Contrasts are one of the best parts of travelling. Finding yourself in foreign lands where donkeys carting loads of hides reaches a new level if the person pulling the donkey is chatting on their iPhone. One of the most interesting countries I’ve visited, from that view, is Morocco, where beaches crash into snow-capped mountains that crash into desert, a heady mix of spice markets and high-end shopping found in the midst. As this section of the world would arguably never reach the same level of confronting contrast as many developing countries would, it was still an excellent jolt to go leave the hot, orange, flat and empty deserts of the Australian Outback and be transported to the incredibly lush, green, rolling hills and winding roads of New Zealand’s North Island.
We arrived in Auckland and promptly left, as we planned to spend our time in Auckland at the end of our two weeks in New Zealand. One night at what we affectionately dubbed the IKEA Hotel near the airport and we were off to the east (roughly), to spend a couple of nights in the Coromandel Peninsula. On the way to our overnight destination of Whitianga, we made a couple of most excellent pit stops. We began our culinary adventure in New Zealand with a stop at the Coromandel Oyster Company, just outside of the town of Coromandel. My uncle had been on a mission for oysters since arriving in Australia, and I think that we finally found the place for him. We actually drove past it initially, and were about 5 kilometres down the road when we all voiced what we’d been thinking, that this shack near the water would damn well be the best place we’d experience fresh New Zealand oysters, and we turned back in the pursuit.
I’m not a big fan of shellfish. Or, indeed, most ocean-dwelling creatures – apart from fish. (Which I love. Sushi is the best thing ever. Mmmm … sushi ….) I once read an article or a blog post or some such by a man who hated olives and had, by chance, found himself living in Spain where an olive is more likely to be found as an appetizer (and all of the time, really) than really much else. (Incidentally, Spain produces something like 80% – 90% of all of the olive oil in the world and much of it is shipped first to Italy, to be packaged and branded as Italian olive oil, before it is distributed to the rest of the world.) His solution to this conundrum was to eat every olive he encountered, with the theory being that he would eventually stop hating them. Tried and true, this theory worked for him, and I assume he is off on a Spanish island somewhere, scarfing/scoffing* down olives by the handful. I found this a useful gem of inspiration, as I have often felt as though I am missing out with my inability to appreciate seafood. I have previously tried this method of eating all encounters with mushrooms, something that my family can attest to I’ve hated since childhood. The result was that I no longer shy away from these common fungus, and even go as far as suggest their addition to a multitude of dishes.
My transition to seafood has taken signicantly longer. I have learnt there is little point in trying calamari when someone who loves calamari says that it is average, as it just puts me several steps back in my journey to love all of these weird, slimy, chewy, mushy, bits from the ocean. So, I have refined my tasting journey to only include what seafood lovers would consider good. This was certainly one of those times.
Our other main stop during our first day’s drive was at what I have dubbed Secret Beach. Wainuiototo Bay is known as one (if not the) most beautiful beaches in New Zealand and, according to the locals, is one of the ten best beaches in the world (I have yet to see this claim echoed by any measuring body). Part of the appeal of Wainuiototo is its seclusion and entire lack of development. The beach is reached by a 30 minute walk, mostly over large, slippery rocks, from the town of Whangapoua. There is no development visible from the beach, a fact that, is likely to change in the coming years. A visit to Wainuiototo in its current state is something that you may not get the pleasure of again.
And with that, we continued our twisty, windy, curvy drive towards Whitianga, our jumping off point for the next couple of days.
* I had a fight with my British roommate over the correct word to use to describe eating aggressively and excessively. Urban Dictionary confirmed that scarfing is the North American slang and scoffing the British. Important things.