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Archive for the ‘Wairarapa’ Category

After an invitation had been impulsively given and accepted on Friday, Saturday saw us venture over the hill for the first time in months. We spent the morning at home, while I baked a cake for dinner; though if I’m honest it wasn’t the baking that took several hours, it was having to make multiple trips to the supermarket twice to get ingredients I kept forgetting!

We usually drive over “the hill” (the Remutaka Range) in the morning or early afternoon, and it was a treat to drive over in the late afternoon, enjoying the different light on the distant Wairarapa plains as we wound our way down from the summit. We tracked cloud formations being caught by the setting sun in a halo effect but, of course, just as we drove through the little town (which uncannily reminded me of my hometown on a wintry Saturday night in the 1970s) and out the other side, and turned into their driveway lined with promising daffodils, that gorgeous light disappeared.

Daffodils

An early sign of spring

The man of the house was busy cooking up a curry storm in the kitchen, so pre-dinner champagne and olive oil from the trees outside (accompanied by a stunning sunset) flowed into a delicious dinner (curries, and very successful orange almond cake), lively conversation, and even the rugby result was easier to take when we commiserated together.

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The next morning, after a late but yummy breakfast at the little wine town’s stylish hotel, we said goodbye and, with an hour or two to fill before a busy afternoon scheduled back in Wellington, drove down to the coast, through vibrant green farmland under sunny skies, reminiscent of the land where I grew up, though newborn lambs were the only thing missing from the winter scene, still a few weeks too early for them to arrive. We drove to the end of the road, and – along with others basking in the sunny morning – mucked around on the beach, enjoying just being out in nature, and I, of course, played around with my camera and tripod.

It was tempting to stay, but duty called, so we packed up, drove back along the country roads through the flat green fields, slowing to pass dairy cows and calves wandering along the road (such a New Zealand scene) and their Filipino farm workers, before we headed back over the hill that seems to separate everyday life from freedom, friendship, and leisure.

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Yesterday we got up early (for a Saturday), filled the car with essentials, and headed off, out of the city and up the valley where the Hutt River skirts the highway, its willows rapidly losing all their leaves, into the countryside. It was a gloomy, dark morning, and the rain that was forecast later in the day seemed to have arrived early – it was light, almost misty, and we hoped it would be different at our destination.

We passed the tempting $10 Breakfast sign at the café at the bottom of the hill, tempted to stop for bacon and eggs and a decent coffee, thinking about texting our friends to say we might just be half an hour late. But we didn’t, and we drove up into the winding Rimutakas, up into the cloud, and then dropped back into the Wairarapa beyond, a bit perturbed to find that the weather was no better, and maybe even worse.

We arrived at Alders, site of previous adventures in better weather, where we were due to help our friends harvest their olives. The sight of Peony and her bedraggled sister, both soaked through, supported my decision to bring my bought-for-Iceland-and-previously-only-ever-worn-there rain pants, grateful for my bought-for-Iceland-but-perfect-in many-places fleece and rain jacket, and pleased that my husband had thought to bring our gumboots (and later even more pleased he unwittingly gave me the pair without the hole in the sole).

Our hosts/overseers had thoughtfully provided gloves and plenty of purpose-bought rakes that easily strip the olives from the branches, and we stuck into the work, getting wet not so much from the rain which eased off and just turned to mist, but from the very wet olive trees, and only slightly hampered by steamed-up glasses. With a very efficient crew of workers this year, and even though the trees are so much bigger than when we first went about seven or eight years ago, it was only a few quick hours later that we were told they had enough olives (8-900 kgs or a ton), and sodden, we retreated back to the house to dry off, grateful for the wine, hearty lunch of Indian dahls and curries, and cheerful conversation after a job well done.

Previous olive harvest posts here and here.

 

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A week ago, we packed our bags and the car, and headed over the hill – this one – to stay overnight with friends at their charming cottage amidst an olive grove.

They welcomed us with a lovely late lunch of delicious dark, seedy bread and cheese and tomatoes and asparagus and pâté and salami, and of course, being in a wine town we had to indulge in some local rosé, which is always perfect for a summery lunch and for nibbling with fresh berries from the garden.

Then came the business end of the day, as the croquet lawn was calling to us, and the game of the day was Croquet Golf – or was it Golf Croquet? My husband and I have only ever played once, some years ago, but beginner’s luck must have been upon us, as we took the first game 7-4. The second game didn’t go so well, with my husband wondering aloud, after further fortification from the rosé, just why the ball wasn’t going straight anymore! By that time it was close to 5 pm, and we figured that it must be time for some champagne – of course!

After a delicious biryani dinner and more berries from their garden, we took to the lawn for the deciding game, although by this time, our croquet brains had decided that attack was the best form of defence, and we all aimed at each others’ balls as often as we aimed at the hoops to score points. Appropriately, our hosts’ years of practice paid off and they trounced us soundly, so we retired to the campfire, and as the sun set and the almost-super moon rose, we chatted and sipped some more; a perfect end to a perfect day.

 

 

 

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Today is the last day of a three-day weekend here in New Zealand. We have had magnificent weather – sunny and calm, chilly but not too cool. So yesterday we drove over the hill to Martinborough, participating again in our friend’s annual olive harvest. Their crop this year was abundant, and the 33 workers (okay, some of the kids didn’t do too much) who turned up were unable to complete the job (though some slackers spent some time with their (her)  foot up, and then left earlier than some, but not as early as others), as not only did time run out, but we all proved to be too short to reach the tallest 20% of most of the trees. But the bumper crop still meant that they ended up with 1.5 tonnes of olives, their most bountiful crop yet, and twice what we gathered on the first harvest five years ago. I wrote about the 2011 harvest here – check it out (it’s a much better post!) and see how the trees have grown.

P1190656 olive harvest

This year the sun shone more brightly, we ate Indian food and drank beer or wine for lunch, but the timeless tradition and the camaraderie continued. In a few weeks, we’re looking forward to our free bottle of oil.

P1190653 olives

 

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Just four days after my drive through Canterbury, my husband and I climbed in our car for another drive, this time over the hill but not so far away, just a little more than an hour really, though it was probably less as we had stopped in Petone for a Subway sandwich by the beach, foolishly thinking it would be quicker than making a sandwich at home, so it was really only 45 minutes from the foreshore with its view of the blue harbour on a warm spring day until we arrived in Martinborough, over the Rimutaka hills and their winding sometimes scary (but safer these days with the new highway) roads steeply up then down, through drowsy little Featherston, along the green plains and down into Martinborough, a charming wine village that was quite literally blooming with spring, with kowhai and cherry blossoms and rhododendrons in full colour, exuberant and joyful at the prospect of the coming summer; a wine village that is home to my friend Peony and her husband, (and various other members of her family who have followed her pilgrimage there) and to their olive grove and charming cottage and lavender and croquet lawn and quince trees in full flower, and their separate guest accommodation, thankfully not rented out this weekend but reserved for us, so we could go wine-tasting without fear at Palliser and Cabbage Tree and Martinborough Wines – where Craig last year bought a $70 bottle of pinot noir that he probably should have cellared for several years but couldn’t really (because of the flight home to Florida) so we drank it that night with Hells’ pizza – and on to Tirohana wines where we had tired of tasting and wanted simply to drink, so the chef whipped up a platter of cheeses to accompany a bottle of rosé and we sat on the terrace in the late afternoon sun before heading back to the cottage (though first we gate-crashed Peony’s sister to see her soon-to-be world-famous-in-New Zealand eco-house, completely off-the-grid and sustainable but with interesting modern design and a wine cellar to die for and a fabulous, drool-inducing chef’s kitchen, which is appropriate because the man of the house is a talented chef) where it was time to roast the lamb and ice the chocolate cake and drink some champagne and nibble on the sourdough bread dipped in olive oil made from the olives only metres from us, before eating the said meal and consuming more of the said champagne, and some delicious pinot noir we had bought earlier in the afternoon, and a nice nine-year-old syrah from the Gimblett Gravels about four hours up the road, and finally finishing the evening by looking at their inspiring photos (requested by us, not imposed by them I must stress) of their Peru trip earlier in the year (where I now really want to go though I will need to brush up on my Spanish) before collapsing into a warm and comfortable bed, exhausted by the talking but mostly by all that wine, where we quickly fell asleep, only slightly and ever-so-briefly unnerved by the complete and utter silence outside.

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Three years ago a friend and I were walking in the hills behind Portofino. I blogged about it on Mali’s Travelalphablog.

It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. … At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia. We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives that had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.

For generations, families and communities have come together in the harvest. Working communally shares the load, completes a long task more quickly, and makes a laborious task more enjoyable. Living in a city, we don’t see this in the same way these days now, but as a child I remember neighbours and relatives joining together to help with the wheat harvest, or in working with the sheep. I remember the feeling of being part of something bigger, the laughter as we ate together, the relief when the job was done.

Last weekend, we responded to the call of Peony and Mr Peony, and along with members of her family, workmates, friends, and soccer team-mates, we converged on their property in Martinborough. Not too many years ago this area was full of sheep and dairy farms. Now the fields are filled with grapevines, producing extraordinary pinot noir, and sauvignon. And smaller plots are covered with olives. Which is why we made the trip over the hill – to help with their olive harvest. It was a social event, meeting new people as four or five of us at a time worked on a single tree. We stripped the tree of its olives, poured them into the bins, and moved on to a different tree, with different people.

The weather was perfect for the job at hand. Clouds hung low, but the rain stayed away, there was no wind, and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. At about 2 pm the gong sounded and lunch was served. We sat outside around a long table, resting gratefully in camping chairs and on the deck steps. After a busy morning filled with activity, lunch was welcome. We enjoyed lunch without guilt – untraditionally eating chili and rice and sangria (our hosts/slave-drivers had recently returned from Mexico) – and ate heartily. And I thought of those wizened old villagers and their forebears enjoying their lunches in the hills of Liguria after the olive harvest, now, three years ago, thirty years ago, three hundred years ago. Times change, but then again, not so much.

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