I love a good roadie, and there are few places more spectacular for a road trip than the South Island of New Zealand. I feel blessed to call this part of the world home, and grab any excuse to get out there amongst it. So the launch of my biggest and most beautiful book yet, ESSENTIAL, seemed like a good reason to hit the road and visit bookstores and top tourist attractions around the south. Here are some of the highlights.
Day One: Across Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton
I held my first book signing of the South Island leg of my tiki-tour before we even reached the mainland – setting up shop in Hector's Cafe on the Interislander as it crossed Cook Strait! We were blessed with a beautiful calm day for the crossing from Wellington to Picton, and I took time to enjoy the view as we cruised through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. Then it was off to Blenheim, where I spent a wonderful afternoon at Thymebank tasting an amazing array of delicious spray-free herbs, including chocolate mint, and then on to a splendid wine tasting at Mahi Wines in Renwick and dinner at Arbour Restaurant. I loved Marlborough! There's a deep sense of community there, and shared values around sustainable growing and provenance.
Day Two: Blenheim and Nelson
I arrived in the South Island with the capacious boot of my Jeep Wrangler crammed with goodies from my friends at L'Occitane, and felt like Mother Christmas giving out gorgeous little pouches of samples to everyone who bought a copy of my new book ESSENTIAL at my signings, including today's events at Blenheim Paper Plus and Nelson Paper Plus. My room at Marlborough Vintner's Hotel in Blenheim enjoyed a lovely restful view across the vines, and the manager even let me steal some lemons from the trees there! We also squeezed in a visit to the World of Wearable Arts and Classic Cars Museum in Nelson – what can I say but WOW!
Day Three: Motueka, Richmond and Westport
On the road early today for book signings at Paper Plus stores in Richmond and Motueka (above left). The Jeep aced its first river crossing to get to Jester House Cafe in Motueka, and we swung by Langbein St in Richmond, which is next to Broadgreen Historic House, where my great grandparents lived since way back in 1901. It's the oldest cob house in New Zealand, and has been preserved as an amazing museum that gives an idea of life in colonial times. I love coming back here – so many fond memories from my childhood visits! Then it was time to point the Jeep towards the West Coast, arriving to a beautiful evening in Westport and the wild roar of the Tasman Sea at Carters by the Sea.
Day Four: The West Coast! Westport to Greymouth via Punakaiki
When in Westport, do what the locals do – whitebaiting! I was out on the Buller River at 6.30am, but even with pro-whitebaiter Thomas Stuart from Donaldo's Cafe as my guide I didn't have much success! On the road south we took a breather at Punakaiki to marvel at the bizzarely layered pancake rock formations, then it was off to Greymouth to prepare for my cooking demonstration to raise money for the Greymouth Life Education Trust. It was a fun night meeting so many fabulous West Coast foodies, and a bonus to be able to give away a beautiful L'Occitane tote bag with every copy of ESSENTIAL. Plus, of course, everyone who buys the book can be in to win the Jeep I'm driving on the tour.
Day Five: Hokitika and Franz Josef
What do you do on a rainy day in Hokitika? Eat cake of course, and at Stella Cafe the owner and clever cook Rachael says my Ultimate Chocolate Cake is their bestseller. I love seeing fabulous foodies using my recipes! After a signing at the Take Note store in Hokitika, I hit the road for the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, where I was lucky enough to meet a young tuatara (just 25 years old) and newly hatched Rowi kiwis – this one just three days old and like a giant ball of fluff. This fabulous collaboration between the Department of Conservation and the West Coast Wildlife Centre is bringing this rare species of kiwi back from the brink of extinction.
Day Six: Fox Glacier, more West Coast and home to Wanaka!
It's a glorious day for an adventure, and after a night at the Distinction Fox Glacier, it's such a thrill to heli-hike up on the glacier with Kurt from Fox Glacier Guiding. The ice here is only about 25 years old and is constantly moving, but unlike other glaciers it's not always retreating. Given that there is 11 metres (yes metres) of rainfall here a year I was so lucky to have had this very special experience. Then it's time to head back to Wanaka, stopping for a photo opportunity at Bruce Bay and whitebait fritters at Curly Tree Whitebait in Haast – a fitting way to end my West Coast adventure! It's been an amazing week getting way off the beaten track, discovering some extraordinary landscapes and enjoying the warmest hospitality.
Day Seven and Eight: Wanaka, Cromwell and Te Anau
After a little rest at home in Wanaka and a Bookshop Day signing at my hometown bookstore, Paper Plus in Wanaka, I was back on the road, heading south for signings at the Paper Plus stores in Cromwell and Te Anau. I was lucky enough to stay at Fiordland Lodge in Te Anau, where the food was as spectacular as the view.
Day Nine: Winton and Invercargill
Winton here I come! The huge sign on the way into town sure does make a girl feel welcome! I'm deep in the south now, and after my signings at Paper Plus stores in Winton and Invercargill I continue my quest to find the best cheese roll in Southland. At Zookeepers Cafe Invercargill they use grain bread, which gives them a great texture, and a hero's spread of butter once they're toasted. I put out a call on social media for other great examples of this regional classic and the replies come flooding in – so many passionate recommendations I don't know where to start!
Day Ten: Gore and Dunedin
I'm on a roll now, and after a night in Invercargill, the southernmost point of my tour, I head north for signings at Paper Plus in Gore and The Warehouse in Dunedin South. It's such fun to meet so many great Kiwi cooks and hear how they use my recipes and adapt them to suit their own families.
Day Eleven: Oamaru, Timaru and Ashburton
Continuing up the east coast on a misty morning, we pass through Moeraki and can't resist a quick stop to admire the spherical boulders on the beach and have a look around Fleurs Place. There's so much whimsy and charm in every frame at Fleur Sullivan's iconic restaurant in this tiny fishing village, where she gets all her fish fresh right off the boats. It's too early for the restaurant to be open, but on other visits I have sat here eating my lunch and watching the guys come off the boats, fillet the fish and take them straight into the kitchen. Last time I came Fleur cooked us a huge puffball – just sliced and fried like a steak in butter. She is a legend. It's tempting to hang around, but I have signings lined up at Oamaru, Timaru and Ashburton, so there's no time to waste!
Day Twelve: Christchurch and home again!
Earlier this year I ran a competition where the prize was a visit from me, complete with morning tea and a full set of my books. Today I visited the winner at the New Brighton Community Gardens in Christchurch, and it was the highlight of my week. Catherine O'Neill took me on a fab walk around the gardens, which 14 years ago were a bowling green. At the risk of offending the bowls players I have to say, what an inspired reinvention of land use! Sixteen people work here most days on a voluntary basis and the harvests are shared – lots of amazing heritage veges and flowers. It's all organic and literally tons of compost get made each year to keep it fed and blooming. I couldn't resist their seedling stall, and have stocked up on heritage tomatoes, zucchinis and more. And what a spread! Their volunteers had made my Green Goddess Hummus to serve with freshly dug spring carrots from the garden, along with my Orange Lightning Cake. I was lucky enough to be allowed into the kitchen at Hotel Montreal to make some fresh asparagus rolls, but the stars of the show were the amazing cakes we got from Cakes By Anna – not just beautiful but super delicious. And after such a glorious morning there was only one more signing, at Paper Plus in Bush Inn, before I packed up the Jeep and headed home to Wanaka. Thanks everyone for making my tiki-tour so much fun. It makes me so proud to be a Kiwi!