travel things

New Zealand: Part III

Dinner in Hahei

After our Cathedral Cove hike, Whit and I checked into our hotel in Hahei. We stayed at a campground/resort which had a decent room that was right on the beach. Our room unfortunately faced the parking lot instead of the beach, but it didn’t matter because we were never in there while it was light outside! We arrived after dark, when the office was closed, so we picked up our key from the drop box and threw down our things. I wrote the following on my previous {unshared} blog to summarize our dining experience on this evening:

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We weren’t in search of a fine-dining experience. Our first full day in New Zealand started out with a glorious glass-bottom boat tour in the north, but since then my husband had driven three hours in a manual car (his mental energy depleted from shifting and signaling [with those important features being] on the opposite side of the wheel) along hairpin turns (albeit amidst lush natural forest) to get us to the Coromandel Peninsula, where we hiked to and rejoiced under the arch beach where Narnia was filmed, but by 7pm we were exhausted and ravenous. If it weren’t for my sense of adventure (and my desire for a real meal), I was content to be left in our beach-side hotel room under the covers with the heat on and a box of gluten-free crackers and a jar of peanut butter. With only three-ish days in the country, and not sure if I’d ever get the blessing to return to New Zealand again, I hopped in the car and set out for a restaurant open two hours past usual closing time in a world renown/highly acclaimed yet strangely unpopulated desolate beach town in the middle of winter.SONY DSC

There are only two cafes (I won’t even call them restaurants) in the town of Hahei, with its grandiose natural attractions yet nonexistent metropolis, and as one of them was closed for renovations, and the other closed due to South Pacific-ers having an earlier dinner-time than North Americans, we hit the road for the next town over, which had an ample seven additional dining options. However, with the next town being 15 miles away on forested, cliff-y, windy roads, the odds of us eating before passing out or gnawing on an armrest weren’t looking good. So as soon as I saw a sign for a Pizzeria and Winery, and checked to make sure the lights were still on, I gasped and demanded that Whit pull over and check it out.SONY DSC

I waited in the car and watched Whit knock, enter, and scout around with searching eyes, leaving for a moment but coming back to the entry as a young bald guy with bright eyes began chatting with him. I rolled down my window and hesitated to get too excited until Whit pumped his arms, rejoicing that yes, this is a pizzeria AND winery, they were just about to sit down for a movie by the fire, they do have gluten-free bases, and they would be happy to make us a pizza and have us join them by the fire! Ding ding ding, we have a winner!SONY DSC

The sole other employee began preparing our pizza as Danny whisked us over to the mellow wine-tasting room, a dusty cellar with vibrant blue walls attached to the front porch. He hurriedly poured several samples, including Mercury Bay pinot grigio, chardonnay, and a red that I wasn’t too fond of. In-between introducing the samples to us he gushed breezily about a myriad of topics in his Kiwi accent. We were digging the easy-going nature of the whole situation, and jovially tried to keep up with his stories and jesting about the Feijoa (the real national fruit of New Zealand, which looks like a shaved kiwi), differences between Americans, Kiwis, Canadians, Aussies, and Europeans (Europeans are unwilling to try the Feijoa, despite its national legacy), and the infamous quest for the Moa (a native-to-New-Zealand, now-extinct large flightless bird). Danny is an aficionado for all things Kiwi, including the Feijoa, which we wouldn’t have been able to try if he hadn’t kept some in his freezer, because the popular fruit is only harvested two months out of the year. We tasted Feijoa a la sorbet, drank feijoa liqueur, and inspected Danny’s prized collection of Moa relics that he picked up on his many surf outings – bird teeth, a large rectangle used to hunt Moas, and a bowl full of smooth stones that are supposedly from the Ostrich-like bird’s belly.

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After providing enough tidbits for us to chew on, and a cheeky remark about double-fisting, our glib host receded to the kitchen to check on our meal, but not before pressing us to sample any of the other dozen fruit liqueurs, and bringing our feijoa cocktail and whatever we wanted into the living, ahem – dining, room with us. Our mouths grinning widely, we meandered to a stone, cozy den and plopped on a wooden booth next to the fire, where a cat (later we would learn his name was Kittypuss) was warming itself. After noticing I had my camera out, Danny called me to step out the door so I could get a great pic of our supreme pizza, almost finished baking in the wood-fire oven. Moments later our feast was served – a huge bowl of chips and a fire-roasted pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, olives, two anchovies (for Whit to try), and a juicy egg to dip the aforementioned in.

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As we stuffed our bellies after a long day and a fortuitous victory, we took in our surroundings (relaxed vibes provided by a ping-pong and foosball table, surf boards leaning against the wall, a movie on the TV paused on the menu screen, and the winery’s employees playing hacky sack in the lobby) and fed Kittypuss as she nuzzled between us hoping for scraps (by hoping for scraps I mean begging until she got the parts of our pizza she desired). Danny and his assistant had apparently finished their game of hacky sack and had moved on to a friendly game of ping-pong before we had eaten and enjoyed the hippie vibes to our heart’s content. For a place I could barely find on the map when I got home, we felt right at home in the intimate, accommodating, and very local setting at Purangi Estate Winery & Pizzeria.

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SONY DSCFor more information, check out http://www.purangi.co.nz/

When dinner was over, we went back to our room and grabbed a blanket. We walked a minute or two to the beach behind us, that was bookended by two boastful rock formations. We set down our blanket and we laid under the stars in heaven.

It was the most magical day of my entire life. It was my birthday celebration to make up for the day in Australia where I didn’t get to eat dinner and we slept in a room so small the bathroom was the size of an airplane rest stall. God surely knows how to bless me. August 7 most assuredly more than made up for August 5; Happy 25th birthday to me – the best one yet!!

View Part II here, Part IV here, and the whole series here.

3 thoughts on “New Zealand: Part III

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