Jo Seagar’s cafe & cooking school: a great foodie destination

Lunch at Jo ‘easy peasy’ Seagar’s Cafe in Oxford is on most foodies “must do” list, and I’m thrilled to be taken there by one of the Look After Me hosts. A kiwi treasure, Jo Seagar is loved on TV and her cook books fly off the shelves.


The Cafe, Cook School and Kitchen Store thrives in this rural town – originally considered, by some, a strange choice when Jo relocated here some years ago she has proved all wrong: and as some-one who lived here for a couple of years as a child, to me  it seemed an unlikely place for her venture. My visit confirms I too was wrong – it also seems to be a stop-over on the Canterbury cyclists’ route

Jo and I are both trusty-worthy!



“Never trust a skinny cook” she tells us: I poke my nose into her class and watch as the lunch for the participants is plated up – then go back out to eat my own in the café.

The food is hearty and all the plates that are carried past us look tempting – it’s not far from Christchurch and I must go there again.

The café sits comfortably in its rural surroundings and the art on display (and for sale) of paintings of rural New Zealand line the walls: sheep, border collies, cattle, and barns. Well done Jo!

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Sailing in the Bay of Islands

On my road trip in Northland I took a step back in time by sailing in the Bay of Islands on board the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship: I took an afternoon sail on her, from Russell back to her berth at Opua wharf.

‘The Tucker’ is a gaff rigged schooner that operates as a not-for profit charitable trust: their mission is “Learning for Life through the Sea”. It is also used for tourism in the Bay of Islands from October through April and, for the sail training activities between May and September.

Designed by a naval architect it was originally a fishing boat with a large engine and a small sailing rig another man, Tucker Thompson, changed her design to build her in steel – making the hull longer and deeper to accommodate the tall rigging and is a replica of vessels that plied their trade on the Pacific West Coast of the USA in the early 19th century. (See more about the background to the ship on the R.Tucker Thompson’s website).

the ‘tiny tuck’

A day or two before my trip on the ship, I met Russell Harris (who was in partnership to complete the ship) when the model of the ship “Tiny Tuck” was on show in Paihia. Dressed in traditional clothing and with a cat-of-nine-tails in hand,  I was pleased he was not on board when I sailed just in case I did something wrong! (I’d prefer to ‘walk the plank’)

Want a taste of the cat? I don’t think so!

I have done some ‘blue water’ sailing, and it was great to be back under sail again: nevertheless, despite enjoying sailing, I’ve never been up in the rigging either climbing or in the boson’s chair and this trip was no different – although I’m sure most travellers love doing it when they go out for a day sail in ‘the bay.’  So look at these photos and picture yourself up among the ropes and canvas when you get to New Zealand and go sailing with the crew.

Follow them on @RTuckerThompson

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Food, weddings & accommodation at “the Duke”

The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand. Russell, (formerly known as Kororareka) was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and “The Duke” here in Northland has featured significantly in its colourful history including holding New Zealand’s oldest pub license. (NOTE Sept 2012 – The Duke has just won the Hospitality Association “Best Country Hotel’ )

Seems that may have come about by having friends in high places! Having lunch with the current Duchess, Jayne Shirley, I’m told some of the history:

It seems the Duke started out in 1827 as ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop” – Johnny was an ex-convict and his grog shop served the hundreds of whalers and sailors and who had upset Darwin with their lawlessness.  In a marketing exercise the grog shop was renamed after the richest man in the world – The Duke of Marlborough.

After the 1840 Treaty (of Waitangi) was signed New Zealand’s first government was formed lawlessness began to be controlled and grog shops licensed – with friends in high places, Johnny got the first one –the ex-crim is now respectable!

The “duchess” joins us for lunch

So, as the Dukes slogan and T-shirt says, they have been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’. With such a beautiful building in gorgeous surroundings, I’m not all surprised to hear the Duke is a popular wedding destination too.

The hotel was owned by Johnny’s’ family  until  1878 and the current owners (2 couples) bought it from a Frenchman (Arnould Kindt) who had renovated the accommodation areas significantly and lifted its star rating. The current owners are continuing to not only improve the hotel, but also integrating it into the community.

The menu, designed by their award-winning chef, focuses on fresh seasonal produce – and my fish meal was wonderful.

Seems Jayne and the other 3 owners fell in love with the Duke and the area while they were holidaying from Otago University and they’re now living their dream in Northland – they recently celebrated their first two years at “The Duke”. (May 2012)

Another big ‘thumbs-up’ I would give this place is for their ‘no surcharge’ policy on public holidays: well done.

See some of my photos of the Duke (below) and check out their website for more information. They are also on Facebook and Twitter (@DukeofM) if you want to get in touch with them via social media.

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You may like to check out a little more of the history of ‘the treaty’ mentioned earlier in this YouTube clip I was sent on Twitter

yet more photos

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Maori tour ‘tour of a lifetime’ says National Geographic Traveler

Hone Mihaka, of Taia­mai Tours says, “To classify ourselves as New Zealanders denies our cultural identity as Maori. Being Maori is our point of difference.”

Hone, of the Ngapuhi iwi (tribe) is given a lot of “mana” ( respect and prestige) and I was happy to be hosted at his marae in February  as I checked out  what the National Geographic Traveler named as one the 50 Tours of  Lifetime 2011 –pretty  good for a new venture!

Their interactive Waka experience is a unique insight into ancient customs, rituals and traditions: and once a year visitors from around the world not only learn how to paddle the ceremonial waka tau (war canoe) but also become part of the annual national commemorations that acknowledge ( and sometimes protest about) the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – NZ’s founding document – on the 6th February 1840.

“Great – now let’s try that again then we will head for Pihia and our waka”‘ says Hone

This year there were guests from the USA, France, The Netherlands, Canada, and Germany staying with the  extended Mihaka family at their traditional home near Lake Omapare, and I watched as they went through the last of their training in paddle techniques, waka manoeuvres, chants and haka in preparation for the next days’ celebration – out on the bay with all the other waka.  These photos show some of the day, with more stories to come after they feature in print media.

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As Hone says “I’m Ngapuhi, and I offer my world. Only in Tai Tokerau can you get a unique, authentic Ngapuhi experience.”

Tai Tokerau stretches from the Bay of Islands on Northlands’ east coast over to Hokianga on the west coast – which is where my Ngapuhi husband came from: Ngapuhi is New Zealand’s largest indigenous tribe of 100,000 – made up of over 100 smaller independent Hapu (clans).

If you are unable to take part in the Waitangi Day events, you are still able to paddle a waka with them – up to Haruru Falls .. see their website or find Taiamai Tours on Facebook

In Lonely Planets‘ book “Happy” on  page 105 it says ” Be Proud of your Roots. Embrace your heritage to better understand yourself.” The page is about Maori and their haka and Taiamai Tours embody this ‘secret to happiness’ and offer it to others.

As traveller, I believe  learning about other cultures helps us understand and embrace our own no matter where we’re from.

“This edited extract is from Happy: Secrets to Happiness from the Cultures of the World © Lonely Planet 2011. RRP: $25.”

‘Hell-hole of the Pacific’ rants Darwin

After 3 days of national commemorations for NZs Waitangi Day in the Bay of Islands it’s now time for me to catch a ferry for the short ride over to Russell from my base in Paihia.

Often considered New Zealand’s finest maritime playground, the Bay of Islands also has much to do on land and Russell is the centre of all that Northland offers.  Darwin called it the hell-hole of the Pacific because of the drunken, rowdy whalers and sailors, this area is the cradle of New Zealand’s settler history: Russell was formerly known as Kororareka and was one of the first European settlements in NZ.

At the south end of the tree-lined waterfront is Pompallier House, site of the first Roman Catholic Mission to New Zealand. Established in 1842 ‘to teach the Maori to pray the Catholic way” as one of the guides there said, it’s now been beautifully restored to its original French style and is the only one of its type in the country. I enjoyed watching a demonstration of leather making, printing and bookbinding here – and the gardens are lovely too.

It was interesting to hear that saying such as ‘skiving off’ and ‘cut to the chase’ came from the leather and book binding industry.

I wander around the township enjoying the museum and well-kept streets before heading off to ‘the Duke’ for a look at it, and lunch.  The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand, and “The Duke” has featured significantly in NZs colourful history and holds New Zealand’s oldest pub license. Number one.  After a meal, on the veranda, overlooking the bay where dolphins had been seen from the ferry only minutes earlier it’s time for me to head off on a one-hour tour of areas not easily seen on foot.

‘The best thing about Paihia’ says our Russell Mini Tours driver ‘is you can sit on the beach and look across at Russell’.  He also tells us “the Maori came here some 900 years ago, Captain Cook in 1769 while he arrived 198 years later – on a school trip from Auckland!

Flagstaff Hill gives us 360° views of the Bay of Islands and we are shown the oldest church in New Zealand, (1835) built ten years after the Battle of Kororareka.

Darwin hated every minute of his 3 weeks here: 50-70 ‘grog’ houses, 1500 people. Many of whom were deserters, and no law – as our driver continued – ‘this is a blood and rum drenched place.’

My one day here was not long enough – but it was time to head back down to the wharf and step back in time aboard the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship for a taste of life under sail.

See more about ‘the Tucker’ and ‘the Duke’ in a future blog – in the meantime … check out the links I’ve provided.

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