On board Air New Zealand enroute to Auckland we came across a feature in "Pacific
Wave," the in-flight magazine, entitled "Breakaway" about Inverness,
a colonial-style retreat in the heart of the Clevedon Hills, 45 minutes southwest
of the country's largest city. We had serendipitously made reservations there for
our first two nights. The portrait of the owners, John and Yolanda Robinson, and
the hostelry in the article augured well for our visit to this two-island sovereign
New Zealand is both civilized and wild, familiar and unknown. Rudyard Kipling
called it "the eighth wonder of the world." James Michener said it is "probably
the most beautiful place on earth." Even Kiwis, as New Zealanders are referred
to, speak about their land as "Godzone" and have been heard to say, "This
is Godzone country."
|Auckland Harbour, New Zealand
Our introduction to this remarkable destination had come through
perusing brochures listing accommodations - country houses, auberges,
inns, B and B's and small estates - that are collectively known
as lodges. Narrowing the choices to a few was an almost impossible
task. There were simply too many appealing ones to choose from,
all so perfectly described in pictures and in words. We wanted to
explore the North and South Islands from jumping-off points that
are centers of the country's variegated landscape. We knew we would
discover beauty and more activity to fill our days than could possibly
be squeezed into them. But we did not know that we would also find
incomparable hospitality. It should have been expected. When so
many people open their homes to strangers, they must be eager to
welcome them with unusual warmth. Knowing how superior the farmland
is, we might also have anticipated that the food would not pale
when compared to the world's best tables.
We singled out Inverness because, although we wanted to sightsee in Auckland,
the hub of life in the North Island, we wished to sleep and eat in the country, in
this case horse country, surrounded by hills, pastures, farms and vineyards. We came
as guests of the Robinsons, on whose 90 acres is a stable and riding ring, and left
as friends. The big comfortable house was meant for cocktails in front of the living
room fireplace, dinner in the inviting dining room and breakfast in the farmstead-like
kitchen. Vivacious and energetic Yolanda, a talented cook who puts up jams from the
fruits that grow in her orchard, said that she would have served the same dishes
(they were wonderful) whether or not we had been present. Instead of waiting on us,
she and John shared the meals, a gesture that was much appreciated. John, who plays
trumpet in the jazz festival the Robinsons organize every year for 300 neighbors
and friends, planted 4,000 vines whose grapes were harvested for the first time in
1997. Visitors drink mostly New Zealand wines from the 1,100-bottle cellar. But who
knows, they may soon be imbibing vintages that say, "Bottled by Inverness Estate."
Auckland, set on the shores of two stunning harbours, Waitemata and Manukau, is
a place of low hills, wharves and a bay greenly occluded like old jade. Aucklanders'
affinity for all that takes place on water - there are more boats per capita than
any municipality in the world - explains the appellation, City of Sails. You can
take a catamaran, sailboat or ferry to suburbs like Devenport and to many of the
40 islands in the Hauraki Gulf. One of the most popular jaunts is Fullers Ferry to
Rangitoto Island. You then get on the Explorer, a road train, for a guided
volcanic safari to the peak to take in panoramic views of the entire gulf.
The New Zealand National Maritime Museum, housed inside old buildings surrounded
by a small marina, is an evocative celebration of the maritime heritage and the seagoing
traditions in this part of the Pacific. The history of boat building, immigration,
shipping and racing is skillfully woven together using traditional displays and interactive
ones. In addition to an extensive collection of watercraft, there is a steerage cabin
that sways and creaks convincingly and a computer database of 100,000 early settlers
and the names of the ships and the dates on which they arrived.
The main community for exploring Maori culture is in Rotorua. Since we had not
planned to visit there, we were instead introduced to the original population of
the island at the Auckland Museum where a wing serves as a repository for
Maori treasures and the Pounamu Group puts on a show of songs, dances and games.
Kelly Tarton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World offers a unique
chance to explore ocean life from a diver's perspective. The journey starts with
a walk through the faithfully recreated and gloomy hut used by Sir Robert Scott on
his ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1910-12 and is followed by a ride in a Snow
Cat across the frozen terrain to see a penguin colony. A moving walkway carries you
alongside a circular underground tunnel where sharks, sea horses, stingrays and 35
to 40 other species of fish swim.
Parnell, a trendy gentrified neighborhood, has restaurants, cafes and taverns
as well as galleries, boutiques and craft shops. Schedule a midday break here for
lunch and shopping.
Rangitoto Island Volcanic Explorer, Fullers Cruise Center, Ferry Building,
Quay Street. Tel. 09-367-9111. Departs at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.
New Zealand National Maritime Museum, Eastern Viaduct, corner of Quay and Hobson
Streets. Tel 09-358-3010. Open summer, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; winter 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Auckland Museum, The Domain. Tel. 09-306-7067. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Maori
shows at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Kelly Tarton's, 23 Tamaki Drive. Tel. 800-80-5050, 09-528-0603. Open summer, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; winter 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Inverness Estate, Ness Valley Road, Clevedon, RD5, Papakura. Tel. 09-292-8710,
fax 09-292-8714. Rates from $380 per couple including breakfast, pre-dinner
drinks and dinner. www.inverness.co.nz
Iguaçu, located on the main street in Parnell, serves interesting
Pacific rim food.
Iguaçu Restaurant and Bar, 269 Parnell Road. Tel. 09-358-4804. Open
for lunch and dinner all week from 11 a.m. on, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.
on. Brunch served on weekends. Moderate. www.iguacu.co.nz
Woolly For You features attractive New Zealand-made sweaters in wool, mohair
At Elephant House over 300 craftspeople exhibit their handmade wares in
a range of materials: wool, pottery, glass, bone, leather, wood and seashell.
Woolly for You, 237 Parnell Road. Tel. 09-377-5437. Open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Elephant House, 237 Parnell Road. Tel. 09-309-8740. Open weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Those who don't mind driving on the left will find motoring in New Zealand surprisingly
easy since drivers are very courteous and the road conditions are excellent. The
trip from Auckland to Lake Taupo is a leisurely four hours by car and an almost effortless
way to take in the exquisite scenery. The route to the central part of the North
Island crosses quaint towns like Hamilton and Cambridge, mountains, forests and patchworks
of green spanning hues that range from the lightest tints to ones so deep they are
The resort town of Taupo is splendidly positioned on the northern shore of the
lake, facing Tongariro National Park with the distant peaks of the park visible across
the sweeping breadth of the water.
Lake Taupo is renowned as the trout fishing capital of the world. On a half-day
excursion with Chris Jolly Boats, between lunch and sitting on deck in the
sun, we and the other anglers reeled in brown and rainbow trout.
The attractions in the area are diverse and seem endless. You can spend some time
at the Wairakei International Golf Course hitting a few balls on the driving
range, taking a spin in a cart around the spectacular grounds set in the shadow of
the Tongairo Mountains or playing a full round of the game.
You can also participate in some action-packed adventures. At DeBretts Aviation
don a bomber jacket, leather cap and goggles for a breathtaking ride in a bright
yellow 1930s-style open cockpit G164A biplane. The captain of the two-passenger aircraft
carries out a few daring maneuvers as he soars and dips while circling the sky.
Ride the Huka Jet down the Waikato River to the bottom of the commanding
Huka Falls. The boat races past sheer cliffs with just centimeters to spare and clouds
of rising steam where a hot tributary joins the river, and it does jet turns, 360-degree
spins in its own length at a rapid speed. See the Huka Falls from the top by walking
across the bridge and along the road to the scenic viewpoints.
Stroll the surrealistic Craters of the Moon in the Wairakei Tourist Park.
An almost circular path goes through this geothermal phenomenon of steaming craters
and boiling mud pools. Enjoy the thermal waters by visiting Taupo Hot Springs
to soak in the outdoor communal pools or smaller private baths, whose temperatures
range from "not so hot" to "hottest".
Other possible entertainments include a tour of Prawn Park where geothermally
heated water is used to farm prawns and a Waikato River cruise aboard the African
Chris Jolly Boats, 1 Otupai Street, PO Box 1020. Tel. 07-378-0623, fax 07-378-9458.
Wairakei International Golf Course, State Highway 1 North. Tel. 07-374-8152,
DeBretts Aviation, Airport Terminal. Tel 800-800-207, fax 07-378-6238.
Huka Jet, Wairakei Tourist Park. Tel. 07-374-8572, 07-374-8016, fax 07-374-8573.
Craters of the Moon, Wairakei Tourist Park. Open dawn until dusk.
Taupo Hot Springs, State Highway 5, Napier Taupo Highway. Tel. 07-377-6502.
Open 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Prawn Park, Huka Falls Road, Wairakei Tourist Park. Tel. 07-374-8474. Hourly
tours, summer, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; winter, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The African Queen, Wairakei Park. Tel. 07-374-8338. Departs 10:15 a.m. and
2:15 p.m. Seasonal evening cruises.
Designed in the contemporary style of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the magnificent
Lake Taupo Lodge is situated high above Acacia Bay. The six-sided structure's sweeping
windows offer views of the water and the property's meticulously landscaped gardens.
Although there are never more than eight guests in four spacious and beautiful suites,
a crackerjack chef prepares extraordinary four-course meals. Proprietors Gary and
Shirley Akers are happy to help with arrangements for sightseeing. Because the bedrooms
are heated from the ceilings, they may be a bit cool for Americans, so if you're
visiting in winter, bring your woollies.
Lake Taupo Lodge, 41 Mapara Road, tel. 07-378-7386, fax 07-377-3226, is
a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, 800-525-4800. Rates are $700 per couple including
breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and dinner. www.laketaupolodge.co.nz
The poshest retreat (three suites, 17 rooms) in New Zealand is the world famous
Huka Lodge. You need not be an in-house guest to enjoy the rare wines from
their handsome cellar - ask for a tour - and the five-course feast beginning at 8 p.m.
each evening. Dinner is served family-style. We found it a delightful way to meet
other travelers from all over the world.
Although their best dish is steamed prawns with lots of garlic and butter, the
chef at Prawn Works Bar & Grill has also dreamed up several unusual ideas for
preparing the crustaceans from their own farm.
Huka Lodge, Huka Falls Road, tel. 07-378-5791, fax 07-378-0427, is a member
of Relais & Chateaux, the only one in New Zealand, 800-735-2478, and Small
Luxury Hotels of the World, 800-525-4800. Very expensive. www.hukalodge.com
Prawn Works Bar & Grill, Prawn Park, Wairakei Park. Tel 07-374-8474. Seasonal
hours. Moderately expensive.
The North and South Islands are divided by windy Cook Strait and most visitors
cross it on the ferry that shuttles between Wellington and Picton. We chose instead
to reach our next destination by flying on New Zealand Link. Like the rest of the
country the area is another stretch of paradise and is teeming with outdoor activity;
the ones being most in demand are the hikes on the Queen Charlotte Walkway and dolphin
watching in the Sound.
Our day-long itinerary combined both. We met our hosts, the Battersbys, in their
Picton office. Les navigates the "Dolphin Endeavor, " a high-speed
craft, and Zoe, the naturalist guide, points out seals, penguins, orcas and dolphins
and hopefully a whale or two. We docked at Motuara Island for a close look at the
native birds in the sanctuary and a climb to the site where Captain James Cook claimed
New Zealand for King George III. From this summit we could admire the tableau of
Cook Strait, the North Island and Queen Charlotte Walkway.
We went on to Ship Cove, stopping briefly in Resolution Bay to call for Carol
Teutscher, who sometimes works in tandem with the Battersbys. With boundless enthusiasm,
she led our group on a two-hour, four-kilometer trek over a mountain and through
a forest, pointing out plants, trees and distant places that could be seen from a
For the hike, which should only be undertaken by those who are fit, bring sturdy
footwear - the trail is muddy - and a warm jacket.
|Wine tasting at a vineyard in Marlborough
(Credit: Edwin Fancher)
The Marlborough Wine Region
is heralded as a district that produces international award-winning
wines. Some 30 vineyards can be found within a short distance of
central Blenheim. Almost all of them are open for tastings, sales
and tours by special arrangement and some have restaurants or cafes.
Even if you are not a serious oenophile, the drive in the countryside
is enjoyable and the buildings on the estates are attractive and
merit a stop. The Art & Craft
Trail, the studios and shops of artists, potters, weavers
and carvers, wends through the same roads as the wineries. You can
watch craftspeople at work and buy from them directly.
Dolphin Watch Marlborough, next to the Railroad Station, Picton. PO Box 197.
Tel. 03-573-8040, fax 03-573-7906. Departures at 8:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Hike can
only be combined with morning trip. The well-marked Queen Charlotte Track (our direction
was reversed) from Ship Cove to Resolution Bay can be undertaken without a guide.
Cougar Line picks people up at Resolution Bay at 3 p.m.
Touring the Marlborough wine region. Pick up one of several maps at the information
center. Vineyards are open from 9 or 10 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. Blenheim Information
Centre, The Forum, Queen Street. Tel 03-578-9904. Open all week, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30
Located 15 miles outside of town, Timara Lodge is surrounded by sprawling park-like grounds and has the character of an English country manor. Built in 1923, all the rooms have recently been refurbished. The lustrous wood paneling and one-of-a-kind antiques give the feeling of a lovingly tended estate that has been in the same family for generations. With its tranquil lakeside setting, lap pool, tennis courts, inviting library and lounge and superb cuisine, it is one of the region's best hideaways. Chef Jeremy Jones, who with his wife Sue Goulter manages the establishment, serves memorable meals using New Zealand's best products.
The Hotel d'Urville was reincarnated from a commercial building to one welcoming overnight guests. Formerly the historic Public Trust Building, the hotel has corridors that are lined with heavy metal doors that secured the vaults. Each of nine rooms is individually decorated and makes a strong statement. Although we'd gladly sleep in any of them, we were partial to the Rajah room, displaying Indian artifacts and done in vibrant red silks, and the D'Urville, which is modeled after the captain's quarters on an oceangoing vessel.
Timara Lodge, Dog Point Road, RD2, Blenheim, tel. 03-572-8276, fax 03-572-9191,
is a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, 800-525-4800. Rates are $440 per couple
plus 12.5 per cent tax and include breakfast, dinner with wine and airport transfers.
Hotel d'Urville, 52 Queen Street, Blenheim. Tel. 03-577-9945, fax 03-577-9946.
U.S. reservations, 205-967-7051, fax 205-967-5192. Not all rooms have bathtubs,
some have showers only. Rates start at $162. www.durville.com/home
Our next and last stop was in Christchurch, the most quaintly English of all of
New Zealand's urban centers. During the five-hour journey on the Coastal Pacific
Railroad, we could barely turn away from the windows. The train, which earns its
name by following a thin ledge of land pinned between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal
mountains for over 100 kilometers, also threads through grape country, salt mountains
and river valleys.
Famed for its Gothic architecture, tree-lined streets and appealing parks and
gardens, this typical English city with its squares and pedestrian malls is a metropolis
that is designed for sightseeing on foot and strolling. It is also a base for exploring
the rural attractions of the Canterbury Plains. One of the most touted of the day-long
side trips is a classic of rail travel, the TransAlpine Express, which regrettably
we did not have time for.
We did, however, drive down the undeveloped and almost deserted Banks Peninsula
to Akaroa on winding roads cut into the side of mountains that slope toward
the bay, passing sheep, cows, deer and fields of wild hay. The bustling resort town
is the site of the French settlement in the South Island; the rues have names
like Jolle, Lavaud, Balguerie, Benoit and Pompailler.
Visit the Langlois-Eteveneaux Cottage and Akaroa Museum, which
is furnished like a French colonist's home and has displays of the history of the
settlement. Board the M.V. Canterbury Cat for a cruise in the harbour to sight seabirds
and mammals. On the return trip you might stop at the Akaroa Winery or Barry's Bay
Cheese where cheese is made every other day from October until April.
|Punting and the Avon, Christchurch (Credit: Edwin Fancher)
The Christchurch Tramway is a hop off and on again restored vintage
trolley car - Hagley Park, New Regent Street and the Botanic Gardens
are a few of the 10 points of interest - that loops around The Garden
City and includes commentary about its history. The Avon River with
its mighty oaks and sweeping willows along the banks winds through
the heart of the town and adds considerably to its enchantment and
British character. Glide along the river in a punt
propelled by a punter dressed in a straw boater and whites. The
Christchurch Gondola climbs
1,500 feet above sea level on the side of Mount Cavendish to a crest
on the crater rim of an extinct volcano. At the top there are 360-degree
views and an audio-visual Time Tunnel
Show with some novel features. Spend time at the Arts
Centre, a focal point for musicians, performers and artisans
who sell their creations. Allot a few hours to visit the Antarctic
Centre, a museum where many of the exhibits are interactive
and you can experience the awesome beauty of the magical "Great
Coastal Pacific Express. Reservations 800-802-802, fax 800-101-525. Departs
Christchurch at 9 a.m. and returns at 6:25 p.m.
Akaroa Museum, 80 Rue Lavaud. Tel. 03-304-7614. Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 4:30
M.V. Caterbury Cat, Akaroa Harbour Cruises, Main Wharf, Beach Road. Tel. 03-304-7641.
Cruises depart at 1:30 p.m. all year and also at 11:30 a.m. from November to March.
Barry's Bay Cheese, RD2. Tel. 03-304-5809. Open weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
weekends 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Akaroa Winery, Long Bay Road, Takamatua. Tel. 03-304-8990. Open seven days.
Christchurch Tramway. Board at points of interest. Tel. 03-366-7830. Daily
from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Extended summer hours.
Punting on the Avon, Visitor Centre, corner Worcester Boulevard and Oxford
Terrace. Tel. 03-379-9629. Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting.
Christchurch Gondola, 10 Bridle Path Road. Tel. 03-384-0700. Shuttle from Visitors'
Centre or No. 28 Lyttelton bus from Cathedral Square. October to April, 10 a.m. until late; May to September, noon until late.
Arts Centre, 2-28 Worcester Boulevard. Tel. 03-366-0989. Open daily, summer,
9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; winter, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Antarctic Centre, Orchard Road. Tel. 03-358-9896. Open October to March, 9
a.m. to 8 p.m.; April to September, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Charlotte Jane, built as a grand Victorian family home in 1891 and stripped
of its charm when it became a youth hostel, is now an elegant B and B. Moira and
Siegfried Lindbauer, he a former yacht builder, took two years to complete the project
and spared no expense. To create the most beautiful and romantic inn possible, they
focused on every detail. They stripped all the wood, commissioned furniture in antique
designs, made new plaster cornices and ceiling roses, improved the heating, opened
up the fireplaces and installed bathrooms, some with spa tubs, that are truly spacious.
Although visitors come from far away, the locals have discovered that this superior
lodge is idyllic for a special overnight.
The Charlotte Jane, 110 Papanui Road. Tel. 03-355-1028, fax 03-355-8882.
Rates begin at $140 per room including breakfast. www.charlotte-jane.co.nz
The best food you might possibly eat in all of New Zealand, but certainly in Christchurch,
is at The Sign of the Takahe. Built to look like a small castle, the stone
and wooden-beamed interior hung with the shields and coats of arms of English families
matches the impressive menu, which includes four-course epicurean dinners paired
with appropriate wines. The talented chef has devised some incredible combinations
to bring out the best flavors of crayfish, quail, hare, venison, wild boar and lamb.
Cafe de la Mer, the only seafood restaurant in Akaroa, is casual like the other dining spots near the water.
Sign of the Takahe, corner of Summit Road and Dyers Pass Road. Tel. 03-332-4052.
Open daily for Devonshire tea, 10 to 11 a.m., 2:30 to 4 p.m.; lunch and dinner.
Very expensive. www.signofthetakahe.co.nz
Cafe de la Mer, 71 Beach Road. Tel. 03-304-7656. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; November to March. Open the rest of the year, daily for lunch; dinner, Friday to Wednesday. Inexpensive.
Much of the fine shopping in Christchurch is located at or near the corners of
Colombo and Gloucester Streets. Look for jade, black pearls, sheepskins, waxed coats
and sweaters intricately designed by Bonz and Coogi.
Shops open daily, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Air New Zealand flies spacious 747s every day from Los Angeles to Auckland
and five times weekly to Nadi. Flights to Nadi stop in Honolulu. The airline
was given the 1997 Onboard Services Award for the best in-flight entertainment.
Business class passengers each have their own private screens. On overseas flights
they can watch two cycles of movie programming; 16 films are featured. The seats
are among the most roomy in the sky and offer several comfortable adjustments
for reclining. Service is superior and food is very adequate. 800-670-9000.
The summer months are December, January and February. Attractions and restaurants
usually schedule their longer warm weather hours from November through March.
If you are flying from the East Coast and want to overnight at the Los Angeles
airport, the Wyndam is the hotel that is closest to the terminals. Although the rooms
have the standard look of a motel, the lobby is large and attractive and the accommodations
on the concierge floor include a sitting area and special amenities for businesspeople.
There is an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool and a sauna, whirlpool and health
club. The Century Cafe, the more casual of the two restaurants, was trying out a
new menu when we ate there. The food needs to be improved.
Wyndam Hotel at the Los Angeles Airport, 6225 West Century Boulevard, Los
Angeles, CA 90230. Tel. 800-996-3426, 310-670-9000. Rates are $149 including
breakfast on the concierge floor. www.wyndham.com