Friday, April 4, 2008

More Pictures from the Cooks

The lagoon at Aitutaki Resort on Rarotonga. We crossed on the little boat for their island night - a fabulous show and authentic meal. The picture at the right is Moana Sands beach. There we had wonderful snorkeling in warm water with lots of new fish we hadn't seen in the Caribbean. Bill saw a huge moray eel. Glad he didn't choose to say Kia Orana to me!

Back Home Again

We are home to warm (ish) early spring with daffodils and cherry blossoms. It's a bit of weather-shock after the tropical Cook Islands. As we expected, LA seemed incredibly crowded, frantic, and loud. Our hotel, the Marriot, had probably more rooms than all the hotels and guest houses combined in Rarotonga, and we saw more traffic in 24 hours than we had seen the entire previous five weeks. We miss the laid-back quality of life already.

Here are some pictures from the Cooks.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


The island show was good, but too touristy compared to the one on Wenesday night at the Aitutake Hotel here at the lagoon. This troup just wasn't as authentic, no coconut shell bras, and too much tourist hipe. Oh, well. The food was great. Lots of fresh fish, pork, chicken, and the usual wonderful salads.

Our hotel in Aitutaki, Wednesday and Thursday night, was a "chalet" (that seems incongruous here, but it's what they call them) with big bedroom, kitchen, and nice bath. We were a coconut throw from the white beach. Our flights to and from Aitutaki were easy, and only about 40 minutes in length. The airports are so small, you just get there about 30 minutes before the flights leave, and the guy playing a ukelele stops singing and says, "okay, if you are going to Rarotonga, get on the plane now." It's amazing.

Tonight, someone blew a conch shell at 5:00 pm. and announced, "happy hour." What a place.

I can't put up pictures, because this internet service is so very slow. It's just not worth it. I'll put them up when I get home.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Aitutaki Island

We are now back in Rarotonga. Aitutaki was wonderful, and we spent my birthday on a lagoon snorkely cruise with a local guide and three other people. We snorkeled on two different reefs, visited the islands where Survivor was filmed, then had lunch at a third island. We had fresh grilled yellow fin tuna, a variety of tropical fruits including papaya, guava and watermelon, a salads. It was wonderful. Then, there were two hours for lounging in the shade, listening to island music povided by our hosts, or swimming on the pristine white beach. I didn't miss birthday cake in the least.

Dinner was at a local restaurant and consisted of fresh Parrot fish stuffed with crab and shrimp, marinated in coconut mile, and wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. It was gorgeous.

I have already spent 40 minutes writing another blog, which got lost when I tried to publish it, and this internet connection is very slow, so this will be short. We fly out tomorrow night about midnight, and will be back in LA about noon on Sunday. Home on Monday.

I'll try to post some photos and another addition to this later. Right now, I want to hit the lagoon before happy hour! We are staying at Pacific Resort a Sandals property. Got upgraded to a garden suite, and it's absolutely lovely. What a paradise. Island show tonight!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Cook Islands - Tuesday

We arrived in the Cook Islands on Easter Sunday afternoon, having left Auckland on Monday afternoon. It is really strange to gain back a day. Here, and in NZ, the Monday after Easter is also a holiday, so nothing has been open until today. We even walked about 45 minutes in the hot sun to lunch yesterday at a Sailing Club up the beach. It was worth it, as the salads were terrific and the beer cold. I have pictures of the small regatta to share. Nice little double hulled sailboats.

The island is lovely, just like a Pacific island should be and like you've seen in the movies. There are white sandy beaches, tall coconut palms, and mountains in the center of the island. Our hotel is right on the beach, and there's great snorkeling right out our door and down two flights to the beach. Because we are on the top floor, our view is amazing. The reef is a long way off shore, so we have lots of fairly shallow water to explore, and there are lots of fish to be seen. Some are quite different from the ones we are used to in the Caribbean. The food is very good, and we've both eaten mostly fresh fish. Tonight, the restaurant in our hotel is open, so we will eat there, with a rhythm and blues singer performing. That should be interesting.

The flight over from Auckland was only 3 hours and 35 minutes on a big 777, and very comfortable. The lunch was delicious - can you believe it on an airplane? At reception, the friendly representative of our tour agency hung gardenia leis around our necks in welcome.

This morning we went on an arts and cultural tour, and because Bill and I were the only ones, we had a private tour. The guide took us to several historic sites of the Maoris, and several artists' studios. We had lunch in town, and will take the island bus back to our hotel after a little shopping. It's a pretty laid back lifestyle, as you might expect. Tomorrow morning we fly to Aitutaki for two nights. Then, back here on Friday to stay at Pacific Resort, a Sandals hotel. It looks pretty posh.

I am sending this from an internet cafe, and didn't lug my computer along on the tour and into town, hence no pictures. But, I have taken some great ones of the blue Pacific and crashing surf on the reef. I'll post them when we get home - or, if we find a different arrangement at the next hotel, which I doubt.

It's great weather. The vegetation is lush and in bloom. Can't ask for anything more. Lots of hibiscus, bouganvilla, crotans, banana trees, papayas, coconuts, etc. We ate island spinach the first night, which I later found out, is Taro. It was delicious. This whole island is delicious!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Sunday on Waiheke Island

The traditional view of the Sky Tower in Auckland on the right. If you look closely, you may be able to see the bungy jumper on the righthand side about half way down.
Tane Mahuta, the giant Kauri tree. It's difficult to get an idea of the scale of this tree from a picture. On the far left, is the Ferry Terminal in Auckland.

Today, we spent the day on Waiheke Island where there are about 15 wineries, mostly specializing in red wines. It is about a 35 minutes by ferry across from Auckland. There were lots of day- trippers going back and forth to celebrate the holiday, swim on the lovely beaches, and visit the wineries. We were glad we had a car, as we could go at our own pace.

We had lunch at Stoneyridge Winery and enjoyed a bottle of their very nice sauvignon blanc. The small menu selections were plenty for lunch. Bill had bruschetta with goat cheese and proscuitto. I had a vodka cured salmon with passionfruit and saffron flavored yogurt sauce. Both were delicious. We visited two other wineries, Mudbrick (which is pretty well-known) and Te Whau which has a very modern winery overlooking the expanse of beaches, the end of the island, and vineyards toward Auckland. It's a spectacular view.

Last night, we enjoyed another wonderful meal. I'm sure you are tired of reading about these. We ate at Harbourside restaurant which is in the Ferry Terminal building. I'll go into the menu, if anyone wants details. It was just as good as Craggy Range and the setting on the poarch included a view of the Auckland harbor and a sunset sky. It couldn't have been nicer.

Tomorrow, we fly to the Cook Islands. We leave Auckland about 11:30 a.m. arriving there at 4:30 p.m. We gain a day, but lose an hour. We'll then be on the same day of the week as the US. I don't know what the internet sitiuation will be there, but trust I can continue with postings.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Auckland and Waitangi Treaty House

Above: Racing sailboat in Auckland harbor, Hokianga Harbor, Waka canoe at Waitangi
We made it to Auckland just fine, after an all day drive across the north island to the lovely and sacred (Maori) harbour of Hokianga on the west coast. There are more big picturesque dunes there and very small settlements. It's amazing when you find beautiful peaceful places like that which are totally undeveloped. We also drove through the forest of huge Kauri trees, similar to our redwoods. "Tane Mahuta", the biggest remaining tree was just a short walk off the highway.

The Kauri Museum, totally off the beaten path, was fascinating and enormous with a complete history of the thousand year old trees and the timber industry back in the 1930's and 40's. Now, there are very few left, but the museum has an extensive collection of furniture, wooden boats, rooms of panelling, bowls, etc. that have all been made from the Kauri wood as well as antique saw mills, chain saws, and other tools (Matt would love it). As we were traveling on Good Friday, there was so much traffic coming out of Auckland, the roads were jammed. We decided to head straight back and turn the car in early. Unfortunately, the car had other ideas, and with the check engine light on, we limped up all the hills driving the last 60 miles. It was an ordeal. Of course, finding the rental car agency in an unfamiliar BIG city was also a challenge. We were both getting pretty flustered, (that's putting it nicely) when we drove around the block, again, and there sat the Budget office. We were two minutes early, just before they closed. Whew.

Back to Waitangi two days ago. The tour of the grounds and the treaty house was lovely and informative. The Whare (pronounced "fah-ray") is a meeting house, and this one was built with authentic tools in the traditional manner in the late 1930's to comemorate the centenary of the signing of the treaty between the English and the Maori in 1840. We also saw the 33 meter waka, built the at the same time. It is taken out in the harbor every year on February 6, the anniversary of the signing) and paddled by 80 Maori men. Can you imagine a canoe big enough to hold 80 people? They say it weighs 12 tons when in the water.

The cultural show that night was wonderful, with all young beautiful performers doing the traditional songs and dances. I've never seen anything like it. It was exceptionally well-done, costumed, and lit - all in the meeting house with the carved statues of the 14 tribal ancestors looking on.

We walked all around downtown Auckland today, went to two markets, ate in the Viaduct Harbor overlooking racing sailboats and took the ferry to Devonport. Now, there is a lovely charming village with art deco buildings, cafes and art galleries. What a place to live! Lots of people were going across with children and bicycles because of the holiday weekend and perfect weather. There were hundreds of sailboats in the harbor. Wish you could all be here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pictures and More

Here is one of the big dunes at the northend of the North Island.

"My" airplane that we flew up to the north end of the island. Great flight.

On the left, Cape Reinga lighthouse at the tip of the north island.

Here's the Hole in the Rock from our cruise of the Bay of Islands.

This afternoon we go to the Waitangi Treaty House for a tour at 3:00 p.m., and tonight, we have a cutural show on the Waitangi Reserve. Tomorrow, we'll leave about 9:00 a.m. to drive the scenic route down the west coast of the north island to Auckland. We'll take our time and see the scenery. So, we won't be into Auckand until about 5:00 p.m., and I won't write again until tomorrow evening. We have a free day in Auckland on Saturday, then a day on Waihike Island. Then, it's off to the Cooks.

Happy Easter to all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Maorie Waka Trip, Bay of Islands Cruise, Salt Air Flight

Yesterday, we drove up to the river boardering the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and climbed into a traditonal Maorie canoe for a trip up the river to Waruru Falls. Our guide, a Maorie with a big bone in his pierced ear taught us Maorie chants for paddling (very helpful after he broke the outboard motor on a rock), gave us lots of NZ history, and cultural stories from the Maorie people. We only had eight people paddling the big heavy wooden canoe and four passengers: the guide (big tatooed man), his daughter (large woman), grandson (small boy) and a disabled Kiwi who had broken some ribs two weeks previously doing handsprings over rocks. Well, it got him a free ride. We stopped for a rest half way back from the falls at the guide's "sacred meeting place" where we waded through knee-deep black, not sacred at all, mud to the shore. That was an experience in itself - pretty scary. We were presented with a traditional welcoming ceremony and ancester -remembrance sort-of experience inside the hut where there was a carving representing the guide's grandfather similar to a totem pole. The bone came out of his ear and became a flute which he played between chants. It was mostly conducted in the Maorie language which is quite lyrical. It was not an experience one has every day! We paddled successfully back to our launch site in rhythm to the paddle chant. Quite a haul.
That afternoon, we went out on the Bay of Islands cruise on King Cruise lines. It was a comfortable catamaran with lots of deck space (not at all crowded this time of year) for viewing the 144 lovely islands, rocks, clear lagoons, dolphins, and the Hole in the Rock which our captain succesfully negotiated without our having to paddle. The water is a beautiful green and full of game fish. Lots of people come here for the snapper, marlin, yellow fin tuna, and something called hoki. This is the season, we are told, for good fishing, and there is snapper on every menu. We bought some fillets this afternoon in a fresh fish market, and I'll cook it up for supper in our kitchen.
The first night we were here, we ate at "Only Seafood," which has a website, if you want to check it out. I had yellow fin tuna seared in soy sauce with bamboo shoots and cashews. Excellent. Last night we ate at Cafe 6 Bistro. It's German so I couldn't pass us the sauer braten, and it was delicious. Bill had pan fried whiting. We haven't had a bad meal in NZ, especially when we order seafood. It's all fresh and plentiful.
Kerikeri is another area of orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards. They say, you stick something in the ground and it grows. The soil is volcanic. The Maorie word "keri" means "dig," and the area was named because all the new "European tribes" did when they arrived was to dig holes and plant stuff.
We were picked up promptly this morning at 7:45 and taken to the airport to fly in our 6 seater small plane up the west coast of the north island to the very top. After a scenic 45 minute flight, we landed on a grass strip where a comfortable van picked us up to drive to Cape Reinga where a light house marks the northernmost tip. It was amazing to see where the two great oceans, the Pacific on the east and the Tasman on the west, meet in swirling currents. The fishing there is supposed to be great, too. Next time . . . .
Our van took us next to a morning "picnic" of fresh muffins and coffee on a deserted white sand beach where dolphins sometimes visit. Then, on to the famous huge sand dunes where we took boogie boards almost to the top and slid down. It was tough going in the soft sand, but I made it up and down twice. Bill insisted on going higher up the third time, came flying down, hit a small mogul and became airborne rolling three times to a final stop in the sand. It's good sand is softer than snow, but he is complaining of a sore shoulder this afternoon. Thank goodness for Celebrex.
The flight down the west coast back to the airport was even more scenic as we flew over white sliica beaches, green clear rocky lagoons (you could even see the little sharks on the bottom), and the many islands, most of which are desserted. It was quite a day and a wonderful trip.
I'll upload some photos tomorrow morning, as we have until afternoon before our tour of the Waitangi treaty grounds. This is the second time I've written this as I lost it last time on our hotel website. I'm now at the internet cafe next door and the connection is much better.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bay of Islands

Above, the kitchen in our apartment.

Our beach at Bay of Islands.

Bay of Islands

Here is Craggy Range winery. That's Te Maa Peak in the background.

This little lad was blowing away, but playing nothing but squaks and squeaks, at the farmer's market on Sunday. He was so funny, people kept dropping coins in his hat! He probably made more in 10 minutes than the legitimate musicians that were playing at the other end of the market.

We flew to Bay of Islands early yesterday morning. Got into Kerikeri at 11:00 a.m. after changing in Auckland. These small domestic flights are easy. We had lunch at Marsden Estate, explored the little resorty village of Kerikeri, then drove down to the coast to our lovely modern apartment across the street from the beach. Edgewater Palms apartments is new, beautifully furnished and very comfortable. We have our own kitchen and washing machine. Our unit looks out on the infinity lap pool. Couldn't ask for more room, privacy, or comfort.

Bay of Islands is sub-tropical, and it is stange to see palm trees and banana trees growing side-by-side with roses and grape vines. The weather here is usually warm but cools off at night. Yesterday we had bright sun and a nice cool breeze. Last night is got pretty cold in here. Amazing. We are off to paddle a Maorie canoe this morning and to take a boat trip out to Hole in the Rock.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Farmer's Market and Craggy Range

These are views from Te Mata Peak. The one on the right is looking down on Craggy Range Vineyard.

This morning we visited Havelock North farmer's market, a larger one than last Sunday in Blenheim. There were vendors from the entire valley with a wide range of produce, cheeses, olives, meats, eggs, candies, coffee, etc. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and very clear. Locals were browsing, buying and enjoying the music. Some brought lawn chairs, let the children run and play, and sat sipping the great coffees. It was a real treat. One of the oil producers sells to Whole Foods in the US - Village Press. Look for their very special olive oils there.

We then spent an hour or so walking through Hastings, another art deco town and drove to a couple of vineyards. Black Barn is a lovely place with a big outdoor restaurant and special events venue. There had been a wedding there last night, so the white floral arrangements were still in place. It was spectacular.

We had a 12:30 reservation at Terroir Restaurant at Craggy Range, a vineyard in a green valley beneath Te Mata Peak. We tasted their wines first, and were very impressed with them. Each we tasted was good, from the Marlborough sauvignon blanc to the Gimblett Gravel Merlot. They also export to the US. Their wines are a little higher priced than some NZ wines, but first quality.

Our lunch was the best food we've had in NZ, and that's saying a lot. Our starter was delicate crab salad and avocado on a brioche with lemon sauce. For the main course, I had a whole snapper fresh from Hawk's Bay wood-fire grilled, and Bill had grilled lamb loin. The service was excellent. It was a memorable afternoon, sitting on the terrace with the view of Te Mata, the lake, and green lawns. Terroir is understandably well-known for it's food. If I can imagine heaven, I think I was there enjoying it this afternoon.


Here are pictures from yesterday. The top one is Mission Estate, a gorgeous winery with good wines. The middlc is downtown Napier. And, the one on the left, is next to the waterfront park in Napier. Notice the art deco architecture (and lack of traffic at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.)

Friday, March 14, 2008


This is the small bay outside the restaurant, "The Smoke House" in Mapua. Disregard smaller image.

Napier was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in the art deco style. It wasn't until the 1980's, however, that the city council realized what they had, and by then, several examples of art deco buildings had been torn down to build glass-fronted modern 70's buildings. Now, it has become the "art deco center" of the world. It is a lovely small city with palm trees reminiscent of South Beach but without the high temperatures, the tourists, and the humidity. We had a good architectural tour for an hour this morning, then drove up to Mission Estates, the oldest winery in NZ, which is still owned by the Catholic Church. Until 8 years ago, it was still a monastery. We had lunch in a small cafe nearby that is situated in a garden center - sort of a "ladies who do lunch" place - but beautiful.

Then, we drove down to Clearview Estates on the Pacific coast, tasted their excellent wines, and did a 45 minutes hike along the rocky beach toward Cape Kidnappers. The tide was going out, but we got stoppd by a really rocky area beneath the cliffs where we either got wet or turned back. We chose the latter.

Stopped in at Kim Crawford nextdoor to Clearview and met a couple of local lads, one who is an advertising consultant, and his cousin who just won an international award for portrait painting. Very friendly to us old folks, they invited us to share their meat and cheese platter with them. Like all New Zealanders, they are bright and interested in people, so it was fun to chat with them about their country, Australians, and wines.

Off to dinner, and then tomorrow we have the local farmers' market in Havelock North, and lunch at Craggy Range.

Hawk's Bay and the North Island

This is the cathedral in Nelson. The downtown streets are all hung with beautiful hanging baskets of flowers like this.

We left our beautiful cottage at 6:30 a.m. to drive to the airport in Nelson. Actually, being Americans, we arrived way too early for a NZ domestic flight. We were told to get there at 7:25 for an 8:10 flight, but just didn't trust that. So, there was no problem turning in the Budget Rental car, and we were the first to arrive for the flight. Sure enough, the locals started turning up about 7:40. There are no security lines, and the NZ check-in lady only looked at our passports because I offered them as proof of our names on the tickets. There are not only no security lines, there is no security on flights within NZ with under 68 passengers. So, you check your bags and board the flight. In Napier, they delivered the bags on baggage carts, and you simply lift yours off, and off you go. Budget had our car ready, we signed a paper, were given the keys and were driving to lunch at Sileni Estates within 10 minutes. Amazing. There is a great sculpture garden at Sileni with affordable sculpture pieces. I wish we lived here, I'd buy some.

Sileni is a big winery, imports to the US, and has a great outdoor restaurant. We had a nice pizza with local feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes; and shared a salad. Good Sauvignon Blanc wine. We then drove through acres and acres of vineyards on both sides of the road to Havelock North, which is a very up-scale town with lovely shops (Eilene you'd love the shoes and clothing), and boutique food stores of every kind. The North Island is definitely greener and more affluent than the South Island. After visiting Te Mata Winery, the oldest in NZ (110 years old) and sampling some of their wines, we checked into our "colonial" homestead B & B out in the country. There are walnut trees dropping nuts all over the ground, almond trees, avocados, and olive trees surrounding us. It's an amazing bountiful land. We also see more apple orchards here, and viturally thousands of acres of vineyards on everyside. The valley is flat and wide.

After a short nap, we drove up Te Mata Peak, a hair-raising narrow road with steep drop-offs and no guard rails, had a glass of wine to celebrate arriving safely at the top, photographed the views, and then drove back down (it was easier after one glass of wine - not two), to Havelock North to the highly recommended restaurant, "Diva." It was devine (sorry, it really was). We had snapper, lightly crusted and sweet. Also, a boysenberry creme brulee to die for. The young chef, Ben Cruise (sp?), was trained in England, and knows what he is doing!

Tomorrow, we have an art deco tour of Napier, then lunch at Mission Estates above Napier. This is really a different part of NZ. It is obviously more "posh," and there are incredible modern new homes on the road up to Te Mata Peak. There were lots of "people of a certain age" enjoying wine with their friends at tables outside at the restaurant tonight before going on to dinner. It's got Cashiers beat, hands down. Can't wait to see of Napier lives up to its reputation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Last Day in Nelson area

Yesterday was for taking it easy. We did laundry and hung it on the line in the sunshine and breeze, visied Mapua galleries, did a little grocery shopping, and cooked in "our own kitchen." We had wonderful fresh lamb chops and fresh brocolli. We are surrounded by apple orchards growing Gala apples which are being harvested now. They are beautiful to look at, sweet, crunchy and juicy. Up the road toward Abel Tasman are fields of lettuce, melons, and orchards of kiwis. It's a real truck farming area and very fertile. There are a lot of properties for sale here as the older generation is selling off their acreage and scaling down. There is a huge new modern house (4 bedrooms, two living areas) with a garden that looks like a park, three rock ponds, and small waterfalls, just above us here, with a view of the Tasman Bay - $1,600,000.00 NZ, if anyone is interested.

Today, we drove up to two wineries in Upper Moutere, Kahurangi (which produces 29,000 cases a year) and exports to the US (I have tasting notes, Neil), and Neudorf Winery which is smaller, "Charlie Trotter" in Chicago has their wines. Both wineries have been here for a long time and have older vines than those near us at Ruby Bay. We also visited Neudorf Dairy which makes incredible fresh sheeps' milk cheese. Lunch at our cottage on leftovers, a little nap, and a long walk through the country roads. The pickers left two bright red apples on one of the trees, and they just fell into my hands! We met the wine-maker who works on this vineyard, Atilla. He and Sam, the owner, are anxiously watching the grapes. A hard rain now would be devastating for the harvest.

More Kiwi slang: "Sitting on my choff" - well, you probably have figured it out; Pokies = gambling machines; jangles = flip flops; chilly bin = cooler; crib = small vacation home on the north island; bach (comes from bachelor pad) = small vacation home on the south island. Sign on the side of a milk tank truck = "Milk Moooover."

We have an early flight to Napier tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top. Onetahuti Cove
Rt. This is Split Apple rock, our destination on our kayak tour. It's in Abel Tasman Park.
Lft. Pinot grapes in Ruby Bay vineyard. They are almost ready to pick.

Ruby Bay, Nelson area

There are some places you visit that live up to your expectations: Venice, New York, Key West. There are others that exceed them: the Grand Canyon, Paris, Santa Barbara, CA. As most of you know, I had very high expectations for New Zealand, and it falls very strongly into the second category. The land itself is magnificent, the food and wines are delicious, and the people are, without exception, naturally friendly and welcoming. You realize you will always be returned a smile and conversation for conversation initiated. The Kiwis have a woderful sense of humor and enjoy a good story. It is easy to talk to total strangers and you soon get over the feeling of shyness that every new-comer has in any foreign country.

Last night we had fresh seafood in a local cafe ( on the waterfront in a tiny little village, Mapua, just 10 minutes from where we are staying. We had an outdoor table looking over a little bay with a few small sailboats and dinghies anchored. The sun was setting over the mountains behind Nelson, and with the tide low, the water was calm. The air was delightfully cool. There were several tables of locals and a few tourists. A young couple came in with three children, two little girls, and a baby about 4 months old. After ordering their food, the mother saw me admiring the baby, picked him up and brought him over to our table to introduce "Joseph" to us. He smiled a big happy dimpled smile at me, and she handed him over for me to talk to him for a minute or two. It was the most spontaneous and friendly encounter. Now, where else have you been lately where that might happen?

We spent the morning yesterday kayaking in Abel Tasman, It was cool and slightly overcast, so we avoided the danger of getting sun-burned. A bag lunch followed, then we were taken by water taxi to Onetahuti for a walk back down the Tasman track to Bark Bay. The sun was shining by this time, but we were in heavy shade for part of the track with 50 foot fern tress and heavy green moss on the forest floor. There were two sparkling waterfalls, golden sand beaches, and crystal clear emerald water. We saw a colony of seals on one of the islands, had a good 2 hour walk which was pretty steep in several places, and then joined our water taxi (right on time, again) for the return trip ot Kaiteriteri. It was a great day, and we returned to our cottage for a cold glass of Pegasus Bay riesling. It just doesn't get any better.

The landscape is so beautiful. The towns look like the 1960's. Of course, we are still on the south island, and there are fewer people here than on the north island, but there is just no traffic compared to the US, and all two-lane roads. By the way, the music that is played in cafes and pubs is all 1960's Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Bill and I can sing along with all of them!

I'll post some pictures this afternoon.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nelson area

This is our view yesterday morning of the Marlborough Valley from our hike up the Wither Hills Farm Park trek. It was a pretty steep hike with lots of trails we didn't follow, but a good 1 hour workout. There are hundreds of acres of vineyards in the valley and adjacent ones. Hopefully, the big wineries won't take over the boutique wineries in the valley. There seems to be some cause for concern.

We went to the Sunday morning farmer's market in Blenheim which featured local farmers and local residents being themselves. There were fresh cheeses, produce, crepe stands, expresso sellers, locally raised nuts and milled olive oils. What fun! We bought a baguette, a soft cheese, the reddest plums I've ever seen, candied almonds, and Manuka honey - all locally grown or produced. After our trek up the hills, we visited Matua winery and bought an exceptional bottle of sauvignon blanc which we enjoyed with our fresh picnic lunch. We also stopped at Villa Maria winery for a tasting. Back to our nice apartment for a short nap, then back to work, visiting Montana (Brancott) and Dryland wineries. Montana doesn't use this in their name on the US imports because of the confusion with our state. Also, it being a huge winery, they also bottle under the Stoneleigh name, which accounts for all the acres of vineyards we've seen in Marlborough carrying that name. Dryland is also the producer of Nobilo and Monkey Bay - two of our favorite wine labels, so there is another "mystery" solved. The Matua sauvignon blanc was labeled Paretai Sauvignon Blanc and is only available from restaurants and some wine stores in the US. It is wonderful.

We ate dinner at the restaurant at Vintner's Retreat. Bill had the rack of lamb, and I had the Marlborough salmon which had a salsa of red peppers, green onions and pomegranate seeds! Both were delicious.

Her's some pinot gris grapes, sidewise. There is netting used throughout the region to prevent the birds from eating all the grapes. We are now at Ruby Bay Lodge in their guest house, which is a private cottage just for guest use and includeds every amenity. Check out their web site: We have met the Scottish owners, tasted their wines, and are enjoying the lovely platter of cheeses and meats on our porch while admiring the view of their vineyards and the Tasman Bay. What a luxurious place to spend four days. There are bay-side cafes and restaurants within a 5 minute drive. Tomorrow morning we sea kayak, walk, and cruise the Abel Tasman park.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Marlborough wine district

Here is Bill in the rose gardens of the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch. The roses are beautiful right now, as it is the second summer blooming - like September in the northern hemisphere.

We visited three wineries this morning: Hunter, Cloudy Bay, and Allan Scott. They are all within a five minutes drive of our lovely apartment-style hotel. Thanks, Bob, for the recommendation of Allan Scott. It is, indeed, a great winery with a garden and an outdoor restaurant. Bill had an oyster and bacon pie, and I had green mussel and shrimp salad. Both were great with the Allan Scott's sauvignon blanc. It was the best s.b. we tasted today. The others, although higher priced, were very acidic. This afternoon, we took a nap, (Eilene, our rest day was today) and then drove into Blenhiem, which is really just a small "farm" town, to find an ATM, visit a petrol station, and do a nice walk in the park along the river. The flowers are blooming. The walking path lies along the public golf course. So, after a nice hour-long walk, we are back at "home" fixing a salad in our little kitchn for supper. Eating out every meal gets old. Actually, we've had breakfast in almost every morning, as every hotel has coffee makng facilities, and yogurt and fruit are easy to find in local shops.

Tomorrow, there is a local market at the fair grounds, so we'll go there before doing the Wilton Hills walk and then more wineries.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Onward to Marlborough

This is Chard's Farm winery just outside Queenstown.

Boy, these NZ rental company people are efficient here. This is a second time a Budget car has been delivered to our hotel, right on time. Very little paper work, and away we went. We were out of Christchurch and on the road by 8:45 a.m. It's a gorgeous drive up through the North Canterbury plain where there are rolling high hills on both sides of the road, very green, with happy sheep nibbling along. As we got further north, the road ran right beside the green Pacific with mountains on the left. We went through some pretty twisty mountain roads with cedars and big pines on every side, then down into Kaikoura which is famous for it's whale watching tours. We skipped that in favour of a seafood lunch at the Pier Hotel on the bay. Bill had a rich seafood chowder - cream based - and, I had the local crayfish, which is like Florida crawfish. Delicious. (By the way, Karolyn, Finz in S. Bay is closed.)

Back on the road, we drove along the Pacific for another 45 minutes and spotted seals sunning themselves on the rocks. It looks a little like the rugged California coast. Then, back inland for another 45 minutes through dry brown high hills again. It's a very dramatic landscape against the brilliant blue sky. The Awatere Valley appears one of the newest vineyard areas with 100's of acres of newly planted vines. Got into Blenheim about 4:00 p.m. The Marlborough Valley is wide, flat and full of wineries. There are grapes everywhere you look. Our hotel, The Vintner's Hotel, is separate one-bedroom apartments - beautifully furnished, modern, and with a huge bathroom.

Oh, this morning, we stopped at Pegasus Bay vineyard about an hour outside Christchurch. What a lovely setting with rose and herb gardens, views, and excellent wines to taste. Neil, the dry riesling is terrific.

Tomorrow, is Marlborough wineries day. We are right among the vines here, Staet Landt is across the street, and Cloudy Bay is around the corner. It's pretty amazing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


First, the Bodhi Tree last night, the Burmese restaurant: it seems to be very popular with locals, has great authentic food (I guess, having never been to Myanmar, the modern Burma), and we enjoyed it immensely. We had a papya salad, and a shredded chicken mixed greens salad; then, pork dumplings (pot stickers) and lamb kebabs; then a piece of semolina/coconut cake. None of it was really spicey, just enough. It's a great place for a different kind of meal. We took our own bottle of sauvignon blanc with us and paid a small corkage fee, so the whole meal was about $55.00, which is pretty cheap for NZ. The food here is more expensive than at home, especially eating out.

Today, we went to breakfast in the cafe at the cathedral and then over to Town Hall (just half a block from our hotel) to meet Ken Oxford who is Larry and Mary Jo's friend here in Christchurch. He gave us a VIP tour around the huge performing arts center he manages, and we are meeting him and Steph for a drink at the Warner Hotel, a historic place next to the cathedral.

We then walked through the Art Gallery (all free) and the huge arts center which is housed in the old buildings of the University of Canterbury. Since it is cloudy and cool, you can imagine you are in England as the buildings look like those at Cambridge or Oxford, only smaller. The arts center has a collection of galleries, artists' studios, and shops. It is reminiscent of Biltmore Village in Asheville. Had lunch there at a great wine bar called Annie's. Soup and salad was delicious. It was a short walk from there to the botanical gardens where we strolled along the River Avon, saw the incredible exhibit of begonias, the fern house and the formal rose gardens. It is lovely.

Tomorrow, the car is to be delivered at 8:30 a.m., and we are off to Blenheim.

Cheminne is the winner of the "bingo wings" contest. Clever girl!

Christchurch Bush "Safari"

We were picked up at our hotel this morning at 7:40 am by a nice lady in a van and taken up to
Springfield which is about 1+ hour across the Canterbury Plain. There we were picked up by "No Hassle Tours" who took us to the Waikamakiri River for a jet boat ride with "young Matt," an experienced jet boat "driver." The river is run-off from the snow fields in the Southern Alps, and aqua blue with a little milky cast. Absolutely beautiful. Of course, we were given the usual thrills of running up to cliff-sides on the river and swerving away at the last possible second and 360 degree turns in the middle of the river. You've seen it on tv. It was great fun and the scenery was spectacular. (Sorry, I keep using that word.) It was rough coming back against the current, but exhilarating.

Then, we were taken in a unimog (a big four-wheel-drive army vehicle) up to a sheep and cattle station owned by an individual family for the last 4 generations. It is 10,0o0 acres with 7500 sheep, and I don't know how many Aberdeen beef cattle. Gorgeous country and gorgeous livestock. The ride was really rough. Would rather have hiked in, and could have done it in the same time, but we were captive. Lunch in a cafe, then by van to Arthur's Pass (look it up on internet) to catch the Alpine Express back to Christchurch.

Now, what a day! This country is so un-spoiled. It reminds me of the countryside in the US in the 1950's. The houses are all small, though nice, and there are no inter-states or big subdivisions, and absolutely no billboards. It all look vaguely familiar, which only you of our generation and older can understand.

More things we like about NZ:

Every restaurant puts a big pitcher or carafe of fresh tap water on the table, no questions asked. It is cold and clean (sometimes iced), and one doesn't have a choice of "gas or no gas," for goodness sake.

You can bring your own wine to most restaurants - and the corkage fee is usually $5.50 NZ. That's a lot less than we pay in Cashiers.

Every motel and hotel, so far, has had laundry facilities. Pay attention Europe. You can't find a washing machine there at any price.

We also love the Kiwi slang:
- -
Stickies - after-dinner sweet drinks
Sallys - Salvation Army charity shops, every town has one
Puku - bellies, especially on men, it's a sign of prosperity
Road maggots - big camper vans (or SUV's in our country)

Now, we'll see who is following this blog. The BIG question - What are "bingo wings?"

Whoever answers correctly in 24 hours gets a free flight to NZ. (NOT)

Check out Mansion House Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 (Savvy). It's soft, well-balanced, and delicious. That's for all of you who love good sauvignon blanc. I hope it's available in the US. Neil?

Will try to download and upload some pictures tomorrow. Just haven't had the time or energy. Also, will tell you about the incredible Burmese restaurant we ate dinner in tonight. One of the best meals, Bill reports, that he has ever enjoyed. I'ts called the Bohdi Tree and has a website.

Monday, March 3, 2008


A very English city, with an Avon River and a cathedral. The flight from Queenstown was easy; it's a small airport.

Things we love about NZ:

There is no traffic
The roads are beautifully signposted
No tipping is expected
The food is fresh, local, and excellent
The people are incredibly unpretentious, genuinely friendly, and helpful
The public restrooms are always clean
Children walk and ride bicycles to school

More later

We go on a bush trip tomorrow out to pick up the Alpine Express train and back to Christchurch and through the national park west of Christchurch. We went to two wineries this morning on the way back to the airport. Peregrine is gorgeous with very modern architecture. Check out their website:

Everyone here is interested in the primaries tomorrow in Ohio and Texas. It's amazing how much this part of the world knows and cares about politics in the US.

Alexandra Wineries and Countryside

The Central Otago is not only known for its pinot noir, it is also a huge fruit growing area. We bought fresh peaches, pears, green gage plums. cherries, and apricots at a roadside fruit company. They are lush and sweet. The flavors are so different from those you buy in a grocery store. Our hostess serves a whole platter of cut fresh fruit for breakfast every morning. There are also fresh local cheeses. It's not a bad way to live!

Bill did a "walkie" around the property this morning while I worked on the computer. Rocky Range consists of 100 acres of lovely raw property, not much grass, lots of wild thyme, bees, and lavendar. The views are magnificent. Late in the morning we headed for Black Ridge winery the southermost winery/vineyard in the world. We ate a picnic lunch by Lake Dunston between Cromwell and Alexandra. It's a power lake, turquoise in color, and surrounded by steep barren mountain slopes. The countryside looks like the Colorado mountains.

After lunch, we drove on into Cromwell to visit Wooing Tree winery owned by friends of our new friends in France, Sue and Micaela (where we stayed in the Loire Valley in October.) Steve was expecting us and shared a glass of his award winning pinot noir. He is looking for a US importer, so I took his card to share with Neil and his friend Rob who works for Country Vintners. Wooing Tree is on the floor of the valley and is fast producing some of the best wines in the country. We then, drove up to Mount Difficulty for some of the most beautiful views of valley and mountains in the area.

Dinner back at Monteith's restaurant in Alexandra. They have wonderful warm lamb salads. Delicious.

Tomorrow we fly from Queenstown to Christchurh.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Alexandra, NZ Sunday

Pouring rain and gale force winds in Te Anua this morning. We are so glad we did the Milford Sound trip and the trek over the last two days. I would think the track is closed today because of the weather. Our shoes are soaked from yesterday, and the room was draped with wet-weather gear. We had a great dinner of lamb and fresh NZ salmon and slept well, our last night in the Fijorland area.

Drove back through Queenstown area and out into the Central Otago. We stopped for lunch in the Gibstown Valley winery, immediately off the road and easy to find. (Everything in NZ is easy to find.) There is very little traffic and everything is well-marked and signage is easy to follow. Excellent food and excellent wines.

Stopped at the "Big Picture" for a big-screen helicoptor tour of the Otago wine district and tasting of six pinot noirs. Interesting experience, and, my favorite, was stopping at a local fruit orchard stand for fresh peaches, greengage plums, cherries, pears, and apples. All are grown here in the Otago Valley. Incredible.

Our B & B tonight is "Rocky Range" which is locally owned by a Texan and a Kiwi. Lovely couple and gorgeous facilities. Every need is accomodated graciously.

Tomorrow is for more wineries and a good hike in the rocky terrain.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sunday morning

It's blowing a gale off Lake Te Anau and still raining. So glad we did the Milford Track yesterday. More cascading waterfalls and thundering rivers swollen with all the rain we've had. At one point, the guides were saying we couldn't go the entire distance in (5.5 klm) in because there was waist deep water to cross. After our picnic lunch in the first hut; however, the water had receded somewhat and once we got to the crossing, it was only ankle deep. Not a problem, but certainly created wet sloggy shoes and socks for the rest of the walk. Our round-trip trek was about 6 miles. The rainforest is beautiful with green moss all over the floor and growing up the sides of trees. We saw fan tail birds and bush robins, all very friendly because people feed them. The entire Milford Trek is 33 klm long, and one can only do it in one direction. The number of people walking at any one time is limited so that there is not too much crowding. Most folks carry their provisions and bed rolls to spend the three nights on the trail in comfortable huts. Some less brave souls book with guides and very fine lodges for the three nights. Three course meals are provided and lots of NZ wine. Sounds like a plan.

This morning, we are off to Central Otago and more wineries, then overnight at Rocky Range in Alexandra. (They have a website if you want to take a look.)

We are much happier now that our luggage arrived while we were on the walk yesterday. It got here about 4:30, 5 days since we saw it in LA. It's amazing how little one can get by on.

Hopefully, I'll be rested enough to download some photos tonight and get them attached to the next blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Te Anau

We drove up to two wineries in the Queenstown area yesterday before heading down to Te Anau, arriving about 5:00 p.m. Chard's Farm is lovely, with a Tuscan-style cellar door and great whites and pinots. It is up a long gravel drive with steep drop-offs to a roaring whitewater river below. Well worth the heart-stopping drive. Bill has taken to driving on the left side of the road like a champ, with lots of coaching through every round-about.

Then, we had lunch at Amifield Winery. They have a great restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor patio. Food was wonderful, and a sauvignon blanc from a single vineyard and a little oak finish that was unlike any we've had before. Absolutely heavenly. Then, we headed for Te Anau. It's about a 2 hour drive through gorgeous sheep and deer (!) ranch countryside in valleys between two steep mountain ranges. It is so strange to see herds of deer grazing the pastures. Our motel room is very nice with a small kitchen, a separate bedroom, and a view of Te Anau Lake. (Te Anau rhymes with "see the cow.")

Today we went on the Milford Sound cruise. The two hour trip on a coach between Te Anau and Milford included some of the most raw beautiful scenery we have ever seen. It is a landscape I never dreamed still existed without the ruinous influence of people. Fijordland National Park is 3 million acres of protected rainforest, wide planes with trout streams, and crashing waterfalls (literally thousands of them today because it was raining). The boat trip took us around the sound to view more waterfalls than we've ever seen in our lives. I kept thinking of the poor people of Atlanta who would have given anything for all the fresh water. It rains there 200 days out of 365 and the annual rainfall is more than 25 feet. No wonder it rained all day today.

Our luggage has yet to appear. We did get $100 each from the airline yesterday and visited the NZ equivalent of K-Mart to buy a change of underwear and some t-shirts. It's so frustrating because we have all that nice rain gear in the suitcases that we need for this weather and our trek tomorrow. They say the luggage is now in Auckland, (they said that yesterday) and should be delivered sometime tomorrow. We'll see.

This part of NZ is dramatic and un-spoiled. The people are all still friendly and helpful. We have a great landlady who is even supplying rain gear for us tomorrow.

More later.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


It's Thursday morning here, and we spent yesterday traveling from Auckland to Queenstown by air. We had only 3 hours in a motel in Auckland 2:30 am - 5:30 am) before the on-going flights, therefore, we were exhausted but after an easy transfer to the Blue Peaks Lodge, we forged ahead to Bob's Peak to travel 1200 feet almost straight up on the cable car to the top. The views are magnificent of the Remarkable Mountains and Lake Wakatipu below. Hang-glidders were sailing from top to bottom, and the sun peaked in and out makiing a dramatic display on the lake and mountainsides. It was spectacular. The lake is turquoise.

After lunch, we took the TSS Earnslaw steamer to the Walter Peak sheep farm. The steamer was built in 1911 and still has it's original coal fired engines. We watched a Welsh collie work the sheep to whistled commands, and then, most amazing of all, a big wooly sheep sheared of her wool in about 4 minutes. The tea was served in the lovely big house, and consisted of a generous supply of scons and little pancakes with whipped cream and jam. It was all provided very graciously and a beautiful setting. The roses, hydrangeas, agapanthes, and dahlias are in full bloom.

Jared and Neil, you would have loved the luge on Bob's Peak. It was so much fun, even for us two very cautious seniors. You could have gone down the advanced course - over an over. Also, you'd be here about two days and be hang glidding off the top. There's also para-sailing and bungy jumping. Something for everyone.

We have no luggage yet. NZ Air keeps promising to deliver, but so far, we have nothing but the clothes on our backs and a few basics like toothbrushes. We head for Amisfield winery and a couple of others when our car is delivered at 10:00 a.m. Then, this afternoon we go to Te Anau.
It's been a bit difficult so far with the flight delays, no sleep, and no clothes, but this is a gorgeous country and the people are just a friendly as reported. Everyone here is dressed casually, mostly in outdoors sorts of clothes. Our motel here, Blue Peaks Lodge, had a small kitchen and was very comfortable.

Hopefully, in my next posting, I'll be better dressed!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The City of Angels

We are still in LA as Air NZ had to postpone our flight until tomorrow morning. So, we will arrive in Auckland 12 hours late. We are staying in a lovely Sheraton, however, at NZ Air's expense, have had a great dinner in Shuler's restaurant, and will enjoy complimentary breakfast in the morning. Too bad to miss 12 hours in NZ, but at least we are comforatable and happy. Had a great day at the Getty Museum, and a wonderful lunch in their cafe. It's an impressive place, however Mr. Getty earned his fortune.

The saga continues tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cook Islands Itinerary

Sun 23:

4:15 p.m. Welcome to the Cook Islands. Three nights in the Moana Sands motel on the beach

Mon 24 Rarotonga Arts and Culture Tour - visit sites historical to the native Maori people

Tues 25 Free day to explore, swim, and snorkel

Wed 26 Fly to Aitutaki, arruve 11:20a.m.. Two nights Tamanu Beach, a native style accomodation on the lagoon

Thurs 27 Bishop's Lagoon Cruise. Cruise includes snorkeling, fish feeding, stops at the motus, a fish BBQ lunch at One Foot Island, and a birthday cake for Roxanna

Fri 28 Fly to Rarotonga, arrive 10:00 a.m. One night at Pacific Resort including use of kayaks, canoes, snorkeling equipment, tropical breakfast daily.

Sat 29 Market day in town. Black pearls for sale! Depart Rarotonga at 11:59 p.m.

Sun 30 Arrive LAX, 12:20 p.m. Overnight Marriott

Mon 31 LAX to Greenville, arrive 5:47 p.m.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Itinerary for New Zealand

Feb. 23 Depart GSP for LAX, Overnight Marriott Hotel at airport
Feb. 24 Depart LAX 9:30 p.m. for Auckland via NZ Air
Feb. 26 Arrive Auckland, 7:15 a.m. Depart for Queenstown, South Island 10:15 a.m. NZ Air
Overnight Queenstown, Blue Peaks Lodge (2 nights)
Cruise Lake Wakaitipu on TSS Earnislaw vintage steamer for sheep shearing show, and afternoon tea at Colonel's Homestead
Feb. 27 Queenstown Skyline Skyride aerial gondola up Bob's Peak and luge ride down
Feb. 28 Rental car - visit wineries in Queenstown area, Peregrine, Gibbstown, Chard Farm, Amisfield (lunch) Drive to Te Anau, overnight Radfords Motel (3 nights)
Feb. 29 Milford Sound Day Excursion
Mar. 1 Milford Track, one day hike
Mar. 2 Drive to Alexandra in Central Otago Visit The Big Picture wine experience, wineries
Overnight Rocky Range (2 nights)
Mar. 3 Wineries in Central Otago, Wooing Tree, Akarua, Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty (lunch),
Mar. 4 1:10 flight to Christchurch, Copthorne Durham Hotel (3 night)
Mar. 5 All day tour across Canterbury Plains, jet boat trip, 4WD vehicle travel through Torhesse Station, through Arthur's Pass National Park to join Tranz Alpine train for trip back to Christ Church
Mar 6 Day free to explore city of Christchurch
Mar. 7 Drive from Christchurch to Blenheim via Pegasus Winery and Kaikoura for whale watching. Overnight (3 nights) Vintners Hotel in Marlborough wine region
Mar. 8-9 Visit Marlborough wineries, Montana Brancott, Spy Valley, Staete Landt, Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, etc.
Mar. 10 Drive from Blenheim to Nelson wine region Overnight Ruby Bay Lodge and Vineyard (4 nights, self-catering cottage in the vineyard)
Mar. 11 Abel Tasman day excursion, hiking, sea kayaking, swimming
Mar. 12 Day at leisure to explore wineries and Moutere Olive Farm
Mar. 13 Day at leisure to explore Nelson artists' studios and shops
Mar. 14 Fly from Nelson to Hawk's Bay, Napier, North Island, arriving 11:15, Lunch Sileni Estate, Overnight Fairhall Estate (3 nights)
Mar. 15 Art deco tour of Napier, visit wineries, Te Mata, Clearview Estate, Kim Crawford
Mar. 16 Hawkes Bay Farmers Market, Craggy Range, lunch
Mar. 17 8:10 a.m. flight from Napier to Kerikeri in Bay of Islands, Lunch Marsden Estates
Overnight Edgewater Palms apartment (4 nights)
Mar. 18 Maori waka (canoe) up Waitangi River to Haruru Falls
Cruise from Pahia Wharf into Bay for dolphin watch and through Hole in the Rock
Russell for dinner
Mar. 19 Salt Air flight up western coast line to Ninety Mile Beach
Mar. 20 Waitangi Treaty house and reserve tour, folkloric show in evening
Mar. 21 Drive from Bay of Islands to Auckland via Kauri Museum and lunch at Cooper's Creek, visit Matua Valley
Mar. 22 Auckland Mercure Hotel (3 nights) Day free in Auckland
Mar. 23 Ferry to Waiheki Island Visit wineries, Mudbrick, Te Whau, Lunch at Stonyridge
Mar. 24 Depart Auckland 11:25 a.m. for Cook Islands
Mar. 23 Arrive Cook Islands after gaining a day crossing the International Dateline

Cook Islands Itinerary in Future Posting

All hotels and special tours listed above have websites if you are interested in visiting them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Itinerary for New Zealand

We have received our final itinerary and will be posting it soon. It looks good with lots of different activities and days of rest in between.

I will post it within the next two -three days. Comments and recommendations are welcome.