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New Zealand – wow!

This is my longest blog to date and for good reason.. Please bear with me, have a cup of tea and enjoy a whirlwind tour of my new passion.

I’ve always had a strong image in my head of New Zealand. The rugged mountains of the south filled with crazy adrenaline junkies throwing themselves off bridges, attached to a small piece of fragile looking rope. Not really my cup of tea to be honest.

As we landed in Blenheim and boarded our boat for the afternoon exploring the Marlborough Sounds I realised just how varied the landscape is and also the activities. What could be more civilised than eating seafood with a beautiful New Zealand Rose wine watching the world go by for an afternoon?

The boat pulled into a quiet bay and we were greeted with an incredible view of our home for the first night, Bay of Many Coves. There is no road access here, which is what makes it a truly special offering. Clients who don’t book with a knowledgeable agent (shameless plug) often call from the end of the road to find out how to get there to be told to drive all the way back to where they came from and get a boat!

From here we took out canoes and paddleboards in search of dolphins and as the sun set over the mountains behind us, the evening light pulled us back to get ready for a delicious dinner. Not bad for a first day.

The next day we took the boat back to Picton and continued our journey via a couple of properties and arrived at Cloudy Bay Winery for lunch. The sun was shining and the vines surround a beautiful garden where we again tucked into delicious platters and incredible wine. They were kind enough to open a very special bottle of their Te Koko for us and the difference between this and their Sauvignon was incredible. Then off to the top of the vineyard by 4×4 for a glass of fizz, taking in the view. How could this day get any better?

Queue our arrival at Marlborough Lodge. Gentle, delicate, manicured and homely. We all enjoyed another glass of stunning wine (there’s definitely a theme here) and met the lovely Maria for a garden tour. Her knowledge of the flora, fauna and her animals is just fantastic and she was a highlight of the stay for a lot of us. Never mind the open-air lounge with roaring fire in the evening, a bar in the old chapel or the incredible food and service. What an absolute gem of a property.

None of us wanted to leave the next day but we begrudgingly did and took a stunning scenic drive to Kaikoura. We dined on fish and chips, which we all agreed was the best we’ve tasted at a local chippy called Coopers Catch. Then off to check out some whales, and no that was not us after the fish and chips! Wings over whales are a fantastic set up where you take a light aircraft up over the whales for a more majestic view and less choppy than the boat sometimes. Some sterling advice from me at this point… maybe don’t have fish and chips and then go up in a plane that circles steeply for 20 minutes. It was worth it to see the two male sperm whales but I did need a cup of tea afterwards.

From here we arrived at a lodge I have sent some absolutely wonderful clients to in the past. She said to me she left her heart somewhere in Kaikoura and I now see why. Hapuku Lodge is simply wonderful. They have tree houses and anyone who knows me, will know my passion for staying in these. They bring out a childish excitement in even the most serious of people. We had a spare couple of hours so a few of us went for a run / cycle to the beach to make some room for dinner. The view of the surfers as the waves rolled past in the evening light was one of those for the memory bank. It is a good thing we ran as the food was impeccable and included some fabulous wine and cheese pairings from the Kaikoura cheese company.
The next day we flew to Queenstown and joined our crew on Pacific Gem for a tour of the bays around the area. The scenery is different again; more dramatic and defined rugged mountains surround the stunning lake. We pulled up to Matakouri Lodge and as we scaled the steep path up to the lodge a few of us thought “this has better be worth it” but my goodness it was! This place has a serious wow factor both in terms of the accommodation but also the views. Here the land of the long white cloud makes perfect sense and our jaws all hit the floor with their four-bedroom villa. This is luxury New Zealand at its very best.

We stayed at an equally lovely and slightly more homely lodge that evening, Azure and headed into Queenstown for dinner. It is nice to try local places as well as the hotel restaurants. We ate at Eichardt’s Grill, which was fabulous. I am then tempted to skip to the next day without mentioning the joys of the bar in town called Cowboys. Lets just put it this way, there was a bucking bronco and it was being enjoyed by all those who were likely to throw themselves off that initial bridge I mentioned. Again not really my cup of tea but they did a decent G & T.

If I say that this next day was one of the most memorable of my entire life, it should go some way to show you how incredible it was. First we took a look at Blanket Bay, which was another stunning property just outside Queenstown. A heavier, more masculine property than Matakauri with antlers on walls and dark wood etc. Totally in keeping with the rugged surroundings and very special. Then we were picked up by a jet boat to head up on a wild ride up the river. When we weren’t doing donuts we got to see some incredible scenery! Then we pulled into a place called paradise, how apt! Waiting there was a state of the art helicopter, which took us up to a glacier for lunch. If anyone knows the gang on my trip, quiet is not a word I’d use to describe us but we were for at least five minutes after landing. How could you not be when faced with such sheer beauty? Lunch was fizz and a gorgeous platter and more views.

How do you end a day of such majesty and awe inspiring scenery? At The Lindis of course! As trip planning goes my hat is off to the whole team at Tourism New Zealand and Aspire for putting together this crazy journey!

The Lindis is the new kid on the block in terms of lodges and has a real architectural power and presence. It is hidden from view with an undulating roof tucked into the valley floor and yet from inside it is powerful and in keeping with the landscape. It is as special inside as the views outside. An absolute must for my clients. The food here also really stood out for me. It has a working sheep farm, salmon fishing river and fab pool table to keep clients moving but honestly I could have sat for a day just looking at the changing views.

What a change for the next two nights. Goodbye rugged mountains and hello the winterless north with the fruit farms, beaches and stunning bays. Our driver Merv was number 1 highlight of this region. I wont tell you why he said he brought the bigger van but lets just say it had us in hysterics from the start. He is a true professional because while he never failed to keep us completely entertained he was always on time, watching to ensure we had all we needed and basically looked after us so well. I’ll be sending all my clients to him.

Our next stop was the Landings. Good enough for Obama? Good enough for me! This property has real oomph. I don’t know how better to describe it. It has four private houses to rent and each offers something truly incredible. We were all surprised about the value of the place as the Boat House was a one bedroom cottage but could also take two kids and was right on the waters edge with a basketball court and all the water toys you could want. It was relatively reasonable for the magic of the place. The house we stayed in, yes Obama and me… (Sadly not together) was the big one up the hill with views for days. The staff and chef were magical and they got it all exactly right. We shared delicious plates of the freshest fish and meat all washed down with delicious wine. Then off to spot the illusive Kiwi…. Mission accomplished! We were extremely lucky.

The next morning we greeted Merv like a long lost uncle and off we went to see Kauri Cliffs, a heaven for golfers. Their service and food was again generous and I can see why it has such a following. From here we were off to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This was a fabulous afternoon and understanding the rich history of such a special country and people was brought to life by our wonderful guide.

Later that afternoon as we cruise along the shoreline near Russell I look up at a stunning looking house and say to everyone else, wow check that out… that would do nicely! Turns out it did! Welcome to Eagles Nest our home for the last night. This place is off the scale. Wall to ceiling glass with views over the ever-changing bay. We dragged ourselves out the hot tub to get ready for dinner with the best private chef in the area who looked after us with sensational food and wine pairing. Yes more wine… What a way to end the trip of a lifetime.

As I sit here at my desk it seems crazy to have done all this in one week. Can you imagine what you could do with more time in such a special country?