My Last Tour Before Hibernation (Lockdown)
Written by Alex Cameron, Operation Manager
I’m currently in lockdown in Christchurch with my mum, my sister and my 3 year old niece and 2 year old nephew. I finished guiding an 18 day tour and a nationwide lockdown was announced one hour before I farewelled my tour clients. The NZ government are making best efforts to stamp the virus out early and they’re putting human safety above all. Captain Jacinda Ardern has steered this ship calmly and cleverly through these rough and unchartered waters!
On 23rd March I finished guiding the most wonderful group from Colorado, comprised of 2 couples who were neighbours who’d not long ago met each other. We started in Auckland on 6th March, which feels like a lifetime ago. This is a time I speak of as though it was decades ago, a time when I didn’t think twice about walking in to a public space and grabbing a door handle or picking up a magazine while waiting for my takeaway coffee, passing by another person without giving them 2 metres of space!
These folks enjoyed the trip of a lifetime just in time before the world shut up shop to deal with our old mate COVID 19. I too had a wonderful trip and experienced some new things I hadn’t done before. Now that I’m home for 4 weeks minimum, I am dreaming about the trip I had and craving getting back out into the big wide world of Aotearoa/New Zealand!
The following are some of the highlights of the trip that’s just been:
Casita Miro – Waiheke Island
It’s nothing new to talk up the wonders of Waiheke Island. I’ve been a few times and there’s no denying that it is a beautiful haven surrounded by pohutukawa lined beaches, beautiful wineries and great vistas everywhere you turn. What I didn’t quite expect was Casita Miro – A stunning little boutique winery up the hill that genuinely succeeded in making me feel as though I’d travelled to Spain for a cheeky wine tasting. It is like nowhere I’ve been in NZ – The cellar door was gorgeous, designed with floor to ceiling windows to take in the surrounding views and natural light, the outdoor area in which we did tasting was beautifully put together – tile mosaics for miles, a great spot that felt secluded while also giving a feeling of being spacious and open. The wine was delicious and the staff were magnificent – their passion for wine is very strong and we felt like we had been welcomed in to a warm and inviting family home in the Spanish countryside!
The 309 Road
Between Coromandel and Whitianga I decided to try a new route known as “The 309 Road” which I’d heard a lot about. My first stop along the way was an unusual place called “The Waterworks.” Here we played around with all sorts of contraptions powered by water, including anthropomorphic figures cycling on water, a clock that relies on a water pressure powered pendulum, and far too many signs saying “give this a go!” which resulted in water being sprayed on our faces more times than we’d hoped for. Further up the road we stopped in at Waiau Falls which is only a 30 second walk down the steps to the viewing point. Standing here under the covers of towering kauri trees and lush native ferns gives the impression you’ve escaped the modern world and can expect to see a T-Rex come around the corner at any moment. Just a further few minutes up the road is the stunning Waiau Kauri Grove. While the kauri trees here are not of the same proportion of those that can be seen in the Waipoua Forest in Northland – google “Tane Mahuta” – this is an excellent place to see a great
number of ginormous ancient kauri trees up close (but not too close). This 30 minute walk was absolutely exceptional and we were extra lucky to get there just as a bit of mist was passing through the forest before it started to rain – making the experience all the more dramatic. Many of the trees in this forest are around 500 years old and are truly awe-inspiring. The remainder of the road to Whitianga isn’t an easy drive, being mostly gravel with plenty of sharp narrow bends, but I couldn’t recommend it more if you have a good vehicle and good driving skills.
Finally Making My Way to the Top of the South Island
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of Te Waipounamu/South Island. While Te Ika a Māui/North Island has it’s stunning beaches, kauri forests, ferocious and colourful volcanic activity, rolling green hills and larger more exciting and diverse cities, the south’s landscapes are of a larger scale – the mountains are higher and sharper, the lakes are a bright blue, glaciers terminate into rainforest, and it all feels a bit more untouched and secluded. Knowing I’m near the Southern Alps gives me a sense of comfort that I don’t get in the North. I had the opportunity on my pre-hibernation trip to finally make my way to the Northernmost part of the South Island. I had come close before but never I had never quite made it the whole way, and I can say I was not disappointed with what I saw. First on the agenda was Te Waikoropupū Springs, known as having some of the
clearest water ever recorded on earth. I’d never been to the nearby Takaka before and was so impressed with this adorable little hippy town. It had such a great feel to it. The short loop walk through the forest at Te Waikoropupū was very pleasant and the springs themselves were absolutely beautiful. The bright blues and greens were stunning and I enjoyed the view while piwakawaka/fantails danced around me. Perfect. It was a stunning day and there was no way I was going back to my motel just yet. I got in the van and just kept going as far north as I could. While Farewell Spit was a bit more dull than the tropical sandbar I’d stupidly imagined since I was a kid, Cape Farewell – the Northernmost tip of the South Island was very dramatic and picturesque. Popping back through the pleasant village of Collingwood, I had an amazing fresh burger from The Courthouse Café, sitting in their delightful little garden area, before making the rather tiring drive back over Takaka Hill, but not before stopping in to see a mummified cow that my friend had told me so much about… It was quite something.
Top Eateries on the Trip
Sugar Club – Atop Auckland’s Skytower. I’m not usually one for high-class “let me explain the menu to you sir” type restaurants that use ingredients it would seem simply because they are from another language and sound cool, but I don’t care what anyone says, the food at Sugar Club is exquisite and like nothing else I’ve ever tried. The menu changes constantly so there’s not much point recommending my favourite dishes, just go for the 3 course tasting menu and you won’t be disappointed.
Kika – The food here is simply stunning. It’s a touch fancy and I would describe the place as effortlessly cool as opposed to pretentious. The slow roasted lamb is impeccable and whatever they’re doing with their potatoes is magic.
Amisfield Bistro and Cellar Door – I can’t rave on enough about Amisfield and the experience of dining there. Their wine is some of the best I’ve tried in NZ and the food is just so perfectly cooked and prepared, not to mention the beautiful vistas to be seen from the patio of their gorgeous high-ceiling stone building. In the winter months it’s a magnificent place to spend an afternoon under the giant timber rafters with the open fire blazing.
A Special Mention:
Lazing about on sunny day in the Cloudy Bay Garden after sampling their famous sauvignon blanc was very blissful. They have bean bag chairs strewn about on the lawn and egg chairs swinging from massive eucalyptus trees, all overlooking their extensive range of different grapevines. Do not miss Cloudy Bay when travelling through Marlborough!