Nau Mai Haere Mai
A Greeting of welcome from New Zealand – The Land of the Long White Cloud
I recently had the opportunity to visit the youngest country on earth and cannot wait to return to that piece of paradise which is only an easy 12 hour direct flight across the Pacific Ocean from our West Coast.
New Zealand is known to have the most extraordinary diversity of stunning landscapes within the smallest land area of any country in the world with mountain ranges , geysers, fertile plains, rain forests, deserted white sand beaches, volcanoes, bustling cities to idyllic sun drenched islands planted with grapes and olives. The size of California and a population of only 4 million New Zealand delivers on so many levels – the temperate maritime climate is particularly attractive for visiting October to April which is ideally suited to Americans looking to travel during our fall, winter and spring.
For such a small country, it really does pack a punch with the range and quality of accommodations, excursions and activities as good as you will find anywhere. I was fortunate to experience some of the country’s best small boutique style lodgings and was incredibly impressed with both the standard and service….
I started my journey visiting the fabulous Wharekauhau Lodge on the north island. Arriving by helicopter from Wellington airport, I had a bird’s eye view of spectacular coastline and rolling hillsides dotted with the cloud white sheep that NZ is famous for. The lodge itself is set high on the hill with a spectacular view of Pallister Bay. The cottages are exquisitely appointed with natural materials, deep sofas, fluffy pillows and heated marble floors. In addition to being a superb guest lodge, Wharekauhau is a hugely successful farming operation, in business since the mid-1800’s. I toured the farm and witnessed working dogs herding some sheep as the farm hands efficiently and expertly sheered others. Guests are treated farm to table meals with ingredients sourced from the farm’s own garden or surrounding area. Numerous activities, world class cuisine and a spa can keep guests busy for days.
Consistently listed as one of the best retreats in the world Huka Lodge never fails to deliver on every level. Nestled on the banks of the Waikato River in the centre of the North Island and situated within 17 acres of magnificent landscape grounds of international significance Huka Lodge has played host to some to the world’s most famous and distinguished guests over the past nine decades. The Lodge is renowned for its’ outstanding cuisine and excellent wine cellar and with only 20 river facing junior suites and two stunning Owners Cottages this hideaway retreat attracts active sports people including keen anglers, golfers, hikers and horse riders as well as those wanting to relax and delight in the tranquility which pervades every aspect of Huka Lodge.
In the South Island I stayed at historic Otahuna Lodge near Christchurch – built in 1895 for Sir Heaton Rhodes the 7 bedroom charming Relais and Chateau property is the epitome of elegant country accommodation with cuisine that is truly world class. What was even better that I had the opportunity of undertaking a cooking class with chef Jimmy which is one of the property’s most popular activities for in house guests.
From the pasturelands of Canterbury my New Zealand adventure next took me to Queenstown where the scenery was truly mind blowing and which has acted as the live film set backdrop for much of the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit movie series. Popularly referred to as ‘The Adventure Capital of the World’ Queenstown is home to the first commercial world bungy jumping operation and today plays host to a myriad of adrenaline fuelled sports for the active participant or the enchanted observer – jet boating, tandem gliding, hot air ballooning, heli skiing, white water rafting, canyoning – the list is endless as is the fun!!
For the more sedate the region is home to some of the best red wines anywhere with the Bannockburn area of Central Otago producing some excellent vintages. The accommodation on offer was also superb and I took the opportunity of staying in the middle of the this thriving resort town by staying at Eichardt’s Private Hotel where I stepped out the door to a range of wonderful eateries and bars and a very bust nightlife scene. Escaping the buzz of Queenstown I finished my New Zealand touring in one of the beautiful places imaginable – Blanket Bay Lodge at Glenorchy. A 45 minute drive around Lake Wakitipu to the head of the lake and at the start of the Fiordland National Park the views from the lodge are without parallel. The views of snow capped mountain peaks rising from the deep blue waters of the lake are quite simply remarkable – this is in fact the name of the mountain range to which I closed and opened the drapes of my room each day that I was fortunate enough to be in residence at Blanket Bay.
New Zealand has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting a unique mix of the Maori and European culture. Maori were the first to arrive, journeying in canoes from Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago. Participating in the ancient customs of welcoming the sunrise, paddling in a war canoe or listening to a Maori chief describe sacred customs can enrich travel for the young and old.
What are you waiting for? Timing has never been better to explore all the New Zealand has to offer!