Their Summer Down Under, Your Wanderlust Fulfilled

Jan 09, 2017 Avatar Hilton Smith Hilton Smith

Long ago savvy travelers discovered Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. An opposite climate pattern means indoor and outdoor summer pleasures when many European sites are in the deep freeze.

New Zealand is a pure gem near the bottom of Earth that offers a huge range of travel opportunities for its small size. Unspoiled landscapes, a modern society but with a reverence for the land, outdoor adventure experiences, a cuisine long based on “farm to table” and a giving and engaging population offer an ideal holiday destination.

Multi-faceted offerings mean that your time in New Zealand can be spent on a broad spectrum of experiences from exclusive luxury lodges to physical adventure treks, nature encounters, fabulous food and wines, fishing, golf, relaxation and wellness and urban and scenic wonders.

Auckland on the North island is the country’s international gateway. Our arrival was from San Francisco with my first experience of United’s Polaris Business Class service.

Some aspects were positive like the upgraded food and presentations.

Unfortunately there and back the service was inconsistent. The new soft goods were helpful, but the new revolutionary Polaris seats have yet to appear anywhere. Unless United makes a more concerted effort, it may be years before all international aircraft have them. Eight seats across on a B777-200ER is just not comfortable.

Internally on our trip, Air New Zealand did everything right.

We arrived in Auckland on a quiet Christmas morning. It gave us a chance to explore the city on a beautiful, sunny day. We visited down by the water, ferry landings, and very quiet CBD (Central Business District). The City of Auckland is in the early process of building a subway system downtown.

That coupled with lots of building construction means a suggested short stay there to see the highlights. Our home there was the very comfortable Stamford Plaza Hotel.

We had a pleasant day and wonderful Christmas dinner that evening overlooking the main marina. This was at the family owned and beautiful Sails Restaurant a short drive from center. A professionally designed itinerary meant we knew of the very limited dining offerings and planned for it.

Some fellow travelers we met along the way were unaware. With open reservations scarce, they ended up at The Crowne Plaza Hotel for Christmas dinner.

The highlight of the stay in Auckland was a lunch and wine tour of Waiheke Island, just 35 minutes from the CBD by ferry. New Zealand has amazing wineries, but most are small. Here you have the opportunity to discover wines you have never tasted before right where they are made. We single out Mudbrick as one of the best for both wines and the winery itself. I can think of no better setting for a long, lazy lunch. We later explored the main town on the island and ended up having dinner at a local Italian eatery.

Then it was on the Christchurch at the northern end of the South Island. The Christchurch CBD was severely damaged in 2011 and 2012 by earthquakes, but the city remains strong. Construction is now well underway and there is lots to enjoy in and around the Canterbury region.

An authentic trolley car ride gave us an interesting city tour with commentary. Several museums were open and thriving. Fiddlesticks Restaurant was fun for its views and outdoor seating. The Christchurch Botanical Gardens was impressive as one of the best in the Southern Hemisphere.

We also rented a car and did a day excursion into the countryside which was spectacular.

Part of the day was a visit and lunch at one of the Luxury Lodges of New Zealand, the classic and fully restored Otahuna Lodge (pictured).

Less than one hour from town, it is indeed spectacular as one of the Luxury Lodges of New Zealand and well as Relais & Chateaux. Built in 1895, the lodge is full of history and priceless art and design.

We had one of the best meals we had on the trip. The location is the perfect jumping off point to explore the region as central Christchurch continues to rebuild.

We stayed at The George Hotel on the outskirts of the CBD which is very comfortable, the best in the CBD at the moment.

Then we flew on to Queenstown further down on the South island. Queenstown is an adventure capital situated along the banks of Lake Wakatipu. Bungee jumping, jet boating, the general start of the Milford Trek Walk, Milford Sound by road or air, wine tasting and fantastic cuisine all radiate from here. Surrounding the town is some of the most scenic landscapes you will ever find.

We did a full day Milford Sound Adventure with the three hour plus but intensely scenic drive there. We then took the two hour boat ride around the Sound, a must. With this trip, after numerous tries, the weather cooperated and we were able to fly back to Queenstown on a fixed wing aircraft in 35 minutes.

The valleys, rivers and snow capped mountains were as striking as one could imagine with the return ending a perfect day in New Zealand. Please note weather changes quickly here. Even if you book a fixed wing or helicopter ride, there is no guarantee. Regardless a trip to Milford Sound is one you will never forget.

The next day we did a four hour private wine tour as well as a stop in less busy Arrowtown. We visited several wineries and tasted wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, popular Pinot Noir and Merlot Cabernet blends.

Smaller batches means if you like something, take a bottle or two home with you. Between wineries, we saw participants both bungy jumping and jet boating, a rare mixture indeed. The wine tasting this day was just the warm up for New Year’s Eve that evening where we would ring in 2017 in Queenstown.

Due to its location, New Zealand is the first major country in the world to welcome a new year. Again advance planning paid off.

We actually stayed at The Rees, a dramatic lake side complex with spectacular views(in the right categories). More than a bit of walk from town, we always took the complimentary shuttle. We chose The Rees to avoid the massive crowd that evening to celebrate with music and fireworks the dawn of 2017. Yes, we did go into town for the festivities that evening, but we could then leave the noise behind.

We arrived about 7:00 p.m. to find a town already celebrating, both locals and tourists, estimated at about 40,000 at its peak. We had New Year’s Dinner at Rata, Josh Elliot’s local restaurant. The food and service were good, but not spectacular.

We then headed for Patagonia, a not to miss heaven of chocolate and ice cream flavors we could never resist.

We walked along the lake front as it finally got dark around 10:15 p.m.

The end celebration was at a private gathering at Eichardt’s Private Hotel, a perfect viewing spot on the 2nd floor overlooking the lake. Eichardt’s has quickly become the luxury choice in Queenstown with a restored main building and a new section, with the best location and the best local design.

At midnight the crowd went wild and the fireworks lasted for about 15 minutes. It was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful New Zealand adventure, an end of the year trip to be long remembered.
Good travel planning is made up of art, science and creativity. With New Zealand as the subject, practically all things are possible. Do not let this small, but mighty country escape your travel agenda. Now may be the best time to explore 100% Pure New Zealand.

Let TravelStore take you there and unlock the best possibilities for the pleasures and rewards of this most beautiful country.