Bay of Islands: Savouring past charms

By Scott Kara

Scott Kara relived his childhood and found the old rubs along well with the new at New Zealand's oldest agricultural show.

Steamboat cruises depart from the Stone Store Basin in Kerikeri. Photo / Bill McLaren
Steamboat cruises depart from the Stone Store Basin in Kerikeri. Photo / Bill McLaren

We went to Kerikeri to eat, drink great wine, and sample the fresh produce of the Far North. Simple as that.

But we had extra cause for excitement because my wife and I went to relive our childhoods and see the prize bulls, the vegetable men, and eat hot dogs on a stick at New Zealand's oldest agricultural show, the 163rd Annual Bay of Islands Pastoral and Industrial (P&I) Show.

The Far North is well known for its history, and areas like Waitangi, Russell, the kauri forests, Matauri Bay and Cape Reinga.

And Kerikeri, which is the perfect launch pad to see these places, is also famous for its kiwifruit, citrus, avocados, persimmons and macadamia nuts. These days the Far North is making a name for itself in the luxury food market, with olive oil, coffee, cheese, yoghurt, wine and even spirits.

Over the weekend we found all these in abundance, especially at Savouring the Source, the food and wine festival at the P&I show.

The weekend started on Friday night when we arrived at Heron Hill, a lovely B&B perched on a hill with views down Kerikeri inlet.

Host Miranda Pasley met us with wine in hand. Her husband Keith was in bed because he bakes bread on Fridays and had an early start. His sourdough, which we had for breakfast the following morning, was delicious, and his ciabatta is said to be even better.

The view from the table spread with freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, and bacon and eggs was stunning.

After breakfast we headed to the Waimate North showgrounds - about 20 minutes from Kerikeri - for the annual show.

At the gate I asked the official if it was going to rain and the old fella just laughed. According to steam boat captain Alan Lambourne, whom we met on the Kerikeri Inlet the next day, it only rains at night in the Far North.

The show had the quaint, relaxed charm of the agricultural shows we used to go to as kids, but Savouring the Source added a stylish and modern dynamic.

Just after we arrived, the kids' talent contest started on the back of a truck and young Kelsey Webster bravely kicked things off with a dance routine to Blame It On the Boogie.

Over the other side of the showgrounds the bulls tied up along the fence dozed lazily, the sheep received constant pats from the kids (and we had a wee cuddle, too), and the horsey people sat around their horse floats on deckchairs watching the showjumping.

But the highlight was the exhibition hall, with displays of everything from the best fragrant rose (it is a bold beauty), best duck egg, best fruit cake, and the best vegetable men and animals. Remember making those as kids?

Special mention went to Ken McKintosh who made a clean sweep in the home-brew competition, winning the best lager, draught and dark beer categories.

Inside the giant marquee of Savouring the Source were more than 30 exhibitors from Northland, including a selection of restaurants and cafes, wineries such as Kerikeri's Marsden Estate and New Zealand's northernmost vineyard, Okahu Estate, as well as cooking demonstrations by chefs from the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, Pure Tastes, and Waikokopu Cafe.

Sitting beneath the sun umbrellas to do a spot of people-watching - with a bottle of Marsden Estate chardonnay ($28) and a chicken pita ($5) - we felt the friendly vibe - no rush, no officious herding of the crowd by stewards, and despite the free-flowing wine, beer, and Jim Beam and cokes, no drunken idiots.

A couple from Whangarei, who were selling spinning tops and tiki fridge magnets, put it perfectly: "It's a nice family show ... we love coming here."

After the show, we headed back to Kerikeri to the Summer House, a B&B run by Rod and Christine Brown, set in a citrus orchard with views on to a lush and bright sub-tropical garden.

Kiwi film director Roger Donaldson (The World's Fastest Indian) stays here when he's in town, and a painting by his daughter, Melissa Donaldson, hangs in the entrance way.

That night we had dinner at Pure Tastes, a restaurant opened in August last year by former Kauri Cliffs chef Paul Jobin. Much to the disappointment of the locals, Jobin is moving Pure Tastes to Paihia this month for business reasons.

He looked shattered after doing two cooking demos at Savouring the Source so he left us in the capable hands of head chef Carson Donaldson.

We mourned the fact the lobster entree had run out, but opted instead for the Penang fish curry (with a yummy mango and lychee relish) ($16) and the twice-cooked duck ($28). Libby had the Thai prawn cakes ($19) and a dual beef dish, including roast beef with cauliflower and garlic and beef cheek, for her main ($27).

Donaldson, a lovely chap who chatted while he prepared the food in the open-plan kitchen, insisted we sample the lemongrass sorbet for dessert. It, and everything else, was delicious. No wonder the people of Kerikeri are miffed.

On Sunday morning, after a breakfast of fresh fruit and Christine's special stuffed baked tomatoes with a side of bacon, we headed to the Bay of Islands' Farmers' Market in Kerikeri where we picked up perfect avocados, bushy and tasty lettuces, plump, bright tomatoes, and a bottle of Case Gilbert's extra virgin olive oil, which at $18 a bottle is the best I've tasted.

Then, to cap off a relaxing weekend, we headed to the wharf by the famous Stone Store and boarded Alan and Sue's steamboat, the Eliza Hobson (named after Governor Hobson's wife), for a gentle jaunt up the sleepy Kerikeri inlet.

If you go far enough up this historic passage of water it will take you to the Bay of Islands.

With the lullaby of the steam engine as his soundtrack, Alan gave us a history lesson and a fair bit of local gossip during the peaceful hour-long trip.

The great Maori musket wars started here in 1821, and many early Maori and European battles were fought here too, he told us.

Now, the land is hot property - he pointed out a 0.6ha, north-facing section with just a long drop on it that is worth a cool $1.5 million.

That is well out of our price range, but thank goodness the olive oil, the vino, the avocados, the twice-cooked duck, and the agricultural show aren't, so we'll be back.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Drive north from Auckland for about four hours. Air New Zealand also has daily flights to Kerikeri.

Accommodation: Heron Hill, 6 Heron Hill, Kerikeri.

Food:

Pure Tastes, Fairway Dr, Kerikeri (but is moving to Paihia soon).
Waikokopu Cafe, Treaty grounds, Waitangi.
Kerikeri Bakehouse, 334 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri.

Activities: The Bay of Islands Farmers' Market is held in Hobson Ave every Sunday morning.

Take a steamboat ride at the Stone Store basin.

The Bay of Islands P&I Show is held annually during November at the Waimate North showgrounds.

Scott Kara was a guest of Destination Northland.

- NZ Herald

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