It's almost Christmas, so it must be time for a swim! Still getting used to the southern hemisphere seasons, but what's not to like? As Noddy Holder once said, Merry Christmas Everyone!
We marked the official start of summertime in NZ this month with the launch of our new fruit vodka drinks range. All are made with organically grown fruit either from our own orchard or from a neighbouring one. The initial range consists of gold kiwi fruit, feijoa, rhubarb, peach and mandarin vodka, with strawberry, lemon and blueberry soon to follow. Perfect as a shot on their own, or mixed with ice and tonic water, and all "on the house" for our guests. With 25 liqueur flavours from our micro-distillery as well, there's plenty of choice for everyone, and guests and friends alike can rest assured that the new range has undergone the same rigorous testing / sampling process as all our other drinks! With none of the congeners commonly found in commercially produced alcohol, Mokoia Downs Moonshine is almost medicinal in comparison!!
Can't believe we haven't posted since March. What sort of marketing employees are we? Anyway ......... we got back to Rotorua on October 10 after more than three months away in England, Ireland and Spain.
To say Mokoia Downs was wild and overgrown would not do justice to the scenes of windswept desolation and carnage that greeted us as we meandered down our driveway that first afternoon back (apparently it had been the wettest Spetember on record!).
On the positive side, also awaiting us on our return was one letter advising us that we'd won our 5th successive Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence award, and, even better, a second letter advising us that we'd finally made the Lonely Planet and are listed in the 2016-'17 edition (we'd apparently had an anonymous visit in early 2016).
And then the great clear up began .........! Next post will be some photos of Mokoia Downs in springtime.
One aspect of assimilating into life in New Zealand involves sharing the national loathing of possums. Possums were introduced into New Zealand for their fur, but when the initial venture failed they were released into the wild and rapidly proliferated. It is now estimated that there are some 70 million possums in New Zealand (almost 18 for every man, woman and child!), and without a natural predator they are, quite simply, a pest.
All true New Zealanders are proficient in eradicating possums from their land, and even if this doesn't seem to reduce the overall numbers by much it seems to make them feel a lot better! Until recently, the possums at Mokoia Downs had run rings around us, declining to enter our traps, and happily frolicking about and devouring the contents of our garden. This was, indeed, the fate of the very first lemon from our young lemon tree. I had delayed picking the lemon until I judged that it was in perfect condition ready to be sliced for weekend G&T's, but when I finally went to gather it I was horrified to discover that a possum had got there first.
Now all this might not seem a major matter to many, but with citizenship applications pending our inability over 6+ years to catch even one single possum was becoming a real concern. On a regular basis a combination of half eaten fruit and vegetables and possum droppings confronted us on our daily rounds, and it seemed as though the possums, somehow discerning that we were not native born New Zealanders, had decided to taunt and humiliate us.
But ......... perseverance will take a snail to America, as they say! We refused to give up and surrender, and became ever more creative in our positioning of traps and use of bait. And then ....... 3 weeks ago, a breakthrough, followed by possums number 2, 3, 4 and 5 in fairly quick succession. Naturally we speedily submitted date-stamped photographic evidence to the Department for Internal Affairs, accompanied by corroborative testimonials from our neighbours.
To say we are "made up" or "over the moon" doesn't do our feelings justice. No more therapy or counselling, no more possum nightmares, and just in the nick of time before a decision is made on our citizenship applications!
Our credibility as custodians of a growing menagerie at Mokoia Downs is now in doubt. Recently, when we took some guests on our daily nature trail to meet and feed the animals, we were somewhat taken aback to discover that Zoe and Tamysyn, our 2 female guinea pigs (or so we thought!!) had somehow managed between them to produce 3 beautiful baby guinea pigs. Hmmm - didn't see that coming! One of the guests was, fortuitously, a vet, and she kindly explained to us how these things happen!!
We recently learnt that we have won Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice awards for the fourth successive year in both the New Zealand and South Pacific categories. This year we have achieved our highest ever rankings, and came 2nd in New Zealand and 3rd in the South Pacific. The local press gave it a bit of a splash, which you can check out at:
Needless to say we're delighted with the recognition, and it certainly makes all the hard work worthwhile. Next season, however, we plan to scale things back a little and smell the roses more, so with fewer guests and reviews we'll inevitably slip down the rankings, but will remain as committed as ever to offering all our guests a unique B&B experience.
When we discovered that it's ok in New Zealand to distill alcohol and make your own liqueurs (and other spirits!), we decided pretty quickly to establish a micro-distillery to supply our Anglers Arms bar. The liqueur making process involves distilling a fermented "wash" of water, yeast and sugar to make a vodka base, and then adding ingredients to create our special flavours.
At the same time as establishing the micro-distillery we also created an organic garden with a range of fruit trees, berry fruits, and herbs. While we were waiting for the garden to bear fruit, we initially added commercially produced essences (such as Swiss Chocolate and Almond, Cholocolate Mint, and Amoretto) to the vodka base to create our liqueurs, and these remain popular to this day.
Now that we have an abundant supply of organically grown fruit, berries and herbs, however, this produce from our garden, along with spices such as Cardamon, Cloves, Ginger and Aniseed, is increasingly used to extend our range of uniquely flavoured liqueurs under the "Mokoia Downs Monshine" label.
We offer a complementary tasting session for our guests each evening, but rest assured that before any of our liqueurs reaches a shelf in the bar they are rigorously tasted by the hosts!
Last week we took part in a walk in and around the Mount Tarawera crater with Kaitiaki adventures. When Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886 over 100 local people and one visitor lost their lives, and the famous pink and white terraces were destroyed. The volcanic landscape is spectacular and the 360 degree views from the summit are stunning. For visitors keen to learn about and connect with Rotorua's history and culture this is an activity that we would highly recommend.
There are several walks where it's possible to enjoy native bush with sweeping panoramic views (notably the fabulous Tarawera Trail), but another way of doing this which I (Mick) tried recently was quad biking with Quad Bikes Rotorua. After 30 minutes training to minimise the risk of ending up underneath the bike or flying off a precipice, we embarked on a steep and twisty climg up Mount Ngongotaha. Whilst the weather wasn't the best, the experience was exhilarating, and definitely one we would be happy to recommend to our guests.
11 eggs from our 12 free-range red-shaver hens today. A record for us at Mokoia Downs. Guess what we're having for tea (and breakfast, and lunch!!). Our guests really appreciate the different texture, colour and flavour of the eggs from our naturally reared hens.
With England and Ireland out of the competition, our allegiance in the rugby seamlessly transferred to the All Blacks. As we've just submitted citizenship applications it seemed only right that I got up at the ghastly hour of 5am to watch the final, and what a game. Despite my best efforts I found myself shouting at the TV a few times, but it was only my roar at the final whistle followed by fireworks being let off nearby that finally woke Teresa from her slumber! The photo is from the ABs v Lions 2nd test in Wellington in 2005.
On Thursday we took part in a famil to check out #RotoruaCanopyTours. The activity offered adrenalin and adventure in the midst of a really worthwhile environmental project, and is one that we would highly recommend to anyone visiting Rotorua. We walked through pristine native forest, ziplined 50+ metres above the ground, and learnt lots about the efforts of the Canopy Tours company to rid the forest of imported predatory pests such as possums, stoats and rats. You can find out more about the project by going to: http://forestrestoration.co.nz/
Winter in Rotorua offers lots of spectacularly sunny, crisp and clear days, but also a fair few wet, windy and grey ones! Having left family and friends in 2009 to pursue our antipodean dream, however, for the months of July, August and September we take off each year and head back to the other side of the world so that we can catch up with everybody and enjoy a second summer.
Our main priority during these months is spending lots of time with our daughter and gorgeous grandchildren (ok Katie you're gorgeous as well!), but we also manage to catch up with our extended families and friends who we accumulated in a random way over the last half century. This involves a lot of eating out and drinking more than government guidelines recommend, but someone has to do it!
This year we spent time in England and Ireland as usual, and, on the way back, visited Teresa's brother in Worcester, Massachusetts. After 3 months on the road we were, as ever, totally over sleeping in strange beds and living out of suitcases, and returned to Mokoia Downs in late September full of energy and looking forward to the new B&B season.
Our new responsive website is up and running! Have a look around and let us know what you think. Big thanks to Alex at The Web Street for getting this project started, and for providing invaluable guidance and problem solving skills to a "digital immigrant" and squarespace apprentice!