Monday, 18 June 2018

A Foodie Weekend in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Recently I went to visit my cousin, John and his wife, Jan, in their new home in Napier. They had relocated from Auckland about a year ago so I was looking forward to seeing them and learning about their new life in  Hawkes Bay.  As it turned out my short visit evolved into a fantastic foodie weekend.  It hadn't really been planned that way but like all the best getaways, one good thing led to another.
Stunning views of the central North Island mountains from my flight to Hawkes Bay
A glorious sunny winter's day was a perfect start to the weekend as we headed out to the small seaside settlement of Clifton to get a view of the large gannet colony of Cape Kidnappers. 

The gannet colony of Cape Kidnappers on the Hawkes Bay coast
 Keen for a coffee, after a stroll along the shore, we spotted a cafe in a converted house set back across a field.  How fortuitous! Hygge at Clifton Bay was a delightful find.  Open for only three weeks the cafe is a new venture for former orchardist, Kerry and his school teacher wife, Robyn Brannigan. The whole aim of their cafe is to create a cosy, welcoming place of comfort, peace and enjoyment following the Danish principles of Hygge.  They have managed to achieve this and then some. With its wide views out to sea, comfortable settees, roaring log fires and scrumptious food - you must try the fig and date scones! - I could have happily spent an afternoon there. It was new to John and Jan too and they said that from now on it will be high on their list of places to take visitors.
A cosy corner of Hygge at Clifton Bay
But we had more foodie experiences to come so after a visit to the delightful and quirky potter, Maggie Taylor at MT Pots at Te Awanga, we headed to the nearby Clearview Estate Winery for lunch. I really enjoy winery lunch platters.  I think they are the perfect lunch and Clearview produces a particularly good one.  Here it is:

Hohepa feta and peperonata salad
Chicken liver pate
Barrel smoked marinated mushrooms
Chilli garlic fried prawns and chorizo
Spice roasted olives and whole almonds
Sundried tomatoes
White bean dip
Cumin crackers and fresh baked bread

We washed it all down with their delicious Black Reef Blush Rose 2017

Yours truly with my cousin and his wife at Clearview Estate

Feeling well satisfied with our foodie morning we returned home for an
afternoon of rest and relaxation.

The next morning we set out for the Hawkes Bay Farmers Market.  I'm a great fan of farmers' markets and I think the Hawkes Bay Market has to be one of the best in New Zealand.  In summer the stalls are set up outside under large shady trees but this is winter so it was held inside in spacious pavilions. It is always a pleasure to wander around a market, meet with the producers of a diverse range of fruit, vegetables, meats and artisan products, have the odd tasting and listen to music in a relaxed atmosphere. 
Sauces, jams, mustards, pickles, at Hawkes Bay Farmers Market
It was also a pleasure to meet Jan's brother, stall holder, Clyde Potter, owner and director of The Chef's Garden @Epicurean and to view his lush, fresh, organic vegetables and selection of heritage seeds. Once laden with goodies we headed home to offload them before going out to lunch.

A selection of Clyde Potter's organic vegetables

Then we were off to the Philippine Restaurant, PAK, at West Shore, Napier, to attend a FAWC, ( Food and Wine Classic) event. This festival offers restaurants the opportunity to showcase their cuisine.  The atmosphere at PAK was convivial with diners seated together at long tables. The restaurateur started proceedings with a short talk on the Philippine style of cooking, the ingredients used and the philosophy behind it. As the meal progressed she  introduced each course with a description and short explanation. There were six courses in all:

Lumpiang Sariwa - Fresh vegetable spring rolls with sweet garlic sauce and peanuts
Patotin - Sous vide duck with asuete paste, cane vinegar and vegetables
Pochero - Beef bone broth with bone marrow
Fish - Gurnard with eskabeche sauce and vegetables
Lechon Baboy - Slow roasted suckling pig with vegetables and condiments
Biko - Sticky rice cake with coconut cream, and anise 

Gurnard with Eskabeche sauce

It was a pleasant surprise since I had never eaten Philippine cuisine before. The main features of Philippine food are the three flavours of sweet, sour and salty and a generous use of vinegar.  Dipping sauces are typical and something sweet is often paired with something salty so it is not unusual to be served mangoes dipped in salt. The result is unusual but very, very tasty. I will certainly eat Philippine food again whenever I can so I guess you can say the FAWC festival was great advertising for PAK restaurant and their particular style of cuisine. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon - great food, excellent company and a convivial atmosphere. Amazingly it turned out that one of the friendly, chatty people sitting next to us was a relative, by marriage, of my late husband. 
Lechon Baboy - slow roasted suckling pig at PAK
To round off a great weekend we went for a couple of walks - well we needed to after that eat fest! - and spent time chatting, relaxing and catching up on news.  All in all a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. It was so good to spend time with relatives, who are also good friends, and to revisit part of the country I am very fond of. The fact that we got to enjoy some outstanding food was a major bonus.

Hawkes Bay Farmers Market is open on Sundays from 8.30 to 12.30

Monday, 4 June 2018

Those Pesky Single Supplements And How To Avoid Them

It is enough to strike terror into the heart of any solo traveller, that asterisk below a great travel deal that sends you to the small print below which tells you "Single Supplement applies".  Your delight soon turns to disappointment when you realise that that great travel deal isn't so great anymore.

Most tours and hotels cater for couples and their pricing is worked out on a double occupancy room rate, same price whether one or two people use it.  This is completely understandable since the room needs the same amount of cleaning and the bed linen the same amount of laundering for single or double occupancy.  Unfortunately those hotels that do offer single or studio rooms generally have them tucked away in the least attractive, often dark, part of the hotel making solo travellers feel pretty second rate. These rooms are usually more than half the price of a double anyway. A couple of years ago I took the spectacular Australian Ghan Train journey.  I loved every minute of it but it cost me a fortune because I had to pay almost double for single occupancy of a double room.  The Ghan does offer extremely compact single cabins with no single supplement but whereas double cabins have their own bathroom facilities, for single cabins bathrooms are shared and along the corridor. Call me fussy but, no thank you. 
Very comfortable single bed on
The Ghan

While young, solo, back packers are happy to stay in hostels and dorms,  older solo travellers, in the main, prefer the luxury and comfort available to couples, and why shouldn't they?, but not at close to double the cost.  Hotels and tours are missing a trick here.  The solo travel market is steadily growing and I believe that hotels with attractive single, cheaper, rooms would find a ready customer base.

I have done a lot of travelling in the ten years since my husband died and I hate to think what I have spent paying single supplements. Now I look for deals and try to avoid the dreaded SS if I can.

Book a hotel which includes breakfast and make it one of  your two main meals for the day, after all the hotel has priced breakfast for two people in your tariff.

Here are some hints for avoiding, or at least reducing the pain of the single supplement:
  1. Book directly with a hotel, even couples will usually get the best price that way, and negotiate a deal or request a waiver - you have nothing to loose and just might be lucky
  2. Travel off season.  Often tour companies are quieter then and may prefer at least one more traveller, at a single price, to fill their spaces.
  3. Google "single holiday specialists" and see what's on offer.
  4. Share with a friend.  I have done this several times and it has been fun but I take most trips alone and I don't want to share with strangers.
  5. A few travel companies will pair you with a room mate if you are happy to share.  Intrepid Travel is a good company for this.
  6. If you are fit and adventurous go on adventure holidays.  Accommodation is likely to be hostels or dormitories and you will pay for a single only.
  7. Take a repositioning cruise on a cruise ship.  These are great value as the ship is simply returning to a starting point and it makes sense to fill the cabins on the way there.  The cruise will still be as good as any other cruise.
  8. Cruise ship companies are now realising that the solo travel market is growing and are increasing their numbers of single cabins. Norwegian Cruiseline offers 128 studio cabins, P and O  has 18 on The Azzura and will have 27 on The Britannia, even Cunard offers 9 on the Queen Elizabeth 2.  Do a Google search for cruise ships with single cabins. Many European river cruises waive the single supplement too.
  9. Set up a Google Alert with a message like "Single Supplement
    waived".  This way deals will come direct to you.
  10. And last, but not least, my favourite tip.  Be a truly independent traveller, it is what I do most of the time. Book your airfare to a destination yourself (look for a good deal), also book the hotel directly asking if they have a "special" or a deal. Make sure you get a hotel which includes breakfast in the room tariff.  At your destination book a single ticket on day trips.  I travelled to many places in both Portugal and the Czech Republic on day trips, I got to see a lot of both countries but also had the freedom to be spontaneous. This way you avoid any single supplement apart from double occupancy of your hotel room. 

On  my self booked trip to bath.  I negotiated a great deal by booking direct with the hotel
I know the disappointment and frustration of having to pay a single supplement.  It is bad enough not having the pleasure of travelling with your loved one without having to pay a premium for it.  I hope you find these hints helpful and that maybe, if enough people start making noises, more travel companies will get the message and start catering more fairly to the solo market.

  Happy solo travels!!