Banks Peninsula Birthday Walk…

Onuku Farm Hostel – Super!

To walk the Banks Peninsula Track had been on our ‘to do’ list for some time, but Hound #2’s birthday was the final catalyst that pushed us into action. We set ourselves up to start the walk on Sunday November 17th so that we would be perfectly in mid-walk & be in Nature for the Big Day. The walk is superbly organised – all went like clock work the entire trip. To start, scooped up in Akaroa by a shuttle bus that took us to our first night’s accomodation – Onuku Farm Hostel.

What an amazing spot – beautiful facilities (the kitchens were better than ours at home), stunning grounds with sweet as views over the Akaroa Harbour and comfy as bunks, but also wonderful camping areas and special ‘star gazer sleepers’ (wee 2 person huts with skylight views to watch the celestial show). Worth a visit folks!

First Day’s Climb to the Peak – And on to Flea Bay…

The Banks Peninsula Track offers a bit of ‘glamping’ in that your big backpacks are shuttled from one accommodation spot to the next – excelente! So you are saddled with only your day pack. Makes for a much sweeter (and less sweaty) experience and lets you bring a bit more luxuries (vino, bubbles, decent & fresh food).

The climb up from Onuku will take some folk’s breath away – both for the wonderful views but also the climb is seriously steep…from 200 to 700 metres straight up hill. But you just need to take your time & stop to enjoy the harbour vistas, the flora & fauna & catch your breath before climbing on.

Descent to Flea Bay – Flora & Fauna & Waterfalls….and the Swimming Hole.

The descent from the peak to Flea Bay is a steep one & so different from the climb up in that rather than traversing grassy slopes, you are engulfed in the native bush of beech forests, palm trees & what seemed like hundreds of ferns of every type. Parallel to the track was a lovely stream with numerous waterfalls – Hound #2 HAD to skinny dip in the pool labeled ‘Swimming Hole’…ice cream headache cold.

Flea Bay

Our place for the night was a beautiful old farm house but with all the mod cons – good kitchen, hot showers, comfy lounge, sweet front veranda, etc…we took up the advertised offer on the kitchen white board to visit the resident blue penguin colony just around the coastal bend @ 7:30pm and they are not using the word ‘colony’ loosely – it might even be a city.

2nd Day’s Walk to Stony Bay – A Leisurely Coastal Stroll

Day 2’s walk is pretty much a coastal affair – not too strenuous but oh so postcard picture perfect. The forecast called for a threat of rather ugly weather but it seemed to be behaving itself…took some lunch time respite from the wind in a very cleverly built track shelter & made a short detour to observe the local seal colony.

On the Ridge Line above Stony Bay – 15 Minutes after this Photo the Skies Opened Up with Hail, Rain, Lightening & Thunder…

As we approached Stony Bay, the weather cranked its anger factor up a couple of notches but we sort of lucked out as the descent to the huts was through thick bush which protected us from the hail & rain…maybe not so much the lightening & thunder. We worried about our 2 German mates who were toddling along behind us at a slower pace. They ended up taking shelter in one of the rustic corrugated iron loos which I am not so sure is the best place to hide from a lightening storm?

Home Sweet Home – Stony Bay Cottages…Magical Place! Top Left: We called it the Harry Potter Shower with a huge tree going right through the middle; Kiwi take on a pool table; wee cottage; Main hut with 6-8 bunks, serious kitchen & dining area & a lounge area with open fireplace.

Our final night (and birthday night celebration) was at the Stony Bay Cottages – how magical! I wish I could just book myself a weekend here to hang out but you can only stay here if you are doing the track :-(. But what a perfect & fun night – I am guessing that Mark Armstrong (who owns the farm along with his partner Sonia) was the creative building force behind all the whimsical, recycled huts & buildings.

We made use of all the camp amenities – a wee game of badminton & then pool with our German mates, cold Moa beers from the well stocked camp store (have everything you need – vino, veggies, meat, bacon, eggs, etc) then wood fired baths with bubbles, then a delish birthday dinner of aubergine curry on rice with Pepperjack Shiraz (Hound #2’s fave) and a perfect bonfire side chat to end the night.

The Trail Back Home; Camp Store – Well Stocked & Very Fairly Priced; Wood Fired Bath…

Our Wee 2 Bunk Hut Complete with Resident Penguin on the Deck; Birthday Bubbles; Birthday Feast – Aubergine Curry on Rice.

Our final day was a walk out through the magnificent Hinewai Reserve – an absolutely knock your socks off place that much of the credit for its existence & continued growth (30 years old now) goes to the honourable Hugh Wilson. If you have never been, you need to go, and if you go, you should have a good squizzy of Fools & Dreamers which will fill you in on all the impressive details. If the Oxford Dictionary ever needs a definition or photo to explain the phrase ‘a labour of love’, well this is mos def it.

A Top the Ridge Line of Hinewai Reserve with Stony Bay in the Distance; Gorse in Full Bloom

Well, we liked this walk so much we most likely will do it again…It is hard in New Zealand to find serious value-for-money things to do, but this walk ticks all the right boxes. It costs $330NZ per person but with that you get the parking for your vehicle, shuttle bus to the first night’s accomodation, 3 nights of superb accomodation (you’d easily pay more than the $330 for just that in NZ), having your big pack shuttled from from place to place & stored at the Akaroa butchers for final pickup and, of course, the frigging walk!

A Paella Party….

PAEPoster

Paella Poster That Started It All…

It all started with the poster above…we could not decipher the Basque words other than ‘April 9′ and ’17:00’ so we queried our mate Marina at our local cafe Amona Margarita as to the relevant details. She told us it was essentially a youth effort but if we wanted the best paella outside of Valencia, she was our woman. A flurry of Whats.app messages ensued and the date was set for the coming Sunday – yippeeeeee!

We three piled into my trusty (usually) old Land Rover and headed to Hendaye (France) where Marina’s friends Yolanda and Santiago reside and the gorgeous site for the Sunday Paella Fest…

PAEChefBorja

Master Chef Borja Starts The Prep…

The day, weather-wise, was far better than forecast with bright blue skies and PLENTY of warm sun that had a few of us winter white folks burning up! Introductions were made all round (in addition to Yolanda & Santiago we had Borja – our Master Paella Chef – and Enrique, up from Valencia & Da Kids) and drinks were soon in hand with plates of olive tapenade & fresh bread…and then the paella process began…

PAELounger

Lounging Hound #2

The paella pan is a serious piece of work – not one burner, not two burners but three burners a burning! Once the olive oil & salt had reached a prime temperature (hot), Borja added the meat course (chicken & rabbit spiced with fresh rosemary & moderately minced garlic) to sizzle off to a golden, crispy brown…

PAEStart

Step 1: Pan Hot, Meat (Chicken & Rabbit) Goes On…

Just when the meat had achieved its perfecto caramelised colour, it was moved to the pan’s edges & the green beans are added to the mix to gently soften. Last but not least in the veggie section was the addition of the artichokes – in season here and the perfect size.

PAESousChef

Super Sous Chef Assists in Step 2: Green Beans Go In…Then The Artichokes…

Then it is aqua & more aqua & a saffron dose to create a stupendous, simmering broth…which simmers away until it has reached a special notch on Master Chef Borja’s cooking spoon. Then it’s the perfect time for the last ingredient – the rice!

PAETeam

Step 3: Mucha Agua & Saffron Added to Create A Wonderful Broth for the Rice….Simmer & Simmer….Team Paella Making Adjustments

All is left to simmer & bubble away for some minutos to deepen the flavours and cook the rice…

PAESalad

Salads & Vino Course Whilst Paella Simmers…

While the paella perfected itself, we retired to the deck table for the entree offering of 2 tasty salads – an endive, orange & cranberry mixture with a nice balance between sour, bitter & sweet and a Spring-y greens & cherry tomatoes ensalada…ah, Spring.

PAETable

Paella On The Table!…And On Da Plate!

The ‘All Done!’ announcement was made by Borja & the massive paella pan was brought to the table – steaming its savoury goodness for all to smell. Serving utensils were handed out all round & we dug in! Estupendo! De hecho, estaba para chuparse los dedos! (It was finger licking good!). Several helpings were had by all, emptying the seemingly endless pan till we reached the ‘socarrat’ – the crispy rice bits that have caramelised to the pan’s bottom & a much desired Spanish taste treat. A wee bun fight ensued as folks took turns scraping the socarrat off & generously serving out portions.

Nos lo pasamos de maravilla estupendamente!!! Muchas gracias to Marina, Borja, Yolanda, Santiago, Enrique & Kids. Esperamos veros otra vez pronto!