#CatTravels: My fishing tale at Taupō

By April 21, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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When I first started planning this trip to New Zealand, one of the only things my husband wanted to do was fish.

To say he’s an avid fisherman would be downplaying his enthusiasm. He fishes a lot, and he fishes hard. His last big trip was to Kiribati, where he and three of his friends fished all day, all night. It’s not exactly my kind of vacation.

But scheduling a day — or better, morning — of fishing in New Zealand sounded like fun. So I googled, “fishing,” and one name kept popping up: Lake Taupō.

Lake Taupō is the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in the country. It lies in the caldera of the still active Taupō Volcano and spans 238 square miles.

It’s also well-stocked with introduced brown and rainbow trout, populations of which have increased so much on their own, there’s no need to keep stocking it and tourists are encouraged to fish them out.

Our spot at Wharewaka

Our spot at Wharewaka Point

We stopped by Taupō Rod & Tackle for some advice. The shop’s owner, Matthew Pate, rented us some spinning rods, got us our temporary fishing license (which you need here) and pointed us in the direction of two places where we could cast from shore and, hopefully, catch some trout.

The first place he suggested was the rugged Wharewaka Point to the north of where we were staying. This area stretches from Rainbow Point to Five Mile Bay on the west side of State Highway 1. It’s a small community — not more than 500 people — and a popular place for swimming during the summer months.

You can fish all along the shoreline of Lake Taupō.

You can fish all along the shoreline of Lake Taupō.

Some shorelines access, though, requires short hikes, which we didn't mind.

Some shorelines access, though, requires short hikes, which we didn’t mind.

Lake Taupō is drained by the Waikato River — New Zealand’s longest — and its main tributaries — namely, Waitahanui, Tongariro and Tauranga Taupō rivers — are favorite stops for fly fishermen. This whole area is known as the Trout Fishing Capital of New Zealand.

We were here when the dry fly begins to slow down, though fish are in peak condition and some of the biggest fish are caught in April. (May is the best month, when migratory runs start in the Lake Taupō fishing tributaries.)

But that’s OK. We were here to at least try. As my husband says, “It’s called fishing, not catching.”

We walked out to the point, and my husband spotted an area that he thought would be prime for catching fish. There was a rocky shelf, with deeper water just within casting range.

You can’t bait fish in Lake Taupō, so we used metal spoons with single hooks (no treble hooks allowed) and cast right from the beach.

Within 15 minutes, I hooked up to a 45-centimeter, three-pound rainbow trout! It gave me a bit of a fight as I reeled it in. (My husband was way more excited than I was!) Man, that was super exciting! I get why people love fishing so much!

My legal-size rainbow trout!

My legal-size rainbow trout!

The thing about New Zealand: You can’t trade or sell the fish you catch, so you have to eat it. And that also means you can’t eat trout unless you catch it. So we were doubly excited about this catch! Now we could eat it!

We had heard that the freshwater trout here tastes a lot like salmon, only cleaner and better. I had never eaten trout — don’t even know how to prepare it — so I was super interested to see how it would be prepared.

Matt from the fishing shop said most Kiwis smoke their trout before eating it. We went to a nearby butcher who could have done it for us, but we didn’t have enough time. (He needed a day or so to smoke it.)

The Waterside Restaurant & Bar right in town can prepare your catch — you just have to leave the head and tail on so the kitchen knows it’s legal size — for $40NZD with two sides.

What a deal!

After about an hour and a half, we went back to the restaurant and ate my catch. The trout was steamed with lemon slices, onions and herbs, and delivered to our table whole. (The server normally removes the head and spine, but we didn’t mind picking through the bones.) And people were right: It does have the texture of salmon but tasted a lot cleaner and fresher.

My catch, all cooked up by The Waterside Restaurant & Bar

My catch, all cooked up by The Waterside Restaurant & Bar.

My poor husband. He spent the next few hours fishing at different spots long the lake, even jumping in a kayak and going to a point near the place we were staying at Acacia Bay.

Nothing. Not even a bite.

But hey, at least one of us caught something. But I can see why it’s tempting to cast your line one more time.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: Last surf before heading to Taupō

By April 19, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

surf raglan

You can’t leave Raglan without surfing.

So on our last morning in this laid-back surf town, we hiked down to Ngarunui Beach and waited for the Raglan Surfing School to show up. This outfitter operates sets up a kiosk every day at around 9 a.m. — depending on the surf — and rents out boards and wetsuits.

I had briefly considered bringing my own board to New Zealand. But when we had plotted out the trip, it didn’t make sense to lug that kind of bulky equipment around if we were only going to surf for, at the most, a couple of days.

Renting boards seemed a whole lot easier.

Surf on Ngarunui Beach that morning.

Surf on Ngarunui Beach that morning.

We walked for about an hour on the beach, practically by ourselves.

We walked for about an hour on the beach, practically by ourselves.

The beach was just about empty — but the lineups were packed!

The beach was just about empty — but the lineups were packed!

There was a nice swell running that morning, with larger sets closing out across the bay. We walked for about an hour — hardly anyone else was on the beach — until the rental kiosk arrived.

The guy who ran it convinced me to take out a smaller, 8-foot board that he claimed was magical. “Everyone who surfs and takes it out loves it,” he said. I was wary at first, especially since I’d be paddling in a full wetsuit — not the most comfortable or flexible — but he was right: That was one magical board. We picked a quiet spot with some small left-hand peelers and had a ton of fun.

We would have stayed out longer, but we had plans to drive to Taupō, a charming town of about 24,000 people on the shores of Lake Taupō smack in the center of the North Island. It would be a roughly three-hour drive from Raglan.

On the way, though, we thought we’d warm up and relax our bodies in one of the geothermal pools Taupō is known for. The area is a center volcanic and geothermal activity and boasts several hot pools suitable and open to the public.

We opted for the Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools — mainly because it was adults-only — to lounge in its natural thermal springs. (Admission $25NZD per person)

The geothermal pools at  Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools.

The geothermal pools at Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools.

These thermal bathing pools range in temperature from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to a scalding 107.6 degrees. They are positioned just below some man-made silica terraces, taking full advantage of the geothermal water flow that’s drawn to the surface from about a mile underground. Supposedly, the waters here have healing properties. The heat and natural beauty, alone, made me feel a lot better and more relaxed.

After about an hour here, we hit the road again, to Acacia Bay, a sleepy community on a small inlet on the western shores Tapuaeharuru Bay.

We had booked another Airbnb, this time right on the bay. I was eager to just relax, especially after a three-hour drive, and enjoy lake living.

Where we were staying was dog- and cat-friendly. Our kind of place!

Where we were staying was dog- and cat-friendly. Our kind of place!

Sootie, the resident dog and host, who reminded us a lot of Indy. (We were missing our pups!)

Sootie, the resident dog and host, who reminded us a lot of Indy. (We were missing our pups!)

This unit was well stocked, even with kayaks and an SUP board.

This unit was well stocked, even with kayaks and an SUP board.

The view from our rental.

The view of the lake from our rental.

Lake Taupō is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand, with a surface area of 238 square miles. (It’s also the second-largest lake in all of Oceania.) Its perimeter runs about 119 miles and it’s chockfull of introduced brown and rainbow trout.

Which was why we were here.

To fish.

But first, we needed to eat.

Our host recommended the nearby Bay Bar & Brassiere, commonly referred to as just “The Bay.”

It was just a down-home family restaurant with menu items such as barbecue baby-back pork ribs, mini lamb rissoles, pan-seared venison medallions and fresh fish. While my husband ordered the wild game hot pot — with venison, beef and rabbit — I went for one of the restaurant’s award-winning, wood-fired pizzas.

Pizza is a must at The Bay.

Pizza is a must at The Bay.

The best part was you can split the pie, so I got the Loaded Hog (twice-baked pork belly strips, smoky bacon, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and cream cheese) and the El Bandito (spiced chorizo, hot spiced beef, Mexican beans, red capsicum, jalapeños, sour cream and nacho chips).

It. Was. A. Lot.

And I couldn’t finish it. Not even half.

But that’s OK. We had a big day of trout fishing tomorrow, and I needed the extra carbs later.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: From wine to waves

By April 16, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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There was really only one thing I wanted to do in New Zealand: surf.

Well, that and pet an alpaca, but that was about it.

So since I did the vast majority of the trip planning, I made sure we carved out time to drive to Raglan, a small beachside town on the western coast about a two-hour drive from Half Moon Bay in Auckland.

I could have stayed an extra day on Waiheke Island, for sure, but there were still so many things to see, do and eat on the North Island.

On our morning walk at Oneroa Beach.

On our morning walk at Oneroa Beach.

We got up early on Saturday and walked along Oneroa Beach at sunrise. It was nothing short of spectacular. Amazingly, we were the only people walking the beach that morning. Well, us and the seabirds.

At around 8 a.m., we popped into Delight Café right in town with great views of the ocean and an all-day breakfast menu that included Turkish dishes such as toasted pita wraps and a tagine chorizo (eggs poached in red harissa with olives, hummus and Greek yogurt).

We went traditional, with a French toast made with local artisan bread and a side of Greek yogurt, and a beef-and-cheese meat pie, with the perfect flakey crust. All this and a cup of Turkish coffee and we were good to go!

The French toast here was perfect — a little crispy, a little soggy with just enough butter and syrup.

The French toast here was perfect — a little crispy, a little soggy with just enough butter and syrup.

The meat pie had some curry flavorings that made it extra tasty.

The meat pie had some curry flavorings that made it extra tasty.

We caught the 10:30 a.m. ferry back to Half Moon Bay and drove about two hours through pasturelands and herds of shorn sheep, down winding roads and among native ferns to Raglan.

I booked a rental overlooking Manu Bay, the first and most popular of the world-class Raglan point breaks. This bay boasts a long left that peels across the whole bay. It’s amazing to behold.

And it just so happened the bay was hosting the Rip Curl Pro while we were there. So it was firing — and we could watch it all from our lanai!

Manu Bay, which was hosting the Rip Curl Pro.

From our lanai, this is Manu Bay, which was hosting the Rip Curl Pro.

A word about Raglan.

There are dozens of surf breaks here. Just drive along the coast and you’ll see them. It’s a surf mecca of sorts, with people from around the world traveling here — most often in campervans — so catch a few uncrowded waves.

That said, this place is swarming with novice surfers and people not from New Zealand. Most of the people we met, actually, weren’t from the area. The girl who rented us surfboards was from Pittsburgh.

Raglan’s population was 2,637 in the 2006 census, with a median age of 37 and a personal income of $18,900. In 10 years, the population has risen to 4,920 people.

Surfers getting ready to paddle out.

Surfers getting ready to paddle out.

Our rental was also just a 15-minute walk — hike, actually — to Ngarunui Beach, sometimes called Ocean Beach, Main Beach or Wainui Beach. It’s the main sandy swimming and surfing spot in Raglan, with surfboard rentals right on the black-sand beach.

It’s a gorgeous stretch of sand, too. On low tide, it’s an expansive beach, with plenty of room for sunbathers, families and energetic dogs.

While surfing is the big draw, there’s a lot more to do in Raglan. You can kiteboard, golf and fish. You can even book a horseback ride on the beach. You can spend three hours hiking to the top of Mount Karioi, an extinct volcano that rises 2,480 feet above sea level, or mountain-bike around the region.

We visited the palm-lined main streets of the very small but charming Raglan town. There are restaurants, bakeries, surf shops, art galleries, grocery stores and cafés that perfectly fit into that laid-back surf lifestyle.

After walking around the little town, we stopped at Bow Street Depot, a friendly neighborhood restaurant with outdoor seating that boasted fairly elevated bar food such as falafel sliders with beetroot relish or chicken liver pâte served with toasted focaccia.

We tried the beef sliders with blue cheese, caramelized onions and a house-made aioli, twice-coked pork belly served with a caramel vinegar, the ceviche of tarakihi (jackass morwong) marinated in a citrus and coconut cream, and the satay chicken skewers. All this complemented the New Zealand-brewed beers we sampled, such as the Lakeman Pale Ale and the Good George IPA, brewed in nearby Hamilton.

Crispy pork belly

Twice-cooked pork belly

The ceviche of tarakihi in coconut cream

The ceviche of tarakihi in coconut cream

Today, we scouted, walked and ate.

Tomorrow, we surf.

Stay tuned!

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and now on Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: A day trip to Waiheke Island

By April 15, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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For a moment, I regretted my decision to skip Auckland.

I had planned our nine days in New Zealand with our top picks in mind: visiting wineries, checking out the surf in Raglan, fishing for trout in Lake Taupo, whitewater rafting, riding the ferry to the South Island and staying on a farm.

We figured if anything else came up — hiking, food tours, walking on beaches, touring a brewery — then we’d try to fit it in. But if not, it would be OK.

And then, on the flight over, our flight attendant raved about Auckland, the largest and most populous urbane area in the country. It’s a bustling city, with amazing restaurants, Māori culture everywhere and up-close-encounters with penguins. She talked about this one restaurant, Federal Delicatessen, that had me using up my last minutes of free wifi at the airport researching. Oh, that pastrami sandwich!

But instead, I had skipping the city altogether, opting for two days on Waiheke Island, the most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf, about 11 miles from Auckland.

I was intrigued by this little island, which boasts a population of about 9,000 residents. (Though, during summer months, that can swell to 30,000.) It’s just an half-hour ferry to the island (unless you bring a car, like us, and then it takes an hour), making it the most accessible island in the gulf. Ferry service used to be once a week years ago. But since this island became such a popular spot for day trips and weekend get-aways — by both visitors and kiwis alike — service increased to several times a day.

The passenger ferry to Waiheke is twice as fast — 30 minutes — than the one that takes vehicles over.

The passenger ferry to Waiheke is twice as fast — 30 minutes — than the one that takes vehicles over.

The island is about 12 miles long and varies in width from half a mile to 6 miles across. There are 25 miles of beaches, many of which are easy to access. The western side of the island is the most populous and is set up for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Waiheke. There’s a charming beach town, Oneroa, with cafés, restaurants and very small grocery stores. It’s a quick walk to Oneroa Beach.

We landed and drove directly to Onetangi Bay smack in the middle of Waiheke on the northern coast. It’s mile-long beach that was once a landing strip for airlines. Today, it’s a popular beach, with super-fine sand similar to that in Kailua, to walk and beach comb.

The mile-long Onetangi Bay

The mile-long Onetangi Bay

On the ferry, we had met a woman whose mother lives on Waiheke and she was visiting her for the weekend from Auckland. She recommended we eat at Charlie Farley’s, a casual restaurant right on the bay where you can get both a flat white — a coffee beverage made with microfoam of steaming milk and a single shot of espresso — or a cold glass of beer. The deck overlooks the bay, and it’s not uncommon to see dogs sitting alongside their owners here.

There was a nice variety of breakfast options here, from simple bacon and eggs to an eggs Benedict on toasted sourdough with spinach and house-made hollandaise. I tried the Bacon Buttie (pronounced “buddy”), which was really a bacon sandwich on locally made artisan bread and house-made tomato relish. My husband ordered the Charlie’s Big Breakfast, which came with streaky bacon, eggs, sausages, grilled tomatoes, super-crispy hash browns, mushrooms and toast. (Streaky bacon is bacon cut from the sides and belly and having distinct strips of fat, just FYI.)

The Bacon Buttie, with streaking bacon and a fried egg on toasted Ringawera pide with house-made relish.

The Bacon Buttie, with streaking bacon and a fried egg on toasted Ringawera pide with house-made relish.

The BIG breakfast at Charlie Farley's Restaurant.

The BIG breakfast at Charlie Farley’s.

We decided to drive back toward Oneroa, where we were staying, and stop at vineyards along the way.

Despite its size, Waiheke boast more than 30 vineyards with very passionate and dedicated winegrowers using the maritime climate and ancient soils to create very distinctive red and white wines that have earned international recognition.

The climate here is well-suited to growing Bordeaux wine-type grapes. Most of the grapes grown here — about 75 percent — are Syrah. So naturally, most of the wineries here specialize in red wines.

We started at Te Motu Vineyards, which sprawls over 10 acres and produces mostly reds. As with most of the wineries here, these wines are all done in the French style, making them more elegant and complex.

The vineyards at Te Motu Vineyard, our first stop.

The vineyards at Te Motu Vineyard, our first stop.

The wine tasting at Te Motu included sips of its signature vints.

The wine tasting at Te Motu included sips of its signature vints.

There are wine trails all over Waiheke Island. This one connected Te Motu with several other vineyards in the area.

There are wine trails all over Waiheke Island. This one connected Te Motu with several other vineyards in the area.

Next, we stopped at Te Whau Vineyard on the southwest point of Putiki Bay facing Auckland. This was, hands down, the most stunningly beautiful vineyard I had ever been to — not just here but anywhere. The tasting room and restaurant sat above the glistening bay dotted with sailboats. It was just breathtaking.

The wines, themselves, were exceptional. The Forsyth family established the winery in 1993, planting its first grapes across five acres in 1996. The award-winning “The Point,” of which less than 1,000 cases are made each year, and Te Whau Chardonnay were first made in 1999.

The view from Te Whau, as we walked to the tasting room.

The view from Te Whau, as we walked to the tasting room.

The wine here was very pricey, so the tasting at $12NZ was a great deal. That cluster of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was just picked that morning.

The wine here was very pricey, so the tasting at $12NZ was a great deal. That cluster of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was just picked that morning.

Our last stop was Goldie Wines, the oldest vineyard on Waiheke Island, established in 1978. It spreads across 30 acres overlooking Putiki Bay and is now home to the University of Auckland’s Wine Science Centre, providing innovative education and research to improve the wine industry while providing students and researchers hands-on training at a working winery.

We came for the cheese platter and wine sampler, which was served by a graduate student from San Diego.

We came for the cheese platter and wine sampler, which was served by a graduate student from San Diego.

After a few hours of touring vineyards and sampling wines, it was time to stop driving and relax.

I had booked a small rental on Airbnb in Oneroa and it was perfectly charming, with a small patio and a comfortable bed with French linens. The water here comes from rainwater, so we have to use it sparingly. And the wifi is adequate but limited. It made me second-guess whether I could move here permanently.

We had plans to eat dinner at Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, which came highly recommended by everyone we had talked to. But it was closed for a private function — it looked like a wedding — so we went to the winery next door instead.

Cable Bay Vineyards is known for its handcrafted wines — the chardonnay was exceptional — and beautiful lawn with spectacular views of Hauraki Gulf.

We sat at the tapas bar, order a couple of glasses of wine and some small plates and watched the sunset.

The crispy lamb ribs atop a kale-and-cabbage slaw.

The crispy lamb ribs atop a kale-and-cabbage slaw.

Of course, I ordered a pizza, this one with chorizo. It goes so well with wine!

Of course, I ordered a pizza, this one with chorizo. It goes so well with wine!

The wagyu bavette was tender and spicy and perfect with the Syrah.

The wagyu bavette was tender and spicy and perfect with the Syrah.

The view from the restaurant at Cable Bay Vineyards.

The view from the restaurant at Cable Bay Vineyards.

There were so many things we could have done — toured around Auckland, hiked the trails on Waiheke — but this was perfect. I wouldn’t have planned our first day any differently.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and now Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattraavels

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#CatTravels: Heading to New Zealand

By April 13, 2016 #CatTravels

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Finally.

I’m going to New Zealand!

Honestly, I’ve been mentally planning this trip for years. I have guidebooks dating back to 2008. It’s been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember.

And I’m finally going!

This trip happened like most of my traveling: I found really cheap tickets online and booked it. Didn’t really consider the time of year (It’s autumn there) or whether I’d be stuck in the middle of massive deadlines at work (I am).

But it’s fine. The fall is actually a great time to travel to New Zealand, when fares and rooms are cheaper and the weather is crisp and sweater-worthy, hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dipping to around 50 at night.

What has always attracted me to New Zealand, or Aotearoa as its called in Māori, is its options for outdoor fun. Even when I was packing, I didn’t even think about taking anything other than long-sleeve shirts, yoga pants, sweaters and a rain jacket.

We’re arriving in Auckland, via Hawaiian Airlines, staying overnight, then catching a ferry to Waiheke Island, a popular escape for city dwellers with beaches, galleries and wineries.

From there, we’re making our way south — yes, I’m driving — through the famous surf district of Raglan in the west, across the island through the limestone wonderland Waitomo, and staying a few days at Taupo, the country’s largest lake. We’re planning to fish for trout, kayak down rapids, walk along the beaches, surf (if it’s not too cold or gnarly) and eat our way through the North Island.

We’ll wind up at Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city with 200,0000 residents. There’s a world-class zoo, a multimillion-dollar museum and a plethora of restaurants — and food tours! — and plenty of nods to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy filmed entirely in this country.

From there, we’re catching a ferry to Picton, our first stop on the South Island. From here, we’ll venture through some national parks, hopefully do more kayaking, maybe see some penguins and spend time at an alpaca farm. (Yes, alpacas. I wish I could bring one back!)

To be honest, there’s really no way to see all of what New Zealand has to offer in nine days, especially since we’re traveling to both islands. It’s like trying to pack in all the sites from Seattle to San Diego in less than two weeks. Virtually impossible.

But we’re going to make the most of our short time here. I’m excited just to see the place, its natural wonders, its glaciers and biodiversity, its surf breaks, its trees, its inspirational beauty.

I’ve been going through a fairly rough patch in my life these past couple of years, from battling fertility issues to dealing with finances (the woes of freelancing!), so I’m partly stressing about this trip and partly looking forward to it. I’m hoping when I get there, things will all make sense to me. I’ll figure out what I need and how to really cope with this torrent of emotions. And I hope to come back renewed.

Or five pounds heavier. Whichever. 🙂

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and now Snapchat (@catherinetoth).

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