Columbia Restaurant: a tradition since 1905 (& nesting birds!)

web IMG_0651IMG_0651The Columbia Restaurant has been a Sarasota, Florida tradition since 1905 with Columbia Restaurant – Ybor City leading the way as the oldest restaurant in Sarasota and it serves fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, using some century-old family recipes.

Their St. Armand’s Circle site, in Lido Key opened in 1959 and after a short wait; we choose an outdoor, footpath table.

Its menu features Spanish fare: paella packed with fresh clams, shrimp, and mussels caught my eye, but the web IMG_0667IMG_0667Spanish Bean Soup with chorizo became my starter while their signature, and award-winning 1905 Salad became my main.

The warm, crusty, homemade, Cuban bread served with the soup was excellent and the soup was well-flavoured with a tasty chorizo – seems this soup is Columbia’s signature lunch and they’ve served dished it up since the restaurant started.

Columbia’s legendary “1905” Salad is tossed tableside. Crisp iceberg lettuce with baked ham, natural Swiss cheese, tomato, olives, grated Romano cheese and the famous garlic dressing – most tasty.

Sarasota has stunning beaches, acres of recreation, superb shops and galleries and St. Armands Circle is websized IMG_0744conveniently located near the beaches of Lido and Longboat Key: after our delicious meal, we strolled around the circle – which is home to more than 130 shops – and down to Lido Key to watch the sunset.

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However, what really interested us on the beach were the birds nesting there and we spent time watching the parents delivering food for their young. They flew very low to the sand as they came back with food, and we also watched others skimming the sea – maybe drinking as swallows do!?

Like our New Zealand birds that nest on the ground, these birds too are at risk and sadly their numbers are plummeting.

 

A unique & award-winning Kauri Museum for your bucket-list

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After breakfast at the delightful and historic Commercial Hotel I head out of Dargaville on SH12 to Matakohe – it’s 45ks to the award-winning Kauri Museum.

It was many years ago that I first visited this area and in the fifty years since the community started the museum it has grown in status and size. I suspect it’s unprecedented that a museum with no government funding, is run by a small rural community trust, and whose governance structure are all volunteers, becomes an acclaimed museum with international university studies centred there. The Kauri Museum ticks all those features.

Its latest award, in “The New Zealand Museum Awards” was last month (April 2013) where they won the award for ‘an outstanding innovative project that contributes to the best practice in the Museum Sector in New Zealand’.  The project was for Achieving CarboNZero Certification – Now there is no doubt – it’s a world-leading, sustainable, museum operation.

kauri museum 13The goal of becoming the world’s first carboNZero certified museum was driven by a desire for integrity and their chief executive Bet Nelley said,

“It’s our answer to long distance travellers who find the story of the demise of the kauri tree sad. And, as environmental responsibility is one of our core values, it made sense for us to get a recognised measure of our carbon emissions that we could work to reduce and offset.”
The museum also provides a base for a scientific research project into dendrochronology – a huge word that means tree-ring dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings!

Dendrochronologist Dr Jonathan Palmer (supported by Exeter University (UK) and University of Auckland) is developing an archive of ancient kauri samples to help unlock secrets from the past, and museum displays to chronicle scientific research into kauri.

Over a coffee with the three scientists (Jonathon Palmer, Gerd Helle, Alan Hogg) they tell me their research with the rings, pollen and carbon dating is proving really useful as the age of the trees give a longer time period to look at the effects of climate change especially in the southern hemisphere and which has implications for the northern hemisphere research too.

L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonoathan
L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonathon

They were at The Kauri Museum to discuss how best to glean the most informative climate data from buried kauri tree-rings. Dr Alan Hogg from Waikato University was helping to give a date of when the trees were growing by radiocarbon dating. The museum’s resident scientist, Dr Jonathan Palmer is looking at the ring-widths to consider past climate patterns (such as El Nino / La Nina frequency) while Dr Gerd Helle (Potsdam, Germany) is specialised at “using isotopes of oxygen and carbon to determine past temperature and moisture levels.”

The three are intending to work together on a particular time period of abrupt climate change so that the most climate information can be obtained from these amazing native New Zealand trees.

This social history museum tells the fascinating story of the kauri and local pioneering days via the use of kauri timber and kauri gum, starting when the settlers came to the area in 1862 – this museum was born 100 years later in 1962.

With exceptional displays and dedicated galleries this is a must do for your Northland bucket-list. These including a magnificent collection of antique kauri furniture, restored machinery (including NZ’s earliest tractor) a turning Steam Sawmill and fabulously, the world’s largest collection of kauri gum.

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an example of some of the old kauri furniture
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Beautiful artwork : a native kauri snail in kauri
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kauri goods for sale 🙂

I wasn’t sure what the difference between amber and kauri gum was – but can now describe it for you: amber is older, so harder, than kauri gum with amber 25 – 200+ million years old, while the gum is a baby at only 43 million years old! I also learnt that kauri timber ranges from gold and golden brown through to green, yellow, browns and blacks. Kauri is one of New Zealand’s treasures – the other is pounamu – greenstone (jade).

Most Kauri were felled in the 1800 – 1900’s for timber for houses and today owners of those old homes treasure their polished kauri floors while tourists buy souvenirs or art works made from swamp kauri or recycled wood from old buildings. Unfortunately there are only about 4% of kauri forest left and they are at risk of kauri dieback disease. The Kauri Coast is the only place to see New Zealand’s ancient trees and is a must-do while traveling the Twin Coast Highway.

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This beautiful piece recently came from ‘The Duke’ in Russell – see an earlier pieces from this Twin Coast Discovery series of blogs

My souvenir from this exceptional museum is a beautiful gift – a piece of kauri gum which lives in on top of my very old walnut writing desk. Very special and, thank you Betty.

I recommend you allow at least 1 ½ hours to browse around this fascinating place – see what Trip Advisor members say about the museum. (A hint – it’s ‘excellent’)

My Northland road-trip was in a NZ Rent A Car vehicle and I can endorse both, and this unique museum – I shall return!

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The night sky, NZ’s longest drivable beach, and a kauri pen!

Warning!
Warning!

Continuing my trip around Northland, along the Twin Coast Highway, which was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car I leave the Hokianga and head South on SH12 to check out the night sky and the wild west coast.

I stop again at Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahutu in the daylight and it’s a popular site with a number of tour buses in the car park. The road winds its way through the forest of kauri and other natives making for pleasant driving. Heading north on the same road are many campervans and I know the travellers in them will have a great time here in the north of New Zealand.

Kauri Coast road - beautiful.
Kauri Coast road – beautiful.

I eventually turn off the main road towards Baylys Beach and the vast Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand – I don’t drive on it but take a walk instead!

This west coast is lined with spectacular beaches and petrified forests: 157 sailing ships were wrecked here which lets us know just how wild the Tasman Sea can be.

Checking in at Sunset View Lodge I have great rural views and can even hear the sound of the waves.

???????????????????????????????The Lodge has free Wi-Fi J and an honesty box in the bar – I’m sure some people would be happy with that but also suspect many travellers choose a B&B so they can spend time with their hosts – however with the honestly box I guess the choice is yours! With only 3 suites, this is a relaxed place to stay and the heated pool is an added bonus  . . .  especially after horse-riding as Pam, the owner, operates a horse trekking business but I’m not doing that but will be gazing skywards tonight. (Note – The Baylys Beach Horse Treks run from 25th October to 25th April.)

Rural areas in Northland, because of the lack of light and pollution, are good places to check out the night sky – and Astronomy Adventures is the place to start. (You can even stay here too)

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The charity side of this observatory – the ‘Skydome Observers Group’ – is made up of locals and I get to join them at their Valentine’s Day meeting where the focus is on Venus – after the goddess of love. In the lounge of our host, I learn Venus is the hottest planet and so not surprisingly has the most volcanoes of any planets. Named after the Roman Goddess of beauty and love, Venus, and other planets or stars, were not visible to us because of the clouds. If you like the night sky, this would be a great place to visit – as is Tekapo just south of Christchurch, and the Carter Observatory in Wellington.

 

 

???????????????????????????????Next morning I head for Dargaville and stop at the Kauri Coast Info Centre and Woodturners Studio and Gallery on Murdoch Street – just north of Dargaville town-ship.

I meet award-winning carver Rick Taylor (and his wife, Sue, who runs the info centre) and I hear that Rick harvests ancient Kauri from swamp land on the Kauri Coast and creates it into the stunning pieces that surround me in the gallery – no wonder he wins awards!???????????????????????????????

They show me how the kauri is recovered from local swamplands and then the Kauri paper (and soap) is handmade from the kauri shavings. Along with beautiful kauri lidded treasure boxes and bowls rick also turns pens on his lathe. I watch as he goes through the many processes and at the end of the demonstration, when its’ been sanded and oiled many times, he gives me the pen! I was (am!) thrilled with it, and have had many, many comments on my fabulous reminder of his skill and the fabulous kauri coast. The kauri he uses has been taken from an area of swamp which has been carbon-dated as 3860 years at which means my pen is about that old too!

My father was a hobby wood-turner and I know he too would have loved visiting this gallery. Rick is appalled that NZ kauri is sent to China to be made into products for the New Zealand market. “Make sure your things are  made in New Zealand’ he said. “Get something that’s good stuff, cheap, not cheap stuff cheap!”

He’s a perfectionist and his work reflects that and he suggests to travellers that NZ-made kauri products are the perfect gift for yourself or friends. Wood-turning for over 30 years Rick is arguably NZ’s leading artist and has travelled to many parts of the world to demonstrate his skills and offers individual tuition. (email him for details –  kauri4u AT xtra.co.nz)

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Tonight is the last of my two-week Northland road-trip and I cannot believe that so many spend so little time in the area – even with my 14 nights up here I have had to miss out on much the area has to offer.

But now, onto my last bed for this wonderful trip – at the heritage-listed The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville.

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Wharepuke. Eco-cottages I stayed at in Kerikeri, Northland

In Kerikeri, Northland earlier this year, for the first time in many years, I stayed in some delightful eco-cottages.

These stylish self-catering, eco cottages at Wharepuke are nestled in 2 hectares of gardens which were first planted by Robin Booth – starting 18 years ago  on bare land – and have been awarded the ‘garden of significance’ status . The cottages feature original fine art prints and paintings by resident artist, print-maker and tutor, Mark Graver who has his studio on the grounds too.

Wharepuke has solid green credentials and actions – they include:

  • the cottages are purposefully designed for energy conservation
  • they use available local goods and services
  • they use organic cleaners and products
  • they encourage the reuse of sheets and towels by guests to save water and products
  • they recycle any rubbish
  • they have their own sewerage system which bio-treats water and which ends up back on the garden
  • And, they offer local and organic food and drinks where possible

These cottages are peaceful to stay in, and as this a great wedding venue, I imagine both guests and brides love staying here – I know I did!  I also valued the little torch on the key-ring to lead me home through the subtropical bush late in the evening.

Another asset about this place is the restaurant set within the gardens. Food at Wharepuke is a fully licensed cafe and restaurant specialising in Thai-inspired and modern European food.

Judged the “Northland Cafe of the Year” I can vouch for the fabulous dishes produced by the Welsh chef Colin Ashton , and his staff. An advantage they have is their herbs are mostly all grown on site.  Interestingly, the restaurant was once army barracks and was trucked to the site. Even if you can’t stay at the cottages make sure you eat at the restaurant.

One of my food recommendations is the Thai Tasting Plate. Dishes I especially loved were the very tender squid, the raw fish, spring rolls and the lavash bread!

Mark Graver- the resident artist – is the author of the book Non-Toxic Printmaking. (A&C Black, London 2011) and tells me he had to self learn how to create non-toxic printmaking. He was awarded First Prize at the 2010 Lessedra World Art Print competition in Sofia, Bulgaria and has work in public and private collections worldwide.  See his website for details about his work and the workshops he gives.

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Singer Frankie Stevens signed the chair .. that I sat in for lunch. Only days earlier he had been MC at the concert in the Treaty Grounds I’d attended. (see an earlier blog post)
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Lush subtropical gardens
cottage bedroom
a peaceful retreat
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YUM!
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Fabulous gardens
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Food at Wharepuke can be served indoors, on the deck, or here in the garden
Food at Wharepuke
Food at Wharepuke
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Mark Grover at work on his etching … water based inks on copper
thai tasting plate
Thai tasting plate
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A saying to live by
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View from my cottage
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another view from my cottage

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Wellington Airport terminal in top 4 in world

Wellington Airport wins yet another award as ‘one of the worlds top terminals’

“Travel Guide Frommers.com has listed its best and worst airport terminals around the world.

Wellington’s Airport’s ‘The Rock’ terminal comes in fourth best – ahead of the likes of JFK Airport’s terminal 5 in New York, and Changi International Airport in Singapore.”

…and I fly out of The Rock today – then watch for photos from my Viking river cruise, sailing  from Amsterdam to Budapest for two weeks – then a few days in Prague before returning home to write stories about my travels (and of course continuing with my Northland, Christchurch, Canterbury tales)

Thanks to Wellington Airport for these photos

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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