Journeys: Magnificent New Zealand

Betsy Pie is an American from Nashville, TN whose marriage to an Australian brought her to Melbourne 30 years ago. Her PR firm, Betsy Pie International Communications, specializes in luxury travel. Last month she gave us ideas for the Australian trip of a lifetime. This time she explores its beautifully remote neighbor: the natural gem that is New Zealand. 

One of the things I love about Australia is its proximity to New Zealand. Aussies and Kiwis (let’s get the terminology clear from the start) are such close neighbors (relatively speaking—it’s about 1600 miles from Melbourne to Auckland!) we simply call this a “hop across the ditch”.

If you read my recent story on Australia, you know that I discourage the idea that Australia and New Zealand are best done in one trip. New Zealand comprises two islands (North and South) and there are so many fabulous places to go, it is a full vacation in itself. Take your time and get into the laid back NZ groove!

This Relais & Châteaux property is, quite simply, heaven on earth. Everything about Kauri Cliffs is the very definition of good taste. Understated and elegant, you will honestly want to load up a van and take most of the decor home with you (or at least start planning a redesign of your own digs). The Robertson family, the owners, got it right when they designed this 22-suite lodge (and a fab two-bedroom Owner’s Cottage). Josie Robertson had immaculate taste, and in conjunction with NZ-based designer extraordinaire, Virginia Fisher, she set the bar high for NZ lodges. It’s part Hamptons, part Pebble Beach, but very much New Zealand too.

The golf course is absolutely nirvana for golfers, but non-golfers fear not, you are just as well catered for with scenic walks, wonderful food, arguably the best spa in New Zealand, not to mention the gorgeous beaches. Make sure you time your summer visit to include a Friday night at Kauri Cliffs, when the barbecues on Pink Beach (yes, the shells are pink) are a highlight of the season. Think New Zealand lamb, sublime salads, and a glass of crisp New Zealand wine in hand as you look out across to the Cavalli Islands. Trust me, this place is out of this world beautiful.

Next up, New Zealand’s renowned vineyards! A short flight to Napier (New Zealand’s art deco architecture capital) will have you in Hawke’s Bay Wine Country in no time. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is your base, a 6000-acre sheep and cattle property set atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Think epic scale, “wow” scenery, and a lodge that is best described as “farm luxe”. A low-key lodge exterior that resembles a cluster of farm buildings gives way to interior design that is part Ralph Lauren, part Aspen, and 100% NZ sheep country, with a generous dash of sophistication and style. All 24 suites have views that must be seen to truly be believed (bucolic rolling hills, sheep of course, and the ocean beyond). Did you know? The famous English captain, James Cook, named it Cape Kidnappers after some locals tried to kidnap his interpreter’s son! A bit of history there!

Options for exploring the property are many. The Can-Am tours (that is, an ATV) might just top the list, though! It’s exhilarating, fun and they take you to parts of the property you wouldn’t be able to access any other way. Other activities include the “kiwi discovery walk” where you can actually hold New Zealand’s national (and nocturnal) bird, a trip to the gannet bird colony, scenic horse treks, a round of golf on the acclaimed Tom Doak-designed Cape Kidnappers course, or a vegetable garden outing with a lodge chef.

Do venture out to Hawke’s Bay, as the region is home to some of New Zealand’s finest wines. My top spot for wine tasting is Craggy Range. This must be the benchmark for the region in terms of the winery, the setting, and quality of the wines. The region’s Gimblett Gravels Vineyard is the key to the luscious Syrah from Hawke’s Bay, and Craggy Range’s Le Sol is among New Zealand’s best examples. The Peabody family’s commitment to quality is unmatched and Craggy Range produces divine wines.

By this point, if you haven’t already harbored thoughts of applying for New Zealand citizenship or dreamed of a way to buy property here, then the South Island will surely seal the deal. Queenstown and its surrounding scenery is hands down the most jaw-dropping place on the planet. The Lord of the Rings was no exaggeration—this place is gobsmackingly beautiful.

The Matakauri Lodge, a 12-suite hideaway, is all about location, location, location! Situated on the very edge of Lake Wakatipu with views across to The Remarkables mountain range, it is an Instagram moment without parallel.

It’s chic and discreet, yet only seven kilometres from all the action of Queenstown. Known as the adventure capital, Queenstown is also the bar capital of New Zealand! In town there is Bardeaux, The Bunker Bar and Eichardt’s Bar. I really love nearby Arrowtown. It is a quaint, historic gold mining town, that boasts stand-out spots like The Blue Door. A blue wooden door is the only sign that will alert you to what’s inside—a cavernous, cosy and atmospheric bar where the music is great, the staff cool, and the NZ wines are best of all. Also check out Dorothy Browns boutique movie theatre and bar, Nadene Milne Gallery for great NZ contemporary art, and lunch or brunch at The Chop Shop.

Other “must do” activities in the South Island include a helicopter flight to Milford Sound with Over the Top Helicopters (ask for “Choppy”), lunch at Amisfield Winery, and time just relaxing at Matakauri Lodge. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Time to hit the beach. Do you know what a “bach” is?  It’s kiwi for beach house. Think simple, rustic and reminiscent of old fashioned family beach holidays. After a taste of “lodge life” at its best, head to Auckland and hop on a gorgeous 40-minute ferry ride to spend a couple of nights at the ultimate bach on Waiheke Island. The Oyster Inn has a cult following: it’s simple, fun, and what NZ beach holidays are all about.

The Oyster Inn is a true Waiheke Island gem. It’s a seafood restaurant and bar, beach shop, and three-room boutique hotel rolled into one fun spot. It has charm and casual chic-ness in spades. Dining there is a must, as expert fisherman Terry Gallon catches the freshest and best local fish for The Oyster Inn. They also shuck oysters daily from around New Zealand, including Waiheke’s very own Te Matuku Bay oysters. The owners are passionate foodies and are tapped in to the island’s eating scene, so have them book your dining spots in advance—Te Motu, Cable Bay and Poderi Crisci are some top picks.

For your final destination, there’s no better way to ease back into city life than seeing Auckland, a picturesque city on a harbor. I recommend staying near the water to enjoy the views. Lodging options are mostly chain hotels, and the Sofitel and Hilton are well positioned and best. The Auckland Art Gallery is a must visit, to enjoy a fabulous blending of an historic building with a sensitive and tasteful modern addition. Check out the city shops for some top New Zealand designers or head out to Parnell for more local boutiques and cafes.

For dinner, don’t miss Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar. It is so right for New Zealand; Chef Al Brown nailed it with this casual, kiwi format. Nothing precious or pretentious here, it is fast, fresh, and deliciously fun! It’s the perfect finale to a fabulous New Zealand experience!

Visiting during the Southern Hemisphere summer (December through March) makes perfect sense. The weather is great and you can escape the winter back home. Fly direct from LA or Houston (Air New Zealand has just introduced new flights) to Auckland and let the adventure begin.

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3 Responses

  1. LeTraril Knight

    My God, The sights are wonderful (like in a dream imaging heaven) their in New Zealand and Cairo to the French Riviera. Thanks, Chico’s a job well done!

  2. Erika

    Yes indeed , we visited most of these areas during our recent stay and it is truly a fabulous country.
    South Hadley Travel . These are tips that are for sure right on.
    { Erika}

  3. Sue Pendleton

    We were on a cruise between Sydney and Auckland in January-February with several days stay on each end. Loved everything? The beautiful scenery, weird animals, great food and truly was wowed by the Dragon Boat Races in Auckland. The Sofitel Hotel was an easy walk to the Harbour Area and all the action and food! But about the wardrobe… I saw several women on our Azamara cruise wearing Chico’s denim trousers but in the Soul Indigo and without the worn crease printing where the thigh breaks when sitting. One is totally a blue jean while the other was worn with flats and heels, buses with cardigans or sweaters and scarves. I only saw a few crop pants and those were in the Sydney Harbor area near the Aquarium and other exhibitions that draw families with children. My Black Label white flares fit in very well in the CBD even during the dinner hours. So please, for those of us that do travel internationally can you have a few stylish slacks that go past ankle or skimmer length and in fabrics that stand up to long days (not just acetate knits)? I would love to have those flares in a nice tan and very deep black that does not fade for several vacations in the next year. They obviously were popular as they sold completely out.