Sunday, June 28, 2009

Great Cheddar Moments, New Zealand, Part 1

This is the first of two posts reflecting on my great Cheddar moments in New Zealand.

When I first arrived in New Zealand in early February, I felt out of sorts. I was alone, whereas in Australia, where I had just flown from, I was always in the company of friends. I was chilled; the temperature in Christchurch was half of what it had been in Melbourne (21 C vs 42 C). I had no agenda; in Australia I had people to see, places to be.

Aimless, I spent my first evening in New Zealand gazing at the gentle waves of Sumner beach and the surfers in full wet suits riding them. The rest of the long evening stretched ahead of me, and I had no idea what to do with it. When you travel alone it can be a problem figuring out how to spend your evenings. Dinner normally fills a good chunk of the time, but I had ruined the chance of that by anxiously gobbling a variety of roasted nuts as I watched the surfers and let my mind whirl. Some of the nuts--the salty mixed ones--had come from Andrea, some--the over-roasted pistachios--from a bar in Brighton, near Melbourne, that I went to with Andrea and Claire the night before, and some--the raw almonds--from a farmers' market in Melbourne. I wasn't even hungry (I had eaten two cheese sandwiches on the plane, made from the 5-kilo stash that Will Studd had given me a few days earlier); I was unsettled.

To do something, I drank a cocktail at a restaurant that overlooked the chilly beach and then went on the Internet at my backpackers in Sumner. I checked a few e-mails and the bus times to the Marlborough wine region and then confirmed that the exchange rate was as good as I thought it was, 1 USD = 2 NZD. It was the first favorable exchange rate of my trip; everywhere else had been bruisers. And then I made a plan for the next day. I was going to go for a run along the beach. The exercise would settle my nerves and help me lose some the weight I had gained.

Without coffee or the complimentary white toast with butter and Marmite, I headed out from the backpackers to the esplanade along the beach and started to run. It was slow going and frustrating. I felt stiff and was in a bit of pain from the tightness of my muscles and the lack of support from my worn sneakers. I ran the long curve of the esplanade until it ended at Scarborough beach, where it became a sidewalk that climbed steeply into the headlands. I alternated running and walking up the hill. At the top, which has stunning views of the small, exclusive town of Sumner, the water, and the headlands, I had planned to run back down, but I decided to carry on. I abandoned running and walked briskly along the trail that brought me down to secluded Taylors Mistake Bay and then back up again into the grassy headlands that rose above the sea. I was worried about becoming cranky from lack of coffee and food, but I encouraged myself to be in the moment and carry on.

The scenery was stunning, and my heart lightened. It was good to be in New Zealand.

Back at Scarborough beach about three hours later, I stopped at a cafe, wittily called Scarborough Fare. My flat white couldn't come fast enough. I also eagerly awaited a cheese muffin with herbs. I was so fatigued from the extended walk that I didn't savor the taste of the muffin, but it was good. Yes, I thought to myself, not only was New Zealand as beautiful as I had heard, but it had Cheddar cheese like I had hoped.

It was my first cheese muffin, but by no means was it my last. No matter what town I was in I could find a bakery or a cafe that sold cheese muffins or scones. The muffins in the photo to the left are from the farmer's market in Dunedin. This meant that all my days in New Zealand started with Cheddar cheese; all in all, twenty-three great Cheddar moments.

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