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Diary of a New Zealand Fam Trip
September 15, 2011
New Zealand Lodges - Familiarization Trip
May 20-28, 2009
Auckland, Bay of Islands, Hawke’s Bay
Air New Zealand
We were booked on NZ 1, a 13-hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL) with a 9:30 p.m. departure. At LAX, Air New Zealand departs from Terminal 2. Passengers arriving on connecting flights into other terminals will need to walk (generally pleasant if you have time to spare and your luggage is manageable) or take the free airport shuttle bus.
Once on board for the long haul, economy seating was comfortable for me (5’4”) but would be cramped for taller passengers or when the plane is completely full. Recommend Premium Economy seating for passengers looking for a little more space. In-seat on-demand entertainment is available for all classes of service. For the return flight on a 747-400, I sat in the last row (Seat 67) and found it extremely spacious. Refer to Air New Zealand’s Seat Map for other options.
Meals in Economy seating include dinner after take-off (including wine), and breakfast two hours before arrival. NZ’s three classes of service are:
1. Pacific Economy Classes: Y / B / M / H / Q / V / W
2. Pacific Premium Economy Classes: U / E / O. Advantages include premium check-in and additional recline, legroom, and service benefits. Pacific Premium Economy cabins are located on both the upper and main decks on the 747 aircraft, or between Business Premier and Pacific Economy on the 777. Seats offer a seat pitch of 38- to 40- inches, a leg rest and foot bar, and 50% more recline that Pacific Economy. In-seat power is available in most seats. Amenities include a complimentary water bottle, Pacifica skin-care products, socks, eye-shade, ear plugs, toothpaste and toothbrush.
3. Business Premier Classes: C / D / Z / J: The seat is a 22-inch wide leather armchair with separate ottoman footrest that doubles as a visitor's seat. The seat converts to a 6'7.5" fully flat bed, and a unique design allows take-off and landing in a reclined seat position. All seats have direct aisle access, an adjustable table for work and dining, and in-seat power. Amenities include those mentioned above, plus a cotton pillow, duvet and sleep sheet.
*Arriving in Auckland*
We arrived at 6:30 a.m. two days after departure and quickly cleared customs. New Zealand agriculture is a mainstay of its economy, and customs works diligently to keep out any products that could introduce pests or contamination. It’s important to list nuts, seeds, etc., on your declaration form. Generally snacks (e.g., pistachio nuts, granola bars) won’t raise eyebrows.
Classic’s transfer company, New Zealand Wild Escapes, waited for our group just outside customs. We were loaded and ready to go just before the sun rose above the horizon. The temperatures (in May, on the cusp of winter) were in the low 40s F., and we were told that’s about as cold as it gets on the North Island.
We were taken to the Langham Auckland hotel, where our guide had arranged for us to freshen up, using a changing room near the Langham’s fitness center.
*Auckland City Tour*
Our first stop was a drive to the top of the city’s dormant volcano, Mount Eden, a site sacred to the native Maori people. The hillside pastures are fenced to allow cattle to graze, which keeps the emerald-green grass neatly cropped. From the top, you can view the city spread out like a lacy collar between the blue lapels of its two harbors. In the distance, the Sky Tower provides an unmistakable landmark of the city’s central business district.
Next we stopped for a coffee and pastry in the Parnell area, a street popular for its upscale shopping and numerous cafes. From there, we drove to the Auckland Domain, a large complex that houses the Auckland Museum, the Winter Garden, a large grassy park and playing fields. The Winter Garden greenhouse houses botanical treasures ranging from huge beds of blooming orchids to ferns that stretch high above your head. (Later, on my own, I toured the Auckland Museum. The neo-classical building houses three floors of exhibitions on Pacific People, Natural History, and “Scars on the Heart,” the story of New Zealand’s involvement in wars. A highlight of the visit was a cultural performance of Maori song and dance, performed by a group of eight men and women in native costume. The museum’s Maori Court includes some of the most significant Maori treasures, while other galleries tell the story of growing up in a European household.)
Our bus tour continued as we returned to the city’s central area and drove down to the Viaduct harbor. Here you can watch as huge cranes work busily loading and unloading freighter ships docked in port, while flocks of white sails bob gently on boats anchored in the marina. It’s easy to see why Auckland’s nickname is “The City of Sails.”
From the marina, we transferred to the Westin Auckland for our first site inspection and hosted lunch.
*Classic's hotels in Auckland*
Langham Auckland – 5 star
Brief impression: Gracious elegance
Leading Hotels of the World
At the top of Queen Street at Karangahape Road (fondly known as “K Road”), this former Sheraton offers a traditional luxury experience, with richly patterned, deep-pile carpets, crystal chandeliers, traditional wood furnishings, and impeccable service supported by a staff-to-room ratio of 1/1 for its 410 rooms. The hotel’s signature graphic is a pastel pink imprinted with a gold floral design; look for it adorning everything from luggage cards to room service menus to the prettily patterned box of stationery provided in the room.
In a nod to New Zealand’s English heritage, the Langham serves high tea in its lobby bar in the afternoons. Reservations are advised. The hotel’s ballroom, which can accommodate 300 seated guests, was opened on Mother’s Day in order to serve all the families who wanted to honor Mum by treating her to high tea.
Access to the hotel’s heated outdoor pool is through the newly opened Chuan Spa, where a menu of services focuses on restoring health and deep relaxation through holistic, traditional Chinese treatments. Nearby (but separate), the fitness gym offers treadmills, bicycles, an elliptical trainer, free weights and weight machines, and exercise bands and balls. The gym and pool are open 24/7. A single “Chuan Haven Residence” provides access to the spa facility and must be booked in connection with a spa experience. Business is brisk, with 17 bookings made just in the first week the room was open.
There is just one Chuan Spa Residence open so far (others are planned), but there are 70 Executive Club Rooms on floors 7, 8, 9 and 10. Club level guests enjoy butler service and entry to the club lounge, where complimentary breakfast, cocktails, hot and cold canapés are served. Suites feature a private bar, desk, Internet access, and richly brocaded bed coverings. Visiting government delegations often book all 13 suites on Floor 10, according to the hotel’s general manager.
Other room categories range from the lead-in Classic Room to the Royal Suite.
The hotel’s formal restaurant, Partington’s, was voted top honors recently by Salon Culinere, New Zealand’s culinary institute. Dark and formal, it features silk drapery, Egyptian cotton tablecloths, tables set with sparkling crystal, and a Winery with 400 selections. Partington’s is closed during the winter months (June 1- Sept. 30); however, guests can partake of the breakfast buffet and order café fare from the menu at any hour in the SBF Brasserie. The Langham boasts that it is the only hotel in Auckland to offer 24-hour café service.
Unique features: Formal elegance close to the motorway, just five minutes from Ponsonby, Newmarket, and the Auckland Museum. The hotel operates a complimentary shuttle in a loop around town.
Published rates: $369 to $519 per night
Mollies – 5 star
Brief impression: Tranquility & intimacy
Relais & Chateau
An eclectic Victorian-style gem, this 13-suite boutique hotel sits in an up market residential neighborhood overlooking Auckland’s Harbour Bridge and within walking distance of the Ponsonby café district.
Mollies is about a 10-minute drive from Auckland’s downtown marina area, and is not advised for guests who want to be in the city center. Nor is it a good choice for guests who are allergic to cats, as two of the critters run tame throughout the premises.
From the marble-tiled entry, to the orchid blossoms balanced in 2½-foot smoky blue vases, to a grand piano in a corner of one suite and the keyboard in the fitness gym, the artistic touch of owners Frances Wilson and Stephen Fitzgerald are apparent everywhere.
The numerous tables in the on-site gourmet restaurant can be (and often are) rearranged to accommodate private seating or group events. (One of Frances’ former opera students, rising tenor Simon O’Neill, was booked to give a dinner talk at Mollies the week we visited.) Tables are lit only by candles, but a small “torch” (or flashlight) at each place setting ensures that guests can read the menu. A glassed-in sunroom facing the street provides a warm and cozy setting for breakfast, where guests can enjoy the harbor view while sipping tea and nibbling pastries.
Room décor combines bold accents (think: zebra fur rug) with antiques and newer furnishings to create a luxurious “cottage chic” feeling. Guests who prefer contemporary lines and furnishings would do well to look elsewhere. All rooms appear quiet and comfortable, and are equipped with all the business equipment and Internet connectivity that a budding movie producer might need. Rates include rooms only.
In addition to 13 suites, Mollies offers a small fitness gym and a separate spa treatment area. Typical clientele ranges from corporate movie producers to honeymooners, all with one thing in common: they are looking for something “a little different” than your average luxury hotel.
Unique features: Richly-decorated, luxurious suites in a quiet residential neighborhood, away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland’s downtown.
Published rates: From $359 to $619 per night
What better way to experience the city of sails than from the water? Saturday afternoon found our group at the grinding wheels of a sailboat originally built to compete in an America’s Cup race. Not to worry if you’ve never sailed: participants can sit back and relax (more or less), or help a team of fellow grinders raise and lower the sails. It’s a fun experience that offers a wonderful alternate view of Auckland’s city skyline.
Our stay in Auckland complete, our next destination was a brief stay at sister golf resort properties, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands, and The Lodge at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay.
*Bay of Islands*
The easiest way to get from Auckland to the Bay of Islands is to fly. Commercial flights are approximately $200 one-way, and the flight from AKL to Kerikeri (KKE) takes a little less than an hour. Of course, by the time you factor in time spent waiting in the airport and the private transfer to the lodge, you’ll spend about four hours traveling, which is about how long it takes to drive it. (Driving in New Zealand is on the left.) On the upside, getting through KKE’s domestic airport security is a breeze, and airport cafes carry some great meat pies.
Bay of Island Area attractions: Our day tour included brief stops at the Waitangi treaty house, the town of Russell’s quaint historic district, Kerikeri Stone Store and Kemp House, and Rainbow Falls. Other things to see in the area are the Puketi Forest, scenic boat tours, Ninety-Mile Beach and Cape Reinga. Activities include fishing, possum hunting, pheasant shooting, boar hunting, clay pigeon shooting, diving and snorkeling, ATV/Quad biking, horse treks, parasailing, jet boating, and sea kayaking. Options for inclement weather include touring wineries, shopping and art excursions.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs – 5 star
Brief impression: Splendid service; spectacular golf
From Kerikeri airport to the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is easily another 40 minutes by private transfer.
The gated entrance gives way to a gravel drive that winds around green pastures for a good quarter mile before becoming a paved road that leads to the front steps of the main lodge. Don’t be surprised to find the front office staff lined up on the steps to greet you. The royal welcome is just one of the small touches at the lodge designed to ensure your comfort.
Ensconced on 6,500 acres near Matauri Bay, the lodge affords spectacular 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, and overlooks a championship golf course. The panoramic view encompasses Cape Brett, the famous “hole in the rock,” and the Cavalli Islands.
The main lodge hosts a spacious living room, two private day rooms and a computer room. The primary dining area features blue and white pottery, pewter condiment dishes on dark wooden tables, captain’s chairs with blue cushions, windows on two sides overlooking the ocean, and sand-and-blue striped cushions on a bench in front of a window. Combined with the views of the golf course and dramatic coastline outside the windows, it creates a relaxing retreat in which to enjoy breakfast and dinner.
The blue-and-sand color scheme continues in all 11 outlying guest cottages, each of which includes a private porch, bedroom and sitting area with gas fireplace. Cottages are nestled on the edge of native forest overlooking the ocean and golf course.
A heated outdoor pool and Jacuzzi spa, a 100-foot heated indoor lap pool, fitness gym, and spa with floor-to-ceiling outdoor views provide ample opportunity for exercise and relaxation. Other on-site recreation includes grass tennis courts, mountain bikes, a basketball hoop, and a variety of clearly marked walking trails that meander over the hills and down to the beach, or along the edge of the forest to the giant Kauri tree. The lodge also can arrange for kayak, boat, helicopter or car tours, as well as horseback riding.
Serious golfers will want to spend as much time as possible on the award-winning golf course, which Golf Digest ranked as the 58th best golf course in the world in 2005.
Room rates vary seasonally and by category, and include pre-dinner drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a gourmet dinner and full breakfast buffet. Gentlemen are required to wear jackets for drinks and dinner at Kauri Cliffs and at Cape Kidnappers. Kauri Cliffs is a non-smoking establishment.
Unique features: Scenic golf retreat offers something for everyone
Published seasonal rates (per person, per night) range from $320 to $980 during low season, May 1 – Sept. 30; from $500-$1,395 Oct. 1-Dec. 14; and $525-$1,850 from Dec. 14-March 31. Kauri Cliffs will be closed June 2009 for maintenance.
We departed Kauri Cliffs at 6:30 a.m. for Kerikeri, where we flew to AKL and connected to Napier (NPE). These flights are on small jets where space for carry-on luggage is extremely limited.
Our two-night stay at Cape Kidnapper’s included a day tour of the Hawke’s Bay area.
Hawke’s Bay Attractions
We began with a brief stop in Napier to see some fine examples of Art Deco architecture. The city’s Art Deco heritage stems from a 1931 earthquake that demolished the city center. City planners selected the geometric, no-fuss art deco style to follow and enlisted architecture students to draft building plans, and within two short years, the city had rebuilt itself. That the rebuilding occurred during the height of the Great Depression makes the achievement even more impressive. Once the money was raised, large numbers of otherwise unemployed workers were hired to help with the rebuilding.
The earthquake also caused a spit of land along the bay to rise almost 10 feet, creating a new coastline that now is home to many residences and buildings (including the airport) where previously, water stood.
Aside from the Art Deco architecture, Napier also is home to O’Possum World, where you will find all things possum, from fur hats to fine blends of possum-merino wool sweaters, scarves and gloves. Leather goods, jewelry, and carved wood souvenirs also are on display, as is an exhibit in the back describing the life cycle of the possum. Introduced by English settlers who hoped to raise possums for the fur trade, possums encountered no natural predators in their New Zealand habitat and their population exploded out of control. They are considered a pest today, known for stripping leaves from trees and killing whole sections of forest. It is said that even the most nature-loving New Zealand tree-hugger will accelerate and swerve to turn a possum into road kill; nocturnal possum hunting also is an activity resorts will arrange for guests. Really.
Our day tour of Hawke’s Bay included stops for lunch and wine-tasting at several wineries, and a different kind of tasting experience at an olivery, where we sampled olives, olive oils, marinades and salad dressings. We visited a honey manufacturing shop for an educational encounter with a live bee hive, and a chance to taste multiple flavors of honey. New Zealand’s “manuka” honey is well-known for its documented anti-bacterial and medicinal properties. A sterile product, manuka honey is sometimes smeared on wounds to promote healing or used to relieve digestive problems. It takes its name from the native manuka flower from which the bees harvest the pollen that they turn into honey.
Although the view looking down on the ocean from the craggy hilltop where Cape Kidnappers sits is more dramatic, down in Hawke’s Bay, the vistas of olive groves and wine farms from Napier to Hastings is flatter and less scenic than the tiny villages that dot the hills of the Bay of Islands in the north. Here in the flatter farmland, rows of grapevines and olive trees paint the landscape in shades of gray and green, occasionally lightened by pastures dotted with white sheep.
Fortunately, the wineries themselves are more interesting. Hawke’s Bay wineries are known especially for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Wine aficionados who want to experience New Zealand’s wines, many of which are not exported to the U.S., will enjoy a tasting tour, as will clients who simply wish to sip and see the Hawke’s Bay area. Church Road Winery, Te Awa, and Mission Estate are just a few of the wineries open for tasting.
The Lodge at Cape Kidnappers – 5 star
Brief impression: Rustic retreat & spectacular golf
The Lodge at Cape Kidnappers affords the same gracious service and attention to comfort as its sister lodge on Kauri Cliffs, but with a more rustic edge suited to its cliff-side location almost 500 feet above Hawke’s Bay.
Antique farm tools and animal-skin rugs scattered throughout the lodge accent comfortable lounge chairs and massive cushioned sofas. The farm theme is everywhere. Bar stools at the Golf Pro Shop are formed of black metal tractor seats, a giant weathered wooden spool doubles as an occasional table, and some cottage bedrooms feature tractor seats mounted vertically on the wall above the bed instead of framed artwork. This is a striking contrast to the lodge at Kauri Cliffs. Both spaces are peaceful retreats, but Cape Kidnappers plays up its rustic appeal, while Kauri Cliffs softens its spaces with delicate pottery, pewter, and fabrics. One of our group described Kauri Cliffs as the bride, and Cape Kidnappers as the groom.
If viewed from the sea, the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers form a ragged white edge biting into the Pacific Ocean. From high atop the cliff looking out over the sea, the views at Cape Kidnappers are dramatic. Much of the Cape 6,500 acres is a designated bird sanctuary. The Cape is known for having a large colony of Gannets (a large seabird), and tours of the colony can be arranged by the resort.
Like its Kauri Cliffs sister, Kidnapper’s lodge building and cottages have been carefully constructed to blend into the natural landscape.
Rooms feature the same comfortable bed and feather-soft linens, a mini-bar with complimentary snacks, home-made cookies, and soft drinks (you will be charged only for any liquor consumed); walk-in closet, and spacious bathroom with separate tub, shower, and toilet, heated tile floor and electric towel warmers; a flat-screen television, writing desk, and a walk-out balcony.
The only amenity lacking from some Kidnapper’s cottages is a gas fireplace.
Some Hillside Suites can be booked in conjunction with a “Caddy’s” room, which is smaller but equipped with all of the essentials. This is a good option for parents traveling with children, or serious golfers who travel with their personal caddy.
Cape Kidnapper’s golf course has been ranked 41st best in the world by Golf Magazine. The Cape and Kauri Cliffs helped host the 2008 inaugural Kiwi Challenge PGA event. After golf (or instead of), guests may want to experience the Cape’s spa, set in its own separate house at the top of the hill. Treatment rooms overlook groves of pine trees on the wooded hillside. Nearby is the outdoor heated infinity pool and Jacuzzi spa. The pool is heated to a comfortable temperature for swimming even in the winter season.
After several days of rain, it was too wet for our group to safely take the lodge’s property tour, a recommended highlight of a stay on the working sheep farm. Other resort activities include walking trails, picnic areas, a guided fly fishing excursion on one of several rivers in Hawke’s Bay, a guided 4-wheel-drive tour and driving instruction, ATV Quad biking, mountain bikes, and touring the Cape’s large Gannet colony. Off-property tours that can be booked through Classic include a tour of Napier’s Art Deco architecture, and a wine-tasting and olive-tasting tour among the many estates around Hawke’s Bay.
All good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip. Most of our group had a leisurely 1 p.m. departure transfer from the lodge to the Napier airport (NPE). A short flight later, we were back at the Auckland airport. The hike from the domestic terminal to the international departure terminal is quite a distance and took about 15 minutes, lugging carry-on bags. Advise clients to seek out the airport shuttle buses, especially in inclement weather.
Our six-hour layover was too short to venture out from the airport as a group, and just long enough to be tiresome. We whiled away the hours finding something to eat, checking out numerous duty-free shops lining the corridors, and indulging in a last-minute chair massage before boarding. NZ Flight 2 departed for LAX at 9:30 p.m., and tailwinds shaved an hour off our flight time to make it a mere 12 hours. Thanks to crossing the international dateline again, we arrived back in LAX earlier in the afternoon of the same day we departed.
Gaining a day is a nice way to come home. It may not ease the jet lag, exactly, but it does give us a chance to live part of our lives over again. And how cool is that? O.K., so we get to live it over again in an airport…but who among us wouldn’t volunteer to do it again, if only for another chance to visit New Zealand?