A Journal, with Pictures

Archive for March, 2020

New Zealand 2020

by on Mar.10, 2020, under Happenings

On  Saturday, February 15 we left Savannah for a two-hour forty-minute flight to Houston, then the fifteen-hour flight to New Zealand on Air New Zeland. The Air New Zealand flight was very good or at least as good as a fifteen-hour flight can be. We arrived in Auckland early in the morning where we were met by the Seasonz representative who had us in the car in short order being driven to the Auckland Hilton. We had booked the room the night before so we were taken directly to our room. We showered had lunch and met our guide for a tour of the city . The tour included a visit to the Auckland Memorial Museum which includes an extensive Mauri (Indigenous people) exhibit as well as the memorial to the World War I New Zealanders who were lost. We then drove around the city as well as the quaint suburb of Parnell. In the evening we dined at a waterfront restaurant called Soul and I had two of my New Zealand favorites, local oysters and White Bait then finished with a Pavlova for dessert.

The City of Auckland has grown and changed dramatically since I had last visited. Our stay was just one night and we left the next day which was Feb 17 since we lost a day traveling across the international dateline. The rest of our trip would take us to three Lodges on the North Island and One on the South Island over the next two weeks. Our next stop would be The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs which is on the East Coast (Pacific Ocean) at the north end of the North Island.

 

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The lodge at Kauri Cliffs, North Island NZ

by on Mar.10, 2020, under Happenings

We flew to the Bay of Islands airport from Auckland the afternoon of February 18th arriving at the lodge late in the afternoon. Kauri Cliffs is a Robertson Property developed by an American who purchased 6500 acres and in addition to the luxurious lodge, cottages and a championship-level golf course operates a sheep and cattle ranch on the property.  There are three Robertson resorts in New Zealand and we will visit two. The Lodge and cottages have a spectacular 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean and overlook the golf course. During the tour of the beautiful facility, we learn that there will be a beach barbeque that evening, so it’s time to unpack and then we are transported over the grazing land and hills down to a stunning beach that reminds us of the Monterey, California Coast. Cocktails and great dining at sunset on the beach, plus a chance to interact with the other guests from around the world is a great way to start our New Zealand Lodge experience.

The next day we have a private charter to cruise the nearby Bay of Islands. After a great breakfast, we scurry around getting all the things we were told we should take, towels, swimsuit, sunscreen, etc. etc. and show up at the lodge with half of the list. The staff hands us a bag with everything needed when we get to our car and we realize we need to stop thinking and let these great people take care of us. We arrive at the dock and are met by our Captain (owner) Alan and his first mate Jennifer and welcomed aboard “Bucket List”. We are getting over jet lag and our instructions are we look forward to a relaxing day exploring the Bay of Islands. This is exactly what we experience, cruising through islands, seeing the spot where Captain Cook the first European landed, anchoring in a cove and having Alan and Jennifer prepare fresh snapper fillets, barbequed rack of lamb served with fine New Zealand wine, topped off by a Pavlova for dessert. More cruising and finally back at the dock ends a perfect day. Again, the New Zealand theme continues, Alan and Jennifer make us feel like family, not charter customers.

The evening after the cruise on the Bay of Islands during cocktails we were treated to a performance by a local Mauri tribal group.

The final day at Kauri Cliffs included a round of golf. The course was stressed by recent droughts, but still beautiful with great holes along the coast. We enjoyed our golf and had another great dining experience then it was time to pack.

We rose to see a beautiful sunrise then enjoyed another great breakfast overlooking the golf course, and ocean. Then we were off to the airport bound for the Huka Lodge.

 

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Huka Lodge North Island NZ

by on Mar.08, 2020, under Happenings

On Friday, February 21 we transferred to the Bay of Islands Airport from Kauri Cliffs Lodge. Oops the flight to Auckland was fine, but the ongoing connection Taupo airport was canceled, so instead, we flew to Rotarua and were driven the one hour trip to Taupo where the car from Huka lodge was waiting. On our drive, we saw extensive forests that were being harvested and replanted and a lot of geothermal activity. This part of the island was formed by volcanic activity. The lodge is situated on the Waikato River that flows out of Lake Taupo New Zealand’s largest lake. Our suite had a great view of the river gently flowing by. Just below the lodge is the Huka Falls, which gave the lodge its name. It originally was a fishing lodge. Fishing is still a reason to visit but of all the great dining experiences we had in New Zealand, Huka Lodge had by far the best. We started our first night with a gourmet tasting menu served to us at our private table in the wine cellar, paired with a different New Zealand wine with each course. We followed this regimen every dinner while at Huka Lodge.

It was drizzling a little on the second day at Huka Lodge but that didn’t stop us from going fly fishing for trout on the Waikato river, with super guide Chris Brennan. Joyce had never fly fished and it had been years since I cast a fly, but we literally got tired of catching nice large Rainbow and Brown trout. We had a great time, catch and releasing well over 20 fish and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the river for a great day.

On Sunday we drove back to Rotarua to visit a Mauri Tribal meeting house (Marae) and learn about the Mauri people. We were treated to the welcoming ceremony which made us honorary tribal members, we watched traditional dances and saw how a feast (Hangi Meal) was prepared then cooked under the ground on heated stones. While the meal was cooking we took a short excursion to nearby falls hiked through the forest then watched white water rafting. Again, the New Zealand hospitality provided by the two Mauri families made us feel right at home welcoming us and treated us like family.

One last incredible dining experience, then time to pack and in the morning after another great breakfast we were off to Cape Kidnappers by car.

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Cape Kidnappers North Island NZ

by on Mar.08, 2020, under Happenings

On Monday, February 24 we were driven the two-hour drive to the Hawks Bay Region stopping for lunch at the Clear View Winery. This is one of the wine regions of New Zealand with the largest city in the area Napier. Napier is interesting in that it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1920s and rebuilt in the art deco style. After lunch, we continued the short distance to the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, which is a 6000-acre working ranch with approximately 2000 sheep and 500 cattle. Overlooking the bay is the world rated top 100 Cape Kidnapper golf course and lodge where we stayed. Our suite had a great view of the property and Hawks Bay and was only a short walk from the beautiful lodge. This is another Robertson resort so we knew the evening routine, cocktails, and canapes served in the lounge area followed by a gourmet dinner with fine NZ wine and outstanding service.

Our first day of exploration started with a Kiwi discovery walk. Laura our naturalist guide took a group of guests into the woods to find a Kiwi, which is the national bird of NZ and an endangered species. To help preserve the Kiwi population a number of Kiwi sanctuaries have been established to increase the survival rate of young birds. Cape Kidnappers Farm is one of the sanctuaries and Laura used a radio direction finder to locate one of the chicks that had a radio tag. We got a briefing on the Kiwi and saw the humongous egg of this species. The full-grown Kiwi is about the size of a chicken and does not fly. Kiwi’s are nocturnal feeders so the Kiwi was awakened from his sleep so we could observe it. Laura weighed the bird, checked its health then placed it back in a burrow with some food. It was an interesting and educational experience and helped us work up an appetite for lunch.

After lunch, it was time for a Can-Am (All-Terrain Vehicle) tour of the property. This included a visit to the furthermost reaches of the farm through old creek beds, across expansive farmland and down to the ocean.  We also visited the rookery of the Gannet, the chicks first flight is eight-day non-stop to Australia. This is the largest rookery and it is estimated that these birds consume eleven tons of fish per day. We observed the parents feeding the chicks.

On Wednesday we played the Cape Kidnapper golf course. This is a stunning setting and the designer Tom Doak took advantage of the seaside cliffs and rugged terrain to produce a visually spectacular and difficult test of golf. We enjoyed our round and had a “small world” experience on the 16th. hole. A single caught up with us so we let him play through and low and behold it was Will Mayhall a fellow member at Chechessee Creek Club.

Another nice evening enjoying the great dining experience and service, then pack. Tomorrow after breakfast we leave for the South Island.

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Blanket Bay Lodge South Island NZ

by on Mar.07, 2020, under Happenings

On Thursday, February 27 we flew from Hawks Bay on the North Island to Auckland and then to Queenstown on the south end of the South Island. We traveled by car an hour to the south end of Lake Lake Wakatipu to the Blanket Bay Lodge. The lodge is a very impressive stone and wood structure overlooking the lake and the Livingston Mountains. Our suite was at the south end of the hotel and had a patio and windows that gave us spectacular great views.

The weather changed our plans for Friday so we moved the day’s activities to Sunday and enjoyed a day of relaxing at the lodge and a visit to the little town of Glenorchy for some shopping and sightseeing in the drizzle. Saturday the weather cooperated so we embarked on our Dart River Jet Boat Wilderness excursion. This included a mini-bus ride through the countryside leading to the rivers entering the south end of the lake, then a hike through the forest and finally a Jet Boat ride up then back down the Dart River. The Jet Boats are fast and bouncy able to travel with only 8 inches draft over the rocky river rapids. We had ponchos but we still got a little wet but the incredible scenery and exciting ride made it worth it.

Sunday was our last day of touring and it was also Joyce’s Birthday. We were picked up in front of the lodge after breakfast by our helicopter for the morning. We lifted off headed across the lake and climbed over the Livingston Mountains, through valleys, over glaciers, traversed the valley to the next range, the Franklin Mountains, and descended into Milford Sound to the beach on the Tasmanian sea. A recent “rain event” washed a large amount of driftwood and a number of boulders onto the beach which made for an interesting walk. We landed on a glacier and the beach for a hike as well as on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Wakatipu and had a champagne birthday toast. The sites were spectacular, our pilot Rene was great and when we were done we landed back on the east side of the lake at Moonlight lodge the headquarters of a 33000 acre “Sheep Station” (Ranch). One interesting observation was that the glaciers had a red hue, which was caused by ash from the recent fires in Australia. The three-hour helicopter exploration of the South Island mountains was one of the highlights of our trip.

We were met by Paddy our driver/guide at Moonlight lodge and were introduced to John Foster the owner of the sheep station. We then took a tour via a Can-Am ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle). We drove up and down over lots of rugged terrains which is where John raises his sheep. The area is grazing land, native beech forest, lakes, rivers, mining huts, and tracks from the gold mining era. Before lunch, we explored primarily sheep grazing land with panoramic views of the mountains. We then enjoyed a picnic lunch with John and Ginny Foster and his son and grandson as well as Paddy in front of Moonlight lodge which is also John and Ginnys home. In keeping with our entire New Zealand experience, we were welcomed and treated like family in the typical open comfortable sincere style of the people of this beautiful country. We learned a lot about the business of producing fine merino wool, mainly that it includes a lot of hard work and the market for wool is uncertain. After lunch, we reluctantly said our goodbyes to continue our tour. Paddy then took us down the canyon which was a major gold-producing area, with remanents of past mining activity and beautiful clear streams to ford. We swapped vehicles and then toured what was the gold rush town of Arrowtown that is now mostly shops and restaurants for tourist. We then headed back to the Blanket Bay lodge for our last dinner in New Zealand.

In honor of the birthday, the lodge poured champagne for cocktails and since it was a beautiful evening we dined outdoors on the deck with the incredible view we have enjoyed so much. It was another exquisite dinner with another excellent New Zealand wine finished with a birthday cake to cap off a wonderful stay.

 

We had a leisurely morning Monday packing and one last great breakfast served by the outstanding Blanket Bay staff. Our driver picked us up and we were driven back to Queenstown for our flight back to the U.S. through Auckland. This was the fifth trip organized by Tony Huffman for us and again it was another incredible experience. Tony and his associates as well as his partners, in this case, Seasonz in New Zealand, made the trip effortless, absolutely first class with every detail attended to. Our New Zealand experience was one of the best ever, Thanks, Tony.

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