In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Do you like Chinese gooseberries?

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   Do you like Chinese gooseberries?
  Date:         18th March 2005
    Te Puke, North Island, New Zealand


The air was cool and fresh as we headed down to the Bay of Plenty, leaving behind the malodours of the volcanic plateau. We were speeding along, looking for somewhere to buy fresh spinach and ricotta pasta. Matthew and Kirstie had been craving it for days and today's mission was to find a supermarket and relieve their misery.

As we coasted downhill, Matthew was the first to notice something strange; a large green blob by the side of the road in the distance. As we swept closer the blob revealed itself to be an enormous 'walk-in' slice of kiwi fruit.

The fruit the Kiwi's name as their own

We leaned the bikes gently against the giant green fruit and climbed up the stairs inside. At the top, some 20m up, we stood on a viewing platform and finally figured out what the fuss was about. We'd arrived in Kiwiland: in front of us thousands and thousands of immaculately manicured kiwi vines stretched as far as the eye could see, and snaking through the vines a little tractor train pulling kiwi shaped carts on tours of the orchards. "Can we go on the kiwi carts Dad?" asked Matthew. "Want to go on kiwi carts, want to go on kiwi carts" whined Cameron. How could we resist?

Only in New Zealand can you take someone else's product, rebrand it as your own, market it as the best in the world and get away with it. And that's exactly what the Kiwi's have done with the Chinese gooseberry, better known to you, me and the rest of the world as the kiwi fruit. This little corner of New Zealand, centred on the unfortunately named Te Puke, is a major centre for the production of kiwi fruit. In a strip of land some 50km long by 10km wide, there are thousands of orchards producing and exporting hundreds of millions of kiwi fruit every year. As we sat on our kiwi cart, the tour guide explained, "The combination of climate, soil type, soil chemistry and drainage here is unique, making this area ideal for growing the worlds best kiwi fruit, and that's what we do."

We stooped under the vines among thousands of perfect looking hairy Green kiwis. "We get up to 1500 fruit per vine," said the guide proudly. "Mummy, I got a kiwi," said Cameron clutching one he found on the ground. "We discard those with any blemishes to ensure the highest possible quality for exporting," explained the guide, "to protect the reputation of our kiwi." Cameron clutched his harvest and searched for more. "Actually, that's not a kiwi. A kiwi is a bird. That's a Chinese gooseberry," said Matthew keen to ensure the fruit's origin was at least acknowledged.

The kiwi formerly known as Chinese gooseberry. These are classic Green's

The first Chinese gooseberry seeds arrived in New Zealand just over a hundred years ago. The gooseberry farmers around here had a big party recently to celebrate the centenary. There's 150 varieties of Chinese gooseberry but here they grow just three - the Green, the Gold and the Berry. The hairy Green is familiar to most of us but not everyone likes its' hairy skin or slightly bitter taste, so that's why the marketeers are bringing the Gold to a supermarket near you. The kiwi Gold has a smoother, less hairy skin and a sweeter golden fruit, guaranteed to overcome your buying objections. Its' production is strictly licensed and carefully managed to control the market. And then for your lunchbox, there's the cute little KiwiBerry (or Arguta); a naturally small, grape sized member of the kiwifruit family with a smooth skin you can eat. Apparently they're 'terifically tiny with no hair, just flair.' There's no doubting the Kiwi's are canny marketeers when it comes to the kiwi. "So, there's a kiwi fruit for everyone. And, they're the world's healthiest fruit you know," explained the guide, "packed full of energy, vitamins A, C and E, fibre, potassium, magnesium, iron and powerful enzymes. You won't find anything better." I was convinced enough to give them a try.

Back in Kiwiland our tour ended at a gift shop packed with every conceivable kind of kiwi product. "Can we have a kiwi party?" asked Matthew clearly taken in a little by the marketing hype. "No," I said, "we're going to celebrate the Chinese gooseberry."

A celebration of all that is gooseberry

We sat out under the vines, sipping gooseberry wine, drinking gooseberry juice, eating fresh Greens and Golds with special gooseberry spoons, and popping sweet Berries in our mouths. The boys played football with the reject fruits they'd found in the orchards. "How do they know these are the best in the world?" I wondered aloud as I cut open a juicy Gold with my special spoon, "perhaps there's some global fruit tasting panel at an annual gooseberry fest." "Or maybe they just make the claim and wait and see if anyone disputes it," said Kirstie showing off her promotional background.

Picnic over, we packed our excess gooseberry products into our panniers and made for the town. "I hope you like Te Puke, the Kiwi Fruit Capital of the World" shouted the guide as he waved us off on our way. "If I eat another gooseberry I think I'm going to puke," said Kirstie quietly to me, "what I really need right now is that pasta."



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