On the 25th June each year New Zealand and Australia commemorate those who fought in the various wars in which our two countries have participated. The public holiday is known as ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) day and this year it fell on a Friday. Coincidentally Easter was quite late this year, falling the weekend before ANZAC and so, the canny people who caught on to this realised that by taking 3 days of annual leave in between, they would get 10 days uninterrupted holiday at a time when the weather is still relatively clement. A lot of kiwis figured this out and the wheels of commerce ground rather slowly over that week.
Being retired, it mattered to us not a jot! However we had offered to take out Aunty Lyn (also retired) and Lois, who works still but was one of the canny ones. As a result we were able to get away from the marina on the Thursday before Easter for 10 days of cruising. The forecast was not crash hot for the Easter weekend, but was due to improve early in the following week and we hoped to be able to cross the Firth of Thames to Coromandel, one of our favourite destinations.
Over 2 days we worked our way down the "inside" of Waiheke Island finished up in Man O War Bay, which has been mentioned in previous postings.
For several days the weather was too bad to venture too far -we did once try to get round to our beloved Hook Bay to go fishing, but the 3 metre swells in the Firth of Thames soon put paid to that idea! Instead we stayed put in MOW Bay and decided to feast on the bounty of shellfish that is available thanks to the proliferation of mussel farms in the area. For the uninitiated or just unaware readers, NZ has an indigenous mussel unique to our waters (perna canalicula) which grows to 240mm (10") and is very high in Omega 3, so is quite sought after. Once upon a time it was relatively hard to find and a great, yet expensive, delicacy - unless you knew someone who knew someone. However in the 70's they began farming them and now they are prolific throughout the Hauraki Gulf - particularly in the Firth (of Thames). At low tide the piles on the wharf at MOW are covered with them and it was easy to get enough for a feed in a very short space of time.Why am I telling you this? Surely such information will have the resource plundered in no time. Nah! They grow so fast that it would be hard to imagine them being stripped, and since they sometimes only cost $2.99/kg at the supermarket live, fresh and washed clean, most Kiwis can't be bothered collecting them. Our gain - in 10 minutes we had a bucketful (you're allowed 40 per person per day). There are several popular ways to eat this delicacy - raw (yuk), steamed open (yum), marinated in vinegar and onions (yummier) and in fritters (yummiest). You can also deep fry them in batter, which is also pretty good. We had decided that fritters were the way to go for these with the surplus to be marinated in white vinegar, onions and lemon juice for later consumption. Now I have eaten a fair few mussel fritters in my time and have come up with a recipe that suits me and can make a few mussels go a long way, without losing the flavour.
Take about 20 mussels, about 100mm (4") long. This is the typical size of farmed mussels, as overseas buyers are suspicious that larger ones will be tougher - which is nonsense because they are exquisitely tender right up to their full size. Take the 6 biggest and open them raw (this is the secret of a good fritter) - it is not easy but it doesn't matter if you mess them up as you chop them up anyway. Keep all the juice that comes out with the meat. Put the rest of the mussels in a pot with 1 cup of water and steam them open. De-shell them (get rid of the beard and any crabs that are inhabiting them) and keep some of the liquid. This is the mussel part of the fritter, the rest is:
1 100mm (4") cooked cold potato (do it earlier in the microwave, or boil it), diced fine
1 med onion, diced fine
1 tomato, diced fine
2 rashers bacon (4 of streaky), chopped fine
1 cup beer (drink the rest while cooking)
1 cup self raising flour
1 pinch of curry powder (the amount will depend on how strong the curry is - if it tastes of curry, you have used too much)
a touch of black pepper
Chop the raw and cooked mussel meat fine and add to a bowl. Add the liquid from the raw mussels. Add the potato, onions, bacon and eggs and stir to separate. Add the flour, curry, pepper and beer while stirring and add some of the steamed mussel liquid to thin the mixture down to a thick batter. Carefully fold in the tomatoes and leave to stand for a couple of hours. Heat a frypan with a little oil and spoon the mixture into it in about 100mm fritters, which should stand about 10.mm high. Fry until golden brown one side (usually 3-4 minutes) then flip and fry the other side, Eat asap with whatever condiment you feel like - tomato sauce (ketchup) is my choice, but that's me
If you can't get NZ green lipped mussel, you could probably use the little black ones found in the rest of the world, but you may need twice the number.
The Tuesday after Easter Monday, the wind dropped and the seas came down and the forecast was for it to improve further over the next few days.So across the Firth we headed and into Coromandel Harbour. Now Coro is an interesting place - well sheltered, but very shallow at its head, including the approaches to the wharf and the river up to the township. In fact at low tide Coromandels commercial wharf and the river up to town are dry, so to go to the township requires anchoring out a ways and going the 2km or so up the river by dinghy - and even then it is wise to do this on a rising tide and to leave the town as the tide turns to ensure you are still afloat by the time you get back to your boat. We needed water, so we went alongside the wharf on the rising tide with only about 5ft of depth, then anchored out at the sensible point and dinghied up the river. Despite the constraints, it is a super little dinghy ride and the township is cute and deserves the effort. We picked up a few provisions and had the mandatory meal from the fish and chip shop eaten at the reserve across the road, before heading back down river to LK. While there was still plenty of water, we did stray out of the channel at one point and removed a modicum of paint from the outboard's propellor which demonstrated how rocky the bottom is and therefore why it is not a good idea to leave returning to your boat too late.
We departed Coromandel and headed round to Te Kouma Harbour, just round the point from Coro's entrance. This is a very sheltered Harbour, considered the Jewel of the Coromandel. It is deep and fiord-like and its entrance is protected by a large island so it is sheltered from almost any wind. We anchored up amongst about 25 boats and prepared and cooked the mussels collected yesterday, in accordance with the above recipe.
The weather forecast was sounding a bit dodgy, so we decided to head back across while it was still calm (as it turned out the next few days were superb - so we could have stayed!!!). Anyway, in the absence of fish we figured we may as well go and get some more mussels! So a night at Chamberlins Bay, Ponui, then 2 more at MOW for more mussels before heading towards home and our final night at good old Oneroa.
BTW I now have a new camera so better pix (I hope)