Saturday, August 20, 2011

Huka Prawn Park

I'm a dreamer. I'm the type of person who says "oh we should do this!" but, for some reason or another, never get around to it. It's not that I'm a disorganised person (I really like lists), I'm just too busy.The idea eventually fades and is buried, deep beneath all the boring, everyday tasks I have to do.

Glancing over the prawn farm
Enter Jason. He is a doer. He's the type of person that picks up a good idea and makes sure it happens. Because he's awesome. It was because of him that I finally decided to book tickets to the Wild Foods Festival in Hokitika earlier this year and it was his "if-you-really-want-to-go-just-go" attitude that had us planning a trip around the central North Island and going to one of the coolest places ever. 

The throng of prawn fisherman at the park in the summer
If you had asked me for a list of places to visit in the North Island, I would have told you the usual -Rotorua for the thermal attractions, Waitomo for the glow worms and maybe Ruapehu for the snow (in winter of course) but now I have another to add to the list -Taupo for the prawn fishing! It was highly recommended to us by my cousin, Rex, who had already been twice and was planning a third trip.

Some rules for fishing. Seemed pretty obvious to me
Proudly named the Prawn Fishing Capital of the World, the Huka Prawn Park is the only activity of its kind in New Zealand and the perfect place to spend a day. Jason and I bought ourselves Super Fun Passes which included all day access to the fishing park as well as a guided tour and fishing lesson. 

Just doing some tranquil, silent squatting
The tour starts off in the hatchery where more than 1 billion prawn babies are born each year. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that's a big number. The park makes use of the waste geothermal heat that is generated from the nearby geothermal power station to make sure the temperature is just right for the tropical prawns. As well as being good for the prawns, the warm water that is circulated throughout the park is also quite nice for us poor visitors who are exposed to the cold winter atmosphere and I especially like feeding the baby prawns. Warning: their little claws tickle very much.
This is my first (and only) catch. I named him Clive. Look at how big he is!

After a short fishing lesson and a few rules, we were set loose in the park armed with our bamboo rods, a bucket and some bait. I have to say that prawn fishing is a lot more satisfying than normal fishing as you get tugs more often -although I suspect it's due to the fact that the prawns are concentrated in a few small ponds rather than prawns being more hungry than fish. Although it was cold (middle of winter, you see), the steam rising from the warm ponds kept us toasty while we sat in tranquil silence.

Clive on ice, ready to go to the restaurant
  It wasn't long till the tranquility was broken by something big tugging on my line and I let out a squeal of delight. Following the instructions given by our guide, I wait for a few more tugs and don't start pulling back until I feel a constant pulling which meant the prawn had put the bait in its mouth -the short jerky tugs mean that it's only got it in its claws. He's a big 'un!

Mmmmm... warn toasty fire
Unfortunately, the rest of our fishing time wasn't as eventful and we decide to head to the Huka Prawn Park Riverside Restaurant where all the farmed prawns are taken and the lovely chefs cook up your catch of the day. We happened to arrive at the same time as a large tour group who had just placed their gigantic order and taken up all the seats in the restaurant -all except a table for two beside a roaring fire. Perfect.

Hot lemon, ginger and honey fruit drink -$4.50
Garlic Ciabatta -$5.50
 Due to the aforementioned tour group, we were advised that the average wait time would be about 30 minutes. Since we were in the most comfortable place in the world, we decided to order some hot drinks and remain by the fire. However, our entrees arrive minutes after we are seated and our lovely waitress informs us our mains would be arriving shortly after. The hot lemon and ginger drink super lemony (just the way I like it) and was the perfect drink after a few hours in the cold. The Ciabatta bread was very well flavoured although a little softer than I would have liked.

Chunky Chips with housemade tomato sauce and aioli -$6.50

 Most of the dishes on the menu are a little out of our price range as we had already spent a lot of money on renting a camper-van so we had to resort to items that wouldn't break the bank and what better way to fill up than on chunky fries? Lucky for us, the chunky chips here are delish -crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside and as big as your face. Don't believe me?

See? I told you.
 Anyway, they were very satisfying and we let ourselves have a nice seafood dish..
Tempura prawns with a sweet chili sauce -$18.50
The tempura prawns was the one "luxury dish" we allowed ourselves and boy was it tasty! The batter was light and super crunchy while the sweet chili sauce had a slight citrus twang to it which went well with the natural sweetness of the prawns.

Clive. On a plate.
Last to arrive was Clive. Remember him? The catch of the day?

At this point, I wish we had caught more
Although I had bonded with Clive on our trip to the restaurant, I immediately forgot and happily tucked in to the big, juicy prawn when it was brought to our table. It was perfectly cooked and simply delicious.

Waikato River
After our meal, we decided to take a tour of the grounds which took us through all the fishing ponds and along the Waikato River. There were many activity stops on the way such as rope courses and trout fishing which kept us entertained and made the walk more enjoyable. The scenery was breathtaking.

Biggest prawn ever caught is 42cm. Try to beat that!
Interesting prawn facts
In case you can't read the interesting prawn facts above, here they are:

1. Did you know that the prawn breeds at a ratio of seven females to one male.
2. The male Prawn has two Thingi's.
3. The golden claw male puts all his energy into fighting and if he wins often enough he then turns into a blue clawed male and then puts all this energy into mating (Clive was one of those!).
4. The male prawn in an average lifetime of 2 years will father approximately 36 million happy and healthy baby prawns.

 All and all, this was the best place we visited on our road trip -it was just a pity that it was winter. The Huka Prawn Park has all the ingredients needed for a great day out -good food, good activities and very educational. We will definitely be back for more soon and this time, we will get a whole bucket of prawns to ourselves Muahahahahaha..

The Huka Prawn Park can be found at the end of Huka Falls Road, Wairakei Park, Taupo, New Zealand.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The best thing about being Chinese is the fact that everything is a massive affair and the best thing about Chinese cuisine is that it encourages communal dining -the more people you have at dinner, the more food you get to try. Lucky for me, my parents had invited some family friends out for dinner at one of my favourite Shanghai style restaurants in Auckland to celebrate the fact that I found a job!

Logic, along with my big appetite, tells me that the presence of 15 people equates to 15 dishes. At least.

Only in Chinese restaurants would you get Pocohontas on TV
ShiKuMen is so popular that dinner is separated into two sessions to accommodate everyone that wants to dine there. Despite this, the restaurant is crowded, busy and full of noise. We also turn on the television that is provided in our private booth and, to my surprise, Pocohontas is on! I am told that this TV is usually used for Kareoke. Awesome.

Drunken Chicken -$8.80
 We start off with a variety of cold dishes while we wait for our mains and they arrive almost immediately. As well as being one of my favourite cold dishes, the drunken chicken one of Shanghai's best. After being steamed and chopped into pieces, the chicken is marinated overnight in a bowl of hard liquor (in this case, Shaoxing wine). Can you blame me for liking it so much? The meat is soft, tender and fully infused with the drunken goodness.

Cured Fish with Soy -$10.80
Chinese Five Spiced Beef -$12.80

Kao fu with Golden Lily Mushrooms -$8.80
The cured fish is a favourite of my seafood loving father's. The soy flavour fully penetrates the fish fillets and has the texture of beef jerky. The beef is beautifully flavoured a subtle hint of five spice that doesn't show through until the second bite. Although the sauce is pleasant, Kao fu, or wheat gluten, is not something I like. It is porous and chewy and has soaked too much oil which has made the dish a little sickly so I stick to the black mushroom accompaniment which has the flavour without the oiliness.

Deep Fried Blue Cod -$28.80
Deep fried blue cod is more commonly known in China as "Song Shu Yu" -or Sweet and Sour Squirrel Shaped Fish. The blue cod is first steamed, then deep fried and covered with a sweet and sour sauce and preserved Chinese vegetables. The cuts in the fish make the fish fan out when deep fried which gives it a cool pine cone look (the squirrel bit). The sauce is a bit too sweet for me but, beside me, Jason gobbles it all up and goes for seconds.

Deep Fried Shrimps Coated with Duck Egg Yolk -$26.80
No, the above aren't Twisties. They're infinitely better. The prawns are cooked perfectly with a light, salty egg yolk coating while still managing to keep the prawns plump and juicy. Perfect.

Sizzling Oriental Style Beef with Chinese Buns -$24.80
This is how we do it
 We smell this dish before it even arrives and I immediately start salivating. The beef arrives on a sizzling plate surrounded with nice, fluffy steamed buns. The addition of cumin and coriander added a whole new depth of flavour to the usual soy and sweet and were especially tasty when wrapped in the buns. Unfortunately, they were a little dry and were probably heated up in the microwave rather than steamed.

Shanghai Style Sweet and Sour Pork -$16.80
I come from a family where restaurant style sweet and sour pork is considered "white people food" -something that is much too doughy and on the menu only to fool the inexperienced diner. However, we do make an exception for Shanghai style pork in a light, sour glaze. Note how the pork is deep red in colour -none of that freaky fluorescent red colour for us! The sauce is sweet and sticky and has minimal batter but manages to stay extra crispy.

Tofu Sheets with Edamame and Preserved Vegetables -$15.80
Stir Fried Vegetables with Baby Bamboo Pieces -$16.80
Dry Fried Green Beans -$15.80
As I've mentioned before, it'd be very hard for vegetarians to survive in China as 80% of all meals consist of meat and vegetables are only ordered as an after thought. Today, however, we decide to be adventurous and order THREE vegetable dishes (rather than our usual one) and, I have to say, I wish we only ordered one. The tofu sheets soaked up too much salt and ended up being quite unpleasant to eat while the only good thing about the mystery vegetable dish was the baby bamboo pieces. I love my baby bamboo. Our dry fried green beans weren't really dry or charcol-ly as I would prefer, but they were easily the best.

Fragrant and Spicy Pork Intestine Casserole -$18.80
Unfortunately I was quite full by the time the casserole arrived but Jason assures me that it tastes amazing. The best thing about it was that it came on a gas cooker which kept it piping hot throughout the whole meal.

Deep Fried Chicken in a Red Soya Bean Sauce -$16.80
Chicken and Wonton Soup -$22.80
Even though I was full, I manage to stuff down as much deep fried chicken and wonton soup as I can -after all, my dessert belly isn't being filled. The chicken soup is hearty and the wontons are very generous in size. The red soy bean coated chicken reminds me of the rose fermented tofu sauce my mother makes and boy, is it delicious! The sauce is a perfect combination of sweet, salty and bitterness to compliment the lightly fried chicken pieces.

ShiKuMen can be found at 307 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. Be sure to book though, it's pretty popular and you may have to eat in sessions. Don't worry though, 2.5  hours is plenty =)

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