Think Cinnamon Rolls. Sweetly spiced, fragrant Cinnamon Rolls. Now think about walking for five hours through the New Zealand bush and arriving, just a little hot, sweaty and footsore, at On The Track Lodge in Nydia Bay. Cinnamon Rolls sound good? On the day that we visited, they tasted like manna and that was just after we had taken the easy way in, arriving by water taxi to this very special spot in the Marlborough Sounds.
It’s owned and run by the Husband’s cousin Duncan, our best man when we got married in 2007 (he also came on the honeymoon!), and someone we just don’t get to see enough of. Duncan is a great example of Kiwi ingenuity, turning his hand to sailing and carpentry and home making and baking with equal aplomb. Every time we visit NZ, he’s living in and renovating or building a different house; last time his home was in a remote, wooded spot with an incredible living room and no door on the toilet. That place, work all completed, was traded for the unique spot that is On The Track Lodge.
It’s set in the remote Nydia Bay, which is the mid-point of a two-day hike for many of the guests. There’s a variety of accommodation on site, for up to 24 guests, in rooms that include a comfortable six-bed dorm, cosy wood cabins or – real luxury! – a first class 1930s train carriage, complete with en suite and themed book selection.
Running a lodge in such a beautiful, out-of-the way spot comes with many challenges. It’s not something that can be done alone, either and this is a four-hand, three-generation family operation. Duncan’s parents, Tom and Norma, were kept busy while we were there, from organising accommodation for a just-arrived mother and 10-week-old baby to lighting sticks in the heater attached to the Kiwi hot-tub for weary trampers, while Ron, his 90-year-old grandfather, welcomed guests and organised the online bookings.
The Lodge is a calling, rather than a job. There’s no road access; all supplies have to come in by boat or be produced on site. To that end, they keep goats for fresh milk, chickens for eggs and have a flock of sheep, which Tom shears himself, and which provide meat for the delectable meals that Norma makes for the guests. I couldn’t resist a peep at her array of cookbooks which, of course – she is the Husband’s mother’s sister, after all! – included plenty of Annabel Langbein tomes along with NZ favourite Julie Le Clerc, Tessa Kiros‘ tactile masterpieces and even a touch of Ireland with the Avoca Cafe Cookbook standing proudly on the shelf.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s off-grid? What little electricity is needed comes from the solar panels on the roof. There’s no microwave but the wood-fired oven gets good use on pizza nights. No mains lights but rooms are kitted out with torches and there’s a campfire, with complimentary marshmallows, for night time entertainment. No easy switch electric kettle but the battered old kettles in the shared kitchen are boiled up regularly on the gas hobs for copious amounts of tea and fresh-ground coffee. Where coffee is concerned, Duncan is a purist and, although he can’t deliver a flat white just yet, he can often be seen striding around, coffee mill in hand, as he grinds beans and organises guests at the same time.
Unfortunately our planned overnight stay didn’t work out - apocalyptic rain and gale warnings earlier in the week put paid to that idea – but, as the water taxi pulled away from the jetty, the Husband was already trying to convince me of the merits of living in such a spot. I’m not entirely convinced by that idea but, next time back in New Zealand, I can see myself curled up in a corner of that first class carriage, re-reading The Railway Children. And I might have to snaffle a few of Duncan’s Cinnamon Rolls to keep me company.
On The Track Lodge Cinnamon Rolls
The original recipe, copied from a hand-written contribution to Norma’s cookery notebooks, was a real fill-the-tins option so I’ve divided it in half here, along with adapting measurements from the original cups.
100g dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2¼ teaspoons dried yeast
500g plain flour
150g dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
50g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Flaked almonds (optional)
To make dough, melt butter in a small saucepan. Pour in milk and heat until just warm when tested with a finger. Tip into large mixing bowl.
Whisk sugar, salt, cardamom, yeast and plain flour together. Add to liquid ingredients, mixing well, until dough is firm and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured worktop and knead lightly for about 2 minutes until smooth and shiny.
Return to the mixing bowl, cover with a clean towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Depending on the temperature, this can take from 1-3 hours. You can also make this dough in a bread machine.
Butter 2 x 25cm x 38cm x 4cm rectangular tins.
For the filling, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Gently knock back the dough and roll into a 30cm x 45cm rectangle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.
Starting at a long end, roll tightly into a cylinder. Slice into 24 evenly sized pieces and place 12 on each baking tin. Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Again, this can take from 45 minutes to 1½ hours.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (180°C fanbake). Brush rolls with egg wash and, if you like, sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool in tin for 10 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack.
Makes 24 rolls.