Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Burger Off! The Mofo vs. The Big Al

I'd heard tales of Ferg Burger's "Big Al" from Leo and a couple of friends who'd been to New Zealand a few years ago and it immediately got on my travelling to-do list. Eating an obscenely massive burger is just as worthy a challenge for me as jumping out of a plane, then when we got to Wanaka Sky and Sam told me about Red Star's "Mofo" burger, which apparently is even better than a Big Al... so I felt is was my duty to try both to settle the score on which mighty mammoth is New Zealand's best, obscene burger.

As a bit of a coincidence we had a BBQ the day before the Mofo and I ate 3 and a half burgers, we'll call that training for the big event. The day after the BBQ was The Mofo, followed by The Big Al the day after that. Both were awesome burgers and a challenge to eat, but which one was the ultimate?

By the way, a massive meat intake was long overdue, we've been eating mostly vegetarian food as we don't have a fridge in the van. I've devised a simple rating system to highlight the key points that make a burger awesome, and here's how they did.

The Mofo:

Me outside Red star
Me outside Red Star

After the second day / night on the beers at Sky's celebrating his "birthday week" we got down to Red Star at midday, the second they opened, supposedly. But it turns out they didn't open until 4pm so we had to wait another four hours in anticipation. It was worth the wait. The service was pretty slow once we'd ordered our meat, but we'd already waited four hours so what's another half hour, at least we knew they were cooking it properly for us, and being the scavenging travelers we are, a previous customer had left a whole bowl of sweet potato chips on the table (he was probably KO'd by The Mofo) so we tried a few of them! I am slightly ashamed to admit this. We had a portion of chips with our burgers in both Red Star and Ferg Burger and I must say the Red Star chips were loads better, but this is purely about burgers so let's stick to the point. We grabbed our Red Star burgers and hurried back to Sky's, I unwrapped the Mofo, I already knew it was big, the bag felt heavy, at least a kilo of food I'd say, and I wasn't disappointed when I broke the paper bag and lifted it out onto the plate.

The Mofo
The Mofo - one very fat homemade burger (somewhere between 1/4lb and 1/2lb of NZ beef that didn't seem to shrink at all when it was cooked - solid) with mushrooms, a fried egg, streaky bacon, edam, gherkins and beetroot relish, seasonal salad, home made tomato relish and garlic aioli.

The Mofo
Cross-section of The Mofo

After The Mofo we had a 2 hour drive to Queenstown for round two of clash of the titans. I had to sit and sweat for a bit before setting off, my stomach was bulging and my eyelids were getting heavy. This was one of the best burgers I'd ever eaten.

Weight: 9 - One fat food package, it felt like the paper bag was going to erupt.

Aesthetics: 8 - Hard to make such a tower of food look pretty, The Mofo is a beauty in it's own right but the beetroot relish ran all over the baps and made them just a bit soggy. An 8 is fair.

Meat to bread ratio: 8 - It would have been nice to have two burgers between those baps, but the one that was in there was pretty decent.

Freshness: 9 - Clearly a freshly made, and freshly cooked patty, and it was nice to wait for it to be cooked. Fresh salad and amazing aioli.

Obscenity /extent of meat coma: 9 - Just looking at it you can see it's pretty obscene and I didn't fully recover until I went to bed, in fact I could still taste and feel it. Awesome.

Overall taste: 9 - The best burger I'd eaten, would have been a ten if the tastes weren't quite so hectic, still that's the whole point of The Mofo I guess.

Final Score... 8.7

The Big Al:

Ferg Burger was pretty busy when we got there. All the seats were taken so we sat at the front bar and waited for our order to arrive. Service was very friendly and the burgers were being cooked in front of us as soon as we'd told them what we wanted. Having a Big Al the day after The Mofo actually seemed like it might not be that enjoyable but when I saw them put it all together I was ready. It was even more obscene than The Mofo, but it looked beautiful, all neatly stacked with two meaty burgers and two fired eggs, and the salad looked even fresher.

Me beside Ferg Burger

Two chunky burgers (1/2lb of prime NZ beef), loads of bacon, cheese, TWO fried eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, home made relish and garlic aioli.

Cross-section of The Big Al

Weight: 9.5 - Two burgers and two fried eggs as well as all the other stuff. Pound for pound The Big Al deserves it's name.

Aesthetics: 9 - Somehow the Ferg Burger managed to present what should surely look like a big meaty mess, in a way that made it look less intimdating than it actually is. Pretty grease free too.

Meat to bread ratio: 10 - Would be a 9, but The Big Al gets a bonus point for the extra egg

Freshness: 10 - Everything was fresh and it tasted like it. The lettuce was springy and the relish that came with The Big AL was what really made the whole thing. It almost felt healthy eating it!

Obscenity /extent of meat coma: 10 - 'The size of a small child' obscene. Meat coma beyond reason.

Overall taste: 10 - Spot on in every way. Obscene but somehow you could taste everything from thecracked black pepper on the meat, the flame grilled taste, and all that fresh salad and relish. YUM.

Final Score... 9.75!

So, The Mofo was one of the best burgers I'd eaten at the time, and it is a formidable beast. However, Ferg Burger has it nailed - The Big Al probably is the best burger in the world. It's obscenely big, it's full to the baps with extras and the extras are really tasty and noticeably fresh. It's pure filth, but it's not dripping with grease, you can taste every ingredient, and the homemade relish tops off the whole thing. If there was a Ferg Burger in Bristol I'd probably have one every week and weigh almost a ton. McDonald's and Burger King just don't cut it anymore.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Taranaki, Franz Josef Glacier and our Skydive at Lake Wanaka!

We have managed to get our photos of Taranaki (the West coast of the North Island) off the memory card as Sky, Tony's mate who we stayed with in Wanaka, had a Mac.  We are actually now in Queenstown.  Tony's psyching himself up for the "Big Al" at Fergburger as we speak (he has been in training the past 3 days - he ate 3 and a half burgers on Sunday, a Mofo from Red Star in Wanaka yesterday and will be comparing the Big Al to that today in Queenstown).  

Anyway, before all this burger gorging we were actually trying to be healthy by going surfing everyday in the beautiful region of Taranaki.  I had a brand new wetsuit, the sun was shining, and conditions were pretty good as well.

Tony's wetsuit next to mine
I mostly surfed on Oakura beach, but Tony was surfing at Back beach, which got pretty big on our last days.  It was also "perfect, clean lines" (Tony speaking not me) which you can see from the photo below...

Tony paddling for a wave
Tony catching a wave at the river mouth in Oakura, Taranaki
I have to say I struggled a little bit with it all...at first it was a bit cold, and i didn't really know what I was doing half the time.  But after a bit of time in the water you kind of get used to being bashed around by waves, and it almost becomes fun (ha!) .  I was in the water by myself for quite a bit so that Tony could actually get some photos of me, and while I was in the water the waves seemed so huge to me!  Looking back at the photos, I realise I need to become less of a wimp and man up.  They are pretty tiny, as you can also see from the photo below.  I can't remember whether I stood up in that one, but Tony says I did really well as apparently I was catching unbroken waves, which is the step up from white water.  

Me attempting to look cool catching a wave at Oakura beach, Taranaki
Mount Taranaki sits in the distance, and you can see it sometimes while you're surfing in Back beach.  It makes for a pretty spectacular view when the clouds stay away.  

Mount Egmont, also known as Mount Taranaki
So, we have made it down to Queenstown after a brief 3 days down the West coast of the South Island, and about 3 days in Wanaka.  The West coast was beautiful, but there are millions of horrible little sandflies.  They are like even stupider, small mosquitoes.  We stopped off at one campsite which was a beautiful spot right next to a lake, and we actually couldn't get out of the car without being swarmed with the things.  We spent the whole afternoon watching the Wire and then in the evening when they die down a bit Tony managed to do a spot of fishing.  There were also all these cool birds that were like massive fat parrots.  They weren't shy either, so you could get really close to them for a decent photo.

A Kea 

We did go to visit the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier while we were there.  We didn't do a walk on the ice but you can just park up and walk pretty close to it.  It was really nice weather for the Franz Josef glacier, but just 5 mins down the road to Fox Glacier it was rainy and horrible!  

Tony at the Franz Josef Glacier
After having seen them both, we decided to make our way to Wanaka a day early to go and visit Sky and Sam, and to do a skydive there as well!  We met up with a couple of Tony's mates, Alun and Sarah, who were in the area.

We were unfortunately all a bit hungover the day we did the skydive.  It was a really nice morning and we were hoping we could just show up and do it.  But at 10am Tony calls them up and they say, "yeah, we've got a slot at half 10!".  So we basically had to down some breakfast and get going, all a bit bleary eyed.  Luckily we didn't actually jump until about half 12, 1pm due to the backlog they had there.  We did get slowly and quietly very nervous about the whole thing, watching people taking off, jumping and landing and thinking, "shit, it's almost our turn!". It finally came round to us, and I think the sequence of photos explains quite well what happened....

Getting the kit on
Getting to the tiny little airplane...
The four of us in the sky
Tony and his instructor, Mac
Me and my instructor, Eugene
My face after the skydive
It was the most mental thing I've ever done, and probably will ever do.  The thing I actually really hated was the plane journey up.  It was so tiny and my palms were sweating more than I've ever known they could sweat.  I think I wasn't the only one whose tummy was doing somersaults inside.  I kept looking back at Alun and Sarah and just seeing shocked faces!  Then we got to the right altitude, and I realise that Tony is jumping first.  By the way, his instructor was an absolute tank of a man.  He also kept making these "jokes" about the parachute and things, and how they were due to lose a few English....haha yeah funny....

Watching Tony fall out of the plane gave me such a shock!  And then I was next....I don't think i'll ever stop having flashbacks of the moment you fall out of the edge of the plane.  I think my mind and stomach completely flipped at that point.  You free fall for about 45 seconds (oh yeah, and we fell from 12,000ft) and then your instructor pulls the parachute, and when he does it feels like you're in a lift and it jolts all the way up, making your stomach do turns you didn't think it could.  Then apparently you "relax" and try to take in the scenery, which is beautiful.  

It was all over so much quicker than I thought it would be.  Apparently the adrenalin rush you get is so much that it does make it seem like no time at all has passed.  I would maybe do it again just to try and take in the scenery a bit more, but i'm not sure...Tony has already said he would do it again.

So, the next post will be all about burgers - The Mofo vs. The Big Al.  Tony's been looking forward to this for so long, it's actually quite funny...


Friday, 5 November 2010

3,000km later

Hello again, it's been a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG time since we posted anything so we hope you haven't gotten bored of waiting for us to post and I hope this doesn't turn out to be too long to read.

We've driven over 3,000km across North Island and are just about to get the ferry across the Cook Strait to South Island.

Here's a map of our movements since the last post, as you can see we've gone pretty far...

View Larger Map

The rest of North Island has been quite different from Northland, it seems we've almost always got a snow capped mountain or two in the background whether we're next to a huge lake, in the middle of the countryside or right on the beach, and there are tonnes of volcanic regions and geothermal areas scattered around the areas south of Auckland. I went for a surf the other day and there was New Zealand's biggest volcano, Mount Taranaki (or Mount Egmont, Captain Cook changed it's name when he saw it) towering over the shore, an amazing view and quite distracting.

So far New Zealand has been a very different experience to South America in almost every sense, and in many good ways. We feel as if we are doing less here, but it's so nice to relax and take things slow after 4 months of organised (and disorganised...) chaos in S.America where we seemed to be doing tours every few days and jumping from one place to the next. We've chosen to do New Zealand without the Lonely Planet guide, just exploring the country ourselves and not worrying about trying to do every little thing that the guide tells us to do. I'm sure we're missing the odd place here and there but doing it ourselves is proving very exciting and much more relaxing, and stumbling across little gems like a thermal springs campsite and beautiful secluded white sand beaches off the beaten track is as satisfying as it gets. And unlike BOLIVIA(!) all the people we've met here have been ridiculously friendly and everyone wants to stop and chat. They have some pretty funny road signs here too like the one that i can't get off our memory card at the moment that orders traffic to "merge like a zip", and we're constantly cracking up at the radio stations here for their sense of humour. One thing you'll notice here is they are obsessed with power tools and fishing...

Born to fish!

Anyway, first of all we had a lovely visit from Charlie. We decided to surprise her by picking her up at the airport before camping outside one of charlie's mum's uni friend's house, Jan and Phil, in Auckland. We felt a bit like tramps, especially as we hadn't had a shower for a day or two and looked proper greasey (me more-so than Fia), but they were very friendly and made us feel at home. And they cooked us a New Zealand Lamb roast dinner, YUM. We went up to Mount Eden the next day, a volcano that is right at the end of Jan and Phil's road and looks out over the whole of Auckland. I think it's an extinct volcano, or dormant at least.

Mount Eden crater with Auckland in the background

Charlie had clearly planned her visit (of course!) so we managed to do a surprising amount in the five or six days she was here. From Auckland we drove to Raglan, among the world's premier surf spots. Just seeing it was a mesmerising sight. The point break (Manu Bay) was about double over head height and crowded with locals making surfing look like the easiest thing in the world, and the next day there was a competition on so we surfed the beach. It was a bit messy and Fia and Charlie showed me up so I was left looking forward to my next opportunity to get in the water and redeem myself. Thankfully I found my feet again in Oakura, I'll put it down to not being use to my new board! :oP On the subject of surfing Fia has a nice new wetsuit (a nice Roxy 4/3 to keep her warm) and caught her first unbroken wave the other day making it look easy, in fact she's been standing up on as many waves as I have.

In the van on the way to Raglan
Me, Fia and Charlie on our way to Raglan

Surf rolling in at Manu Bay, Raglan

charlie surf'n
Charlie surf'n

After Raglan we headed to Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings film set. Unfortunately we can't say anything about it or even upload the photos to the web until the Hobbit has been released or we'll break the confidentiality agreements we had to sign on the way in! I couldn't believe it either, it seems VERY over-the-top. Anyway, it was very cool, much better than I thought it would be, and at some point we'll be able to show you the photos of the hobbit holes and the whole area around there. From Hobbiton in Matamata we continued to Lake Taupo, Australasia's largest fresh water lake and found a nice little free camp at a place called Reid's farm. We drank some New Zealand beer and had a few rum and cokes and got ready for an early start the next day.


The next day we headed to Taupo Bungee where Charlie threw herself off the platform backwards head-first towards the river below. Me and Fia almost followed but we decided to save our cash and do a Skydive in Wanaka instead. I kind of wish we'd have done it anyway but we are working to a very tight budget so I guess we can't have it all, eh. We said goodbye to Charlie after a full English breakfast in Taupo, it was sad to see her go so soon but it was awesome to see her and we had a really nice time.

Fia and I stayed around the Lake for almost a week, the weather was so nice and the scenery was quite different to anything we'd seen previously, it was just a ridiculously pleasant place to chill. I spent about 5 days trying to catch Trout which appeared so easy to do in the lake, after 5 days and a load of lost tackle I finally caught one. But for some reason we threw it back instead of eating it... I'm not quite sure why, it all seems like a lot of time and effort for nothing now! It was a nice relaxing experience and gave Fia lots of time to do crochet, we're like the retired old couple - Fia does crochet (or reads her Patricia Cornwell novels) while I fish! We saw a couple of 70 year olds next to the lake, the man fishing for trout and the lady with her crochet, THAT IS US IN 40 years time... hang on it's actually us NOW.

Tony fishing for trout at Lake Taupo
Fish'n at sunset on Lake Taupo

Five days of hard work, a very edible Rainbow Trout

After Taupo we set off towards Rotorua to meet a Kiwi friend we met in La Paz - Jason. On the way we passed through a geothermal area where we saw plumes of steam coming out from the hills off the main highway. We decided to go get a closer look and stumbled over the most amazing camp site with about 7 different thermal pools next to it. Perfect after a long day of driving, and one of the great things about having the van.

Fia relaxing in the geothermal pools

We weren't that excited by Rotorua, it seems to be just another tourist money suction pump and wasn't as pretty as the Taupo region. Still we had a good time with Jason and it was nice to catch up. Next we headed back to Taupo and down to the Tongariro national park where we planned to do our own hike up to the snow capped volcanoes in the area, namely Mount Ngauruhoe, which is Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. It took us just 2 and a half hours to hike to the red crater, the midway point on the trail where you can pretty much see everything. We decided not to go to the summit of Ngauruhoe and aim for red crater instead as the views looked better, and they really were.

Me on a big rock to the left, Mount Doom on the right

Me and Fia with the Emerald Lakes behind us

Fia at Red Crater

The hike was awesome and we couldn't believe how easy it was without a guide, the beauty of exploring the country by ourselves. Straight after the hike we refuelled ourselves and the van and headed to Taranaki on the West Coast. We could see Mount Taranaki from Red Crater, a feint shape on the horizon, but surprisingly clear considering how far away it is from Tongariro National Park. We drove along "The Forgotten World Highway" passing signs that said no fuel for 150km, with no radio signal or any mobile phone reception. We stumbled across a little camp near a river where we stopped for the night - some more fishing, some dinner and an episode of The Wire! I saw a hare which was pretty cool.

Our riverside camp spot, lovely

We arrived in Taranaki the day after and made Oakura our base for the week. The plan was to chill in the sun, find some surf, and more fishing / crochet and Patricia Cornwell novels... we succeeded in all three. We bought Fia a nice new wetsuit and she hired a board for the week. On a few of the days the surf was a bit on the large side but we managed to get in the water and have fun every day and Fia caught quite a few waves. We have some really nice photos from Taranaki but one of our memory cards has decided to stop working with Windows so until we find somebody with a Mac or using Unix we won't be able to post them. Perhaps we'll do a short post on Taranki when we do as it was very beautiful.

We spent my birthday in Wellington, had the afternoon in Te Papa museum and then met up with Roland and Helene (friends who travelled Bolivia at the same time as us) for many drinks. Wellington was surprisingly nice, much more cultural than Auckland and reminded us of Bristol with tonnes of cool independent shops lining Cuba Street and lots of coulorful decorations / artwork around the city. I had my first kebab of the trip - BEEF donor and Chicken (with extra meat)... amazing.

Maori carvings at Te Papa museum

We're just about to hop on the ferry to Picton in South Island and look forward to seeing the difference between the two islands. One thing will be obvious, of the 4 million people living in New Zealand (hardly any!) 3 million of them live on North Island so we expect the South to be even more empty. And the New Zealand surf guide, our trusty steed when it comes to beaches has kindly pointed out the abundance of Great Whites down there, every other beach map has a comment like "spooky spot with cold murky water, caution: Great Whites and Orcas". I won't be going in for a surf if there aren't locals in that's for sure!