If you don’t have the budget (or the leave) for a luxury break in some far off land – or Australia – why not apply the old 80s adage and “don’t leave town til you’ve seen the country”?
Except these days it’s called the Staycation. Makes it sound quite cool really – especially if you can get a half price deal at a luxury lodge and a cooking class thrown in!
The husband and I leapt into a brand spanking (we’re talking 2012) Ford Mondeo Titanium with EcoBoost doodahs to give it a run for its money up to Northland to stay in the Waipoua Forest. (Read my blog here about the car I talk to like Knight Rider’s Kit)
We had two nights booked at Waipoua Lodge, right on the edge of Waipoua Forest, west of Dargaville (I’m avoiding the Dragaville jibes, yes I am). This part of New Zealand is home to the tallest Kauri (Tane Mahuta at 51.2m tall). He is estimated to be 2300 years old. Putting that into perspective, he was already a little ricker when Jesus was born. But what is even more special about this forest are the mighty Kauri that are dotted everywhere you look, standing like sentinels on the side of the road and hiding further in. Take a trip to see the oldest Kauri discovered in New Zealand, Te Matua Ngahere and you’re going back to Bronze-age man.
Luxury in the woods
Ian and Fran Farrant bought Waipoua Lodge two years ago and set about lovingly repairing it and smartening up its tired accommodation offerings. There are four separate cottages some with claw-foot baths and views over the lush native forest, all with mod cons and sumptuous beds with crisp white linen. The main homestead is where the Farrants live and also where the small restaurant and a cosy lounge with a fireplace and bar are.
When you meet people who love hospitality it’s so enjoyable staying with them. They couldn’t be better hosts. Ok, so we were the only guests in residence because they were about to close for a couple of weeks for renovations, so that meant we all dined together, I hung out in the kitchen pretty much for every meal and I got to meet their two pet kunekunes and their little West Highland Terriors, Hamish and Bonnie.
Fran is a fabulous fine-dining cook and I learned so many tricks from her that she didn’t even realise she was passing on. Vacuum packing all her meats is one of her biggest loves and that way she has fresh lamb, pork belly and any number of other meats marinating away just waiting for a guest to place an order. But her cooking school is what has lured me the three hours north-west of Auckland and I’m keen to learn some new techniques – and eat the outcomes!
We arrived in time for me to help her make a “simple” snapper with a cream sauce and crispy capers dinner. She had partially prepared fondant potatoes, cut into little round cakes and fried golden on one side before roasting in butter cream. She then made a cauliflower puree with horse radish just to swipe under the fish and cut carrots into perfect square match sticks. Then after dinner and yakking until about 10pm we decided lemon souffles would be nice. Fran whips them up in seconds, so I “helped” her and we had puffy souffles to fall into bed after consuming!
Oh and earlier we quickly prepped some salmon steaks to marinate in lime zest, juice and salt and popping in the fridge for some lucky person.
How to make slow-roasted pork belly:
Meanwhile we got tomorrow night’s dinner prepared – slow roasted pork belly. This was a large piece of pork belly that we lay skin side down in a baking dish (and on baking paper) and seasoned with salt, pepper, Chinese 5 spice, garlic slices and olive oil.
Just before bed, Fran popped it in the oven on 100˚C to roast for 10 hours. The next morning we got it out (I say we, but I didn’t actually get my hands dirty) turned it over, covered it again with the baking paper and also wrapped the entire dish with glad wrap then squashed it all day under 2 chopping boards and her heavy kitchen whiz. This squeezes the fatty layer under the skin down through the meat. Normally this would then sit over night in the fridge, but we had it same day.
When you’re ready to cook it, cut the pork into portion sizes , score the skin and spread a little butter and sea salt over it, then sizzle it skin side down in a frying pan to crisp it, then pop it into the oven for 10-15 mins to heat through while you serve the veges.