Keen on Kiwi
It’s nearly impossible to articulate the stupefying beauty of New Zealand. With a multitude of waterfalls, volcanoes, beaches, mountains, rainforests and national parks inhabited by spectacular floral and fauna, it’s as if the landscape has been art directed by Jesus himself. The blue of the New Zealand sky is so abnormally vivid there should be a Pantone color named after it. From a blooming flower or flapping bird, to a giant wave crashing against black-sand beaches, or steam escaping from cracks in the pumice rock, at every turn this loamy archipelago offers a new feast for the eyes.
I spent the majority of my time in the North Island visiting a dear friend who’s shooting a television show in Auckland. Home to 32% of the entire New Zealand population, the majority of Kiwi’s live or work in Auckland. This urban city has two large harbors that are filled with luxury-liners where tourists and locals enjoy fine dining and shopping along the water. A non-active volcano anchors the two Victorian glasshouses bountifully populated by exotic plants and Neo-classic statues in the famous Winter Gardens. The Sky Tower, bearing a striking resemblance to the Seattle Space Needle, dominates the skyline, visible from almost every corner of the city.
Jocular dispositions with stunning good looks best describes the New Zealander’s I met along the way, all exceedingly helpful and welcoming. By in large, my vacation to one of the planet’s widely regarded paradises was irrefutably awesome!
Activities & Entertainment
I’m a huge geek who loves historical sightseeing, so when I’m on vacation I like to mix my relaxation time with educational activities. If I’m not using my credit card rewards points for flights, I often book excursions. Private or small group tours lead by well-informed guides, providing gourmet meals, with all entry/service fees paid upfront. Choosing these types of tours eliminates the stress of dealing with logistics, making it possible for me to sit back and enjoy the ride. “It’s all taken care of,” is music to my ears. That’s exactly what happened when I visited the famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Agrodome, Polynesian Spa and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve—all in one day!
Hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface, arachnocampa luminosa (glowworms) live in limestone caves formed over 2000 years ago. This particular species can only be found in New Zealand where visitors take silent boat rides through the static cave-waters and marvel at the millions of glowworms emitting bright green light above—the collective sum of their emission resembling a Milky Way Ring.
At the Argodome we watch sheep shearer’s cut pounds of fleece off the animals in less than 2 minutes flat without hurting them. Next to dairy farming, sheep farming is the cornerstone of the New Zealand agricultural industry and economy.
One would think I’d had my fill of the spa experience at the Pullman (keep reading), but how could I pass up the scenic Polynesian Spa and its naturally occurring sulfur hot springs? I made a rookie mistake and didn’t read the fine print about taking your jewelry off before getting into the pools. My silver Stowellen skull-ring turned black in the water and took some toothpaste and elbow grease to return it to its former glory. Nevertheless, the baths were a nice cleansing pit stop along the way.
The true stars of the excursion were the Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers Geysers located at the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve in Rotorua. Adjacent to the bubbling mud pools activated by the lava oozing deep below heating up the water, these geysers fully erupt in the air at 65 feet or higher. Steamy waterfalls spilled over rocks as the mist rose up to the viewing bridge. The tour ended with a performance telling the story of the indigenous Maori culture through song and dance.
Another not-to-be-missed event is The National Jazz festival held in Tauranga during Easter Weekend. World-class artists representing a wide spectrum of jazz music serenaded the 60,000 people who gathered there. Listening to rhythmic, soulful tunes under the stars really can’t be beat.
During the first portion of my vacation, I had the pleasure of staying at the Pullman Hotel. This 5-star, centrally located hotel just across the street from the famous Albert Park was the perfect luxury base camp. Portly white columns resting on white granite floors supported the pops of cranberry and tangerine colors found in the rugs, club chairs and pillows in the lobby. Geometric wall-panels in dark wood separated the dining and lounge areas while large gray river stones collected along the perimeter of the spa. I enjoyed watching the yachts and sailboats come and go from the comfort of my spacious and tastefully decorated room. I took full advantage of my complimentary spa access, which featured an 80ft heated indoor/outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna room, as well as a top-notch gym.
Harbor-to-table restaurants serve innovative cuisine that’s sure to satisfy the traveling foodie on the prowl for artisanal eats. I love great food, so naturally I stuffed my face at more than one eating establishment but these noteworthy spots really hit it out of the park for me.
1. Odettes Eatery- I love this restaurant with its sea-green subway tiles and bubble-glass light fixtures illuminated by Edison bulbs that hang from long black cords. The polished concrete counters and the potted foliage scattered about this indoor/outdoor eatery gives this place a stylish but warm ambiance. I had the perfect bloody Mary to accompany the Herbed Scramble topped with date and apricot salsa. I also should mention the wild mushroom granola with Gorgonzola buttermilk and the Merguez sausage. By far my favorite New Zealand brunch place.
2. Ostro Brasserie & Bar- This modern restaurant with its clean interior design and gobsmacking view of the harbor nearly eclipsed the mouth-watering menu. In addition to phenomenal cocktails and a stellar wine list, dishes like the prawn & miso salad, thyme & garlic half chicken, crispy pork belly, and Parmesan beignets blew me away. The clear winner was the seared tuna salad—so fresh and high in quality it practically swam on the plate.
3.Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar- Sipping on Bolling Special Cuvee while admiring the street-graffiti art that hanged to the left of the table in this industrially- decorated restaurant, I salivated as the waiters passed by with attractive looking dishes. I’m not an oyster fan, but my friends assured me they were incredible—dressing the slimy aphrodisiacs with mignonette. Chef Al Brown delivered with Fergus’ bone marrow, cumin battered snapper tortillas, tuatara fritters, and astounding confit duck legs!
I can’t help myself and I’m also not ready to address my problem or take any contrary action, so we can just move on from that and hopefully a positive by-product of my shopaholic behavior will be someone discovering a new place to get their own fashion fix! In my defense, especially when traveling to foreign countries, I seek out designers and local boutiques that carry clothing not readily available in the States.
For men’s and women’s apparel stop by Workshop. You’ll recognize some of the labels and discover new international brands that may or may not have made their way to the U.S. market.
Some of the most interesting home décor items can be found at The Vault. They also carry men’s and women’s apparel, but the unique selection of home goods is really the standout.
The best bang for the U.S. buck (which is very strong there) was Industrie Clothing. I loved this store for its twist on classic designs specifically in the Athleisure department. I purchased a few pairs of sweat pants and workout tops that I constantly get compliments on. Comfortable, well made, stylish but not over-designed and fully functional clothing that still looks great after multiple washes.
A beautiful yacht large enough to comfortably entertain 50 people bobbed up and down in the harbor as my friend and his cast members and I climbed aboard. The executive producer had generously arranged for all of us to spend Easter Sunday in style. Pitchers of fresh margaritas and mojitos, exotic meat and cheese platters and vegetable crudités awaited our immediate consumption and like Gilligan we set out for a five-hour tour around the entire North Island. A foamy white wake trailed behind us as the Sky Tower got smaller and smaller the further we traveled out to sea. At the halfway point, we dropped anchor in a remote cove and swam from the boat to the beach. Some of us played Backgammon and Frisbee, while others built sandcastles. A private chef grilled chicken and shrimp to accompany an assortment of salads he had previously prepared. We sipped rose champagne and played poker while the best of Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye played in the background. After a couple hours of swimming and sunbathing, we made our way back around the other side of the island just in time to catch the sunset.
Auckland becomes very quiet during Easter. Bars and clubs close early if opened at all, and drinking in public places without purchasing food is suspended for the long weekend. Although New Zealand is not a particularly religious or super conservative country, my Kiwi friends explain that this is the one time of year when moderate-consumption of alcohol or abstaining completely is encouraged. So if you like your cocktails 24/7 maybe reconsider visiting New Zealand for Easter Break.