What is Earth From Down Under

Earth from Down Under is a blog about our twice in a lifetime retirement visits to the Antipodes with stops in Hawai'i. To stay in touch with friends and family while on our trip, we will post updates as often as possible. (Click on the photos to enlarge them for the full effect.)

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I had a premonition that Rotorua would be a Disney theme park, after Zorbing and the Agrodome Experience, but that did not turn out to be the case. Our friend Chris insisted we visit the Agrodome and we enjoyed the show. We saw 19 different breeds of sheep many of which had British names such as Dorset Horn, Leicester, and South Suffolk, a sheep shearing and a sheep dog demonstration. One dog used only his eyes to control the sheep and two others barked vociferously and ran along the backs of the sheep – poor sheep. However, it was even more fun to watch the busloads of Korean tourists. Their responses to the entertaining announcer were delayed due to the translations in their earphones. When the fellow asked if there were any Koreans in the audience, they were silent for about 20 seconds and then a collective cheer went up. Now that we are experts on New Zealand sheep, we’ll be able to identify the supposed hoards as we move to the South Island. I say supposed because actually, so far, we’ve seen very few sheep compared to the large numbers of cattle.

We stayed at an excellent bed and breakfast just outside town called The Redwoods. The Malayasian owner greeted us like old friends. She’d gone to university in Toronto and Waterloo and had very fond memories of Canada. She was most enthusiastic having done her university studies in tourism and hospitality. After 5 minutes she had all our activities planned for our short stay.
Many New Zealanders seem to have an affinity for Canada and Canadians. It seems like the relationship between New Zealand and Australia is analogous to that of Canada and the USA. Aussies like to come on holiday to NZ but don’t think much about the place otherwise. This tends to make New Zealanders a bit tetchy, as I said, similar to Canada and the US.

Rotorua was fascinating with its sulphur smell, geysers, bubbling mud pots, thermal pools etc. We visited Te Puia and Waimangu. These were very different from one another and well worth visiting. We graduated to Maori 201 this time, having had an introduction to Maori culture at Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the North. We had an evening tour with an amusing guide named Paul and cultural ambassador, Guy, (in their words) good old Maori names! Paul was hilarious and made sure we took lots of pictures - of him. Guy was really enthusiastic and obviously wanted everyone to have a good time. By the end of the tour, Paul had drilled us on the best rugby team in the world – the All Blacks. He suggested that if the British team would iron the NZ silver fern onto their jerseys, they might have a chance in the upcoming World Cup.
Apparently about 7/8 of the team members are Maori.

We were invited onto the marae (Maori meeting ground) in an elaborate ceremony. Our Hamilton friends had warned us that venturing onto the marae without an invitation could result in a spear-carrying aboriginal giving chase (just kidding, but it’s just not done). We were entertained for an hour by a very professional retinue, some of the young folks at Waitangi looked bored out of their minds during their performance, but this group seemed to really enjoy the dancing, singing and demonstrations. Claudia agreed to go onstage to learn the poi dance which involved swaying while manipulating a poi (sort of like a small tether ball) that one spins up, down and sideways in a set routine. Well you can just imagine; I was brave to agree, but being a teacher and seeing so few of the seniors, who were definitely in the majority in this group, willing to go up, I obliged. I just wanted a better look at those hunky Maori warriors, to be honest. We then ate at a hangi – or Maori feast. Maoris traditionally steam meat underground along with vegetables like pumpkin and kumara similar to the Hawaiian poi that tasted like a smoked sweet potato – interesting.

We took a 90 minute hike around Waimangu, the first half in the rain, the second in the blazing sun. Parts of the trail gave us a good sense of what the proverbial Hell must look like with foul sulphur smells, smoking caves, bubbling earth caldrons of mud etc. The colours were ochre, azure, jade,silver, ebony and several shades of burnished gold. We had a good workout, going up, down and over this fragile crusty landscape.

Next morning we took a misty hike through a cathedral of Redwoods and ancient ferns. It wasn’t hard to imagine the dinosaurs thundering through here. I enclose a picture of Duncan with the NZ silver fern.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Zorb(er) the Yank!

Patrick inside the Zorb!

Arriving in Rotorua, we connected with Patrick, son of our American friends from Williamsburg, Virginia, Bill and Susan Geary. We first met Patrick when he was 18 months old. We had a somewhat unconventional honeymoon at his parents' home in Williamsburg 31 years ago! We've seen him infrequently over the years and were delighted when he emailed us to say he was planning to arrive in Auckland for a holiday and suggested we meet for a meal. He was planning to go Zorbing in Rotorua with his best friend from university, Elaine, a young geologist currently working in NZ.

We arrived a bit too early at the Zorbing Centre and were met by a rangy fit-looking Kiwi, who looked surprised to see us. I think he thought we looked too old to Zorb! For those of you who don't know, Zorbing, an "extreme sport invented by the Kiwis, is rolling around in a giant plastic contraption that looks like a "bucky ball". (Remember the US Pavilion at Expo '67?) He asked where we were from, and when we told him Toronto, he replied, "Oh, I love Americans"! I guess it's not only Yanks who sometimes have problems with Canadian geograpy. However, he redeemed himself by sending us down the road to a small town for an excellent lunch at a cafe called Essence.

After lunch we returned to the Zorbing Centre to be met by Patrick, who was preparing for the downhill roll. One can Zorb either wet or dry; Patrick opted for wet. Those who Zorb dry are strapped in and go head-over-heels. The "wets" remain sitting upright as the ball rotates. If one has long toenails, socks are a must! These Zorbs must be very costly to produce. The facilitators squirted the inside of the ball with warm water and Patrick slid in. From a distance he looked a bit like an embryo - the inner chamber seemed decidedly womb-like. After a bit of a push, the Zorb began to zigzag down the hill taking 2-3 minutes to reach the bottom. After a photo op, Patrick slid out and landed on his feet. We wanted him to give the dry version a try, but he felt he had had enough! If you wish to Zorb but don't want to come all the way to NZ, I understand they have centres in the UK and the Smoky Mountains! (The You Tube video is not Patrick, but is will give you an idea!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Second Adolescence

We haven’t posted for a while because we’ve been visiting with friends, first in Auckland (Takepuna actually) then in the Hamilton area, out in the countryside. Duncan is having fun reconnecting with old mates and reliving memories of youth. We first stayed with an Oxford classmate David Walter and his wife Penny. We hadn’t seen them for 34 years when David was posted by his accounting firm to NYC and we visited them there. Duncan and I had met at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and this was our first trip together outside Quebec. I remember it was January and freezing cold. I don’t remember much about what we did then except that I was duly impressed by NYC and enjoyed meeting Penny and “Walt”. This trip we celebrated another first with them – our long anticipated arrival in New Zealand.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. They took us sight-seeing outside Auckland to a nature reserve and to Paihia Beach. This is high on my list of places to return to one day. The surf thundered onto the volcanic beach, and sheltered from relentless sun and waves, we watched surfers in their wetsuits, skimming the waves looking like undernourished seals. We watched for rogue waves (never turn your back on the ocean) and splashed in our bare feet in the warm foamy water.
Our second night, we enjoyed a dinner party with another New College mate, Richard Frost, and his wife Barbara, originally from Belfast. Penny prepared a superb meal, and we enjoyed too much NZ bubbly, followed by prize winning red wines. I’m posting some of Penny’s recipes for any gourmets out there. I listened as they swapped memories and laughs about absent friends. It’s interesting to see Duncan’s personality revert to one that is slightly less reserved and more adolescent when he sees his university friends. I imagine this is the Duncan they knew all those years ago.
After spending 3 nights in Russell, Bay of Islands, we returned to Auckland for more delicious food and wine before heading to see Duncan’s old roommate from Montreal days, Chris Luoni a native of Hamilton, NZ. It’s not hard to understand why New Zealanders always return home after their OE (overseas experience), the country is so beautiful. This inland region, is in some parts reminiscent of Yorkshire, England (though much drier) with cattle and sheep dotting steep and rolling hillsides.
Chris and Canadian wife, Rosanna, live on a horse farm ten minutes drive outside the city in Matangi. Chris, one of Duncan’s former colleagues at Coopers Lybrand (now Pricewaterhousecoopers) is passionate about horses, particularly thoroughbred racehorses. He breeds, buys and sells them and currently owns or partly owns about 25. Our first night we went with him to feed several foals who had just been weaned. We read a framed article explaining that he had paid $4000 to save the life of the 1993 Cox Plate winner, The Phantom Chance, who now lives the life of Riley in a lush green pasture in his back garden. The horse contracted cancer and lost his left eye. Chris proudly boasts that there aren’t many who can regularly ride a former Cox Plate winner.
As I write this entry, I am sitting in the Luoni “bach” or more accurately, holiday home, on the edge of Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand. It is an idyllic colourful, one- story cottage with a Maori family living next door. The beaches are volcanic here as at Paihia and border the Tasman Sea. They are stunningly beautiful and surfers come from all over the world to challenge themselves at world championship surfing competitions at Manu Bay and Whale Bay. One sees these bronzed athletes hanging around the backpacker hostels and surf shops that dot this pleasant town. We jumped at the chance to retreat from the tourist trail for a day to “veg” out in these agreeable surroundings. I must say I love this retirement which is like a second adolescence – even better. No worries about gearing up to earn a living, just enjoying the beautiful weather in Aotearoa (Maori for “Land of the Long White Cloud”). As Duncan keeps saying, “This is the life!”

Persian Rice
2 T. Oil
1 onion diced
80 grams blanched almonds
100 grams pine nuts
Pinch of saffron threads
3 cardamom pods
400 grams (2 cups) basmati rice
750 ml. (3 cups) stock
110 grams sultanas, salt
1 pomegranate, skin and discard pith
1 cup coriander leaves
Heat oil. Add onions, almonds, pine nuts, saffron and cardamom pods. Cook 7-8 min. until nuts turn golden. Add rice and cook 2 min. Stirring to coat with oil. Add stock, sultanas and pinch of salt. Cover with lid and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook for 15-20 min. until rice is tender (more water if necessary). Stand for 5 min. Stir through pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves.

Mango Pavlova Roll
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
9 oz. Caster sugar
1 Tbsp. Corn flour (corn starch)
1 ½ tsp. Vinegar
½ tsp. Vanilla
15 oz. Can mango slices, drained (or fresh – but be sure to drain off the lime juice)
Juice of lime
½ pint whipping cream
Icing sugar to decorate
Heat oven to 150 C. Line a swiss roll tin (jelly roll pan) with a piece of non-stick baking paper (parchment). Beat egg whites until stiff. Add 6 oz. sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, whisking until stiff and glossy. Add in corn starch, vinegar and vanilla after mixing them together. Spread over lined tin and bake for 30 min. Remove from oven, turn out onto a clean sheet of greaseproof paper, lay a second sheet on top and roll it up. Roughly chop mango, stir in lime juice and rest of sugar, leave for 2 hrs. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon. Whip cream, fold in the fruit, store in freezer until firm so that it is easier to spread. Carefully unroll, roulade, spread cream and fruit, roll up into cling film. Freeze until firm. Sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving. Can be taken from freezer 1 hr. before serving.

Tropical Fruitcake
4 1/2 oz. Dried mango
4 oz. papaya
4 oz. pineapple
2 oz. crystallised ginger
6 oz. butter
2 large eggs
6 oz. light brown muscovado sugar
1 Tbsp orange juice (or apple juice)
Zest of 1 lemon
8 oz. plain flour
1 tsp. bicarb of soda
1 tsp. 5 spice- powder
marzipan for middle (enough to cover cake – about 250 grams)
Preheat oven to 180 C. Slice fruits into 1 cm. pieces. Melt butter and sugar with ½ pint water in large saucepan. Add fruit and ginger, fruit juice and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10-15 min. Leave to cool. Sift flour, soda and 5 spice powder in bowl. Add contents of saucepan and stir. Add beaten eggs. Pour ½ cake mix into buttered 7 in. deep cake tin. Add marzipan and then rest of cake mixture. Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hrs. and then remove. Cool and turn out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Maori Carving

I missed the hike the other day but was fascinated by the following information gleaned from my partner. Duncan’s Maori guide John explained the origin of the facial carving. Maori’s value the bones but not the flesh of the deceased so after death they placed the bodies in trees to let nature take its course. Then they cleaned and buried the bones. This practice has been discontinued for obvious reasons! Apparently maggots eat the flesh away in the pattern shown in this type of carving. This individual looks a bit fiercer than Duncan. Don’t you think?

Et in Arcadia Nos

Russell, Bay of Islands, North Island, NZ
Waterside Dinner for Two at The Gables

Duncan's First Attempt at a Maori Haka

Special thanks in this post goes to Elizabeth Wood, Duncan’s sister, who insisted we visit this Paradise with a capital P. We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Arcadia Lodge in Russell on the North Island of New Zealand. Ironically this small village was known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific” at the turn of the 19th century, when it was a shore station for whalers, and drunkenness and prostitution were the norm. It couldn’t be more different today. There are signs posted at intervals warning of Liquor Bans in public places. Perhaps the town authorities were feeling self-conscious.
For excitement tourists line up for the various aquatic tours, one of which we enjoyed yesterday. We’ve enjoyed dinner for two, quayside at the Gables Restaurant, every night of our stay here. Last night they ran out of fish, if you can imagine. Fortunately this was after we’d placed our order.
Today we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn about New Zealand’s beginnings. Our DK guidebook’s version of events differs slightly from what we learned. “But misunderstanding arose because there were two different versions (Maori and English) which carried different meanings. Controversy over the Treaty continues to this day.” This is a familiar saga to those of us from North America. You will see a photo of Duncan doing his best to rectify this situation by performing the Haka, a tribal war dance and song, with some Maoris employed at the Treaty Grounds. Eyes and tongue protrude in a gesture of defiance. For those of you who know Duncan, this is slightly out of character.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Swimming with Dolphins

In the Bay of Islands there are two tours you can take – one is to the Hole in the Rock to see the dolphins on the way, and the other is to actually swim with the dolphins. Since neither of us has ever earned a swim badge, and on any given day there could be several reasons the operators won’t let you swim with them anyway, we chose the first option. The tour lasted four hours and included one hour hiking on one of the islands. The weather was gorgeous and the colour of the water insanely azure.
On the way we did indeed see the dolphins. They frolicked all around our vessel after the captain obliged us by slowing up for the photo opportunity. Dolphins are maddeningly difficult, to photograph as they pop up to breathe then, just as you line up the shot, they dive again! They seem to enjoy the wake created by the boat. As soon as we took off, they literally leapt into action, racing and leaping as if trying to race the boat. It was quite thrilling, actually.
Claudia took refuge from the sun by diving into the only bar on the island, while I held up my side by launching off to learn as much as I could about the original inhabitants of New Zealand e.g. Maori 101. The one hour hike was accompanied by a Maori guide who explained the flora and fauna and provided an explanation of Maori beliefs. He began by explaining that Maoris greet one another by touching noses and chose Duncan to demonstrate. Sorry, I don’t have a photo, you’ll just have to imagine it! He led the walk to the summit of the island, where the view of the surrounding islands and waters was amazing.(I do have a photo of that!) He explained that the Maoris see themselves as guardians not owners of the land. He also explained that because we not acting as guardians of the land and showing the land respect, the Gods are getting angry and the result is global warming. It is interesting that the beliefs among aboriginal peoples are so similar even though they are on completely different sides of the planet.

Kiwi Design

Guess what these are !
One is struck instantly by the high standard of design in this country. Jewellery, woodenware, textiles, pottery, are items that attract tourists, young and old. I lament the fact that I have no room in my suitcase. Kiwis also design structures rather well that tend to be of a more pedestrian nature in Canada. Take “loos” for instance. I’m talking about the ones you’d find in a park or near a tourist information booth – these are frequently chemical toilets! Name one exceptional freestanding public loo in Toronto. I knew you couldn’t; I don’t think it’s possible. Most of them are unspeakable, and I resort to them only if absolutely necessary. I know the location of loos in all the department stores; they aren’t so bad.
Here in tiny Russell in the Bay of Islands on the North Island of NZ where I’m visiting at the moment, the public loo here has very attractive tiles on the outside. However on the ½ day drive up here I encountered not one but two amazing public conveniences. Now admittedly one was designed by an Austrian, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, one of my favourite artists, but the other was the tourist toilet in a wine country hamlet called Matanga. Now you be the judge, have you ever seen more amazing WCs?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

First Mai Tai and Izakaya


First Mai Tai

"Tilley Head" (foreground) Diamond Head (background)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of imbibing my first Mai Tai at the beach front bar of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach. The waiter advised me to try the “traditional” whereas Duncan opted for the one laced with ginger. I loved them both, but we switched because Duncan found his a bit gingery. After 15 minutes we were both hammered. It was a pleasant experience because we had taken the hour long city bus ride from the Ohana (Hawaiian for “family”) Hotel at the very reasonable cost of $2.25 per person. In fact that same bus ticket had taken us in the opposite direction to the Arizona Visitors’ Centre at Pearl Harbour. The trip there was a letdown; the Arizona memorial is poignantly beautifully, the movie, informative, but the centre is under (woefully needed) reconstruction. We didn’t feel motivated to pay a lot to wander around battleships or to look at missiles so we moved on.
We were able to reverse our direction and use our bus transfers to travel 8 miles to the infamous Waikiki Beach district of Honolulu. This had to be the bargain of the century. Just think what the cab ride would have cost! We felt we could afford to splurge on the pricey drinks and watch the surfers and sunbathers, and we didn’t have to worry about driving back to our hotel, THEBUS (like our TTC moniker) would return us safely to our digs. Waikiki Beach was smaller than I imagined it, but glorious, nonetheless. Diamond Head framed the postcard picture scene, and we smiled somewhat drunkenly at each other, twirling the little umbrellas on our drinks. I still have mine.
I perused the DK Honolulu Top 10 Guide searching for a unique place for dinner. We decided to eschew the advice of our drinks waiter to try the hotel restaurant, Azure, walk off the effects of the cocktails and get some exercise in anticipation of a long flight to Australia the next day. Walking in the direction of Diamond Head, the streets of Honolulu were what I expected, modern high rise hotels and condos, shops selling luxury brand name goods, ABC souvenir shops on every other corner and touts selling tours and boat rides - similar to Miami Beach. This is why we opted for Kauai, the Garden Isle, for most of our stay. However, I’ll never forget the bronzed surfer who passed us saying, “I have to go to class!” Apparently students surf here before and after class. I did enjoy our short time here.
We reached the Honolulu Zoo and turned up Kapahulu Ave. searching for Tokkuri-Tei Tavern, #611. It was listed under Local Food Stops in the guide “A Japanese izakaya (tavern) with an innovative East-West menu”. As we soldiered on, mon copain became increasingly sceptical issuing dire warnings about getting further out, getting lost in the dark, finding the place closed or non-existent, questioning the possibility that this tavern would provide good food; “What did East-West menus mean anyway?” I commented that as on our bus ride, we were experiencing the “real” Honolulu. After about ½ hour we succeeded in our quest and found it in a little strip mall perpendicular to the main drag. Upon opening the door, shrouded in traditional Japanese textiles, I thought we had walked into the tavern kitchen. The host assured us we were at the entrance and asked if we had a reservation! Fortunately, there was a little table free near the washrooms, the entrance of which was discreetly disguised by the aforementioned textiles. We took our seats and noted that ¾ of the diners were Japanese or native Hawaiians – a good sign. The sushi bar area was strung with charming Japanese lanterns and the tiles on the walls were scrawled haphazardly by former happy diners proclaiming this establishment as “The World’s Best Sushi Restaurant”. Even my sceptical, somewhat grumpy partner had to grudgingly admit that he should have trusted my usually reliable instincts (where food is involved anyway). We treated ourselves to cold Japanese beer, sampled spicy scallop uramaki and crunched contentedly on shrimp and ahi tempura rolls. It really was the “Best Sushi Restaurant in the World”!
Departing the restaurant in dark, as my spouse had predicted, we were challenged to find the bus stop. We found one and were assured by a very friendly local that the bus to the airport would arrive. I asked him if residents were pleased about Barack Obama’s election, and he grinned saying, “Oh yes, he’s from here, went to private school just down the road.” I smiled too though he probably couldn’t see me in the dark.
A bus arrived and stopped and though it wasn’t the correct number, we asked the driver if we were in the right place. He reassured us and when we asked about the wait, incredibly, he kept the traffic waiting as he pulled out the timetable, perused it rather slowly, I thought, and told us to wait 15 more minutes. Can you see a TTC driver doing that? People here have been so welcoming and friendly, even the U.S. Customs agents seem relaxed when compared to their menacing mainland counterparts. Sure enough, the bus came slightly later than predicted and whisked us back to our Hotel for $2.25 each. I’m still shaking my head!
Aloha and Mahalo Hawaii. People who live here are truly blessed.

More on the Fauna

"Lolo" Rooster

Albatross in the Neighbourhood

“Lolo” is what the native Hawaiians call those roosters – crazy! Why? Because unlike most roosters who crow primarily at dawn, the Kauaian variety are mostly quiet during the day but crow all through the night and early morning hours. I’m sure I mentioned this before. I found out from our helicopter pilot that, apparently, many were “liberated” during Hurricane Iniki which hit Kauai on Sept. 11, (!) 1992. The fancy roosters bred with local varieties and now (over)populate the island. They are handsome indeed but ... Anne lives at Princeville, somewhat like a gated community (they have gates but don’t man them) just south of Hanalei. She says they don’t have the lolo birds there because they trap them and relocate them, should they be foolish enough to venture onto the perfectly manicured golf courses and lawns of this development. We have news for her – they are hiding in the forest on the hillside just above Kaweonui Beach where we took an earlier hike. There were plenty down lurking down there in the undergrowth. Shall we give them away?
Princeville is also the nesting ground of Albatrosses. Developers constructed the ultra modern homes, condos and hotels, but surprisingly the birds return each November to raise their chicks right in the front gardens of a few of the residents. Apparently the chicks return after a few seasons to repeat the process. Miraculous!
There are signs in the vicinity of Anne’s house indicating Albatross Crossings and issuing warnings about penalties for molesting these legendary birds. To me, dare I say it, they looked a bit like giant seagulls on growth hormones! We stopped to let one waddle, slowly and slightly off balance, like a drunken sailor, in front of our shiny little red Chrysler PT. It wasn’t bothered by us humans at all.

Puffed on the way up to Puff

Can you see Puff?

Accompanied by local resident, Anne, British friend of our Toronto neighbour, Chris, and two Canadians from Nelson, B.C., Bo and Grace, we meandered through the Hanalei Natural Wildlife Refuge on our last day on Kaua’i. Driving by cultivated fields of kalo, the root (taro) of which is pounded to make a local starchy staple, poi, favoured by native Hawaiians, we actually saw very little wild animal life but for a few egrets and those ubiquitous roosters and chickens. We passed by simple little homes tucked away almost hidden from sight behind dense tropical vegetation. One must come to the tropics to see all our common houseplants, shefflera, dracaena, bromeliads and ti plants, to name just a few.
Duncan and I donned our proper hiking boots for a short trek to a famous viewpoint. The others wore Tevas and Dockers. Were we “overdressed”? Actually no, even though the trail was fairly tame, it was steep and could be slippery; the rusty red soil on Kauai tends to get very greasy even when slightly moist, and it was hot and humid in this Hanalei valley. We were puffing when we reached the viewpoint after the short but strenuous little hike. We could see the dragon-shaped coastline across the valley, the inspiration the song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary about “little Johnny Paper’s” dragon, Puff, from the land called Hanalei! ”Oh yeah”, to quote two Americans who came wandering by. Magic!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Steelgrass Chocolate Farm

Inside the sacred pod!
Pods waiting for people or critters to liberate the seeds!

I'll bet most of you don't know what steelgrass is! We found out yesterday on a visit to Steelgrass Chocolate Farm. However, we didn't go to see steelgrass (or bamboo - so named because of its tensile strength). We wound our way up a serpentine trail in pursuit of CHOCOLATE. Our chocoholic friend, J.Q., will appreciate our determination! The enterprising farmers, Will and Emily Lydgate, are decendents of a famous Kaua'i family for whom nearby Lydgate Beach is named.

The farm, fairly small and unpretentious, makes a real effort to promote diversification on the island. The big plantations, sugar cane and pineapple, have closed down because they cannot compete with cheap labour from the southern hemisphere. Will and Emily are developed this teaching farm to promote the development of new workable crops to shift away from monoculture. The chocolate tour, originally developed to educate local growers, has become a big hit with tourists. One must book well ahead to attend the thrice weekly tours.

The three hour lecture included botany lessons on cultivated plants, papyrus, India tree, black bamboo, vanilla, opportunities to taste tropical treats - rambutan, lychee, butterfruit, palm honey, sugar cane with lime but most important of all CHOCOLATE - 11 different kinds of single estate chocolates, one local and the others imported. We tasted cacao beans straight from the pod that taste nothing like chocolate, membranous sweet outside, and if one bites the seed - soapy inside, then fermented beans that smell like the real thing and bear some resemblance to what one would expect, then the heavenly final products. It's a miracle that man figured out how to transform the fruit to this divine "food of the gods".
Matt, our knowledgeable guide hailing from Minneapolis originally, provided the entertaining commentary. Did you know the pods grow close to the ground so that rodents will chew them and release the fruit? Or that there are only 3 kinds of fruit, criollo, trinitario and the most common, forastero? The bars most of us grew up with are called "formula bars" because they are meant to taste the same every time. He referred to Starbucks here, I don't know why! The single estate delights, like fine wine, can vary from batch to batch.
After a blind tasting, I found my favourite was the 68% Dagoba "Milagros" beans grown in Peru, bar created in Ashland, Oregon! Unfortunately the small company has been bought out by Hershey. Why do the big companies always manage to wipe out the "competition"? Matt said they probably lured the owner by offering trips all over the world to taste chocolate. I figure he was probably able to afford to retire on Kaua'i! The runner-up was 64% Valrhona (French) "Manjari" criollo, grown in Madagascar. Actually I think, unlike Dagoba, the bars are easily available at the St. Lawrence Mkt. and elsewhere in Toronto. I was very surprised because I'm sure we bought some while in France last spring, and I didn't think it was exceptional when compared to my daily jolt of 72% Camino Cocoa - bittersweet. Blind tasting is a good idea, it avoids prejudice!

Duncan favoured Felchin (Swiss) 74% "Elvesia" criollo/trinitario blend out of the Dominican Republic. Will Lydgate told him he had a true connaisseur's palate. It is a chocolate used in Europe for making fine chocolate desserts.

Quoting from our tasting sheet: Dark chocolate has among the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any food. Antioxidant levels are measured by Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC for short). As a point of comparison prunes (now called "dried plums" to make them more attractive to consumers) have 5770 per 100 grams. The hands-down winner, dark chocolate weighs in at 13,120. Milk chocolate has 6740 but has only 10% cacao content, and its benefits are negated by the milk that blocks antioxidant asorption. Dark chocolate is a health food - feel free to eat 1 oz. per day but forget the milk chocolate!

After the blind tasting, Matt, passed the bowls of numbered samples again, and we all engaged in a feeding frenzy to finish every last morsel. Ah, the theobromines, aka mood elevators, are kicking in ...

Monday, February 8, 2010


When encountering perfection I sometimes cry, most often when listening to beautiful music. Yesterday this happened when hovering above Kaua'i during my first ever helicopter ride. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this magnificent island. The brilliant colours of the Na Pali coast - turquoise, azure, ochre and emerald green comprised an impressionist's palette.

We really debated about taking this trip. It was prohibitively expensive, and many locals have serious objections to this tourist enterprise because of the noise pollution. However, the only way to access Na Pali during the winter is to go by boat or helicopter. Friends recommended it highly, so we decided to take their advice.

We chose our company based upon the recommendation of a guide book. Jack Harter has been in the business the longest - 45 years - and has an excellent reputation for SAFETY - a prime consideration. Some of the people who comprised our group - 4 Canadians, also from the Toronto area - opted for the open-door flight. We did NOT, preferring the 6 passenger ASTAR (closed model). Our collective heights and weights put us right up next to the pilot, Duncan by the window and I in the middle with perhaps the very best view.

Our pilot, Ben Silver, from Seattle originally, looked about 16 years old. We were assured he was 35 but I'd be surprised. He graduated as a history major and then needed to find a paying job so he opted to train as a helicopter pilot. He related how he had come to Hawaii as a young teen and had never forgotten his first ride in a helicopter. He decided this might be a fun way to earn a living. Why not? (Click on our photo to enlarge it and see Ben giving the traditional Hawaiian greeting.)

First of all we were surprised at how pleasant, almost sedate, the whole experience turned out to be. It was rather like driving in a car - in the air. Unlike a plane, we seemed to move along rather slowly. I didn't get butterflies in my stomach at all, except when we went over one ridge, with a sheer drop off into the ocean on the other side. Unlike a roller coaster, it was more a mental reaction than a physical sensation. There was actually a pod of humpback whales down below. More tears!
Ben explained that he was a Type A extra-cautious person (I suspect a perfectionist), and this fact helped to reassure me. He was completely calm and competent. He explained that we were very lucky because Mt. Wai'ale'ale, the highest elevation on Kaua'i, was not shrouded in clouds at that moment. Because we'd had to wait quite a while before taking off, he decided to reward us by taking us up and over. This is the wettest place on EARTH measuring almost constant rainfall, up to 600 inches per year. We were suitably impressed.

In the air we could appreciate the incredible variation in the landscape, a mini-Grand Canyon - Waimea Canyon carved by water pouring off the extinct volcano, the 20 square mile Alaka'i Swamp in the crater and the Na Pali cliffs dropping into the ocean. It doesn't suffice to describe what we saw - I found a promotional film on You Tube - Enjoy vicariously!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Saturday Market in Hanale'i, Kaua'i

Tropical Fruit Salad
Local Vendor at Hanale'i Market

I am a market groupie! Wherever I travel, one of the first things I MUST do is check out the local market. Those of you who know me well, know that I cannot let a Saturday go by without going to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. As we are on Kaua'i, we had to seek out the weekly gathering in Hanale'i. Hanale'i is a charming little village about 10 miles from our Hula Hideaway. Their Sat. market reminds me on the ones in California or B.C, reminiscent of the 60s with tanned surfer types rubbing elbows with wealthy looking matrons and golfers from nearby Princeville. The attractive locals are selling whatever they can to all us tourists.

One thing I found interesting was that available fruits seem to outnumber the vegetables. We bought key limes, star fruit and lilliko'i or passion fruit. We already had local oranges, pineapple, strawberry papaya, apple bananas and grapefruit so our fruit salad was like no other. The fruits taste so good here - even the tangerines make one sit up and take notice with just the right combination of sweet and sour. Locals cut open the passion fruits and use them as a kind of dressing for the fruit salad - mouth watering!

Friday, February 5, 2010


Queen's Bath

If in Doubt, Don' t Go Out!

Nature has a way of making one seem terribly insignificant here in Hawaii. Watching the heaving churning surf pounding against the obsidian cliffs, I tried not to imagine myself swept by a rogue wave into the Queen's Bath where I would be pulverized in mere seconds. The Queen's Bath is a natural pool carved into the lava shelf at the base of the cliffs at Princeville. A marker bearing a strong resemblance to a tombstone points to the Bath and gives a dire warning about the number of hapless tourists who drowned because, unlike me, they were fearless and ventured onto the shelf.

Peeking timidly out from under a giant coconut palm in the tropical jungle that edges the cliffs above Kaweonui Beach, I was mesmerized by the massive waves that rolled, curled and crashed like thunder onto the reef in front of me. These are the waves one associates with the fearless Hawaiian surfers; however, surfers are further north at Hanalei Bay. We marvelled at their prowess last evening, wondering how they were brave enough to venture out in spite of all the warning signs: If in Doubt - Don't Go Out! Individuals rode the waves occasionally toppling spectacularly but alway emerging, thank heavens! Tomorrow we will travel to the south side to swim and snorkle - it's supposed to be calm there in winter. We'll see...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hawaiian Fauna

Peaceful Garden
Ocean View from front lanai

Mountain View from back lanai

Interior View of Hula Hideaway
Hula Hideaway on stilts as protection
against north shore tsunamis
I’m trying to decide which of these translations is most accurate: In English it goes: cock-a-doodle-doo - In French it goes: cocorico - In Dutch it's: kukeleku - In German it's: kikeriki. Why am I thinking of roosters? Well, those of you who have visited Kaua’i will know immediately! The roosters on this island seem to crow all night! We stopped here to break our trip to New Zealand and Australia. Since Hawaii is 5 hrs.behind Toronto, our thinking was that we could gradually adjust to the time change and avoid some, of what is to me, brutal jet lag. Ironically the roosters and what we think are bullfrogs will see to it that we stay on Toronto time for the duration of our one week stay. They are exceedingly active during the wee hours!

We are happily perched above Moloaa Bay on the northern shore of beautiful Kaua’i. Here’s the description in the Lonely Planet Guide, I don’t think I can best it: “The spotlight shines not on the artificial, but on nature’s great outdoors. Be it emerald valleys overlooking the North Shore or turquoise waters lapping 50 miles of ivory sand along the South Shore, Kaua’i’s epic landscape pops with a Technicolor punch that’s all natural.” Locals are saying it’s “chilly” right now - temperatures are in the mid-seventies! The trade winds are blowing rather rigourously at the moment. We’re not sure we’ll see the sun today but we don’t mind. Temperatures were dipping to -15C when we left Toronto. I actually prefer spring temperatures to summer heat, so it’s OK.

Our home for the week is sort of a “Hawaiian loft”, a very large open plan space with sleeping, eating and relaxation areas clearly delineated by the arrangement of the furniture. Hula Hideaway appeared in the TV pilot of the show Gilligan’s Island, filmed in the late ‘60s; the show apparently never aired. It suits us perfectly, with yoga mats but no hair dryer – good thing we both were shorn (thanks to Sian) before leaving home. It has two balconies or lanai with beautiful views; one must cross a little private bridge to get here, a nice touch.

Moloaa Beach