroom is on the top floor of the building, and we can climb out the sash windows onto a roof terrace to take a break and take in the view. We have Chef Huang teaching us stirfry dishes today, and I am excited. The wok has been a staple in my kitchen since my student days, it’s quick one-dish cooking at its best. But I know there is a big difference between cooking in a wok and creating a genuine chinese dish, and I am hoping to bridge that gap a bit today.

Colourful Fish Strifry.

We start with San Se Yu Si, which translates literally as colourful sliced fish. It’s a simple dish of thinly sliced fish with red and green peppers. This is when we learn that pretty much every stirfry in Shanghai has a base seasoning of salt, sugar, pepper and chinese cooking wine, only small amounts, maybe half a teaspoon each of the salt, sugar and pepper per serving size, and a splash of cooking wine. In the same way, most will be finished with a last minute addition of corn starch (half a tablespoon) in cooking wine, to thicken any juices and create a glossy glaze so that the meal presents well. We slice the fish up into small strips by removing the skin, and then slicing the fillet into two layers about one cm thick each, and then slice across the fillet to create even strips one cm wide as well. Then we slice the the peppers into strips of the same size, as we strive to create the visual appearance of balance, so important in chinese cooking. Now its time to practise our wok skills, getting it really hot over the gas, first adding some green onion and ginger and then the peppers and fish, keeping the wok moving, tossing the ingredients around constantly. A quick final swirl of the cornstarch/cooking wine mix, and we serve up and sit down to eat our own creations. Now this is delicious,  it looks and tastes better than any stirfry I have cooked before, and is one I want to try again at home.

Shanghai stir-fried mushrooms.

Now we move onto Chao Shuang Gu, two mushrooms with oyster sauce, another descriptive name. This time we dunk the mushrooms and bok choy in boiling water briefly first, then start the stirfry with the salt, sugar, pepper and cooking wine, add oyster sauce and mushrooms, then the corn starch. Plate up with the bok choy and a dash of sesame oil. Another chance to sit down and eat our own efforts, and its also a good opportunity to hear about the life of Chef Huang and his family in Shanghai.

Shanghai Chaomain.

Our final dish is also a classic, Shanghai Chaomian. This follows the methods and techniques already learned, except we boil the noodles first, then stirfry shredded pork, baby bok choy, mushrooms with both light and dark soy sauce, and then mix through the noodles. This dish is so filling, on top of the two plates that I have already eaten, that I can’t even finish it, but it does taste delicious as well.

And all too soon our half day is over, our bellies are full, our cooking skills improved. I want to make sure I remember my salt/sugar/pepper/cooking wine seasoning mix as the base of each dish, the dash of starch/cooking wine at the end to make it shine, and the need to constantly throw the ingredients around by agitating the wok continuously over the flame, using my wrist, not by stirring. These are my souvenirs to take home and put into practice. Now it’s time to explore all the studios in all the alleyways in this Shikumen building, full of all sorts of intriguing creative studios and businesses.

Cowboys and Cowgirls stampede to Calgary

The smoky smell of big juicy steaks grilling on the BBQ wafts over me, making my mouth water, but I am not ready to eat yet. I am focused on getting my newly learned steps right as I line dance in my borrowed cowboy boots, too busy to glance at the amazing 360 view from this rooftop of one of the tallest office blocks in downtown Calgary. Eventually I stop for a rest, grab my cold beer and head over to grab one of those steak sandwiches. Did I mention this is breakfast?


The Calgary Stampede.

The Calgary Stampede every July is one of my favourite festivals from around the world, its one of the world’s largest rodeo’s, and it’s another week long excuse for a party. Thanks to my lovely hosts Ant and Karen, I have my borrowed cowboy boots, which are de rigueur at this giant rodeo, although I have declined the opportunity to add a stetson as well – it’s just too hot in mid-summer Calgary to be wearing a big heavy hat. I am lucky enough to experience the corporate side of this festival as well, as my host Karen works for one of the big firms in town and has enough invites for us to party for free every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. And every single event has the same core attractions -it’s held on a high office rooftop, and it has beer, BBQ and line dancing. Maybe not original, but definitely fun. After a few months greyhounding around the States and Canada, staying comfortably in a friend’s house and having all this free hospitality feels like I’ve joined the Calgary 1989 A-list.

We spend a couple of nights at the Stampede showdome, which is part country show, part fairground and part rodeo. There’s all the good old fashioned thrills of bull riding and steer wrangling, as well as my favourite, the suicidal seeming chuck wagon races, those things were not built to stay upright at speed. The remaining evenings are mainly line dancing and beer drinking in various bars around town. Now normally I would have to be tied down and gagged to listen to country music, let alone line dance, but there is no point in coming to this festival and not going for the full immersion experience – maybe it’s just something in the beer but I have to confess that I loved every second of it. And although there is a huge influx of visitors for the Stampede, its does seems like the old adage of having an accent from the other end of the world definitely ensures your popularity, I feel like I got to dance with every cowboy in town. (disclaimer: since everyone in town is dressed like a cowboy for the week, I suspect I danced with very few real canadian cowboys but that in no way diminished my enjoyment)


The Dinosaurs of Drumheller

Even in breaks between all the hospitality during the day, it seems impossible to walk down the street without coming across a spontaneous outbreak of line dancing somewhere. For something a bit different we escape for half a day and drive out to Drumheller, the “badlands” where some of the best dinosaur bone discoveries in the world have been made. The landscape is weird, so un-inviting that its almost beautiful. The nearby Royal Tyrrell museum is one of those places that is going to bring out the awe-struck kid in any of us. It is home to two real tyrannosuarus rex, which seems positively greedy, and a huge variety of other pre-historic species, all discovered in this area.  It’s easy to see where Hollywood got a couple of it’s movie ideas from. Now it’s time to head back into town for another evening of dancing with the urban cowboys.

Pamplona – the running (and revenge) of the bulls

Every year, around July 7th, my thoughts turn to 1988 in Pamplona and the running of the bulls, the Festival of San Fermin.

Even back then we had the moral debate as to whether we should go because it was a great party, or not go because it was cruelty to animals. As new backpackers, the arguments of “its too good a party to miss” and “at least the bulls get to maim and injure the humans too, so its not all one way traffic” won out easily. Even the cheap smelly 30+ hours bus ride from London didn’t dent our excitement. Arriving in time to pitch our pup tents, we threw on any clothes that gave a token nod to the “red & white” brief and headed into town to the main square for the (6th July) midday festival kick off.

There was a small parade of giant papier-mache historical and religious figures, and then, as far as I remember, the kickoff involved thousands of locals and tourists sculling down as much cheap sangria as possible while also throwing it over each other. Then as all the locals disappeared for siesta, we tourists started desperately scouting for (a) open bottle shops, and (b) public toilets.

Pamplona Statue diving.

Eventually realising that (b) did not exist, and (a) were extremely rare, all the tent tourists gathered in what is now called the Muscle Bar area, which did have a small kiosk selling sangria. It also has a 3 metre high statue.

This is where I first got to observe the second thrill seeker sport in Pamplona, statue diving. This involves getting drunk, climbing to the top of the statue, throwing yourself off and hoping to be caught in the web of outstretched arms of your equally drunk friends and/or total strangers.  There is a related activity, running bets on how many jumpers there would be before the catchers got bored and someone would hit the ground breaking a bone or two. It was suggested that more people sustained injuries jumping off the statue than people did running with the bulls during the week, and in terms of sheer stupidity it was definitely coming first.

Pamplona, Running of the Bulls.

The daily routine was to get up at sunrise to watch the morning running of the bulls, back to the campsite for an afternoon siesta, sunbathe, and swim in the campsite pool (while drinking more sangria) and then to head back into town for a night of immersing ourselves into street parties, cheap sangria and street stall tapas.

Early morning the bulls run, as do those who want to run with them.  A number of large and testy bulls are revved up and let go into a course around the narrow old streets which eventually leads into the stadium about four minutes later, with safety fences erected in every gap so that the bulls cannot leave the route.

To watch the run, we could either find a spot on the barriers and hoist ourselves up somehow to see over them, or go and sit in the stadium and wait for the bulls to come running in. There were two bells, the first one starts the people running, and then a very short time after that, the second bell signalled the release of the bulls. The locals to run the entire course, while some visitors will position themselves to jump in partway along the course, and then jog along hoping that the bulls only catch up with them right before the stadium, so that they can run in looking brave. Anyone who runs in before the bulls arrive is booed for having no bravery, so its all in the timing.

As the big bulls run in, the professional handlers step in and race them straight through and into pens on the other side, as a large bull in a crowded ring with lots of amateurs can do a lot of damage indeed. As the ring then fills up with runners, they release some younger smaller bulls in for the crowd of runners to practice their hand to horn bull fighting skills on. As a spectator I have to admit that it is hilarious watching the runners peering over their shoulders and the pandemonium that breaks out as a bull catches up and everyone tries to get out of the way and let it through in those narrow alleys, there are some very panicked expressions on faces.

Pamplona, revenge of the bulls.

There were no serious gorings that year, but there was an incident in the ring that showed just how dangerous playing with bulls could be. There were already a couple of bulls in the ring, so all the runners were watching where those bulls were going. The organisers opened a gate and sent a third young bull in, all revved up and tearing along at full speed. The new bull ran straight into the back of a young tourist who was looking the other way, appearing to break his spine on impact and sending him hurtling through the air. In an instance the crowd went from partying to a sober hush, the professionals raced in and had the bulls out of the ring and the injured tourist on a stretcher, and the show was over for that morning.  Rumours swept the campsite that he had died but we never did find out what happened to him, no internet back then to track down the info. It certainly seemed to back up the theory that it was an event where the bulls and the humans shared the risk.

Pamplona, the bullfight.

Each afternoon there was a bullfighting contest. After another short moral debate, we decided it was patrolling of us to judge a local custom without ever seeing it, so we coughed up for some overpriced, scalped tickets and went along.

Pamplona, bullfight
Pamplona, bullfight

It was an extremely unpleasant experience. There were six bullfights on the bill for the afternoon, and we left after the first. We saw the picador horsemen repeatedly lance the bull in its spine, particularly near the rear, as did the banderillos who stabbed it with their barbed spikes, until it was crippled in its rear legs and was dragging itself around slowly from its forelegs. Only when it was this crippled did the matador appear on the field. The helpers actually had to continue to stab and beat the bull to stop it collapsing to the ground while the matador waved his cape in its face, before finally  delivering the the fatal blow. Cruel and revolting? Yes. A noble sport? No way.

So would I go to the Running of the Bulls again? Definitely. The festival atmosphere is fantastic, a week long sangria driven street party. The running of the bulls is exciting, including watching way of the locals would show off fancy footwork and bull baiting moves. The running is like a disney version of bull fighting, (mainly) removing the cruelty, brutality and death while retaining an artistic representation of the battle between man and bull. But go to a bull fight again? – that is never going to happen.

Walk like an Epicurean – in Portland, Oregon

Today is all about FLOSS  – no, I am not on my way to the dentist, this is about exploring the Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonable, and Sustainable local produce of Portland. Portland, and indeed all of Oregon, has a reputation of being a clean, green, wet and rainy kind of place, populated by mountain biking, snow boarding, beer and pinot drinking locals. As I walk down the street to the meeting point for my epicurean walk, this stereotype seems confirmed by the rows of mountain bikes tied to the fence near where the queue of people are slowly inching their way into this weekend’s beer festival – but it is a bright sunny day, no rain, so that at least is beating the odds. I am looking forward to the treats in store on this small group walk – walking, drinking and eating being three of my favourite things to do.

Epicurean walk, bikes, Portland, Oregon
Epicurean walk, bikes, Portland, Oregon

The edgy Pearl District, Portland.

We start at the Flying Elephant deli with a sample of their award winning Tomato Orange soup, and then jump on the tram and head to the other end of the Pearl District. This is the once-rundown dodgy light industrial area long since transformed into the edgy, trendy, hipster, and expensive area of town. I had dinner here last night at the large communal table in an upmarket bar/restaurant called Clyde Common – delicious cocktails and locally sourced food, and lots of friendly ’20 something years younger than me’ hipster types to chat with around the communal table. I’m not convinced about the edgy tag though, it may have been originally, but now? I explored the area some more after dinner and found a number of homeless people, but not like homeless people anywhere else I’ve been – these ones  had trendy hairstyles and clothing (but maybe not very clean), their tatts looked very artistic, and I would not have been surprised if they had their mountain bikes stashed behind the rubbish bins. Maybe I had it all wrong and they were just actors taking a break from filming?

What’s brewing in Portland?

I am delighted to find our first stop in the Pearl District is at the iconic Bridgeport micro brewery (although pretty large in relation to the rest of the Oregon microbrewery scene I suspect). They have impeccable green credentials, recycling everything from the grains that form the base of the beer (into breads and pastries in their on-site bakery), to their glasses and bottles, to the fat from their kitchen. So while we sample their range of beers, the charming beermaker tells me the story behind IPA (Indian Pale Ale) beer – something I had never known in my ten years in the UK. He says that many people order it thinking they are getting a lite beer, and are then surprised by its dryness and bitterness. It all dates back to the days of colonial India, when the British found that too many of their soldiers were getting ill from the local water supply in India. So they instructed the soldiers to drink beer instead of water. But they had the problem of getting enough beer from Britain to India to supply their daily needs. Because of the long boat trip from Britain to India, around the coast of Africa and through a lot of heat, the beer was spoiling before it arrived. The solution they came up with was to add more hops as a preservative, and this is where the bitter flavours and dry aftertaste come from. So now I have a taste rule of thumb for ordering beer: dark beer is sweeter, amber beer is balanced, and pale ales are more dry and bitter.

What’s baking in Portland?

All that beer sampling has me ready for the next stop, the Pearl Bakery. Here we don hair nets and slippers to go behind the shop counter and into the bakery proper for some bread tasting to soak up a bit of the alcohol consumed so far. Their baguettes are crunchy with a soft centre that melts in the mouth, the sourdough is an interesting and healthy chewy wholegrain version, and the croissant is of perfect buttery flakiness. They also have some super sweet treats, a sweet bread with flavours of orange peel and anise, and a dark chocolate mini muffin, although I think the sweetness overwhelms the flavours a bit in both of these, a little bit less sugar would be a good idea. Maybe they just don’t mix well with that super dry IPA. One of the chefs explains that although they would like to be completely organic, all the best grains available in the US for breadmaking are grown in the mid west – not an area with a groundswell of organic farmers, so they just have to go with the best grains and make sure all the other ingredients are local and organic.

Portland Tea and Mustard anyone?

Escaping from our hair nets, and grateful that there’s no one who knows me here to see that particular look, we visit a specialist cookware shop for a glass of refreshing pinot and some mustard tasting. The mustard tasting was disappointing as each of the samples was busily disguising the mustard taste. One was  mixed with orange and egg and tasted like a mild mayonnaise, one was a lemon, mustard and dill sauce that tasted like mild sweet vinegar, and one was a mustard and curry paste that actually tasted like a nice strong curry paste (but also overly sweet – I am starting to worry about this trend of too much sugar added to things that should be savoury). This isn’t a problem at our next stop for a cuppa (of tea). The Tea Zone is one of those wonderfully cosy cafes with an extensive collection of quality teas from around the world, so I was able to refresh myself with samples of Lapsang Souchong, Camomile and a delicate white Green tea.

Portland Pizza divides opinion.

Now we get to sit in the sun outside Hot Lips Pizza in the Eco Trust building – yes, an environmentally friendly pizza place with vegan pizza bases and the source of each of the possible toppings listed by their farm and even paddock of origin, and located in the greenist 6star rated building in town. I like this place, they are of the “thin crust, no more than three ingredients on top simplicity” school rather than the “load it up with as many toppings as possible and then inject more cheese inside the crust” school of thought. Listening to the comments of my walking companions though, it seems I am in the minority on this. If only they didn’t go and spoil it by bringing out the pizza on trays about a metre in diameter – this isn’t Texas, there’s just no need for this kind of ridiculous oversizing – are you listening Hot Lips Pizza?

Portland’s cupcake sweetener.

And we finally fizzle out at Cupcake Jones, just down the street, where I mainline on more over the top sugar in the form of their organic mini cupcakes (from locally sourced ingredients) – at least these are supposed to be sweet, and these ones were not skimping on the sweetness. My head buzzing with the sugar high, I decide I need a lot more walking, so I head for the riverfront and start by strolling through the weekend market stalls. Plenty of spicy but not sweet organic soaps to sniff, and some pretty interesting jewellery as well. Then I find the beer tent, a tradition that too many markets miss out on, and I am able to grab another bitter IPA to keep me cool as I walk south along the riverbank for a couple of hours on this hot sunny day, watching the locals taking their kids swimming in the public fountains that pop up all around this city. On reaching the Downtown Waterfront area, I find an outdoor table, overlooking the river, and order a selection of baked olives with a flight of Oregon Pinot Noir, and settle in for some much needed savoury bliss. Which just goes to prove that one epicurean’s savoury special is another epicurean’s sweet nightmare.

Photo Friday – Blooming in the Auckland Wintergarden


Even though it’s started to rain outside, it is stickily humid here in the glasshouses of the Wintergarden in Auckland Domain. It’s a riot of native ferns, bright bold orchids and fuschia’s, ponds full of flowering lilies, and even vegetables – not sure what the aubergines are there for but even they look like art as they glow in this humidity. The kids (borrowed – not mine) really like the flowers that close up if you brush against them, and since they are not going to stick to the official pathways anyway, it isn’t hard to persuade them to clamber among the ferns and emerge blooming from the fronds.

We started at the Auckland museum, high on the hill in the Domain, views out across Auckland city and harbour. A great place to reconnect with my kiwiness, as it is has brilliant exhibits of Maori and Polynesian history, art , carving and culture. I like that there is plenty of ability to get in amongst it and interact, not just look through the glass – museums were nowhere near this interesting when I was a kid. There’s also a nice section of nostalgia – the lolly wall of the old classic sweets, the mid 20th century Crown Lynn pottery – I bet there’s many a family regretting throwing out the old dinner set a few decades ago – naff then, valuable now. And when done with the museum, the Domain grounds are a great spot for a picnic, with amazing old trees with a huge spread of branches that has every child in the vicinity climbing happily for hours – and provides a good umbrella when the rains starts lightly. As it gets heavier, we dash for the glasshouses to sit it out.