Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Zealand: Backpackers & Beer

The eats here were great! Kiwis love their calories as much as Americans do, as Andy discovered when we ate at a McDonald's for breakfast; he had a "Massive McMuffin", which had NZ bacon, two sausage patties, egg and cheese, totalling about 900 calories. Breakfast is big here, as this photo of a "Kiwi Brekkie" shows:

They love their "pies" as well, which actually means meat pies. They're a bit like pot pies or hot pockets, but if done well, are way better. Len's are done well:

That's a steak, onion, mushroom and cheese pie, for what it's worth, and it was very tasty. Kiwis love their beef, but they really love their fish'n'chips! Done up in butcher paper, laid on top of a mess'o'chips, battered whitefish fried to golden perfection. Sometimes served with sausage, as we got it from Vinnie's in Paihia, just off the wharf. For scale, those filets were at least six inches, and the total was $15 (USD 10):

I previously mentioned the fish'n'chips panini from Mako Bar, which was delicious. Here's a photo of it, as well:

I mentioned, too, the multinational culture of NZ, which certainly expresses itself in the restaurants: we ate Middle Eastern lamb stew, Thai chicken and salmon, Kebabs on Queen, curry at Tandoori Palace, bagels and tomato soup, and a sirloin steak in mushroom sauce.

We saw The White Lady on our first night in Auckland, a real diner in the old-fashioned mobile sense, and I couldn't resist grabbing a steak butty on Saturday night in Auckland before we split, "ingredients as fresh as they were in the 50s". It was good, but not great:

The most uniquely New Zealand food of all, though, is the Hangi meal, which is prepared by Maori cooks in the boiling waters and steam vents of the geothermal areas especially around Rotorua (scroll up or click here). As part of our package, we ate lunch at Ned's Cafe in Whakarewarewa, and it was quite good: totally absent was any sulphur or unpleasant flavor from the cooking method--hot, tender and tasty: some chicken, corned beef, stuffing, cabbage, carrots, potato, sweet potato, corn on the cob; and for dessert, bread pudding, peaches, custard, clotted cream and chocolate sauce.

In Korea, you have essentially four choices when it comes to a frosty mug: Cass, Hite, OB or import. We limited ourselves to draft beers in New Zealand, whose population is one-tenth of that of Korea, and found the following locally-produced choices at the tap (in no particular order, after No. 3 or 4):
  • Tui
  • Waikato
  • Summit
  • Speight's
  • Steinlager
  • Monteith's
  • Lion Red
  • XPort Gold
  • Xtra Cold (same as above through a colder tap)
  • Mac's Gold
  • Mangatainoka Dark

The sign above is taped over the sink in the common area of our place at the Fat Camel in Auckland, which served as our home base while traveling to and fro across the North Island. In addition to being quite cheap, they threw in a free, if mediocre, dinner and a beer along with the room. The place is located about three blocks from the harbor and zero blocks from the seedy armpit of downtown, but we still felt quite safe.

The monetary savings of splitting a double room at a backpacker's hostel is a significant inducement to travel with a companion, even if that companion admits to being gross and oily (like Andy) or grudgingly concedes he may breathe loudly and intermittently while sleeping (like me). Besides, the fact that we rented a car meant I didn't actually have to lug a backpack around. And I like the guy, okay.

We spent two nights in Rotorua, where Treks Backpackers offered a tiny room with an even tinier private bath. New Zealand depends on tourism to make ends meet, and has gone out of its way to encourage green travel like backpacking--hostels are cheap, clean, safe and relatively amenity-conscious. Staff were helpful and cheery, even if they didn't always know the relevant facts.

One huge negative about NZ is the disgraceful state of wifi, or even internet access. At Treks, I snapped this photo of the unique way they sold computer time--in the vending machine, albeit with a mint!

NZ$5-6 an hour is the going rate--ugh!

The Mousetrap in Paihia is the place to be: First of all, it's directly across the street from a great row of restaurants and about two minutes from the bay; secondly, bossman Jake is accessible, helpful and knowledgeable; thirdly, it's a rabbit warren of nice rooms, lounges, kitchens and patios. With a great view!

All I can say is: Do it!

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